Thinking Out Loud

September 18, 2016

Christian Faith as More Than a Coping Mechanism

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:14 am

At this blog’s sister site, Christianity 201, we re-post some of the best Bible study and devotional material from a variety of sources. I try to write one original one each week, but this past week produced all but Wednesday’s reading from scratch. This is the third of three that we’re also posting here this weekend.

john-10-10When I have finished formatting a devotional study here, the last thing I do before scheduling it is to add the tags; the key words that can be used to locate the article in a search engine or internally. Many times I find myself writing trials, tribulations, suffering, difficulties, trials, etc. Often when I listen to a couple of preachers in my car, I notice they are often simply offering their listeners encouragement through desert experience, tough times, difficult circumstances.

I keep thinking there should be more.

I keep thinking that our faith should be more than just a mechanism by which we can cope with the hard times of life.

In John 10:10 Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

One of the first sermons I still remember as having a big impact on me was hearing John 10:10 preached at an outdoor Christian music festival. The speaker said that in the original language the abundant life being discussed was:

  1. Abundant in quantity
  2. Superior in quality

We see picture of this abundance in quantity in the feeding of the 5,000

1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

And we see a picture of the superior quality in the very first miracle at Cana

John 2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Both seem to be describing a feast. The latter, at the wedding is expected. The former, with each receiving “as much as they wanted” was probably a surprise.

In each case the final verse reveals the ultimate outcome:

  1. They recognize that he is the prophet, the one expected
  2. He reveals his glory and his disciples believe.

At the blog, Yeshua=God (also the source of today’s graphic image) the contrast in John 10:10 is fully highlighted:

Whenever John 10:10 is quoted, it’s usually just the first half about Satan, or the last half about Christ. It’s not often you hear the entire verse quoted together. But the Lord showed me recently in my personal study time that this Scripture is meant to reflect what Satan does compared to what the Lord does. It is meant to be read as a whole, to compare and contrast the enemy verses the Lord.

Let’s break it down –

The thief does not come except to STEAL, KILL, and DESTROY.
The Lord comes that they MAY HAVE, LIFE, MORE ABUNDANTLY

The opposite of steal would be to give. When our Lord says they “may have”, He’s referring to the gift of His salvation. Not necessarily “will have”, because some people don’t become Christians. Therefore He comes that they “may have” this gift.

The opposite of kill is to give life. Christ does give life, as He IS the Life. So while the thief wants to steal and kill, the Lord has come to give the gift of Life.

The opposite of destroy is more abundantly. To destroy something is to pull it down, wreck it, demolish, obliterate, or ruin it. To have something in abundance is to have plenty of it, it is lavished upon you, bountiful, copious, and plentiful.

Notice how the words are all present tense. Kill, steal, destroy – these are ongoing, they are in the here and now. He has not “stolen, killed, and destroyed”, it is what the thief continues to do. When the Lord gives His rebuttal, His words are present tense as well. May have instead of “have had”. Life that’s ongoing and eternal, rather than one that can be killed. And more abundantly instead of “in abundance”. It assumes a continuance of the abundance – “more abundantly” – as if the abundance is an ever-flowing fountain.

But then the author points out that the life we can expect is even more:

The Lord gives us life, and not just life, but life more abundantly. A better life than these 70-80 years on earth. A life that continues on into eternity. A life with blessings that never end (Ephesians 1:3).

We tend to focus on our pain and difficulties, but be encouraged to look for the signs of abundance.

I Kings 18:41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.

 

August 27, 2016

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Podcasts and the Stewardship of Your Time

podcastsIt started about a month ago when my friend Martin pointed out to me that my new smartphone had a feature whereby I could bypass the keyboard and simply dictate messages and email responses. I quickly became aware that it’s easy to be verbose when you’re talking compared to finger-typing, which is often more concise.

But it also started several months before that when I realized how many of the bloggers I follow have simply switched over to doing podcasts. Why write it all out when you can simply press the record button and start rambling?

So for obvious reasons, today’s blog post here will be shorter.

I think we’re all really getting sucked down a giant hole where too much time is being spent on social media to the point where other things are not happening or getting done. The time it will take you to read this if much, much less than it would be if I decided to do this as a podcast. I know that because I’ve seen the comparative length of emails and texts that result from the speech feature on my phone.

