Thinking Out Loud

November 18, 2017

The Relational Quality of a Personal Relationship

Often I think that those of us who comprise “the Church” suffer greatly because language is often inadequate to describe some of the most elementary principles of faith. Much ink (or in the case of the internet, electrons) is used up trying to describe atonement, salvation, the indwelling presence of Christ, or even the subject which returns on a regular cycle much like certain comets: “What is the Gospel?”

Entering into “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” or “asking Jesus into your heart” or “accepting Jesus as your personal savior” probably means something to most readers here, but we forget how quickly we’re losing our audience if we’re speaking to seekers, skeptics, atheists or agnostics. The quality of “relationship” probably reminds them more of something likely to be encountered on a dating website. (“If you think Jesus would be a good match, swipe right.”)

I believe the idea of relationship serves us better if we think about it visually. Since we can only share with others what we’ve experienced ourselves, let’s aside evangelistic efforts and make this personal. For example…
Relationship between us and God

I am at the front of the room speaking and I invite my wife to come and stand about six feet from me. “What does it mean,” I ask everyone, “to say I am in relationship to Ruth?”

Some of the answers are:

  • “You love each other.”
  • “You have shared history and experiences, that the rest of us don’t know about.”
  • “You are intimate with each other.”

But then I ask her to sit down and invite Mike to come up to the front. Mike and I are not close, I had to ask his permission before this point because we only know each other superficially. I position him in the same spot.

“So again,” I ask, “Where am I in relationship to Mike?”

After a bit of laughter, some dare to come up with something:

  • “You are standing to his right and he is on your left.”

“Let’s go with that,” I respond, “What does that entail?”

  • “He can see you and hear you and knows what you’re doing.”

I start to deliberately creep back from him. “What about now?”

  • “The distance between you can change.”

The first set of answers all have to do with what we normally think of with the word relationship.

The second set of answers could easily involve other words or phrases: Where I am with respect to Mike; Where I am according to Mike.

When we think about our relationship with God, we might want to consider it in terms of love, intimacy and shared history. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own…

Today I’m proposing we look for ways to expand that and consider the possibilities that:

  • We need to be aware of God’s position in our lives; that he does stand next to us, and our posture should be that of standing next to him. One counselor I know would say we need to visualize this. The example of me standing next to Ruth or Mike can provide the imagery we need to do this.
  • He sees us; he is watching us (“the eyes of the Lord run to and fro”) and this is also true for everyone on earth; whether they acknowledge him as Lord or not, he sees them. But this works both ways; I think we could also include in this an awareness of seeing Him in the everyday routine.
  • We ought to keep close to him; not let ourselves drift away from the awareness of His presence, either on a momentary basis or over a period of time. (For example, I could continue speaking and forget that Mike is still standing there until he asks if he can sit down now!)

In other words, asking the question “Where I am in relationship to God?” is only partly about the nature or quality of the relationship itself, but also about where God is in my life, and where I stand with respect to Him. The focus shifts from the tie that bind us to how I act and live my life according to Him.

The issue is one of proximity or closeness.

God is omnipresent but that sterile piece theological information means, by definition, that He is also present… 

…Only when have this relationship solidly mapped out in our own understanding can we begin to share the dynamics of it with others. If we think in terms of it in terms of physical proximity (as with the example of Mike) we’re on the right track. But hopefully we move on to something that involves more intimacy (as with the example of Ruth.)  

Out of the overflow of that type of relationship is something we will be excited to share with others.

Advertisements

July 29, 2017

Weekend Link List

Yes, it’s one of those rare occurrences in space and time where we have link list on the weekend. This is Weekend List #33. Before we begin, here’s Judas as quoted by Stephen Colbert this week:

Catholic Church Says No To Gluten-Free Catholics Entering Heaven

A new letter to Catholic bishops this week from the Vatican has sparked outrage from gluten-free Catholics who learned that they cannot attain salvation no matter how holy they are.

The announcement drew criticism from many in the Church, though the letter simply reaffirmed a centuries-old teaching stating that gluten-free Catholics are not in full communion with the Church, and are therefore cut off from the saving grace of the Lord.

