Thinking Out Loud

May 20, 2017

Giving Anonymously

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:35 am

The church I grew up in had a small 1′ x 3′ brass plaque on the end of every pew showing the name of the donor who had sponsored that pew. As far as I know, those plaques are still there. The senior citizens complex where my mom spent her last years had a wall which showed the donors for the building project, classified into various categories by size of donation. The university I attended does the same thing in their quarterly magazine showing the names in several amount ranges.

But what if you want to give anonymously? It isn’t always easy.

Still, some hold to a Christian ethic of doing good works in secret. They really don’t want themselves to be part of the picture.

The Direct Approach

This approach simply foregoes the anonymity. It says, this is something the Lord told me to do; or I don’t want credit for this, I am simply doing what the Holy Spirit is directing. I witnessed this just yesterday. It’s beautiful. But later I was asked by the recipients, “Who was that person?”

Online

If you’re giving to support a missions project (or something similar) that offers the option of giving online, the way these programs are set up make it difficult for the funds to reach the recipients without some type of notification being received which has a name attached to it. Some sites do allow the donor to remain unknown.

Other Electronic Options

You can email funds these days, but not knowing where it’s coming from, the recipient would probably suspect spam. Unfortunately that’s the world we live in.

Cash and Dash

We were the recipients of such donations on a few occasions. We opened the mailbox and there was an envelope containing, I believe $100 in cash. This is risky these days, and many people don’t carry enough cash to do this sort of thing spontaneously. Of course a check (that’s cheque for my UK readers) would cancel out any anonymity as the name and address are quite visible. I wouldn’t recommend actually mailing the cash envelope, so you might be seen dropping it off, unless you knew when they weren’t home. Complicating this are addresses which no longer have physical mailboxes.

The Intermediary

I have to do this over the next few days. I was given the gift card last week with clear instructions not to tell the recipient who it’s from. This is probably the best form of the type listed here, though the recipient might still connect the dots.

Gift in Kind

You could go to the utility office and offer to pay their bill. Would the local power company allow you to do this? Would they notify the recipient? Things are so bureaucratic these days that some might refuse.

Any other suggestions? How would you anonymously give someone money in a paper trail world?

 

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January 5, 2017

A Call for More Heterogeneity in the Local Church

Filed under: Christianity, Church, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:22 am

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
-Galatians 3:28 nlt

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
-Colossians 3:11 nlt

scot-mcknight-a-fellowship-of-differentsAbout ten weeks ago I looked at King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight and mentioned that we would come back to A Fellowship of Differents; both titles having recently been issued for the first time in paperback. Because of a number of circumstances which derailed much of my reading at the end of last year, I found myself forced to read this title more devotionally the first time, which was well suited to its 22 chapters; but later started at the beginning and re-read it in broader sweeps.

As the two scripture verses I chose to open this review clearly telegraph, this is a book about diversity in the (capital C) Church, but on a more practical level, in the local assembly you and I attend and the congregation which makes up that body. For McKnight, this is a factor central to the teaching of Jesus and (especially) the apostle Paul.

So what does this look like and how do we assure its reality? McKnight reveals his game-plan on page 24 where he notes his intention to track six aspects of Bible teaching:

  1. Grace
  2. Love
  3. Table
  4. Holiness
  5. Newness
  6. Flourishing

The chapters on Table — perhaps more of a shared meal and less of the once-per-month-service-postscript — could easily be a book in itself (and has been with many authors.) While love, grace and holiness are often taught, this one aspect of local church life is so terribly central to the fellowship McKnight envisions, and left me thinking perhaps many of us are missing something.

In the section on Holiness, there is a chapter devoted to one of the clearest descriptions I’ve seen of the decadence which surrounded the early Christians to whom Paul wrote his various letters. While the occasional reader might find this chapter too explicit, it provides us a necessary contrast between how certain terminology applied in Paul’s day to how we might (mis)understand those same words and phrases today.

