Thinking Out Loud

October 8, 2018

The Danger of an Inherited Faith II

Discussion about the political scene in the United States for the past (almost) two years since the election brings out the worst in all of us.

I promised myself I wouldn’t wade into discussions of that nature. This blog is intended to be consistently faith-focused and therefore apolitical. But a few times I have made exceptions.

One of those was Friday.

In my comments about Franklin Graham, I incurred some well-warranted criticism from two people I greatly respect and have known for a long time. That stung. In fact, I did something I never do, and that is I basically took the weekend off from blogging; posting only an infographic late Saturday. (That post did however earn a Twitter like from someone who I greatly respect and is greatly respected internationally. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.) However…

I committed three very serious blogging sins.

First — and this is unusual for a blog which tries to put the cookies on the lower shelf — I did not provide any background as to what had provoked the post in the first place. In this case, the thing that really got me — my personal last straw — was when Franklin pulled all the Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child advertising from Relevant magazine when all they had done was quote him. I did not do enough to document his descent from emissary of the gospel to political commentator.

Second, I allowed my writing to become more emotional toward the end. To use the semantic argument that a person who has “lost the plot” of Christianity might never have been a Christian in the first place is not an argument unique to me by any means. But it reeked of judgement. The last three paragraphs have since been edited.

Finally, I think in my mind I was partially conflating Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. who we will look at briefly today. Both are the second generation of a top-tier Evangelical brand and both have wandered down the rabbit trail of leveraging or brokering their base to cozy up to the current U.S. political administration. I should have dealt with both, instead of saving one for now.

So with Jerry Falwell, Jr., let’s be specific.

I made the mistake of assuming that the same people who read my blog posts actually are tracking developments on the weekly link feed. I found it grievous that the Liberty University film students who returned from holidays last January discovered they would not get to complete the two projects they had planned, but were assigned to work on The Trump Prophecy film. I (and they) felt it totally diminished the value of the program’s reputation and the diploma they would receive related to it.

Also, there was the more recent incident where students were bused to Washington, D.C. to show support for Judge Kavanaugh. Again, I feel this is diminishing the university’s reputation and the degrees those students paid top dollar to receive. If the students are Political Science majors, then yes, the confirmation process is important, but this particular story also spoke to the issue of sexual assault in a case where it was difficult to tell which side was telling the truth. I’m not sure how many of those students really wanted to take a position on this issue; though some may have simply gone for the bus ride or because their friends were going, or for the tour of the Capitol building which followed.

And there are many more stories like this.

But Falwell didn’t simply put his film students and protesters (or counter-protesters, I’m not sure) in the middle of his pro-Trump, pro-Kavanaugh agenda; he dragged Evangelicals in the United States and (in my case) beyond into a moral and ethical quagmire of reasoning, where the glaring bad fruit of a person’s life is set aside if it is believed their ascent to political power fits or is in keeping with some higher purpose.

One reader simply suggested people Google “Franklin Graham controversy” for more, and I would add that “Jerry Falwell, Jr. controversy” yields some rather bizarre stories, like this one. But I really don’t want to spend more ink on that, especially where so many minds are already made up.

Another thing I need to reiterate — for my good as well as yours — is Paul’s advice to Timothy that a soldier does not entangle himself in civilian affairs. We belong to a different kingdom and our main energies should be spent on advancing and building that kingdom, not the kingdoms of this world.

In the end however, simply changing the name, I find I must simply repeat what I said on Friday:

In the last several years, many of us have watched Jerry Falwell, Jr. make statements which grate against the Christianity many of us are practicing and what we know of the Jesus many of us are striving to follow.

His remarks and their underlying attitudes simply don’t pass the WWJD litmus test. The fruit of the indwelling of the Spirit has left the building.

There is a danger in an inherited faith.

and its conclusion:

If what I write or say doesn’t resemble Christianity or pass the WWJD litmus test, then I would expect you to ask the question, am I truly a Christian?

Yes. I get the irony. It’s possible that in its original form on Friday I would have failed that same litmus test.

Point taken. Such are the times in which we find ourselves.

 

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October 5, 2018

The Danger of an Inherited Faith

In the last several years, many of us have watched Franklin Graham make statements which grate against the Christianity many of us are practicing and what we know of the Jesus many of us are striving to follow.