Executive Assistant to the Director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship Reverend Toby Townsend said that, though gluten-free Catholics could not in fact attain salvation, that it does not mean they will “necessarily be damned.” …

…Townsend went on to remind Catholics that none of the disciples present at the Last Supper were gluten-free, and that if one of them was, it would’ve most likely have been Judas.

July 3, 2016

Yard Sale Bonus

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 pm

it will be a blessing to you

Not far from us, a large Pentecostal denomination operates a summer camp and retreat center. At the beginning of July, they have a giant yard sale which we try not to miss.

As I walked by one table on Saturday, a woman was describing a large waffle iron to a potential customer. Sensing she was about to close the sale, she added to her description, “I think you’ll be blessed using it.”

“Wow!” I thought; “You just don’t get that type of guarantee at a regular yard sale.” This is a waffle iron that comes with an added blessing.


Many times in my 20s, I was on the other side of the commercial transaction table. I was helping my boss, who owned a Christian music distributing company, exhibit at concert and festival venues.

Not lacking a dry sense of humor, he would often stand there while someone held the vinyl record, cassette tape, or compact disc in their hand inwardly debating the purchase, and he would say, “You will be blessed.”

Strangely, the joke never got old. It was the same principle; the idea that the purchase of the item included an intangible; a blessing for the recipient. I think sometimes it tipped the balance and resulted in a sale.


In Christianity, we throw terminology like this around far too loosely. Better to be honest: “I got a lot of use out of that waffle iron and it’s still working perfectly. I think you’re making a wise purchase.”


Looking into the Biblical meaning of blessing further resulted in Tuesday’s post at Christianity 201, appearing July 5th around 5:30 PM EDT.

January 28, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Jesus is my Coach

First, we’ll look at what PARSE readers are seeing today, and then we’ll add a few bonus links:

