Thinking Out Loud

July 6, 2019

A Humble Self-Opinion

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:26 am

A few days ago someone asked online if it was appropriate to ‘like’ their own social media posts. I suggested that it seemed a bit narcissistic. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines narcissism as, “extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance : marked by or characteristic of excessive admiration of or infatuation with oneself.”

In contrast, Paul reminds us in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” NIV.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 6:2, “When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” NLT

Back in March I introduced Christianity 201 readers to a reading drawn from a posting of seven chapters of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, posted by Random House at the link in the title below, where you can read all 7 chapters. This book is an all-time Christian classic if you haven’t read it. Furthermore, it can be read very, very quickly.I have made only one editing change, taking out the use of numbered paragraphs (which I believe cause readers to rush through the material) and substituting each new section with the first sentence in bold type.

Having a Humble Opinion of One’s Self

Thomas à Kempis; 1380 – 1471; Wikipedia photo

Everyone has a natural desire for knowledge but what good is knowledge without the fear of God? Surely a humble peasant who serves God is better than the proud astronomer who knows how to chart the heavens’ stars but lacks all knowledge of himself.

If I truly knew myself I would look upon myself as insignificant and would not find joy in hearing others praise me. If I knew everything in the world and were still without charity, what advantage would I have in the eyes of God who is to judge me according to my deeds?

Curb all undue desire for knowledge, for in it you will find many distractions and much delusion. Those who are learned strive to give the appearance of being wise and desire to be recognized as such; but there is much knowledge that is of little or no benefit to the soul.

Whoever sets his mind on anything other than what serves his salvation is a senseless fool. A barrage of words does not make the soul happy, but a good life gladdens the mind and a pure conscience generates a bountiful confidence in God.

The more things you know and the better you know them, the more severe will your judgment be, unless you have also lived a holier life. Do not boast about the learning and skills that are yours; rather, be cautious since you do possess such knowledge.

If it seems to you that you know many things and thoroughly understand them all, realize that there are countless other things of which you are ignorant. Be not haughty, but admit your ignorance. Why should you prefer yourself to another, when there are many who are more learned and better trained in God’s law than you are? If you are looking for knowledge and a learning that is useful to you, then love to be unknown and be esteemed as nothing.

This is the most important and most salutary lesson: to know and to despise ourselves. It is great wisdom and perfection to consider ourselves as nothing and always to judge well and highly of others. If you should see someone commit a sin or some grievous wrong, do not think of yourself as someone better, for you know not how long you will remain in your good state.

We are all frail; but think of yourself as one who is more frail than others.

 

 

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April 28, 2019

Why They Gave Up On Church

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:20 pm

For those who are wondering, I’m still without a computer, a full week later. Posts here may continue to be sporadic.

I was sitting in church this morning and my mind wandered for a few seconds. Nothing new about that I suppose.

It occurred to me that although we often speak of people who left a particular church because of something someone did or said (or didn’t do or say) or some other way in which someone catastrophically let them down (which I would call push factors) and the people who just left because the grass was greener or the music/youth-program/potluck schedule was better at another church (which I would call pull factors) there is another group entirely that we often overlook.

These are the people who went to a camp, a concert, or a conference; or participated in a service opportunity and experienced a level of spiritual high that somewhat wrecked them for going back to regular church.

I know because, in my late 20s, I was one of these people. I was coasting on spiritual euphoria from a summer at a Christian camp and just couldn’t get enthused about going back to business as usual at my local assembly. It took a month before Bill, a friend at the time, told me I’d been away long enough and it was time to share who I had become with the people who knew me best.

The best way to get these people back is to invite them to serve. Give them a challenge or a vision which engages them and causes them to want to get excited about church again.

April 1, 2019

A Morning Devoted to Un-Truths

This weekend I’ve been cross-posting articles from Christianity 201, as that blog begins year ten today. It seemed only fitting to go back one last time for this article, appropriate to April Fool’s Day.

