Thinking Out Loud

November 21, 2017

“Who Is Jesus Christ in Your Life?”

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:46 am

I knew Ron well enough to say hello, but nothing more. At 92 — twice my age — he was one of the older seniors in the seniors group, but he still drove his own car, seemed to have a youthful outlook, and raised his hands with exuberance during a worship time comprised of another generation’s music. I often wondered what his secret was.

So when I heard him talking about having to call a plumber for a stopped drain in the bathtub of his town home, I butted into the conversation and said, “I could come over this afternoon and have a look at it.”

He looked me up and down. I’m not exactly known for my technical or mechanical skills. “I’ve already tried a plunger, liquid drain cleaner and a sewer snake;” he began.

“I have a secret weapon;” I declared.

After a post-church lunch, I rang his doorbell. He opened the door and looked at what was in my right hand. “A Shop-Vac? I have one of those;” and the asked, “The water doesn’t damage them?”

“This is actually part of a carpet cleaning thing;” I told him. “It works for us.”

I’d brought two rags, one to seal around the hose and one to plug the relief drain to get maximum suction. I ran just a bit of water, then turned it on. For ten seconds there was nothing but the noise of the machine, but then the vacuum hose lurched violently and I knew we’d had a measure of success. I turned the thing off, ran some water which drained perfectly and turned to him and announced, “My fee is $200.”

At first he didn’t laugh. “Actually;” I said, “There is something you might be able to help me with. How would you like to go out for coffee?”

“I have a perfectly good coffee machine here; though I prefer hot tea.”

“Let’s make it two hot teas then, and I’ll dump the contents of this in the back of your garden if that’s okay.”

I put the carpet vac in my car and came back in and washed my hands in the same bathroom we’d been in, running the bathtub water once more to make sure everything was truly fixed.

I took a deep breath; “So here’s my question. I really want to learn. Who is Jesus Christ in your life?”

All was silent as I sat down at his kitchen table except for the kettle on the stove approaching a boil. He seemed lost deep in thought and then smiling he said, “You are wise in the way you asked that question, like someone only allowed one so they have to make it count. You didn’t ask me ‘Who is Jesus’ because you’ve settled the answer to that with decades attending church. No, you added in ‘in your life’ because you want to know how it all plays out, right?”

I nodded. He had one of those boxes with a choice of tea flavors; a selection was made, water was added, and some shortbread biscuits were offered, which I declined since eating one on my part would necessitate eating all of them.

“He’s here now.” Then more silence. “He’s watched you fix my drain and he’s watched me make the tea. He liked the part where you threatened to charge me $200, but he especially liked your willingness to drop by for a visit. He’s beside me when at 92 I’m driving my car and he’s beside me when at 92 I’m trying to figure out my email account. I’m a widower now, but I’m not alone. I have a friend. I find him absolutely fascinating. At various points in the day, it’s almost like I hear his voice. Several times each week I go out and spend time with other people who know him, too. Some of them seem to know him differently than I do. Some say they know him but I wonder to what degree. I talk to him several times a day. Perhaps hourly. I don’t really hang up the call if you know what I mean; the line is always open.”

Then another long pause followed by, “So, how is Jesus Christ in your life?”

My turn to be silent. Did he realize he’d changed who to how? Same number of letters. Actually one is an anagram of the other.

“I certainly know about him;” I began. “I know the timelines, the locations, the people with whom he interacted. I know the doctrines he taught, the miracles he did, the new standard of behavior he implemented. I can explain atonement theory. I know I was a sinner and I asked that the covering he provided for sin cover me also. I endeavor to make him Lord; to run everything I do by him to counter-check me if I’m making a wrong decision or deviating from the path. And I get that the incarnate Christ I know so much about sits at the right hand of God. And I am to share this with others.”

My voice trailed off.

Ron took a long, long sip of tea; swallowed and just said, “And?”

I could only repeat what he’d said with the same interrogative tone, “And?”

He smiled and decided two could play that game; “And then what happened?”

“You seem to radiate a connection to Jesus that I don’t feel I have.”

“Some of that;” Ron replied, “Comes with time. Here, let me show you something.”

He walked into another room and emerged seconds later holding a beautiful Ovation guitar. “You play;” as he handed it to me, “Give it a go.”

