Thinking Out Loud

May 20, 2021

The SBC’s Old Guard | The GOP’s Old Guard

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:14 pm

Forgive the generalizations today.

Living one country removed from all the action means you form certain opinions and stereotypes without physically interacting with the people concerned. It also means that news and current events are distilled to their basic essence. True, we can tap into the legacy U.S. networks just by turning on the television, and we can find hours and hours of recent broadcasts by the U.S. cable networks just by doing a quick search on YouTube, but I think that if Americans really want to know what their country is up to, they should see how they’re covered by the BBC (U.K), CBC (Canada) or ABC (Australia).

These days, when I hear about Republicans, I immediately think of Mitch McConnell. If I found myself seated next to him on an airplane, I would not ask to change seats; I would ask to change planes. To view him on my screen casually, matter-of-factly proclaiming that black is white is usually more than either my brain or my spirit can tolerate.

Or the guy who said that the January 6th ransacking of the U.S. Capitol building was just some families out for a walk in the park. Okay, Andrew Cylde didn’t say those exact words, but it’s not much different:

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures. If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit,”

But later a picture surfaced showing him and others frantically trying to barricade the doors so rioters couldn’t enter. That’s the trouble with a lie, sooner or later you get caught.

I also get my U.S. religious news one country removed. Sure, the blog you’re reading right now has a 75% American readership and with American spellings and the use of words like freeway instead of the more common Canadian highway, I’ve blended in to the point many readers assume I’m writing from Dayton, or Sacramento, or Springfield (not that one, the other one); I still have stereotypes and caricatures of what the Evangelical landscape looks like when having those after-service conversations in the lobby (again lobby not foyer) and lunch at Cracker Barrel.

And in those terms, my mental image of Republican leaders ends up eerily similar to my mental drawing of Southern Baptist (SBC) leaders. I’m not saying that they would stand up and tell you that January 6th was just a walk in the park but rather … okay … that’s exactly what I’m telling you.

Their unwavering support for a recent leader of the free world, in spite of overwhelming evidence of a character that would disqualify the man from ever being hired by one of their churches, shows their willingness to disregard both facts and logic for the sake of … tell me again … what was it they chose to gain by backing him? Oh, right: Power.

[For those of you who disagree reading this by email, the unsubscribe prompt is at the bottom. I don’t mind at all.]

There have been and are still some exemplary SBC leaders. Billy Graham was a member of the party, er, denomination and so is Charles Stanley. But it’s others who make headlines and give Christianity a bad name, and wannabees of their ilk who pick all manner of fights on social media and constrain their subjects, er, parishioners with all manner of legalistic limitations.

And that’s the thing: I don’t understand how one actually does this. How do you look into the camera or stand up on the floor of the Senate Chamber or the House of Representatives and say things which your six-year-old grandchild would recognize as patently untrue?

I’m not saying that all Southern Baptists are Republicans or that all Republicans are Southern Baptists. From this perspective it simply appears that there are immense similarities — again in terms of the distilled images of America we see — that I would think a Jesus follower would want to distance themselves from; that a Christ follower would want to work tirelessly to compensate with extra doses of agape and hesed and shalom and charis and tov.

April 5, 2021

Mark Clark’s Follow-Up Book Equally Packed with Content

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:09 am

I think the greatest challenge I had with reviewing Mark Clark’s The Problem of God three years ago is that the book was simply so wide-ranging in its coverage of the apologetic waterfront. There is so much entailed in the advice to “always be ready to give an account,” and I so much want to own the material to be able to present it and properly articulate the content when asked that the prospect can be overwhelming.

And then there’s the sense in that book, along with the sequel, The Problem of Jesus that this is Mark’s own story and so he’s able to present responses to the “problems” because he’s worked them through in his own life, as opposed to those of us “older brothers” who grew up in the church and took everything as it was handed to us before we reached an age of potential internal skepticism.

I explained this in my first review,

Until his later teens, Clark was camped on the other side of the border of faith. Partying. Drugs. Disbelief. So he has those still there clearly in view as he writes this; these are the type of people who made up the nucleus of Village Church when it was founded in 2010.

The autobiographical elements are far from distracting, rather they serve an essential purpose, an underlying personal narrative connecting the philosophical threads.