For much of the morning, in some parts of the world, people made (or are still making) outrageous, preposterous or untrue statements; waited a few seconds; followed by, “April Fools!” No doubt online there were false news stories, manipulated photos, and skillfully edited videos. In most cases, nobody gets hurt and everyone has enjoys having their gullibility quotient tested.

I don’t want to go so far as to say that Christians should never enjoy a good prank, but it’s important that this never defines us.

In Matthew 5:37 we read,

All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

The context is about swearing oaths, but in The Message Bible, the definition is widened:

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

The entire passage is paralleled in James 5:12

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

Wikipedia notes how these verses impacted one Christian sect:

Quakers place importance on being truthful at all times, so the testimony opposing oaths springs from a view that “taking legal oaths implies a double standard of truthfulness” suggesting that truthfulness in legal contexts is somehow more important than truthfulness in non-legal contexts and that truthfulness in those other contexts is therefore somehow less important.

But by refusing to take an oath, many were imprisoned. The article also noted some of the variances we encounter today:

  • I swear on my mother’s life
  • I swear on my grandmother’s grave

The idea is that we are promising something that is precious to us to demonstrate sincerity. I didn’t grow up around people who use these expressions, but to be honest (pun intended) I often wonder that people who feel the need to add this might be the ones most likely not telling the truth.

This passage also means more than just whether or not we can be trusted when we make a statement, it’s also about whether or not we can be trusted when we make a promise. My wife and I often joke that we’ve spent a measurable percentage of our lives waiting for people who said they would arrive somewhere at a certain time. Before we even got married, I noticed that my wife was extremely punctual, and I’ve always hated being late and keeping people waiting. But often others find it easy to say they will be somewhere at a certain time and then think nothing of arriving a half hour later (and we’re not talking about being fashionably late to a large party or gathering.)

For the Christian, decision-making can be extra-complicated, as we desire to submit everything, big and small, to God’s will. But if commit to something, if we agree to do something or be somewhere, then we need to honor our commitments and agreements.

Freelance writer Fiona Soltes writes,

There’s much to be said for being a person of integrity and doing what you say you’re going to do. There’s even more to be said, however, for being a person who carefully considers decisions with God’s input and sticks to those decisions once they’re made. God is, after all, the same yesterday, today and forever. If we are to be like Him, we must show ourselves faithful and dependable, as well.

Jered Bridges commented on this passage in the context of living in a world filled with hidden cameras. He noted our ultimate accountability is not to the people we make promises to, but rather…

Proverbs 5:21 warns that, “…a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.” (ESV) Ultimately it matters not if there’s a hidden camera watching you —- the eyes of the Lord penetrate far further than a grainy twenty-frames-per-second camera could ever go. It is in the healthy fear of those eyes that we should accordingly adjust our conduct.


~PW (2014, C201)

 

March 31, 2019

The Kingdom of God Bearing Fruit; Regardless of Who is In Charge

This weekend wraps up the ninth year of Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201. Tomorrow (Monday) marks the beginning of year ten. My goal with C201, God willing, is to do what I did here: Ten years of daily content without missing a day,

I wanted to bring readers here a taste of what happens there. These articles (yesterday and today) are being cross-posted with what’s running there.

Col 1 : 10( NIV) …live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

Balanced Christian LifeA tree might look healthy because it is leafy green, but if its purpose is to bear fruit, all that greenery counts for nothing.

As true as that principle is, it’s also possible for one person to be the planter, or the pruner; while someone else entirely reaps the harvest or collects the fruit.

One of the frustrations of online ministry is you don’t always get a lot of feedback; neither do you see the people who are being influenced by what is posted each day. Statistics report that several hundred people land at Christianity 201 each day, but I have no idea if the readings are helpful; if they like the videos; if they enjoyed checking out a particular writer’s website.

It’s also possible that many readers find a website which especially resonates with them and end up making that their daily habit instead of this. Of course, that result was built into the design of C201. There is so much Christian writing available; some of it relates more to intellectuals than those less educated; some to women more than men; some to people of certain denominational persuasions more than others.