I’m really not all that good — it’s not my main instrument — but I played a G chord and then a G7. There was no denying this was an expensive instrument. He was staring intently at my right hand fingers on the fret-board. “What’s a G5?” he asked in complete sincerity.

“How do you know about that? It’s a called a power chord. It’s not a group of leaders who meet in Europe.” I’d let that last one slip out before realizing it was a bit condescending.

“No, that would be G7. But wait, there’s more;” he said getting up and returned from the same room with a large folio titled Modern Worship Collection.

I’d seen this book before. His was well-used. The best I could muster was, “Really?”

He just smiled.

I had to press him on this one, “What’s the deal?”

“I could probably hold my own on about half of the songs we sing Sunday mornings, but they’re never going to ask me on that stage. Never…”

I made a mental note to email the worship director with a bizarre suggestion.

“…But you can be up there. You can do the things you do. I heard you spoke to the youth group last Sunday night. Do that while you can. They certainly don’t want to hear me…”

I made a mental note to email the youth director with an out-of-the-box suggestion.

“…But you get caught up in the doing of things and then…” he paused as if deciding which of several directions to take the conversation, “…Well you know about Mary and Martha, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good, then I don’t need to say it. I’m guessing Mary knew she could be helping in the kitchen. I’m sure she heard the background sounds of the pots and pans or whatever they had back then. She had to make a choice. These people had heard Jesus teach before. Some of it was probably repetition. How many times have you heard a sermon on The Prodigal Son?”

“Lots.”

“But there’s always something new, right? You want to hear it over and over like a song you can’t stop playing. You just keep the CD on repeat.”

“For someone who is 92, you seem to navigate technology quite well.”

He ignored that. “You just want to drink it in; hear it all one more time. Because he’s your friend. You want to spend hours together. Yes you can learn from him, but it’s also just spending time. You never quite get enough. But it also just so happens that you know he’s much wiser than you, and it also just so happens that he’s someone to whom you owe a great deal. You come to love him, but always knowing he loves you more in a way you’ll never be able to match.”

“My wife and I do that ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you more’ thing.”

“Yeah but he wins each time. He loves you more.”

I didn’t know where to go next. I did the proverbial checking the time on my phone thing and pushed the mug away from me and started to get up.

But he had one thing more to add, “Oh and just so I’m clear, there’s times he really ticks me off.”

“Wait, what?”

“It’s a friendship. Friends poke and prod each other. Friends don’t always agree. But he’s always looking out for my best. Why don’t we pray together before you leave?”

“I’d like that;” I said and sat down again.

Father God, we love you;” he began and then he continued for several minutes saying some personal things that clearly applied to my life which I’m not sure are necessary to add here. It was like he knew me really well.

Or maybe it was just that he knew Jesus and Jesus had let him in on a few things.

 

 

 

 

 

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July 30, 2015

Time With God

Are people spending time with God each day, or taking a devotional shortcut?

A fair percentage of evangelicals would, if asked, respond positively to the statement, “I spend time daily doing devotions and/or reading my Bible.” This is certainly commendable, though if this was a survey question, I wonder if they would qualify how much time constitutes time. I also wonder to what extent the early church would recognize our modern practice of devotions.

Our Daily Bread - Radio Bible ClassIn North America, we’re blessed to have a number of free daily devotional booklets available to us. Our Daily Bread and Upper Room are two of the best known, but some Christian denominations print their own. Most of these follow a very similar format.

In the UK there is Every Day With Jesus, pioneered by the late Selwyn Hughes. On the surface its pages look exactly alike to Our Daily Bread, but you’re actually studying a single theme, continuously for 60 days. (No forgetting what this morning’s devo was all about.) Readers there pay to get these things (along with its successor, Lucas on Life by Jeff Lucas) and that no doubt affects their commitment to using them faithfully. (I have at least ten years’ worth of EDWJ in a box under the bed!)

When I started this blog’s sister, Christianity 201, the idea was that by “digging a little deeper” we could produce something that went beyond the “theme verse, three paragraphs with cute story, and a prayer” type of format. I found in my early days of blogging that I was getting caught up in all kinds of issue-related, topical-interest material, but it all lacked enduring substance. I could have simply ran a daily C201 post here at Thinking Out Loud — which would have greatly increased blog stats — but decided to launch C201 under its own banner. (Some people here have never seen C201, and some readers there have never clicked over to Thinking Out Loud.)