A Fellowship of Differents is as much about Paul the apostle as it is about the church. In one section, McKnight asks, “Have you ever wondered what the apostle Paul looked like?” Quoting one source, “…a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged of noble [manner] with eyebrows meeting, rather hook-nosed, full of grace.” He then adds his own description, “Paul was a sick man, a poor man, and a foolish man… By the time he died that body of his must have been scarred all over. There is something morbidly fascinating about this beaten, bruised, broken-boned and bloody man…”

In many ways this discussion is a bonus; a wandering perhaps from the intention of earlier chapters, but a clear picture of the type of inclusion needed in a true heterogeneous church.

This isn’t a quick-fix guide to improving your church culture. I found the reward here to be far more personal; after all change begins with me, right? To repeat, you can read this in a few sittings, or choose, as I did initially, to take a month to read the 22 chapters as part of your personal devotional time.


A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together was released in paperback by Zondervan in 2016. More information is available at this publisher link. Long after the normal review parameters, a copy of the original hardcover was graciously provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

May 24, 2014

Love Thy Neighbor

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:15 pm

Drew Marshall mentioned this on today’s show. He said it was a billboard. I was able to find this image, plus several of the same text on a t-shirt. There may be things here that strike a nerve; conversely, you may already be copy-and-pasting this to someone in an email.

LoveThyNeighbor

April 15, 2012

Brandon Cox: Five Cautions

Brandon Cox is a Pastor, planting Grace Hills Church in northwest Arkansas. He also manages Pastors.com and Rick Warren’s Pastor’s Toolbox newsletter. Grace Hills Church is only eleven weeks old but Brandon has some cautions he wants to share.

If you read what follows, you’re joining the article in the middle, so I suggest you read this at Brandon’s blog, where it appeared under the title, Why Grace Hills Church is in Jeopardy.

If we fail to intentionally be the church, we will unintentionally just do church. And that’s true, no matter how much we say we’re going to “be the church.” Doing the Sunday gathering thing is what we’re good at, and even though we spend a lot of time and money on it, it’s still easier than scattering to be the church in our community.

If we fail to intentionally make disciples, we will unintentionally just make fans. I believe in making Jesus famous and bringing people into the enjoyment of His glory, but our mission is more than increasing the popularity of the church. The mission is to help people become reproducing, sold out Jesus-followers.

If we fail to intentionally be authentic, we will unintentionally just perform. I’ve performed before. In fact, I’m a recovering performer and have struggled with an addiction to the approval of others, so admitting my weaknesses is tough, but essential. I no longer trust my autopilot to lead me into genuine authenticity. Being real takes effort, and if we aren’t real, nobody heals.

If we fail to intentionally embrace all people, we will unintentionally play favorites. And the apostle James warned us about the danger of insulting the cross by picking and choosing those with whom we want to do ministry. Rather than hanging out with only the “churchy” people, of our color, of our political persuasion, of our cultural background etc., the gospel itself demands that we purposely break free and seek out new friendships for the gospel’s sake.

If we fail to intentionally be generous, we will unintentionally consume everything. By default, we spend it all, and we tend to spend pretty much all of our resources on ourselves. Churches tend to fall into the trap of sustaining their institutional machinery, maintaining their buildings and budgets, and begging for more volunteers and bigger offerings to keep the snowball rolling. Generosity requires purposeful sacrifice (if we can even use that word in light of the cross).

~Brandon Cox

February 10, 2012

How “Love One Another” Plays Out in the Real World

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 am

February 5, 2012

I Was Wrong: Some Christians Really Do Hate Gays

For the past decade I have strenuously objected to the notion that the defining feature of Christ-followers is that we are homophobic.  Maybe it’s because I live in Canada, and we’re a more pluralist, tolerant, softer-spoken bunch up here.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Christian and I really don’t know — nor would I say I have ever met — anyone who is an avowed gay-hater.  Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the Phelps gang on newscasts and consigned that type of hatred to “the lunatic fringe.”