I was reminded today of this passage in I Corinthians 3:

…4 When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?

5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.

10 Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it…

(continue reading full chapter in the NLT)

Matthew Henry writes:

…Both [people, i.e. Paul and Apollos] were useful, one for one purpose, the other for another. Note, God makes use of variety of instruments, and fits them to their several uses and intentions. Paul was fitted for planting work, and Apollos for watering work, but God gave the increase. Note, The success of the ministry must be derived from the divine blessing: Neither he that plants is any thing, nor he that waters, but God who gives the increase, 1 Cor. 3:7. Even apostolic ministers are nothing of themselves, can do nothing with efficacy and success unless God give the increase. Note, The best qualified and most faithful ministers have a just sense of their own insufficiency, and are very desirous that God should have all the glory of their success. Paul and Apollos are nothing at all in their own account, but God is all in all…

We know a lot about Paul, but when we connect the dots of scripture, we actually know a lot about Apollos as well.ChristianAnswers.net tells us:

This is the name of a Jew “born at Alexandria,” a man well versed in the Scriptures and eloquent (Acts 18:24). He came to Ephesus (about A.D. 49), where he spoke “boldly” in the synagogue (18:26), although he did not know as yet that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Aquila and Priscilla instructed in “the way of God”, i.e., in the knowledge of Christ. He then proceeded to Corinth, where he met Paul (Acts 18:27; 19:1). He was very useful there in watering the good seed Paul had sown (1 Cor. 1:12), and bringing many to Christ. His disciples were very attached to him (1 Cor. 3:4-7, 22). He was with Paul at Ephesus when he wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians; and Paul makes kind reference to him in his letter to Titus (3:13). (Scripture reference links are KJV.)

One of our former pastors would constantly say, “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” In today’s world, it also takes all types of websites, blogs and forums to reach out to an internet-wired world. But as I write this, it’s true that I often long to hear reports of the fruit of this ministry in the lives of readers.

I believe strongly that while we all may be instrumental in the discipleship process of people in our sphere of influence, we should also be know the joys of being reapers of the fruit of ministry. We should all experience Paul-Timothy mentoring relationships. We should all know what it means to reproduce ourselves in the lives of others and even the next generation.

Furthermore, we see Jesus’ attitude toward fruit-bearing ministry in Matthew 21’s story of the fig tree:

18 In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, 19 and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. (NLT)

Ask yourself: Are my efforts for the Kingdom of God bearing fruit, or just putting out leaves?

~PW

 

March 30, 2019

Placing the Interests of the Other Person Above Your Own

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:00 am

This weekend wraps up the ninth year of Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201. Monday marks the beginning of year ten. My goal with C201, God willing, is to do what I did here: Ten years of daily content without missing a day,

Today I wanted to bring readers here a taste of what happens there. These articles (today and tomorrow) are being cross-posted with what’s running there.

I Cor 12:25 (NIV) so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I Cor. 12:25-26 (The Message) The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Romans 12::5 (Phillips) Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad.

Romans 12:15 (NLT) Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

I originally wrote this when several different people we knew were facing the anniversary of a loss. I copied The Message version of I Cor. 12:25-6 into an email and sent it to one such family. I respect Eugene Peterson’s credentials to do a translation like The Message, but I don’t know enough about his translation process to know how we came to “…involved in the hurt and the healing.” It’s certainly unique to his translation; but I like that it implies a sense of follow through; that we stick around not only for the hurt but for the better days that are to come.

This whole sense of bearing one another’s burdens is so contrary to western “me-first” individualism. We sort of get the idea of extending love and care to someone else, but we often miss the part of the concept where you and I are one. We sort of get the idea of the people in our church being family, but we miss out on the idea that as the body of Christ we are an organic unity.

It totally flies in the face of the Western mindset of individualism.

Even in marriages — the epitome in scripture of becoming one — it’s now common for husbands and wives to have separate bank accounts. I’m not talking about a situation where one spouse has a household account out of which to pay expenses as they crop up; I’m referring to situations where each keeps a portfolio of savings and investment accounts. Perhaps in an easy-divorce culture, it makes the separation of assets more simplified.