About a month ago at C201, I repented of the “no illustrations” snobbery and admitted that my apparent sober-mindedness probably had its roots in pride more than anything. Didn’t Jesus leverage the power of a good story?

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. Matthew 13:34 NLT

Still, I think that some people simply do the absolute minimum. Booklets like Our Daily Bread are a great way to start the day, or to end it; but if you’ve been on this journey for any length of time, there’s got to be something more. In North America, Australasia and Western Europe, we’re blessed with study guides, commentaries, Bible reference materials, and more Christian living books than any of us could read in a lifetime; not to mention the great host of Christian podcasts and church sermon media online.

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.  Hebrews 5:12 NLT

The little booklets that are available are great. They’ve been a major influence in the lives of so many, and continue to be even today.  However, some people — including people reading this — really need to start digging a little deeper.


Normally I don’t draw attention to the subject tags that appear underneath the title of each article, but as I tagged this one, I was reminded of all the things this touches on.

  • Christian maturity,
  • the deeper Christian life,
  • spiritual disciplines,
  • spiritual formation

April 15, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Hear See Post

Featured Stories

Churches Without Buildings – “Church attendance and construction boomed in North America during a time when having your own building was expected. For churches, businesses and families. In my parents’ era, owning real estate was a sign of success, status and stability. So churches that wanted to be seen as reliable and successful bought buildings. Often before there was a congregation to fill them. When someone started their own business, they would leave their house to sit in a building behind a desk all day long – even if every aspect of that business could have been done from their house. The brick-and-mortar building meant reliability and permanence… Brick-and-mortar may not be dead, but it is on life-support… The church should be leading the way in this idea… We already lose more churches every year from inability to pay the mortgage than from any other factor.”  Speaking of buildings…

The Ecology of Worship Gatherings – Every so often I find an article that is a few months old that should not have been missed. Such is the case here on the physical space we use for worship: “The very spatial mediums we use to communicate those messages shape and architect us in powerful ways. In fact, as a medium, the literal physical spaces we use may actually subvert the very messages we are preaching. What if the arrangement of spaces are actually speaking louder than what we are saying in our sermons? Ecology is the branch of biology that looks at how organisms relate to one another, and to their physical surroundings. If we apply this field of study to our worship gatherings… The premise of an Ecology of Gathering is that the non-living components dynamically interact and stimulate the living components (biotic), creating a living spiritual climate. This climate communicates a message, and over time, this climate controlled message trains us into a certain way of thinking and behaving.”

Pew Research on Religious Growth to 2050 – “In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion…” As to the world as a whole, “by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30% of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31%), possibly for the first time in history.” The Nones continue to grow also: “At the same time, however, the unaffiliated are expected to continue to increase as a share of the population in much of Europe and North America. In the United States, for example, the unaffiliated are projected to grow from an estimated 16% of the total population (including children) in 2010 to 26% in 2050.” There is much more to the report, presented in text, graphs and tables.

Getting Your Hands Dirty – “I was speaking, learning, teaching, and advocating for mentoring without actually doing it. In anthropology, there are two types of field research: Etic and EmicEtic researchers make their observations from outside the culture. Emic researchers get up-close to local customs, traditions, and beliefs. Our temptation is to stay on the outside. To be Etic but not Emic. To attend endless conferences, read endless books, buy endless t-shirts. To dump cold water on our heads, take a selfie and hashtag it. To be about the latest ideas, like those on Mars Hill, to be waiting to see something new, like the newest post or picture online. Ideas, when used this way, can be very self-indulgent. All the while, we remain outside the issue, and quite possibly, outside of our own story. But the great ideas – love, justice, intimacy, reconciliation – require something of us.”

CBS Profile of Crossmaker Runs 22 Years Later – On Easter Sunday, CBS ran a profile of a man that was scheduled to appear in 1993. If you’ve driven the interstate highway system, you’ve seen Bernard Coffindaffer’s work: Crosses erected within sight of the freeway. “Coffindaffer has spent his own money on this project — close to $3 million … to buy the wooden poles, to hire road crews, to perform routine cross maintenance.” But the video never aired when he died of a sudden heart attack. Years later, his legacy continues: “There are 48,000 miles of interstate highway in America,” Sara Abraham of Crosses Across America said. “We will have crosses every 25 miles all across America.”