  • Work Out Your Salvation in Fear and Publishing – Philip Yancey sits down with World Magazine: “I tell people I write my books for myself, and that’s true. I grew up in an unhealthy church. I’ve talked about that very openly in my books. It was almost a toxic church. I went through a period of time where I threw out that whole church background because I realized there were some things they had lied to me about… [W]hen I started writing, I realized I had the opportunity to pick up pieces, one-by-one, of things that I had learned in church, and examine them, kind of, dust them off, and see what the truth was. You can almost tell from the titles of my books…what interests me.”
  • Up in the Sky, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Super Apostles – An excerpt from a new book appears in a review by Tim Challies: “Some readers may suspect that the authors are anti-charismatic. They may expect us to argue that the miraculous gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12—including the gifts of prophesying, healing, and speaking in tongues—are no longer active in the church today. This is not our objective. Many Christians around the world, including charismatics and classic Pentecostals, believe that the miraculous gifts are still active, and we do not dispute their belief. We’ve tried to show that [New Apostolic Reformation] teachings do not represent the views of most charismatics or classic Pentecostals, but are, rather, entirely different.” Read the review of God’s Super Apostles.
  • Three Things Megachurch Leaders Get Right – With 300 members, you may not feel you’re playing in the big leagues, but you can borrow their strategies. “In our experience, it is common for churches to accumulate a variety of ministries over time. Some of them get the attention of senior leadership while others seem to float along under the radar. If you’re looking to lead a church toward a unified vision, build accountability by keeping everything tied to your senior leadership team.”  Which brings us to…
  • A Liberal Gay Jewish Man Walks Into a Baptist Megachurch – After constantly driving by Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, curiosity gets the better of him: “First, these churches deliver powerful, personal spiritual experiences — which is a primary reason they’re winning over lapsed Catholics and mainline Protestants. The pastors talk directly about their conversion experiences. The service that I went to was a carefully, skillfully choreographed crescendo designed to inspire (and, judging by the enthusiasm of the congregants, successful at doing so). The theology is personal and experiential; you’re meant to talk to God, and hear God talking back…
  • Academic Avenue: The Role of Oral Tradition in the Synoptics – I thought we’d toss in some meat in the middle of the snack food: “But why can all three synoptics sometimes provide different wording regarding either the story or quotation of Jesus, yet some quotations will be exactly the same in all three synoptics? Scholars call these similarities and differences the Synoptic Problem.” Later on, “[E]xperts now tell us that ancient oral tradition was not only formed but performed. That is, early church communities further remembered Jesus by performing plays about these remembered incidents in his life.”
  • The Things Educators Believe Matter – Despite having high academic test score averages, a Christian school in the UK is in danger of losing its certification and having to shut down because inspectors felt the school reflected homophobic attitudes. Parents have rallied to fight the assessment carried out by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, a government agency. A ten year old girl was put on the spot by the question, “What is a lesbian?” and was asked “if she felt trapped in someone else’s body?” Worse, the girl now feels the school’s rating by Ofsted is her fault.
  • Why We Won’t Lose the War – Author Anne Marie Miller doesn’t ignore the statistics, in fact she loves stats. And she knows that many under-35s are leaving the church. “Some leave and go to the church down the road. And then to the other church farther down the road. We commit just long enough to wonder why we haven’t found community only to start all over again.” Yet, despite all this, she remains wholly optimistic; “…quietly hoping, seeking, praying, pleading, trusting and living out the Gospel that the numbers and statistics don’t matter.”
  • Sorry, It’s In Your Contract – I knew a youth pastor once who worked in a megachurch that can only be described as a “sweatshop.” The week after his father died he asked if he could be exempted from having to be part of the platform party — it was the type of church where all the ministers sat on the stage during the whole service — and they refused him. And so he sat there, in full view of everyone, in tears.  I think of him whenever I see this healthy contrast:  The annual list of the Best Christian Workplaces.
  • Short Essay of the Week – A Michigan pastor escapes the frozen north to Cancun only to come face-to-face with with his own susceptibility to consumerism. As a member of the resort staff leads him into temptation: “It’s ironic, but our ‘all inclusive resort’ turned out to have some exclusions after all. Now here’s the thing: I was completely happy with my little corner of paradise until Shakira (yes, that was really her name) told me that there was more, and that – for only $70 more per day – we could have it all.” Did he purchase the upgrade?
  • Why Speak in Tongues When There’s Christianese? – “The Sea of Forgetfulness. Partaking in Christ’s body and blood. Dying to yourself. The mark of the beast. Getting caught up in the air. Out of context, some of the language used regularly in church sounds more like it belongs in some sort of weird horror movie…Some strange church sayings are direct quotes from the Bible, but to someone not familiar with the whole story of the Bible, they’re mind-boggling.” And speaking of our family dialect, the most recent post at The Dictionary of Christianese concerns the word televangelism
  • She’s Back! –  After a long absence, former co-host Sheila Walsh returns to The 700 Club for a 9-minute interview, speaking of her battle with clinical depression.

The family in the UK school story has the same last name but is no relation.

Now on to some bonus links for readers here:

Finally, one of the great products to come out of the Emergent Church movement, Emerjeans:

Emerjeans

 

February 12, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Snake Handling Church Disclaimer

Here’s this week’s collection, with the hope that you’ll be my Valinktine.  Click anything below and you’ll find yourself at PARSE, the link list’s exclusive official owners and operators! (Or just click now, it’s easier to read there.)

After winning the silver medal in linking at the 2008 Bloglympics, Paul Wilkinson settled into a quiet life of writing at Thinking Out Loud.

Burning Church

If you watch all four parts of the documentary about Burning Man linked above, you discover that all photographs taken at the event become part of a commons that photographers agree to share. It’s part of an overall philosophy that guides the event and why there’s no photo credit here.