So the notion of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice tends to miss the recurring word “with.” We often weep for, and rejoice for, instead of weeping with and rejoicing with; and by this I am referring to the full sharing of their situation, not something simply done in physical proximity.

In our business, we adopted a financial policy that is somewhat biased toward the people of like faith that we deal with. We pay all our bills on time anyway, but we like to use the following principle, and expect the people who deal with us — many of them who are churches — to carry a similar goal:

Gal 6:10 (ESV) So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The problem is, consider the following scenario: A and B are both Christ-followers and are involved in a financial transaction where A is performing a service for B that is part of his trade. A wants to give B a price break because she is a fellow believer, but B wants to pay more than A is invoicing her for because she wants to honor the Galatians 6:10 principle.

I’ve been involved in such transactions where each person thinks it’s them that is doing the other person a favor, and it’s not unlike the classic scene where two very polite people are trying to let the other person go through a door first.

The way we work out these things is going to be complex, and sometimes an exactly similar situation will be interpreted in different ways by the different parties, leading to different outcomes. Still, I believe that God is pleased when we are endeavoring to honor Him by preferring others in all that we do.

Furthermore, I believe that what honors Him the most is when we truly view ourselves as part of a single collective body.

Paul used the analogy of parts of the body, but if he had jigsaw puzzles in his day, he might have said, “The bottom right corner piece of the puzzle cannot say to the middle piece, ‘I don’t need you.'”

The way we show there’s no preference is to prefer the other.

March 25, 2019

Your Future Self Wants You to Read This

Part of the reason I had hoped to review Drew Dyck’s latest book before its publication is that there is so little available in the Christian market dealing with self-control. It’s one of the nine ‘Fruit of the Spirit,’ so why isn’t more being said? I had my only-ever audio-book experience this summer with Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test, which looks at self-control in general and delayed gratification in particular through the lens of a study done on preschool children you may have seen on YouTube. But there was no Christian bookstore equivalent.

Then, mysteriously the book arrived in the mail about ten days ago. Better late than never. In this case, much better. Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (Moody Publishing, 2019, paperback) ranks as one of the best-researched and one of the most-transparent books I have read in a long time. I’ve already looked at parts of it twice.  I’m not saying this because I frequently interact with Drew online. As the disclaimer goes, we’ve never met in person, but I’ll reference him here by his first name, given we have some familiarity.

The book is a mix of spiritual practices and just plain practical advice on how we can bring our lifestyle under both our control and God’s control.

A few days ago, as a precursor to this review, I excerpted a passage from the book dealing with the difference between ‘resumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’ If you missed that, take a minute now to read it. (We’ll wait here for you.) That one really left me thinking. As we assess character, could we be using the wrong metrics?

For the goal of a self-controlled life to become reality, there are certain principles that need to be drilled deep into our hearts. Drew points out that even in the most modern megachurches, “there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers and preaching each Sunday. There’s Sunday school or midweek small group meetings. These rhythms shouldn’t be legalistic duties; at their best, they foster belief and help give individual members much-needed support for the tough task of living the Christian life.”

He then cites Alain de Botton, an atheist who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms… He completely rejects the idea of God and the doctrines of the Christian faith.” however, “he realized that by failing to employ the practices of the religious, secular people were failing to make their ideas take hold.” He quotes de Botton directly: “We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it… Religions go ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the same lesson 10 times a day… Our minds are like sieves.” He also praised the liturgical calendar, “arranging time” so that the faithful “will bump into certain very important ideas.” (p 126)

One of the strengths of Your Future Self… is this most diverse collection of citations; authors culled from a wide variety of disciplines; both Christian and secular. One surprising quotation Drew included came from Philip Yancey who said he once read three books per week. No longer. Yancey blames the internet (as do I for a similar experience). “The internet and social media have trained by brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around… [A]fter a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links… Soon I’m over at CNN… or perhaps checking the weather.” (p 173)