Editorial / Devotional on Christian Maturity– “Jason and I have often wondered what a foreigner or alien would think the church believed if they simply judged us on the books we buy and sell. As I walked through the aisles, I started to worry that they would perceive a church that is weak and powerless, so consumed with our own needs and self-esteem that we constantly battle the same issues, and never become effective agents of God’s mission in the world… Sadly, may of us in America are “grown up,” in that we’ve been serving Christ a long time, but we have not yet reached maturity. Like it says in Hebrews, we should be teachers, but we need someone to teach us the basics over and over again.”

Church History Lesson: The Non-Jurors – “[T]he new order was demanding that all clergy and office holders take oaths to the new king. Many clergy, including some of the church’s greatest spiritual and intellectual beacons, found that they simply could not accept. They refused to swear those oaths, and by dint of that, became non-swearers, “Non-Jurors.” They began a domestic schism from the established church, and ordained their own succession of bishops…They agonized over issues of ecclesiology, and at the same time sought new ways of leading a pure Christian life… you have very likely encountered portions of their writings or hymns. It was for instance Thomas Ken who wrote the famous Doxology.”

When Sharing Your Faith is Costly – The woman in the story works for the government-run National Health Service (NHS) in the UK: “Miss Wasteney had discussions about Christianity and Islam with a junior colleague, Enya Nawaz, and offered to pray with her when she became upset about health problems. She also invited her to church and gave her a book called I Dared to Call Him Father, about a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. However, Miss Nawaz accused her of trying to convert her to Christianity and made a formal complaint. Miss Wasteney was suspended for nine months while the East London NHS Foundation Trust investigated.” In a story update, the Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled against her.

On My Own Blog – A look at what I call Spiritual Recidivism and a review of Did God Kill Jesus by Tony Jones.

Finally… – How younger leaders can gain credibility, from Brad Lomenick who tracks up-and-coming Christian leaders, 11 suggestions. Sample: “Become an expert NOW, even before you need to be. Set a standard of excellence way before you’re the leader in charge who is expected to. That way when it’s your turn to come off the bench you are ready.”

What Happens to Old Veggie Tales Characters
Short Takes

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February 2, 2015

David The Shepherd King: Bible’s Most Detailed Narrative

Leap Over a WallI’m trying to continue my routine of alternating between reading a currently-published book — the ones publishers send to me — and a previously published title.  Two weeks ago I was encouraged to look at Leap Over a Wall by Eugene Peterson, an author who I am increasingly drawn to read more of.

The book would fit in well to what is described as an “application commentary,” though I suspect one publisher may have a copyright on that phrase. He looks at the life of David in the Old Testament books that are named after Samuel and provides insights for the modern reader from the Bible’s most-covered character.

But Peterson also provides insights from his own career as a pastor.  He knows people, what motivates them, what frustrates them; and he knows church life intimately. The subtitle, Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians is most appropriate.

There are 20 chapters each going several directions at once.

First we see each part of the narrative involving David’s interaction with another person (Doeg, Abagail, Mephibosheth, plus the expected ones) or place (Brook Besor, En-Gedi, Ziklag, Jerusalem) and having a theme (Imagination, Sanctuary, Wilderness, Suffering, etc.)

Second, each begins with a quotation from the New Testament. Although this is a First Testament story, it has links to the Second Testament gospel, with a number of parallels to the life of Christ.

Third, I believe each chapter has a link to one of the Davidic Psalms that was written around the same time as the narrative, poetry which gives us a great window into David’s heart. So the book can be seen as a limited commentary on the Psalms as well as on I Samuel or II Samuel.

Fourth, each chapter very much relates to the human condition; to the state we find ourselves occupying in the 21st Century. There is a lot of David in each of us, we are perhaps most acquainted with our failures, our brokenness; but there is also the resident potential for much achievement as we allow God to be reflected in and through us.  

This book can be read in one or two sittings, or as I did, you can read a chapter-a-day devotionally. This is a book I would also want to return to a second time.  

Also, I want to especially recommend this to people who are familiar with Peterson’s work with The Message translation but like me a few years back, hadn’t checked out his other writing.

David is proof that God can use us in our weakness, in our broken condition perhaps we are more attuned to him than at times we would think we had it all together.


Note: A study guide for the book is published separately.