But there are places in the United States — and I’m going to generalize here and say, more so, but not exclusively, in the southern US — where gay kids are being bullied for being gay by fellow students, and while the newspaper articles tend not to extrapolate beyond their boundaries, I think the kids get this kind of bias and prejudice from their parents. Even Evangelical parents.

So I was wrong.  There are some Christians out there who really do despise both gays who are out, and, hedging their bets just in case, anyone else they feel has homosexual tendencies.

What changed my mind was this article in Rolling Stone magazine.  And this story takes place in the north, in Minnesota.  The writer built the story around Brittany.

Like many 13-year-olds, Brittany knew seventh grade was a living hell. But what she didn’t know was that she was caught in the crossfire of a culture war being waged by local evangelicals inspired by their high-profile congressional representative Michele Bachmann, who graduated from Anoka High School and, until recently, was a member of one of the most conservative churches in the area. When Christian activists who considered gays an abomination forced a measure through the school board forbidding the discussion of homosexuality in the district’s public schools, kids like Brittany were unknowingly thrust into the heart of a clash that was about to become intertwined with tragedy.

At five online pages, the story takes some time to finish, but I encourage you to do so. To get a picture of what’s going on in public (and many private) middle schools and high schools. Especially if you’ve got kids who are just arriving at that age. Or kids that are in it. Or grandchildren. Or nieces and nephews.

The story describes, “a suicide epidemic that would take the lives of nine local students in under two years, a rate so high that child psychologist Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Minnesota-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, declared the Anoka-Hennepin school district the site of a ‘suicide cluster,’ adding that the crisis might hold an element of contagion; suicidal thoughts had become catchy, like a lethal virus.”

I work in a Christian bookstore.  I proudly tell customers that we don’t actually have any books in the store that are anti-gay.  That God loves all people.  But the parallel gospel of hate follows oral transmission lines.  It plays out in the extreme when members of a weird family picket soldiers’ funerals, but on a far wider scale in more subtle forms that almost never — except in this case — make the evening news.

Bottom line: There are Christian families — the whole family, not just the middle school and high school students — who are making life a living hell for other students who are gay, or think they’re gay, or are gay for the time being, or who have gay tendencies or sympathies.  The barbs and taunts issued in the name of Christian proclamation are not just causing one or two students to take their lives here and there, they are causing a self-inflicted slaughter.

It took an article in Rolling Stone for me to finally see that.

And it’s got to change.

…I think if I were to speak to Christian kids in high school, I’d say, quite boldly, ‘Join your school’s gay-straight alliance.  I don’t know what you’re going to do when you get there, and I don’t know what they’re going to talk about, and I don’t know how uncomfortable you’re going to be hanging out there, but just show up; stand with those kids; tell them you’re there to say that not all Christians are about hate and intolerance.’

But some parent is reading this and thinking, ‘Wait a minute.  If I send my son or daughter to that group, some kids are going to think that they’re gay.’

Is this such a bad thing if you’re confident that they are not? Wasn’t part of Jesus’ mission to come and identify with us in our place of need and hurt?  Didn’t they falsely accuse Him of the worst things involving the prostitutes and tax collectors that He chose to be his companions?

In Ontario, my home province, we have this incongruous system whereby the Roman Catholic Church has a fully taxpayer funded separate educational system wherein teachers and support staff are so bound by lawyer-drafted policies such that they aren’t even allowed to use the words ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ in a sentence.  That’s not how you “have the conversation.”

In my son’s public school there are signs in every classroom that say something to the effect, “This is an LGBT friendly environment.”  Good, but a bit one-sided.  I always want to attach a post-it to each one that says, “And it’s Gr8 to be Str8.”  Parents in Manitoba have objected to similar classroom signage, but I’d rather lean in the direction of tolerance than toward the atmosphere of hatred and division.

Does this mean I’m soft on the gay question?  Actually — and I’ve said this previously — I think a generation of teenagers, both male and female, have been seduced by things on the internet.  They’ve found themselves in relationships (or serial relationships) which seem good and fulfilling, and perhaps are for a season, but at the expense of another path they might have chosen, another road they might have traveled.