There’s also a great section on self-control as it applies to addictions of various types, and programs used to treat addictions such as LifeChange a residential program operated by Bill Russell in Portland, OR. Drew notes “After a few months in the system the residents feel good about themselves. They’re clean, deepening their spiritual lives and sticking to a new schedule…And that’s when the real test comes.” Russell told him one of the challenges is participants “confuse system-control and self-control.” Any one of us could avoid certain types of temptation in a residential environment like theirs but it’s not the real world. Russell added that “external system-control needs to give way to internal self-control.” Russell uses the analogy of a broken leg; when broken “you need a cast;” however, “eventually you have start moving the leg again.” This then springboards into a discussion on the value of spiritual community. It’s easy to connect the dots: Your church, your small group, etc. can help you keep those new life resolutions.(pp 199-203)

There’s more to the book than just appropriately arranged citations from other works. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Drew goes into teaching mode and shares what follows on the subject of how our part in the self-control challenge is matched by God’s part; something he later cleverly describes as akin to an employers matching contribution to a payroll deduction. (This has much broader application as well.)

We need to guard against passivity and exert effort. On the other hand, we must draw on God’s power to live the Christian life. Fudging on either commitment will stall our spiritual growth. Discounting our role in sanctification leads to license. Ignoring God’s role leads to legalism.

The Bible is crammed with passages showing both the divine and the human role in sanctification.

Consider this passage from Romans: “if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (8:13). Note the dual roles represented in this verse. Who is the active agent here? Well, “you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Does that mean God isn’t involved? Not at all! The passage is equally clear that this crucial act of killing sin only happens “by the Spirit.” We need the Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives.

In 2 Peter 1:3 we see the same pattern: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” At first blush, it appears we are mere passengers on the train to holiness. After all, God has provided the power…what’s left for us to do? A lot, apparently. The passage goes on to command us, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control.” Did you catch that? We’re commanded to “make every effort” because “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.” For Peter, divine empowerment and human effort aren’t enemies. They’re allies. God has given us His power. That’s why we strive.

In Philippians 2:12 we’re commanded to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That language clearly shows the requirement of human effort. But the very next verse reminds us of who is really effecting the change: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13).

Perhaps the clearest example of the divine and human roles operating in tandem comes from Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he [Jesus] powerfully works within me” (ESV, emphasis mine). Here there’s no doubt that Paul is expending effort. Another translation reads, “I strenuously contend.” At the same time, it is equally clear that it is “he” (Jesus) who is working within him. And it’s Jesus’ internal working that motivates Paul’s effort: “For this I toil…” These passages (and scores of others) show that divine empowerment and human effort are not only compatible, they’re complementary. We may be tempted to pit them against each other, but it appears that the writers of Scripture envisioned them working together. (pp 146-148)

Finally, Drew gets very transparent. There’s a danger in writing a book like this which both humorous and conversational that the entire treatment becomes subjective. The author is sharing his own journey on the road to self-control and at the end of the day, you’re left with his story, rather than practical help.

There are some personal family stories represented here, however this book solves the greater dilemma, by confining Drew’s own self-control story into nine concise diary entries he calls, “Self-Control Training.” Think of it as defining, albeit anecdotally, how all this plays out in real life; where the rubber meets the road. Drew isn’t perfect — neither are you and I — but as you compare his initial miserable lack of progress with your own, or my own; it becomes clear that it takes many different spiritual disciplines working together to bring about change.

To that end, I believe this is one of a much smaller subset of books on my shelves with the potential to genuinely change the direction of a person’s life. Their future selves will thank them for having read it earlier on.


Drew Dyck, holding an early print edition of Your Future Self Will Thank You seen here looking for a very large stapler.


■ Listen to Drew Dyck talk more about the book in a recent Church Leaders podcast.

■ Connect with Drew’s website and sign up for his newsletter at DrewDyck.com or read more at his blog.