His remarks and their underlying attitudes simply don’t pass the WWJD litmus test. The fruit of the indwelling of the Spirit has left the building.

There is a danger in an inherited faith. At least three decades ago, someone pointed out to me in my much younger days how they had observed people in the Christian publishing industry who were second generation owners, CEOs and managers. He noted that they lacked the fervor of their parents; they simply didn’t breathe the industry the same way; they didn’t have the same love for books.

As someone who grew up in a Christian home I certainly get this. Receiving it all second-hand isn’t the same as crashing and burning and having nothing to do but look up. I’ve often remarked that the people who find faith in Christ after their adolescent years seem to have a much greater appreciation for the grace offered to them. Like the woman at the feet of Jesus at the home of Simon the Pharisee, those who have been forgiven much will love much. Or more.  

It also stands in contrast with the stories of Christian refugees who have come to North America escaping persecution. They are head-over-heels in love with Jesus.

That doesn’t mean that everyone needs a “before and after” story. I can stand with everyone else giving a testimony; and while they testify to what they were saved out of, I can testify to what I was saved from doing. Furthermore, your testimony is what Jesus is doing in your life today. If your salvation story is entirely about something that happened 30 years ago, I’m not sure you have a story.

I would argue that if a person’s life doesn’t reflect the fruit of the Spirit, then we have to ask if they are a Christian. Simple as that.

I’m not exempting myself from that.

The things we post online — or if we have such a platform, say to the media — represent the fruit, or if you prefer the abundance of our hearts. If what I write or say doesn’t resemble Christianity or pass the WWJD litmus test, then I would expect you to ask the question, am I truly a Christian?

I’m saying that perhaps some of Ruth Graham’s and Billy Graham’s faith didn’t stick.

In other words, he needs to get reacquainted with the One he claims to serve.

September 24, 2018

When Your Devices are Ratting You Out

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:36 am

Because I bought the car used, I don’t know if it’s enabled, but my car has the capacity to send information to my insurance company as to things such whether I’m driving over a certain speed, or whether or I’m wearing my seat-belt once the car is in gear, and for all I know, whether I come to a complete stop at stop signs.

My wife mentioned the other day that the other day on her laptop there was a Google logo and below it simply said “Listening…” That’s frightening, isn’t it?

But what if your devices, instead of reporting to a search engine or an insurance company were reporting to your pastor and your church’s board of elders?

Is it an air filter or a listening device? These days, you can never be too sure.

Every time you said a bad word an Alexa/Echo type of device would report it.

Every time your fitness watch indicated a spike in blood pressure that indicated you weren’t experiencing peace and patience, it would report it.

Every time your navigational or location-enabled devices indicated you were going to a bar or the racetrack or the casino, it would report it.

Every time you made an extravagant or frivolous purchase and charged it to your bank account or a credit card, it would report it.

Every time you went to a sketchy website, it would report it. (Actually, if someone in your church leadership is part of your web accountability software, that one already exists.)

And don’t forget the aforementioned driving over the speed limit; that’s breaking the law!  …

…It sounds a bit “big brother-ish” but maybe, as in the web-monitoring example, it might be something that some would choose to do in the interest of accountability.

The point is, our private lives aren’t really private anymore. All this technology is, as one science fiction show once put it, “20 Minutes into the future.”

Or maybe, as AI (Artificial Intelligence) becomes more sophisticated, your devices might blackmail you that if you don’t atone in some way which satisfies the device, it will betray your action to your pastor, church board, or even family members.

September 9, 2018

Awkward But Perfect Spiritual Formation Metaphor

This summer a local church ran a VBS program which had a mining theme, so I don’t know if the advertising tag line originated with the publisher or with the church, but it’s stuck in my head:

Come like a carbon
Leave like a diamond.

It’s definitely not a Biblical phrase, but it aptly describes God working to form us, shape us, mold us into the image of His Son.

And carbon, at least in the form of charcoal with which we’re more familiar, is messy. You touch it and your hands get dirty. But that’s what we hand God to work with when we ask him to assume Lordship of our lives.

On the other hand, there is nothing like the brilliance of light being reflected and refracted in a diamond. That’s the image of God’s completing His work in us, though we won’t fully see ourselves as perfected this side of eternity. That comes later.  