As Christians, the stewardship of our time is important. In the old KJV, Ephesians 5:16 was rendered using the phrase, “Redeeming the time.” More recent translators went with:

  • Make every minute count (CEV, NASB, and others)
  • Make the best use of your time (J. B. Phillips)
  • Don’t waste your time on useless work (Eugene Peterson)
  • Make the most of every living and breathing moment (The Voice)

The time factor figures into social media, but even more into addictive online behavior such as porn-related and game-related activity.

But the podcast thing is important because many of these run 50 minutes to two hours and have become very trendy. So here are some podcast-specific suggestions:

  1. Be really discerning which ones you want to invest your time with
  2. Don’t do every episode, choose the one with guests and topics of interest
  3. Fast forward through banter and sections of lesser concern
  4. Limit daily or weekly consumption
  5. Keep a balance between spoken and written content you consume

…Keeping this short, as promised! Go make the most out of your day.


This discussion continues today at Christianity 201.

July 29, 2016

Specific Prayers for Your Children

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
Psalm 103:13 NIV

praying boy and dogEven if you’re not a parent, you might be a grandparent, Godparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, teacher, Children’s ministry leader, etc. Or perhaps you can use this as a checklist to see how you measure up yourself! This first appeared at Into The King’s Garden by Angel Koerner Bohon. Click the title below to get the source for this and think of someone who has children in their sphere of influence you can send it to. Also remember, if your kids are in their 30s or 40s, it’s not too late to pray these prayers. (The reference in each section alludes strongly to scripture passages you will recognize, but if you want to study them further, copy and paste into BibleGateway.com)

Virtues to Pray for Your Children

1. Salvation — “Lord, let salvation spring up within my children, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (Isa. 45:8; 2 Tim. 2:10)

2. Growth in Grace — “I pray that my children may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 3:18)

3. Love — “Grant, Lord, that my children may learn to live a life of love, through the Spirit who dwells in them.” (Gal. 5:25; Eph. 5:2)

4. Honesty and Integrity — “May integrity and honesty be their virtue and their protection.” (Ps. 25:21)

5. Self-Control — “Father, help my children not to be like many others around them, but let them be alert and self-controlled in all they do.” (1 Thess. 5:6)

6. Love for God’s Word — “May my children grow to find Your Word more precious than much pure gold and sweeter than honey from the comb.” (Ps. 19:10)

7. Justice — “God, help my children to love justice as You do and act justly in all they do.” (Ps. 11:7; Mic. 6:8)

8. Mercy — “May my children always be merciful, just as their Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

9. Respect (for self, others, and authority) — “Father, grant that my children may show proper respect to everyone, as Your Word commands.” (1 Pet. 2:17)

10. Biblical Self-Esteem — “Help my children develop a strong self-esteem that is rooted in the realization that they are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:10)

11. Faithfulness — “Let love and faithfulness never leave my children, but bind these twin virtues around their necks and write them on the tablet of their hearts.” (Prov. 3:3)

12. Courage — “May my children always be strong and courageous in their character and in their actions.” (Deut. 31:6)

13. Purity — “Create in them a pure heart, O God, and let that purity of heart be shown in their actions.” (Ps. 51:10)

14. Kindness — “Lord, may my children always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thess. 5:15)

15. Generosity — “Grant that my children may be generous and willing to share, and so lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” (1 Tim. 6:18-19)

16. Peace-Loving — “Father, let my children make every effort to do what leads to peace.” (Rom. 14:19)

17. Joy — “May my children be filled with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thes. 1:6)

18. Perseverance — “Lord, teach my children perseverance in all they do, and help them especially to run with perseverance the race marked out for them.” (Heb. 12:1)

19. Humility — “God, please cultivate in my children the ability to show true humility toward all.” (Titus 3:2)

20. Compassion — “Lord, please clothe my children with the virtue of compassion.” (Col. 3:12)

21. Responsibility — “Grant that my children may learn responsibility, for each one should carry his own load.” (Gal. 6:5)

22. Contentment — “Father, teach my children the secret of being content in any and every situation, through Him who gives them strength.” (Phil. 4:12-13)

23. Faith — “I pray that faith will find root and grow in my children’s hearts, that by faith they may gain what has been promised to them.” (Luke 17:5-6; Heb. 11:1-40)

24. A Servant’s Heart — “God, please help my children develop servant’s hearts, that they may serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving the Lord, not men.” (Eph. 6:7)

25. Hope — “May the God of hope grant that my children may overflow with hope and hopefulness by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15:13)

26. Willingness and Ability to Work — “Teach my children, Lord, to value work and to work at it with all their heart, as working for the Lord and not for men.” (Col. 3:23)