February 15, 2019

The Contrast Between Enjoying Great Bible Teaching and Living in the Real World

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:27 am

I once had a weird flashback 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 layers of 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

February 11, 2019

Recipe for a Joyless Christianity

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am

One of the best ways to experience a completely joyless salvation is to believe you were never ultimately lost in the first place.

One of the best ways to remain smug about your standing with God in Christ is to feel you were entitled to it all along.

One of the best ways to not be gracious is to remain firm that any grace you have received — amazing or otherwise — is something you deserved. 

One of the best ways to be unloving is to never fully consider the love that has been poured out on you.

All four gospels record the story of the woman with the alabaster jar. But Luke adds this detail:

7.41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

January 11, 2019

When Should Christian Bookstores Pull Authors from Shelves and Online Listings?

Some of you know that when I’m not writing this blog and editing Christianity 201; when I’m not leading or assisting in weekend worship at a local church; when I’m not occasionally speaking at a church; during the rest of the time I am making decisions for our local Christian bookstore.

One of the hardest decisions I made in 2018 was to remove books by Bill Hybels from our shelves. It isn’t that those books don’t contain much truth and that many of them have been personally beneficial to me. It was just that — with shelf space at a premium in our small town store — we didn’t need the distraction.

I didn’t just make the decision, but personally removed the books, title by title, and put them in a box where they remain today. There were more than a dozen titles. Bill was a big influence on me and I have to say doing this really, really hurt, but as long as there were new ongoing developments in the story, I felt we needed to do this.

Christian bookstores have pulled product many times in the past. I got into this business through the Christian music industry first as a broadcaster and then as a performer and later as a vendor of records and cassettes. I once sat in a restaurant in Newport Beach, California and was interviewed for the job of assistant editor of Contemporary Christian Music magazine. My friends called me a ‘walking encyclopedia’ on CCM, and I given about seven seconds of audio, could name just about any song and artist, including that obscure cut at the end of side two.

When Amy Grant and Sandy Patti went through divorce, many stores pulled product. Oddly enough, those divorces are still in their past, but their music is back on the shelves. Divorce became more widely accepted among Evangelicals. I would argue that the whole LGBT thing in the church is where divorce was a couple of generations back. And I expect that, as in the case of Ray Boltz or Jennifer Knapp, stores still actively pull product when an artist comes out.

Why all this today? Because I’m staring at the shelves under “M” for James MacDonald. Christian radio stations are rapidly dropping his program (see Wednesday’s column) and James is trying to control the situation by announcing the shutdown of Walk in the Word’s broadcast division. There are calls for him to resign. Unlike those who were divorced, or Hybels’ flirtatiousness, the issue with MacDonald seems to be money and the control of money. It’s definitely his Achilles Heel.

Once again, those books contain much truth. James MacDonald is a great communicator and his writing includes a constant, unabashed call to repentance. He has served many people well in that area of his life. But at this point, I wonder if those books are also going to prove to be a distraction.

This isn’t about judgment. It’s about a shortage of shelf space, and a host of new, upcoming, younger authors who deserve to be heard. Some of those will prove themselves as the leading Christian voices to their generation. The cream rises to the top. By their fruit they will be known. Some will disappear off the scene within five years. Again, it’s not about judgment.

It’s also too easy for stores just to keep ordering key names; somewhat akin to living in a county — as I do — where every time there’s an election, people simply vote for the incumbents. So Max Lucado, Tim Keller, Mark Batterson, Lee Strobel, Stormie Omartian, John Bevere, Joyce Meyer, Neil Anderson, etc.; are always assured their latest title will get picked up at the local store level.

And honestly, if the sales reps came around with new titles by Hybels and MacDonald there are store owners who simply aren’t investing time keeping up online and would simply order those titles unwittingly.

The best analogy I ever heard was when a local pastor called my wife and I “gatekeepers.” I never thought of our role that way, but it’s a responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. Conversely, pastors need to guard who they quote in sermons. They can easily grant authority and credibility to an author whose life doesn’t line up with their teachings.

Chances are, at the end of today, James MacDonald will still be on our shelves, but we’ll monitor the situation closely before making a knee-jerk reaction. Prayer helps as well!