We all want this. But the crushing pressure of true diamond formation is unimaginable. Really, that is the metaphor. That becoming a diamond is sometimes going to be painful.

But it’s going to be worth it.

Come like a carbon
Leave like a diamond!

 

 

September 6, 2018

Anabaptist Distinctives: Bruxy Cavey

Bruxy Cavey Bus

In light of yesterday’s item in the Wednesday link/roundup (see below*) I thought we’d rerun this item from 2013. These were originally a series of tweets.

  • Anabaptists tend to emphasize following Jesus’ teachings and example more than perfecting our systematic theology on eschatology, atonement, etc.
  • Even slight shifts in emphasis (eg, how to live like Jesus vs. systematic theology) create very different church cultures.
  • Anabaptists not only differ to other Christians in the content of their theology, but also in the emphasis or focus of their theology.
  • Yes I find Anabaptists to be as flawed as any Christian group, but I hold out more hope for healthy growth when Christians focus on Christ.
  • We have confused gentleness with quietness. It’s time to hear and be heard…
  • Because we emphasize following Jesus, we must remind ourselves of grace
  • Anabaptists live and think like a church mentored by James. We need fellowship with churches more mentored by Paul (& vice versa).
  • Rather than fear, guilt, or shame….inspire people with hope, beauty, and courage. Let’s fascinate, not force, people toward the Gospel.
  • Evangelicals = Paul (rich theology, grace emphasis).
    Anabaptists = James (faith without works is dead so go live it). 
  • If the early church needed the teaching of Paul and James, Gal 2-5 & Matt 5-7, today’s church needs the voices of Evangelicals and Anabaptists.
  • Evangelical Emphasis = Jesus is Savior/Substitute. Believe! Anabaptist Emphasis = Jesus is Lord/King. Follow!

Bruxy Cavey is the teaching pastor of The Meeting House, Canada’s fastest growing church movement with satellite locations across Ontario. Although he grew up in a Pentecostal tradition, Bruxy’s church is part of the Be in Christ (BiC) denomination a subset of the Anabaptists.

For an excellent understanding of this, visit a sermon-series Bruxy’s church did in the summer with guests from various other churches. This link takes you to option for both audio video of the final episode with Bruxy interviewing Mike Krause from Southridge Mennonite Brethren Church in Welland. (Click the audio or video buttons in the download area, the others are not always functional. The video message begins following a promotional building fund clip and some quotes.) 


*Item referred to yesterday:

Allegedly under pressure from large financial donors, Fresno Pacific’s University’s graduate program in Anabaptist Theology has removed the visiting lecturer status of Bruxy Cavey, Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd, and has also demoted its president to professor status after he takes a sabbatical. Yikes! In one cohort, 21 out of 23 students have signed a letter of protest, while meanwhile 11 out of the 18 students who were registered for this year — many on the premise of getting to interact with these very lecturers — have withdrawn. Greg Boyd said he had, “letters of support from [Mennonite Brethren] pastors apologizing and worrying about their denomination losing Anabaptist distinctives and acclimating to American fundamentalism.”

August 19, 2018

Authenticity

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:28 pm

The person who led worship this morning was the same person who brought the sermon just a few weeks earlier. On both occasions I was struck by how her demeanor — or comportment is an older word once used — on stage is so consistent with what I know of her off stage.  

Consistency, authenticity and transparency are words which come to mind. Hopefully a few weeks before that, on the weekend it was my turn to speak, people saw the same thing: That there was no pretense; no changing of my words or my priorities; no embellishing my spirituality just because I was in the spotlight.

That’s what we should all strive for. We should aim to be the same people on stage as off stage. If, through faithful church attendance someone taps us to take a public, platform role on a Sunday, we shouldn’t need to turn on a switch in order to fulfill that role’s responsibilities. It should simply be who we are. It should be organic. It should just pour out of the overflow of our hearts. It’s out of that overflow the mouth speaks. 

References to families which are arguing and screaming in the minivan on the way to church and then emerge from the vehicle all smiles, should be banished from both our mindsets and our experience.