 

 

 

October 6, 2013

Christianity: Flying Solo

This is a rebroadcast (!) of an article which appeared here a year ago…

Increasingly, many people are following a solo track in their Christian life. With a proliferation of streaming church services, online sermons and podcasts and Christian books appearing at rate we’ve never before experienced, it’s both tempting and easy to go it alone.

In the past I’ve challenged some people to wrestle with a few questions:

  1. What do you do for Christian fellowship?
  2. What people or group comprise your covering when you need prayer?
  3. Where do you experience the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion?
  4. How do you experience corporate worship?

These are all serious questions which have theological underpinnings; and anyone who is actually maturing in their Christ-following is going to run up against these sooner or later.

But with the fiscal year-end serving as a reminder — though hopefully not fully the motivation — it’s also a good time to look at another question:

  • Where or how do you experience alms-giving or tithing?

If you are currently outside of a faith family, may I make a few suggestions?

First you should give something to whoever does provide you with teaching and nurture: The online church, the radio ministry, the provider of devotional literature you receive. I’m assuming that one or more of these exist in your life because absent those factors, plus the ones listed above, I’d question the arena in which your faith journey operates.

Second here’s a stretched analogy to help you find some giving possibilities:

Jerusalem

In our area this could include:

  • a ministry reaching youth such as a local chapter of Youth for Christ
  • a faith-based ministry reaching the poor and marginalized such as The Salvation Army
  • the local Christian radio station which relies on donations more than commercial revenue
  • the local crisis pregnancy center
  • the local Christian school which needs donation to supplement parent fees

Judea

Here you’re looking at regional ministries. In our area this might be:

  • Christian camp ministries, making a difference in the life of children and teens
  • organizations that place Bibles in prisons, schools, hotels such as The Gideons
  • faith-based group homes and residences for people dealing with addictions or family crisis

Samaria

In the original passage, Samaria is more of a descriptor of “the place you don’t want to go” than a geographic reference. To me, this represents a ministry to a select people group than a particular place. We’ve known of ministries to a select ethnic group within our country; to street people in urban centers; to Gay/Lesbians; to professionals; to people needing jobs; to people with a specific medial condition; to the elderly; to a specific arts community; etc.

Uttermost Parts

This could include:

  • worldwide Bible translations organizations such as Wycliffe or Bible distributors such as the various Bible societies or Megavoice
  • faith-based relief and development agencies such as Compassion
  • ministries raising awareness of religious persecution of missionaries and Christians in nations claiming religious liberty; and/or dealing with issues such as human trafficking
  • evangelistic organizations with worldwide impact such as Billy Graham’s

These are just suggestions.

As a Lone Ranger Christian, you are still part of the body if not a local assembly. Addressing the giving question still doesn’t address the prayer and worship and fellowship and communion issues, but it’s a place you can begin, even on a weekday.

Comments?

February 24, 2013

5 Years of Blogging: What Really Matters

Blog AnniversarySo what have we learned so far? I can’t speak for “we” but I can speak for “me.”

First of all, God has a very large, very diverse family here. Even the most prominent are but a very tiny piece of much larger puzzle. And we can be puzzling at times. We have to learn to see those who believe differently on peripheral issues not in terms of the differences, but in the light of our agreement on the core principles of our faith.

Second — and this is related — only a few of us ever attract attention. Some make the headlines for good reasons, and some for activities not so God-honoring. But the great majority of those of you (us) who follow Christ do so “in your small corner, and I in mine.” We quietly work out what it means to be kingdom people. We try not to be star-struck.

Third, our best hope of kingdom living, our best desire to do what The Book says we should do is constantly under threat both from the larger culture and from the church culture. The broader culture wants to bring us down to their level of depravity, the church culture wants to take our simple faith and make it into religious observance.

Fourth, the western church is totally corrupted by materialism and success. Even the poorest of the poor in developed countries enjoys a level of comfort unknown in the two-thirds world.

Fifth, for the most part, even the most vile and uncharitable people love their children. There are some elements that are just part of the human experience we have in common. God sees the redemptive potential in even the worst person, and so also should we.

Sixth, for the Christian, text matters. Far too much — including what you’re reading right now — is being written that doesn’t start with scripture or isn’t rooted in Bible text. (The daily hunting and gathering for C201 reminds me each day how few bloggers actually begin with text.) Scripture memory is generally on the decline, and many — men especially — aren’t reading Christian literature at all.