27. Passion for God — “Lord, please instill in my children a soul that ‘followeth hard after thee,’ one that clings passionately to You.” (Ps. 63:8)

28. Self-Discipline — “Father, I pray that my children may acquire a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair.” (Prov. 1:3)

29. Prayerfulness — “Grant, Lord, that my children’s lives may be marked by prayerfulness, that they may learn to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers.” (1 Thess. 5:17)

30. Gratitude — “Help my children to live lives that are always overflowing with thankfulness and always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:20; Col. 2:7)

31. A Heart for Missions — “Lord, please help my children to develop a desire to see Your glory declared among the nations, Your marvelous deeds among the peoples.” (Ps. 96:3)

 

July 9, 2016

Media to Fill Your Home

It’s been awhile, but this is the third time for this article here, this time with revisions…

I’ve previously written here about how we’re big fans of sermon audio when we travel, and as someone who works in a Christian bookstore environment, it’s a given that I’m a huge booster of Christian books and music.

But today I want to approach this from a slightly different perspective. Many times I’ve written about the battle that goes on for our thought life, and how this takes place on a moment by moment basis. Back in June, I posted a great analysis of the types of thoughts, that are going on in our heads at any given point in time.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting, but I am increasingly aware of the contrast that exists between the mental processes that take place when I omit to turn on the radio — which is mostly presets for Christian stations — and drive in silence, versus the times I have worship songs playing. This is a giant contrast in my thoughts and attitude, not a mild difference.

Listening to Bible Teaching

I frequently listen to sermons from Willow Creek, The Meeting House, Woodland Hills and North Point, in addition to live sermons at church, and the occasional streaming of conferences.

Life was not always so.

I can remember asking my parents why they had to constantly listen to more preacher programs. Their media of choice was WDCX, an FM station in Buffalo, and WHLD, a Buffalo AM outlet. Of course, my choice would have been Top 40 rock station 1050 CHUM in Toronto. I think that was the real issue.

But today, although I hunger to learn and grow and discover more about Christ through what others have learned, I also am acutely aware of what happens in the absence of Christian media in the home.

Bible teaching can come in other forms besides radio and television. There are the aforementioned sermons-on-demand and live-streaming church services on the internet, plus many pastors often do a separate podcast. But there are still audio CDs of sermons kicking around, and of course books.

Reading Christian Books

One of my latest rants is that, in the average 21st Century family, I’m not sure the kids have ever seen dad sitting in a chair reading, and here I’m speaking of reading anything, a newspaper or magazine would suffice. How much more is it important to take time out and immerse yourself in the Bible, devotional material and study resources. If you missed it, I encourage you to read an article we did on Bill Hybels’ “Chair Time” concept.

Listening to Christian Music

For some Christ-followers, the dominant form of uplifting, inspirational and wholesome media is Christian music; which may consist of hymns, mass choirs, southern gospel, adult contemporary, Christian rock in all its various genres, and the current favorite, modern worship.

Again, these can be accessed in various forms. Some choose mp3 files which can be played back in the car and in the home. Many people are still buying music CDs. Christian music song videos abound on video sharing sites like YouTube. There is an abundance of Christian radio available online, and here in North America, most people live within range of a broadcast station that plays music, teaching or a mix of both.

But I have to say that as a worship leader, nothing compares to the songs what you experience in a worship environment with your faith family. Even today, I hear a song and I’ll remember which church I was in when I heard it and who was leading worship that day. Or I’ll be reading a scripture and I’ll recognize the verse as a line from a worship lyric. If you happen to be blessed with a gift that allows you to play in the worship band, a particular song can get stuck in your head for hours, and in a good way.

For a listing of some of my favorite songs with video, visit the sidebar in the right margin at Christianity 201.

Christian Movies

Our family was never a movie-culture family. We’ve been to the cineplex less than a dozen times, ever. But the production of Christian cinema has exploded over the last few years, and if you’re the type who enjoys gathering everyone around the home theater there are now some really decent films from which to choose, plus you’re supporting a genre that has tremendous outreach potential. You can purchase DVDs — great for loaning out after you’re done — or stream movies live.

Listening to God

These varied media I find to be a positive alternative to anything else, and in fact fulfill a direct instruction from scripture:

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

May 26, 2016

Straight From a Faithful Heart

Lisa ElliottA guest post by Lisa Elliott

In August, 2009 Lisa and her husband David lost their oldest son Benjamin after a heroic battle with cancer at age 19. This loss greatly impacted many others, including ourselves, and I wrote about it at that time. Shortly after, she wrote her story in The Ben Ripple which we reviewed here. We also featured Lisa’s writing in a Facebook excerpt from those days. Recently I stumbled across a more recent article and knew that I needed to help her share it with a larger audience. As I wrestled with whether it was a better fit with Christianity 201 or Thinking Out Loud, I realized I wanted to share it with both sets of readers.