December 31, 2018

Of Lives and Years; Of Beginnings and Endings

Have you made your New Life’s resolutions?

As I was thinking about how to wrap things up for 2019, it occurred to me that there might be four different possibility for how your year has gone; and those are the same four which can be applied to the longer span of our lives. For some context as to what I mean by this, here’s something I wrote in 2009. A small portion of this is actually appearing for the 4th time; much of it for only the 2nd time, and some is new.

I’m certainly not one of those “Everything happens for a reason” people, but I do believe every book in the Bible is there for many reasons, and with II Kings, the clearest message that I see is that when it comes to their relationship with God, not everybody ends well.

living-bibleIn II Kings we see a succession of leaders, many of whom are relegated to the most minimal of mentions. In the original The Living Bible, Ken Taylor in his most paraphrasial — ya like that word? — moment in the entire work actually lapses into point form in the later chapters. Those chapters could be called the “bullet point translation.” One could think that perhaps Taylor tired of the various Kings simply not getting it. Basically there are four main types of stories told and each King is representative of one of them:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

There are several benefits to reading this. It should make you want to end well, to leave a legacy of faithfulness and devotion to God, His word, and His work. But if you’re not solidly signed up with the eternal security camp, it also means you must end well. It allows the possibility that I can blow this Christ-following thing, with severe consequences.

Of course it helps that God, by His Holy Spirit is constantly nudging us closer to His ways. There are times in our lives however, when we don’t respond to His prompting. In the Revelation given to John, a message to the church in Laos ascribes three possible states of response: hot, cold, or lukewarm. Although the descriptors here apply to the local church as a collective noun, I believe the same terms can also apply to us individually.

heat-sensitive-imageMany of those who are cold or even lukewarm will recommit themselves down the road, but in terms of the here and now, if you were to take a picture of the spiritual temperature of people using a “spiritual heat sensitive” camera, you’d find that not everyone is responding to what the Spirit is suggesting. Or demanding; God’s not big on suggestions! Some just love their sin too much. Others are just spiritually apathetic. Some are just too busy.

One of the biggest myths in the Church (capital ‘C’ this time) is to suggest that “It’s all good.” To me, that’s not dissimilar from the Universalist perspective. It’s all good if it all ends well. Right here, right now, in the middle of the story, we don’t see so clearly how it will end. We have absolutely, positively no idea what’s going on in the lives of people at the deepest level, so we can’t begin to assume what God may be doing, or what He may be using to work His purposes, but if II Kings tells us anything it is that even Kings, representing the highest their country has to offer, can refuse to see the need to make God part of their lifelong equation.

lifes-journeyAnother myth is to say “We’re all on a spiritual journey.” The Greeks held that there were four core ‘essences:’ Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Knowing their list didn’t account for everything in the world, they held that there was a fifth essence, ‘quintessence,’ representing ‘spirit.’ Unfortunately many people live lives that are dominated by earth or air or fire or water or whatever modern equivalents represent our modern passions. Their journey can’t be characterized as spiritual at all; or if it contains elements of spiritual life, it appears to be a journey to nowhere.

In Jesus time, we see life represented in the phrase, “heart, soul, mind and strength;” both in terms of Jesus early life in Luke 2:52, but also in how we are to love the Lord with all our being. Some people allow their lives to be dominated by mental or intellectual accomplishments (mind) or physical prowess (strength) or their physical or emotional passions (the eros and philios loves; soul) rather than by a focus on their own spirit and the spiritual side of life.

Of course, it is not for us to know what God is doing in everyone’s lives. We are responsible for the ending to our own story, not that of anyone else.

I want my life to be spirit-focused; to be quintessence-focused. I want the center of that focus to be Jesus Christ. I want to end well. I want those around me to end well, too.

So while we’re caught up in what is really the ‘micro-focus’ of how a particular year began or ended or both, we need to also consider the ‘macro-focus’ on the overall progression of our lives. 

It’s a time for New Year’s resolutions, but also a time for New Life resolutions.

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