February 27, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Bart Simpson - Love Wins

Link and the world links with you…  The cartoon? See item 4 below:

For Heaven's Sake - Feb 4 2013

August 1, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Apologies to subscribers whose paragraphs have had ever-increasing font sizes. WordPress doesn’t always interpret HTML tags consistently, but we’re checking each post now before it publishes. Hopefully…

  • In 40 rooms in England’s Lake District, copies of The Bible in the bedside table have been replaced with Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • Classic Media, the parent company of the Veggie Tales brand is to be purchased by DreamWorks, creators of Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.
  • God called me to add this link — okay, not really, but Heather Goodman things we overuse Holy Spirit language.
  • “Accepting people is more important than agreeing with them;” is among the findings of Elastic Morality, a 2011 Canadian youth research title that’s been flying under the radar.
  • Anglicans at The Falls Church in Virginia prove they can do modern worship songs as good as anyone else. Click here to listen to A Thousand Amens
  • And speaking about breaking denominational stereotypes, how about this: Baptist Monasteries. Yes, they exist and they aren’t new.
  • Meanwhile, conference speaker and author Gordon Dalby gets busted by a Catholic Priest for receiving communion. 
  • Mixing church history and doctrine, Parchment and Pen offers a thumbnail sketch of the rise of the Catholic Church
  • If you missed the video embed here Monday, you need to go take a look. For those who did watch, here’s another speaker from the same Lutheran youth conference, Leymah Gbowee.
  • When churches close, there’s no place for no place for marginalized kids to go; and Karen Spears Zacharias knows this from experience.
  • It’s not new, but here’s a classic video of Tony Campolo explaining how he came to throw a birthday party for a hooker at 3:00 AM.  
  • David Platt on video talks about comparing modes of radical Christian living. 
  • Two articles from New Direction Ministries that someone you know might need: (1)For the straight conservative Christian trying to repair a relationship with a gay loved one; and (2) The other side of the coin: When gay people long for reconciliation with their conservative Christian family
  • A portrait of Joel Osteen has been removed from a Georgia Library even as the TV preacher describes his message as not so big on hell-fire.
  • And speaking of preachers, this list goes back to February, but I like how Dudley Rutherford handled this listing of the top ten preachers in America.
  • An Australian church that averages about 300 attendees is applying for permission to build a 5,000 seat auditorium.
  • In the spirit of the First World Problems meme, Michael Belote offers First World Theology Problems, though I’m not sure I get all the nuances of this.
  • To new bloggers just starting out on WordPress: (1) Get rid of that “Hello World” post that came with your theme template by either deleting it or writing something profound to appear as the ‘first post’ you never wrote; and (2) Replace that “Just Another WordPress Blog” with your own tagline. Please!
  • Graphics today are from Faith in the Journey.

July 19, 2012

Christian Clichés to Avoid

For three days a week ago, Christian Piatt (pictured at right) looked at oft-used Christian clichés.  While we were tempted to reblog the whole thing here, we thought we’d provide you with the links, but also list the words and phrases that Christian identified. He came up with 29. Why there was one short in the last list is never explained. Maybe you can leave a comment and help him come up with #30. (Or more.)

Read article one in the series here: Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use

Read article two in the series here: Ten More Cliches Christians Should Avoid

Read article three in the series here: Nine (Final) Christian Cliches to Avoid

List one:

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • If you died today, do you know where you’d spend the rest of eternity?
  • He/she is in a better place
  • Can I share a little bit about my faith with you?
  • You should come to church with me on Sunday
  • Have you asked Jesus into your heart?
  • Do you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior?
  • This could be the end of days
  • Jesus died for your sins
  • Will all our visitors please stand?

List two:

  • Love the sinner, hate the sin
  • The Bible clearly says
  • God needed another angel in heaven, so He called him/her home
  • Are you saved?
  • The Lord never gives someone more than they can handle
  • America was founded as a Christian nation
  • The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it
  • It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve
  • Jesus was a Democrat/Republican
  • (Insert sin here) is an abomination in the eyes of God

List three:

  • Christianity is the only way to God/Heaven
  • When God closes a door, He opens a window
  • God helps those who help themselves
  • Perhaps God is (causing something negative) to get your attention/It is God’s way of telling you it is time for (fill in the blank)
  • There, but for the grace of God, go I
  • If you just have enough faith (fill in the blank) will happen for you
  • I don’t put God in a box
  • (Insert name) is a good, God-fearing Christian.
  • God is in control

Quite the list, huh?  As I copied/pasted each one here, it was all I could do not to include some of the commentary that goes with each.  (And pictures, too!)  Every one of these could make a great discussion subject, and I don’t promise that further down the road, we might steal the entire post for one (or all) of the lists.