 

July 21, 2018

No, Everybody’s NOT Doing It

Because we’re inundated with media that tells us that everybody is doing it, the other side should probably have equal time. If you’re on the fringes of the whole God scene, or maybe not even that close, here’s what I think some people I know would tell you…

Materialism

  • many of us are not going to a vacation resort this year
  • what you think is our ‘new’ car actually came off a three-year lease
  • I really don’t want a bigger house, in fact I’d like to downsize
  • those new appliances we ‘bought’ were free with credit card points
  • we think all those electronic gadgets are a waste of money

Boasting

  • yes, we paid off the bank loan, but then we took out another
  • many of us have kids that did not get straight A’s on their report card
  • Harry’s new job was a departmental move, not a promotion
  • the ten pounds I lost wasn’t exercise, they closed the local Krispy Kreme
  • the little league team we coach made the finals only because another team had to forfeit

Ethics

  • there are many people who do not embellish their resumé
  • no, actually I don’t cheat on my income tax
  • since you asked, not everybody looks at porn online
  • sorry, you’re wrong; not everybody tells lies to get ahead
  • if you look carefully, most of us really do drive the speed limit

Sexuality

  • the kids in my core youth group at church actually aren’t sexually active
  • the truth is, I haven’t thought about having an affair with the receptionist
  • I’m not that insecure that I need to flirt to prove I’ve still “got it.”
  • a lot of us women are not interested in reading the fantasy bestseller
  • there are many people who think inward qualities matter more than outward appeal

Anything you’d like to add?

June 23, 2018

What Excites You, Spiritually?

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:44 am

passionsA few years ago my wife and I were in contact with someone who grew up in a Christian home and had made a profession of faith, but was exploring the teachings of other religions. We disagreed somewhat about the seriousness of this. She felt the exploration was healthy; I was worried about this person (a) spending too much time on this in comparison to time reading the Bible or devotional material and/or (b) drifting from the faith altogether.

I don’t mind if a person wants to look at the other options. It’s certainly foundational to any training in apologetics or even informal talks with people who have a different perspective. I would even go so far as to say that if you’re reading this blog, and you’ve spent your whole life in the Christian bubble, you might want to read up on what other faith systems believe and teach.

Rather, I was concerned more because of I saw this very much energizing the person in question. We all have hobbies and interests — some short term and others longer — but what matters to me is what causes a person’s eyes to light up. While I will admit to a lifetime of failings in this regard, Jesus should be that which generates our greatest passion.

What consumes you? Here are some questions we’ve run a few times on the blog, though not lately:

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your chance to control the conversation?
  3. What things have become the object your discretionary spending?
  4. If you could save one or two things before your house burned down, what would those things be?
  5. What do you want your life to be remembered for?

While this list is incomplete, it helps us to pinpoint the things that matter to us.

I’m generally not a big user of The Four Spiritual Laws approach, but I’m always aware of one particular image from the booklet. The dots in the diagram below represent our various hobbies and interests. In the previous panel to the one below they are somewhat random and different sizes and shapes, but when Christ takes control (i.e. on ‘the throne of our life’) the interests are ‘in harmony.’

Life in Balance - Christ Directed Life

I don’t agree that these interests are all of equal size necessarily — after all these years of blogging I still think I love music more than I love writing — but I like the idea of balance, and the idea of these things subject to Christ’s control.

We are very much defined by our passions, our position and our possessions. I think there’s a difference between an interest in something beyond the realm of Christian activity, and an unhealthy obsession about it.

Each one of us is, at any one moment in time, moving closer to the cross or moving away from the cross. I guess I’m erring on the side of caution because I don’t like to see what looks like someone moving further from the cross.


Read more here at Thinking Out Loud

May 26, 2018

Offensive Jesus

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

I occasionally make trips into the downtown and pass by crowds of the homeless, mentally disabled, physically disabled, and otherwise down on their luck. I know I’m supposed to be compassionate but it’s difficult. Admitting that it’s difficult doesn’t change my responsibilities, but I acknowledge that I feel very uncomfortable around these people.

I also pass by smokers, drinkers, angry people, rude people, smelly people, and people who dress without any sense of modesty. They aren’t down on their luck, I think to myself. They aren’t victims of a broken world, they are irresponsible, stupid, immoral people. I start to get angry. I am deeply offended that people like that exist.