But their stories aren’t over yet.  Their final chapters haven’t been written.

And I’m not going to sit by quietly while so-called Evangelicals or Christians cause their story to be cut short.

image: vi.sualize.us

December 30, 2010

Banned from Stuff Christians Like

I have always been a fan of Jon Acuff.   We started our blogs around the same time, though I suspect his daily readership is just a tiny bit larger than this one.    (He also backdated his early posts, so early visitors ended up seeing what appeared to be a work already in progress.)

I reviewed his book not once, not twice, but three times on blogs I write or administrate.   I’ve linked to him many, many times here.  Plus, I created a sidebar advertisement for the book which appeared on those same three blogs.

But I couldn’t help but notice several months ago that the recent comments I was leaving on the blog were not appearing.

Then, last week, Jon wrote about the fact that sometimes his wife sees some rather hurtful comments online before he does.    He then went on to talk about how sometimes these comments are simply intended to wound or discourage.

I figured that was as good a time as any to both (a) suggest that it is equally hurtful when valid, positive comments are excluded; and (b) to thereby test the waters to see if that comment might actually appear.   I didn’t copy and paste the comment before sending it, but I think I ended up by saying that no matter what else, I have always been and will always be supportive.

I think Jon Acuff is a brilliant writer who is genuinely funny and yet, at the same time has a real heart for people, a phrase he would probably have some fun with.    I have been thrilled to introduce his book and his blog to a number of people this year.

But I am currently being blocked from participating in that particular blog community.

Without knowing why.

Mystery.

Do you have any Christian blogs where your comments have been blocked without any particular provocation on your part?   Did you stop reading those blogs, or are you still a fan nonetheless?

Graphic:  Today’s graphic is actually from Facebook (which I’m not on) not any blogging network.    I fully empathize with anyone who has been so blocked without reasonable justification.

Elsewhere on this blog:

May 18, 2010

Community: At Church versus Online

This first appeared here a year ago, but for new readers, I thought it was worth a second look.

If your background is mainline

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “the passing of the peace.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake (or in a few places, a “holy” kiss) and say, “The peace of Christ,” or “The peace of Christ be with you.” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “And to you also;” or “And to you also, the peace of Christ.” If the church is smaller, you know these people, at least by name, but if it’s larger or it’s tourist season, you may not know them at all.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the pancake breakfast and the strawberry tea held each year.

To get to know people a little deeper, or other people, you can join the choir, or volunteer for a host of guilds or committees that are always in need of help. You’ll also find a lot of the same people serve on civic projects and thereby will run into them in other contexts outside of the church itself. Don’t expect to break into the core community until you’re a “regular,” which occurs after you’ve attended and been involved for a gazillion years.

If your background is Evangelical

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “greeting” or it may be formalized as “the ritual of friendship.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake and say, “Good Morning;” or “Did you happen to catch the game yesterday?” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “Is that a new car I saw in the parking lot?” If the church is smaller, you might know these people, at least by name, or if it’s a mid-sized church, you can look them up in the photo directory when you get home.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the annual potluck lunch and the annual bowling night.

To get to know people a little deeper, there isn’t a lot to volunteer for, since everything is done by the paid staff. The mens’ and womens’ retreats would help, but that’s $120 and $130 respectively. Better to join a small group. That way you’ll get to spend time in at least one person’s house each week, and get to know them and about four other families (or eight other singles) more intimately.

If your option is blogging community

There is a possibility that there will be people in your fellowship who you do not have any idea what they look like, or exactly where they live. However, you don’t have to wait for an opportunity to engage conversationally. Those opportunities occur at any time and may produce a variety of responses from a variety of people.

Through those conversations you will learn about their likes and dislikes, events in the life of their family, where they stand on a variety of issues, and what challenges and needs they face. You’ll possibly learn the names of — or see pictures of — their kids or their parents, be given insights into their job, and you’ll almost certainly know a little about every book they’ve read since they started blogging. And they’ll know the same about you.