Seventh, each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change.

Eighth, we need to travel lightly. This is an area where I have failed. We have too much stuff. But people who have their suitcase packed are free to follow God’s leading. This may seem to lend itself more to single people, but I’ve heard of families who followed God’s leading to simply pack up and go.

Ninth, we need to stop always characterizing behavior in terms of right and wrong, and recognize that in many cases, missing the mark means missing God’s best. While sin is sin with God — He has no gradients — we need to think in terms of: good, better, best. Then we should work to promote and practice the best but not alienate those currently settling for the good (or less).

Tenth, we need to do what Henry Blackaby calls ‘coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is at work.’ We need to celebrate and join hands with people and organizations who are spreading the kingdom by traditional means or by reinventing the wheel. We need to focus on what and who we admire, the people and institutions that are excellent and praiseworthy. That’s part of the purpose of Thinking Out Loud.

~Paul Wilkinson

October 9, 2012

Lone Ranger Christianity

Increasingly, many people are following a solo track in their Christian life. With a proliferation of streaming church services, online sermons and podcasts and Christian books appearing at rate we’ve never before experienced, it’s both tempting and easy to go it alone.

In the past I’ve challenged some people to wrestle with a few questions:

  1. What do you do for Christian fellowship?
  2. What people or group comprise your covering when you need prayer?
  3. Where do you experience the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion?
  4. How do you experience corporate worship?

These are all serious questions which have theological underpinnings; and anyone who is actually maturing in their Christ-following is going to run up against these sooner or later.

But with the fiscal year-end serving as a reminder — though hopefully not fully the motivation — it’s also a good time to look at another question:

  • Where or how do you experience alms-giving or tithing?

If you are currently outside of a faith family, may I make a few suggestions? 

First you should give something to whoever does provide you with teaching and nurture: The online church, the radio ministry, the provider of devotional literature you receive. I’m assuming that one or more of these exist in your life because absent those factors, plus the ones listed above, I’d question the arena in which your faith journey operates.

Second here’s a stretched analogy to help you find some giving possibilities:

Jerusalem

In our area this could include:

  • a ministry reaching youth such as a local chapter of Youth for Christ
  • a faith-based ministry reaching the poor and marginalized such as The Salvation Army
  • the local Christian radio station which relies on donations more than commercial revenue
  • the local crisis pregnancy center
  • the local Christian school which needs donation to supplement parent fees

Judea

Here you’re looking at regional ministries. In our area this might be:

  • Christian camp ministries, making a difference in the life of children and teens
  • organizations that place Bibles in prisons, schools, hotels such as The Gideons
  • faith-based group homes and residences for people dealing with addictions or family crisis

Samaria

In the original passage, Samaria is more of a descriptor of “the place you don’t want to go” than a geographic reference. To me, this represents a ministry to a select people group than a particular place. We’ve known of ministries to a select ethnic group within our country; to street people in urban centers; to Gay/Lesbians; to professionals; to people needing jobs; to people with a specific medial condition;  to the elderly; to a specific arts community; etc.

Uttermost Parts

This could include:

  • worldwide Bible translations organizations such as Wycliffe or Bible distributors such as the various Bible societies or Megavoice
  • faith-based relief and development agencies such as Compassion
  • ministries raising awareness of religious persecution of missionaries and Christians in nations claiming religious liberty; and/or dealing with issues such as human trafficking
  • evangelistic organizations with worldwide impact such as Billy Graham’s

These are just suggestions.

As a Lone Ranger Christian, you are still part of the body if not a local assembly. Addressing the giving question still doesn’t address the prayer and worship and fellowship and communion issues, but it’s a place you can begin, even on a weekday.

Comments?

July 23, 2012

Undermining The Faith Foundation of Others

Three things this week came together to cause me to be concerned about what happens when people holding to more liberal Christian beliefs have influence over others.

The Book

The first was a confession from a guy I’ve gotten to know well in the last couple of years. It seems his pastor at a previous church had loaned him a copy of a book written by a well known, but very liberal Canadian “Christian” author.  He told us that the book totally undermined his faith; that he stopped going to church for three years; and that during those years his two children dropped out of church [at this point, possibly] never to return.