I’ve made it a habit over the past number of years to visit a graveyard every Sunday before church. My purpose, you ask? To metaphorically, but in a very tangible way, and strategically before engaging in a worship service, put to death anything in my life that is dead or dying and especially those things preventing new life from taking root and producing fruit in my life in accordance with John 15. You see, I’ve experienced firsthand that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; but Jesus came that we may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

You can be sure that the Enemy of our souls wants us to do anything but produce lasting fruit or enable us to live an abundant life—least of all, in our relationship with the Lord; the Lover of our souls, the One who died to give us life and who, in fact, is our life (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

I hope you would agree that God has called us to so much more, even in this life, than what we’re often willing to settle for! He’s called us to not merely survive, but rather to thrive; whether it is in our relationships, in our investments, in our ministry, in our vocations, in our churches, or in life as a whole! Unfortunately, the sad reality is that many don’t! Rather, they forfeit the abundant life that He offers for a mediocre, lukewarm survival.

So what does it mean to thrive vs. survive? Here are some principles I have learned to thrive on:

  • Life is too short to pretend; to simply fake it until we make it. God calls us to be real, authentic, and transparent, especially in our relationship with Him (A good example is David in the Psalms).
  • Life is too short to waste our time, energies, and resources on people who suck the life out of us rather than on those whom we can mutually invest in life-giving ways (Proverbs 13:20).
  • Life is too short to use our time on activities that only serve the purpose of wasting our time. Time is precious to the Lord and we need to use it wisely (Ephesians 5:16).
  • Life is too short to exist merely for the sake of a paycheck or a pension (Luke 18:18-23; Mark 8:36).
  • Life is too short to let the fear of failure, the fear of man, or the fear of the future control us and deprive us of all that God has for us (Psalm 20:7; Matthew 6:25-34).
  • Life is too short to indulge in shallow, idol, and meaningless conversation and miss out on meaningful conversation about life and death issues (2 Timothy 2:16).
  • Life is too short to hold grudges against people who will hold us captive as long as we allow them to (Colossians 3:13).
  • Life is too short to obsess over keeping physically healthy when we should be investing in our spiritual well-being (1Timothy 4:7-9).
  • Life is too short to put off investing in and enjoying a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord until “there and then” when we could be investing and enjoying it in the “here and now”(James 4:13-15).
  • Life is too short to tolerate gossip and slander when instead we should be encouraging one another, and all the more as the day of Christ draws near (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  • Life is too short to wait for life to happen when we can choose to make life happen (Proverbs 4:6-10)!
  • Life is too short to allow the boulders in our life to be obstacles rather than opportunities to climb to higher heights (Galatians 6:10).
  • Life is too short to waste our time longing for the life that was seemingly so much better in Egypt instead of remembering the God who saved you from slavery and brought you through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8).
  • Life is too short to wander in the wilderness when God calls us to a land promised to us that is full of life and growth and fruit in abundance (Deuteronomy 8)!
  • Life is too short to hold onto the past so dearly that you don’t have the capacity to grasp and embrace all that God is extending to us through the outstretched arms of Jesus (John 3:16).

The bottom line is that life is too short to settle for anything less than what God wants for His children. The question is what are you going to settle for?

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21).

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).


Casting Crowns has a song that fits so well into what I’m trying to say. You might want to have a listen:

Lisa Elliott is an award-winning author of The Ben Ripple; Choosing to Live through Loss with Purpose and Dancing in the Rain; One Family’s Journey through Grief and Loss. She is a dynamic inspirational speaker; often described as “refreshingly real” as she passionately shares the life-changing truths and principles of God’s Word in her ministry, Straight from the Heart. Additionally, she has appeared on Christian television and radio and is a regular contributor to Just Between Us Magazine. Lisa is also a pastor’s wife, mother of four (3 on earth, 1 in heaven), and is thrilled to have recently joined the grandmother club. She and her husband, David presently live and serve the Lord together in London, Ontario.

Visit her website — there are more articles in the “Straight from a … Heart” series — at www.lisaelliottstraightfromtheheart.webs.com

Like her on Facebook at Lisa Elliott – Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author

Lisa’s books can be purchased directly from her, greatcanadianauthors.com, Amazon, Indigo/Chapters, and Christian bookstores across Canada and throughout the U.S. via Anchor Distributors.