You may find very quickly that their prayer requests become your prayer requests; you feel drawn to the needs of these people as one might with someone in their church family. If Twitter enters into the picture, you’ll know even more about their daily routine, the various thoughts and challenges that burst into the brain brought about by various stimuli. And if you Twitter, they’ll have that input from you also.

Plus, they will introduce you to their online friends, and you might pick a few of those to subscribe to or at least bookmark, and over time, perhaps their friends will become your friends also. It’s not unusual to pick up e-mail addresses from comments you’ve received and send out some off-the-blog messages. (In fact, two weeks ago, I sent out about 60 such e-mails about a project I wanted to get going that needed an off-the-blog start-up.)

Finally, if you want to get really hardcore, you might find yourself contemplating attending a bloggers event which sometimes take place in conjunction with other events, and at other times are stand-alone events. Not because online fellowship is insufficient, but simply because the relationships are already well established. (And nobody’s pretending to be a 17-year old girl from Ohio; at least I hope not!)

So at the end of the day, online community isn’t better or worse than Sunday church fellowship; it’s just different. And I would argue it’s a good different. One can’t entirely substitute for the other, and hopefully people using online community as a surrogate for a physical community that is currently absent from their life would, over time, find themselves drawn back to something resembling a church or house church; and then maintain a balance between the two relational paradigms.

A year later, I’m convinced that one of the problems in the Body of Christ is that we truly don’t know each other. You can attend a megachurch and be in a crowd of thousands yet feel completely alone. There is a desire to know others and be known. Or, as the theme from Cheers reminds us, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name / And they’re always glad you came.”

December 28, 2009

Post #1001 – Don’t Go To Church

One of the things about Andy Stanley’s church that impresses me is a study that they did using a Fortune 500 company where they conducted interviews with people in their services who had been in attendance for five weeks or less.

Let me pause and say that this speaks huge volumes about their church when they have enough people passing through on a regular basis that it’s worthwhile to employ a company to survey those who have been there only a very, very short time.

What they found was that many of these people were already interested in “discerning next steps.”  They wanted to jump in with both feet and get involved; they wanted to get their hands dirty.   (Okay, technically, that would be jumping in with both hands.)

I was reminded of this in a church yesterday when I looked at their bulletin which runs a recurring promotional paragraph about their men’s ministry, and it talks about a couple of social events their group holds a few times each year.   I couldn’t help but think, “Okay, but what else do you do?”

I should say that this group does in fact offer some optional missiony things throughout the year — like that word?  I just made it up — but they don’t advertise them much.   I think people are looking for a cause.   I think people who haven’t even crossed the line of faith yet are spiritually savvy enough to realize that Christians, if they are going to bear that name at all, should be about changing the world.

And then, in the evening I came across the Faith In Action site.  This California-based organization partners churches with projects.   Frankly, I’m not so sure that there ought to be any church in any part of the U.S. that has to engage an outside agency to point them in the direction of need.   But what the heck, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt; there are many churches out in the American suburban hinterland that may be a tad isolated from what’s goin’ on down in the ‘hood.   Or even what the church down the block is up to, which is another partnership service Faith in Action offers.

Faith in Action will also provide you with additional promotional materials to support your project.   Banners.  T-Shirts.   Postcards.   Doorhangers.   (Ouch!  I just bit my tongue.)

They’re also promoting a Faith in Action Sunday on 10/10/10.    Nice numeric optics.   But people in the inner city, people in need of jobs, people in need of food on their table,  people in need of housing, people in need of justice, people in need of medical help, people in need of freedom from addictions, people in need of love, etc.; these people all need help NOW.    Not on 10/10/10.    It scares me to think a church could be aware of need but decide to hold back until that Sunday.    I hope instead that 10/10 is actually the day they do THE REALLY BIG PROJECT.

But I do like their T-shirts.    Don’t Go To Church, Be The Church.

Like, a big Amen to that.

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