The Blog

Then, last week I linked to the Christian Clichés article. Personally, I love it when people call into question some of the words and phrases we’re emotionally bonded to; but I had not done a lot of background research on the author, and in the comments section of this blog, and other blogs that linked to it, some disturbing things came to light concerning the author’s orthodoxy.

The Sermon

Then, on the weekend, I decided to ‘help’ out a guy who has been asked — for the first time — to do a Sunday morning sermon at his church on the subject of a popular Old-Testament story. Knowing that a mega church in Grand Rapids, MI was covering this same territory, I sent him the sermon link before realizing that the pastor in questions has some serious misgivings as to whether or not the story can be accepted as fact.

Conclusion

We live in a time when doubts are cool; where transparency about a faith struggle is considered a virtue; where it’s okay to call the creation narrative in Genesis a “poem;” where hell may or may not exist and may or may not be everlasting. Still, the rule of hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) that has always stood Christians in good stead over the years is that, “Everything that can be taken literally should be taken literally.” This includes both the stories and the teachings. That may lead to different results with different people, but I believe it is the safest place from which to begin. Sadly, Christian belief is becoming increasingly diluted as increasing numbers of both mainline Protestants and Evangelicals seem to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

If I were a new believer today, I would need a lot of guidance, and I would want to be shielded somehow by the ‘enlightened’ whose ‘insights’ might ultimately be doing more harm than good.

image: Transforming Leadership

May 22, 2012

Discipleship Is Not Mentoring

In a world with a glut of business and leadership books available, we hear a lot about mentoring. And in a spiritual environment where some fear the pejoration of the term “Christian,” at the same as others are uncomfortable with the proponents of “spiritual formation,” we hear a lot about discipleship. And if you’re involved in men’s ministry, you hear a whole lot about both, actually.

England’s Andrew Dowsett says the two terms are not coterminous. I had to look it up, too. But the rest of this is really clear, and it’s a clarification that’s badly needed if we are to understand our role in discipling others.  If you prefer, here is the direct link to his blog, for the legion of non-clickers among you, it’s also reprinted below.

At the end is a link to a post where he continues to develop discipleship, but since this would involve “borrowing” both text and several graphics, you’ll have to click through for that one, and click through to the full blog in order to locate a second part to that one.  (Andrew has done a fair bit of thinking on this, so if discipleship is something you feel especially called to, read all three parts.)

The other day a younger friend asked me a really good question: what is the difference between discipleship and mentoring?  In fact, this is a great question, and one that arises from my insistence that discipleship is not primarily about the Christian’s personal and largely unmediated relationship with Jesus but about interpersonal human relationships, the participation in the missio dei (God’s mission) Jesus has delegated to us.  If my understanding of discipleship is that it is relational and directive and handed on, is what I mean by ‘discipleship’ mentoring?  An older acquaintance who asked me my views on discipleship recently thought so.

There is certainly a degree of overlap, but in my view discipleship and mentoring are not coterminous.  While I am aware that there is a (growing) range of nuance to how the term ‘mentoring’ is applied, my understanding of mentoring is that it is vocational and that, while the mentor may certainly address character issues and facilitate networking, the relationship is primarily concerned with passing on specific skills to their protégée.

Another related-but-different field is that of life-coaching, which, unlike mentoring, is not vocational.  The aim of the life-coach is to help someone identify changes they want to see in their life and to put in place changes towards that life.  They are more concerned with values than particular skills: with helping their client to align their actions more closely to their ‘ideal world’ lifestyle.  Life-coaches tend not to be directive: the impetus for change comes from the person who has engaged them; they act as a sounding-board to help that person articulate what they seek.  As such, life-coaches – in contrast to mentors – do not necessarily model something they have learnt and are now handing on.

Discipleship is concerned with becoming Christ-like (“imitate me as I imitate Christ”) in every part of life.  It is concerned with vocation – that is, our kingdom roles – as inextricably linked to personhood – that is, our covenant relationships.  Therefore, discipleship involves a distinctively Jesus-centred form of life-coaching and mentoring, while adapting and exceeding both.

Discipleship as mentoring (as when a Christian businessperson mentors younger businesspeople in engaging in business according to kingdom values) puts one person between me and the place I want to go to – a person who will help me take that step.  It may relate to a specific job or employment, or unfamiliar location; or more generally to the unchanging, developing vocation that is expressed through a series of jobs and in a series of locations.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like competence and Christ-like character, here competence takes the ‘leading beat.’