But in the meantime, please click and comment at Christian’s blog. (You can leave a comment here if there’s one or two you’d like to see evolve as a separate discussion here at T.O.L.)

Oh, and there’s more, too:

Read Part Four here: Ten Antidotes to Christian Cliches

February 7, 2011

I Love You With All My Intestines

Okay, I’m a little behind on post-weekend blogging, and I can only blame so much of that on the Superbowl, since I missed most of the first quarter anyway. So here’s one from the February, 2009 archives that I’ve had to do some major remixing on, since it hinged on a link to something else which no longer exists…

accept-jesus

  • easychristianityI LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY LIVER
  • I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY GUT
  • I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY SPLEEN

From what I’m told, any one of these expressions is an acceptable translation — in some languages — of the English, “I love you with all my heart.” For most of us, while the brain is the center of all cognitive activity involving the senses, memories, logic, reason, etc.; we use the heart to represent the will, our emotions, our affections.

So it’s not a stretch to imagine some preacher in some time past, trying to get across what the “Lordship of Christ” means, or attempting to communicate the idea of submitting everything to His will, being the first to voice the phrase, “accepting Jesus into your heart.” Perhaps he was speaking to children at the time. It’s not in the Bible, but it does get the point across.praying-boy-and-dog

Or it did. Now it’s become trite. So, just as we need to constantly update Bible translations, now is the time to update some of the ancillary or peripheral language we use when conversing with our friends. (Also, is a ‘personal’ Savior anything like a personal computer?)

The problem is that it is very hard for some people — especially new Christians — to know where the Bible ends and additional, peripheral language begins.  Of course some terms — like Trinity — don’t occur in scripture at all, but no one would want to jettison them entirely as unnecessary.

But the other problem comes when our children get older, and we find ourselves in the position of having to ‘undo’ certain terms that we’ve used ourselves.   Where might our children be in their understanding had we never introduced the “accept Jesus” phrase, only to have to make mid-course corrections in their understanding of what it means to make Jesus Christ lord of their lives?

The Bible says that we should “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength,” (Deut 6:5) but hopefully we realize that loving God with all our hearts is a simple turn of phrase for something that is much deeper, and much more real.

Bonus link: Danny Spence suggest six other phrases that are equally extra-Biblical (i.e. outside the Bible) in this short post.


December 8, 2008

If It Didn’t Sound Like Good News, You Haven’t Heard The Gospel

Filed under: apologetics, bible, Christian, Christianity, missions — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:46 pm

bruxyBruxy Cavey, pastor of The Meeting House in west Toronto tells the story of preaching at a church on “missing the mark.”  A woman came up to him after quite upset because he didn’t talk about sin.   (The word sin means missing the mark.)  Bruxy, author of The End of Religion says that many of us are emotionally bonded to certain words and phrases

In a similar vein, he tells another story of preaching on the “kingship” of Christ, and another upset listener who says he should have talked about the sovereignty of God.   Sigh!   Can we get the point across without “those” words?

abraham-piperAbraham Piper picked up this theme at his popular 22-Words blog, where he makes this observation:

The Gospel is a storyline that can be almost infinitely retold from any dictionary.

If I believe Gospel-telling requires particular vocabulary or it’s not Gospel, I’ll be stiflingly uncreative in my ability to talk about it.

There’s a number of good replies on this, but I added this one:

If missionary stories like Peace Child have taught us anything, it’s that the search for a “redemptive analogy” is going to involve every possibility, without limits. But first, you have to know the story so deeply in your heart that it lives inside you in a place that is beyond words. Then you use whatever dialect at hand will “connect” with those you find in close proximity.

Photos:  Bruxy Cavey (top) Abraham Piper (lower)

Post title:  lifted from a tract published in the early ’80s by Mylon LeFevre

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.