May 24, 2016

A Day Lived Entirely for God

wwjdSeveral years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8

Media Diet

  • True, Not False:”Whatever things are true”
  • Noble, Not Base: “Whatever things are noble”
  • Right, Not Wrong: “Whatever things are just”
  • Purity, Not Filth: “Whatever things are pure”
  • Beautiful, Not Ugly: “Whatever things are lovely”
  • Praise, Not Complaint: “Whatever things are of good report”

Ministry Diet

  • More Salvation Than Sin
  • More Truth Than Falsehood
  • More Wooing Than Warning
  • More Victory Than Struggle
  • More Celebration Than Lamentation
  • More Life Than Death
  • More Strengths Than Weaknesses

In another article, I looked at how an unhealthy thought life might manifest itself:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

In yet another article with a similar title, I shared an often-repeated illustration:

There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

Let me say in reiterating these three passages that I do not claim to have constant victory in this area. I need to be writing this every bit as much as I hope you need to be reading it…

…What got me started on this was the realization that, in a blog post that has been repeated here every year for the past four years, I arrive at the phrase,

You have this moment.

But if I go beyond that, I have to ask, “What would a day lived entirely separated to God look like?” Or, “What if I were to get through a day with no regrets, nothing that I wished I had done differently?” (I realize that, in saying this, I am perhaps simply arriving at the phrase often associated with the AA movement, ‘One Day at a Time.’)

So I remind myself and ask you to remind yourselves

You have this moment.
You have this hour.
You have this morning/afternoon/evening.
You have this day.

What we do with our hands is important, but where we go with our thought lives is also something that should be a major consideration. WWJT? What would Jesus think?

The Voice Luke 11: 34 Listen, your eye, your outlook, the way you see is your lamp. If your way of seeing is functioning well, then your whole life will be enlightened. But if your way of seeing is darkened, then your life will be a dark, dark place. 35 So be careful, people, because your light may be malfunctioning. 36 If your outlook is good, then your whole life will be bright, with no shadowy corners, as when a radiant lamp brightens your home.

NLT Phil 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

 

 

May 23, 2016

Engaging With the Community

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:12 am

Imagine being in a church that is just getting by financially and it’s your job to tell the chair of the finance committee that there’s going to be one less offering this year because there’s going to be one less church service. Daunting?

That’s what my church did five years ago, for the purpose of joining in with an annual Multiple Sclerosis fundraising walkathon. Looking back on what I wrote about this then, apparently they did open the doors, but by far the vast majority of the congregation weren’t there.

It’s certainly better than shutting down worship services just because it’s a long weekend and the weather might be nice. Once again this year, North Point will follow this tactic in order to give volunteers the weekend off. Fortunately for people wanting to connect with fellowship and teaching on a weekly basis, this does not appear to be a growing trend. Six different Google and Yahoo searches revealed info about a church in Alaska, and little else.

If you’re going to do this, it’s good to do it for a good reason and not just to head out to the lake and put your feet up. Furthermore, I’m betting many of the North Point people either (a) don’t fit the perfect “husband, wife, 2.4 kids, minivan” model and possibly find the prospect of spending the day alone not particularly attractive, or (b) pack up the minivan and go visit another church.

The local branch of the national charity that became the benefit of the outpouring of love from my church was thrilled of course, though it was disappointing the following year when I’m sure their fundraising totals flagged somewhat. Still, the same church has also been part of multi-church efforts for Habitat for Humanity and Syrian refugee sponsorship. In the case of Habitat, people not only gave money but hundreds (if not thousands) of volunteer hours.

This is the church doing good. This is what it looks like when we break the stereotype of being insular or self-absorbed. At the time I wrote,

“Skipping Church” is a big sacrifice for those who grew up believing the place to be on Sunday morning is singing the hymns and listening to a sermon.

Instead, this congregation will be busy “being church.”

April 11, 2016

How Are You?

Daniel White turned off the car engine and just sat in his car for an extra 30 seconds before walking into the church. On entering the church lobby there was a rush of sound as children carrying Sunday School take-home papers ran through the lobby, a woman at a table spoke loudly selling tickets for an upcoming banquet, and people engaged in conversation while drinking coffee from the church’s new café, open five days a week besides Sunday.

Fred Smits, the director of mens ministry spied Daniel coming in and with a big smile and a firm handshake asked Daniel how he was doing.