Discipleship as life-coaching puts one person between me and the person of Jesus – someone who will bring me to Jesus, just as I am called to bring others to Jesus.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like character and Christ-like competence, here character takes the ‘leading beat.’ It may be significantly removed from mentoring – a key observation for church leaders in inherited traditions: we are not primarily called to raise up the next generation of clergy or licensed lay ministers, but to create a culture of discipleship by making disciples – regardless of their vocation – who make disciples.

Both are counter-cultural to the extreme individualism of our age.  Both are necessary, as the life of discipleship is a shared life of being called to come to the person of Jesus and be sent ahead of him into every place.

I shall develop these ideas in my next post, The Field Of Discipleship

~Andrew Dowsett

Want more?  Another consideration of this is found at the blog of Dr. Alex Tang; clicking the image will take you to the article.

April 19, 2012

Book About Chasing Fulfillment is Most Fulfilling

I am biased.

I have read every book Pete Wilson has ever written — both of them — but I came to the first already a huge fan after years of reading Pete’s blog. When Plan B released, I raved, “I believe that with this single book, Pete Wilson moves outside the circle of American pastors and bloggers and into the arena of people we consider major Christian voices for this generation.” But it wasn’t just hype.

But with Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing, I wasn’t sure if the second book could live up to the superlatives I had heaped on the first.

Not to worry. This book is a class act. I want to explain why in a moment, but first, I need to say that Empty Promises is about our various attempts to pursue happiness and satisfaction in life by chasing after and striving for the material things or marks of status that we think will help us attain that personal fulfillment. Of course — spoiler alert! — the end result is that the peace, joy, contentment and completeness we are looking for can only be found in knowing Jesus Christ.

But most of you who read this blog also read Pete’s blog, and you know him and wife Brandi and the three boys with the hip names, so I know you’re going to buy the book in some form or other; so let’s move on to why I think the book works so well.

First, there is the transparency of the author. There were times I cringed as I was reading, thinking, ‘Pete! What are you doing? Don’t you know some of the people who attend your church are going to be reading this?’  Especially when Pete shares about ending a recent phone call with church board members and then raking his hand across the desk sending everything flying. You’re not supposed to share those kind of stories. It spoils the pretense that keeps our Evangelical system working so well. Pastors can’t experience moments of brokenness, can they? That would make them… well… human.

Second, there is the obvious amount of work that goes into crafting any book. I remarked here awhile ago that I would love to see the large pieces of chart paper that a certain fiction writer must have tacked to his walls to detail the plot line of an obviously complicated book. It’s the same with non-fiction, though. There are quotations and footnotes to be sure, but each chapter, and each paragraph has to have a specific purpose. Put too much into one chapter and people miss the individual points. Put too little in, and the book is shallow. The forethought that goes into a book dictates a certain pacing will result and this book reminded me of that so well.

Third, there is the high value that is placed on scripture throughout each section. It’s like I’m conversing Pete — and listening to the weekly internet service from Cross Point means I am actually hearing his voice as I read — and at each juncture he’s saying, “You know that reminds of that time in the Bible where…” followed by a related text. There is a lot of scripture in Empty Promises. Which reminds me, if anyone tells you that the only way to teach the Bible is verse-by-verse exegesis, then hand them this book, okay?

Fourth, the DNA of the entire book can be found in each chapter, and on each page. Seriously. Rip a page out of the book and give it to someone and you’ve given them the essence of the whole. Except the page with the desk-raking story. Then again, maybe that page, too. I can’t say this about every book, or even most books that I’ve read, but it’s really evident that the essence of the book is written into every page.

Some will feel I’ve more dissected the book than anything, but I really feel that this is a writer who truly resonates with the average Joe or Joanne. Whether that’s because of his transparency, the conversational yet rich text, the identification with the various Bible stories used as examples, or the consistency of the message throughout; it’s hard not to see the book as though one is holding up a mirror to their own life.

Pete calls the book a “diagnostic” and that’s really what we need; because, as a culture, we in The West are chasing after all the entirely wrong things.

Read an excerpt from Empty Promises at Christianity 201
A copy of the book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Catch Cross Point Live at 6:00 PM Central Time, Sundays with live Q & A
or catch the Empty Promises series anytime at crosspoint.tv

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