I only moved into the downtown a year ago. Before then I was a child in a good Christian home, later working the summers at a good Christian summer camp, and then going to a good private Christian university. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the ugly side of the human condition but I almost never had to think about it and certainly didn’t have to regularly face it.

Now it’s becoming more and more apparent to me just what scum human beings can be and as this becomes clearer and clearer another idea becomes more prominent in tandem – these people are made in God’s image and he loves them.

Matthew 25 tells us that, to Jesus, the way we treat others is the way we treat him. When I was re-reading this chapter, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten a part of it. I remembered the parts where he talks about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked. That all sounds very good. But he also talks about visiting criminals and comforting them in prison.

So I’m to understand that God is so intimately connected with inmates (and who knows what horrible things they did to end up there) that I am to see them as the image of God and treat them as I would treat him? I previously thought I understood this but it only occurs to me now how scandalous – how offensive that idea is.

And it’s not just that. The entire story of Jesus is one big scandal. The rightful king of the universe gets born to a disreputable mother in a place where animals poop, condescends to be baptized by John (despite his protests), lives his life as a homeless weirdo, spends his time with corrupt government employees and adulterers, washes his disciples smelly feet like a servant, and then gets humiliated and killed. If I were to see this guy on my block, I think I’d cross to the other side of the road.

Imagine if some guy walked into your church, grabbed the baptismal font full of consecrated water for a holy sacrament, turned that water into beer, and gave it to the drunk guy outside. That’s sacrilegious. That’s the Marriage at Cana.

I am certainly not saying that Jesus isn’t holy and uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. In fact, I’m trying to say that Jesus is uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. Not the traditions, rituals, catechisms, etc. If I, who spent the first two decades of my life in Christian circles, can be suddenly jolted and upset by Jesus, then clearly it’s not enough to passively inherit a nominal faith. A living faith will upset you from time to time. It’ll offend you. If we’re in relationship with a real person and not a figure of our imagination, every now and then they’ll be someone we didn’t want or expect them to be. Then we have a choice to either walk away, or be uncomfortable for a while.

I am learning to see Christ in the people I would otherwise despise. It’s upsetting and I’m glad it is. It tells me I’m going in the right direction.

God is pure. God is morally perfect. God is worthy of our recognition, not in part but completely. And if I’m really after God, I have to recognize that one time he became really really unpleasant in order to make the rest of us unpleasant people, including myself at times, more like him.


Aaron — who looks a lot younger in the picture than he really is — describes himself as a bibliophile, language enthusiast, religion enthusiast, aspiring performer, and above all, a writer. This article appeared earlier this week at Vox Surrantis: The Voice of One Whispering. Used by permission.

May 22, 2018

Anniversary of a New Start: Are We There Yet?

Yesterday was a holiday Monday in Canada, and by about 9:30 PM, the local kids had used up their supply of fireworks. It was the silence, not the sound of bottle rockets, that reminded me of another May holiday Monday.

This one took place when I was 17. The impact wouldn’t be known until the next day, but on the Monday night, a beautiful young girl on our street was killed on the back of a motorcycle. My father came in my room on Tuesday morning and informed me of what he’d heard on the radio.

It hadn’t been a good weekend for me already. Clearly, my life was on a trajectory that wasn’t good. I had one foot in the church and one foot in the world and the gap between my feet was growing larger.

So I used Mary-Ellen’s death as a defining moment and decided, as the summer holidays came calling, to leave high school a different person and start college with a different focus, a better mindset, an attempt at cleaner living.

Which brings me to last night.

I don’t usually reflect on this on the May long weekend, but it occurred to me to ask — audibly — if I’m where I should be all those years later.

Clearly, my life was heading for a train wreck, and I’m considered a leader in the Christian community, and I’ve raised two fine boys who are serving Jesus, and I have several blogs, and lead worship and speak in churches, and… and… and…

But what about who I am? The inner life that few ever get to see?

Suddenly in the silence caused by the absence of fireworks, I had this sense that I’m not where I’m supposed to be; or at least being all that I could be. That I still have a long way to go. Most people, in a similar situation, would never admit this. But here we are…

…Sorry…it’s just me thinking out loud.

 

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