“Fine;” Daniel replied. But Daniel was far from fine. As he said the words, he was looking at Fred and internally screaming, “Help me!” The mental scream was so loud he wondered how Fred could not hear it.

“Good to hear;” replied Fred before noticing another member of the mens group arriving through the same door.

There is better acting done in that church lobby than you’ll ever see on the great stages of London and New York. People saying things are ‘fine’ when inside they are screaming.

So what about Fred and Daniel? Is it up to people who are hurting to be more honest, or is it up to the people who ask the question to probe deeper, to spend more time beyond superficial greeting?

March 20, 2016

Why Go To Church?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:26 pm

 

Going to church

As I was driving to a worship service this morning, I heard a voice in my head asking, “Why are you going to church?”

I should explain that the voice wasn’t coming from someone with horns wearing a red suit and holding a pitchfork, but rather it was the voice of a repeated self-examination that I often do while making the ten minute drive.

I know there are various stock-in-trade answers to that question. To engage in corporate worship our creator and sustainer. To take time apart from the world and work. To honor God’s day. To fellowship with other believers. To partake of Communion. To give. To pray for those in need. To be prayed for.

Those are all good answers.

Ultimately the answer I find myself coming up with lately is:

Because it’s better than not going.

Let me say that (a) I know some will think that sounds lame, and (b) some will think that is simply an answer that is incorporating the collective aspects of the other usual answers, or the absence of experiencing those benefits. But I have to say that in my Christian life, I’ve seen the effect on people of choosing not to attend weekend services, and I’ve known in my own life the emptiness I feel during a week that didn’t start out with a gathered assembly of believers.

As you face the options of various Good Friday and Easter Sunday services in the week ahead, and consider factors like having to attend at a different hour, or facing parking congestion, or maybe just having visitors sit in your seat (!) let me suggest that the other option — staying home — is just not your best choice.

Go. Go expectantly. Ask God to meet you there. Ask what he has for you to hear. Ask him to show you someone to speak to that you can encourage.

And don’t just attend. Be all there; be all in.

February 16, 2016

So What?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:32 am

I had a weird flashback a few days ago to a brief period in my childhood when the phrase, “So what?” was considered the height of rudeness, especially in a child and parent context.

It came to mind for an entirely different reason however. I was thinking about the great host of scriptural teaching that we are now afforded through websites, blogs, podcasts, streaming and video-on-demand; not to mention traditional media such as books, radio and television.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I'd toss this graphic in to today's discussion salad.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I’d toss this graphic in to today’s discussion salad.

On Sunday I heard three sermons. One I was sitting in church. Two I was sitting at my computer. I actually had the option of watching full services; but chose just to track with the teaching portion. Otherwise, I could have technically been to three church services.

But for all the teaching I’m getting — and I am fairly stuffed most days — there are times when I observe a disconnect between scriptural truth and what is going on in the real world. When I look away from the pages in the book, or glance away from the computer screen, I see a Christianity that is totally messed up, at least in places, including my own.

I hear the reading, jot down the three points, but there’s a part of me that says, “So what?” This time though it’s not in the defiant tone that got me in trouble as a child, but it’s more of a cry of, “Why isn’t this making more of a difference in my life?” Or, “Why am I not seeing this lived out in my life and the lives of my acquaintances?”

A year ago, in a different context, I shared this analogy:

Last summer I purchase some clear wood stain as well as a gallon of opaque wood stain for another project. With the clear product, it took layers and layers and application before I noticed a difference taking place and it immediately struck me that this is what happens with sermons. Applied to our life in layers, the effect is initially invisible, but evidenced over a lifetime of faithfully attending to hear from God’s set-apart leaders.

That’s why I would never give up my listening/reading habits. But I do wish I could find more of a synergy between the idealized Christian life described by those authors, pastors and Bible teachers versus my everyday life in the trenches.

Am I looking for a sign? Longing to see a miracle? Wishing for a better batting average on answered prayers? Simply needing a vacation? Maybe that’s part of it.

Or perhaps my spiritual confidence is just becoming shaky. Not fragile to the point of nearing extinction, but just shaky in terms of where it ought to be proportionate to the years I’ve been on this faith journey, the people with whom I’ve interacted, and the material I have been privileged to have heard or read.

I don’t want to be SuperChristian, but I just want there to be more of a one-to-one correspondence between the spiritual ideals I can so easily espouse, and my usually stressed-out, burned-out daily experience.

Just being transparent, that’s all.


Related: September, 2011 – Faith Under Pressure

 

 

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