There is a certain aspect to which the subjects in the two books overlap, like to proverbial Venn diagram. I would offer that he may not have had the second book in view when he penned the first, and wanted to cover a sufficient number of bases. Perhaps I’m wrong on this, but there’s a lot about Jesus in the first book, and a number of things about God in the second.

You don’t need to have read the first to start the sequel, and I’m quite happy to own both, which have a combined total of over 600 pages packed with content. To that end, there are 328 endnotes — I lead a dull life and so I counted them — reflecting a host of sources. (Remind me to look up Herman Bavinck, whose contributions were always insightful.) One reviewer offered that Clark “intertwines personal story, heavy scholarship, and winsome argument together.” I would add that the book is definitely accessible to the average reader of Christian non-fiction.

The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan) covers nine different subject areas, but this time around a double chapter is given to each: The historical Jesus; the Gospels; discipleship; God’s loving nature; miracles; the stories Jesus told; the divinity of Jesus; his death; and his resurrection.

I love books like this, and so it gets my wholehearted recommendation. Take it for a test drive: We included an excerpt at Christianity 201 on the weekend, which you can read at this link.


 

Thanks as usual to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to check out The Problem of Jesus.

February 25, 2021

Fantasy New Testament Lineup

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:46 am

People have fantasy football teams, so I thought I might be allowed to dream when it comes to the order of the books in the Second Testament of the Bible. And dream is a good word, since I started thinking about this a few nights ago when I couldn’t sleep.

At first it was just about the order of the gospel accounts. (What we have is called the Augustinian order.) I thought that opening with John would be good because of the symmetry of the “In the beginning…” language with Genesis. But then I started thinking of not running the gospels consecutively at all, but pairing them with other books that were related.

Then it got more complicated. Because Matthew was written to a Jewish audience, I thought that pairing Hebrews with it would be most appropriate; but I also considered that a new believer, reading in the order I first imagined, might find Hebrews a little complex.

Also pairing Luke and Acts seemed so obvious. At first. Then I thought about how I wanted to construct the lower part of the list, and reconsidered that.

So this is all subject to revision, but here’s an example of how it might look:

  1. John
  2. I John
  3. Philippians
  4. Mark
  5. Romans
  6. James
  7. Matthew
  8. Hebrews
  9. Galatians
  10. Jude
  11. Titus
  12. Luke
  13. I Peter
  14. Colossians
  15. Ephesians
  16. II John
  17. I Thessalonians
  18. II Peter
  19. III John
  20. Acts
  21. I Timothy
  22. II Thessalonians
  23. I Corinthians
  24. II Timothy
  25. II Corinthians
  26. Philemon
  27. Revelation

What do you think? What changes might you suggest?


Supplementary Reading:

January 20, 2021

Wednesday Connect

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

Welcome to Wednesday Connect #94, as I continue my aim of at least getting to #100 at some point. The opening graphic was discovered during a weekend perusal of wholesale book listings.

■ After an abortive attempt just a week prior using a .org address, Daniel Jepsen from the former Internet Monk site has re-launched Mystery and Meaning at MysteryAndMeaning.com. Because iMonk (which will remain visible for a short while longer) was as much about a community as it was about the articles themselves, you may see a prompt asking for a log in, but it isn’t necessary to do so to just read things. If you need some encouragement, check out Graceland versus Karmatown.

■ As far as I’m concerned, the hot ticket online last week was for a 97-minute discussion with Canada’s Bruxy Cavey and Atlanta’s Andy Stanley. The good news is, anyone can view it now on YouTube. Check out How Centering on Jesus Changes Everything, sponsored by The Jesus Collective. (Best quote on getting priorities rightly ordered: “The resurrection gave birth to a movement and the movement gave birth to a book.”)

Timely today: The Washington Post notes that “It’s been 152 years since Andrew Johnson decided not to attend the swearing-in of Ulysses S. Grant.” History repeats. Political parties were opposites, though. 152 years later, it’s time to read the article and play the home version of Count the Parallels.

■ Ongoing, with more people expected to tell their stories: Religion News Service published on the weekend a look at Dave Ramsey‘s Ramsey Solutions which they believe to be “the best place to work in America.” Instead, we see a leader so insecure he cannot tolerate even a fraction of dissent or critique.

■ Did Pope Francis inch closer to allowing women to be priests? Don’t hold your breath. In a precise, fine-tuning of coverage of the announcement, the site Get Religion notes:

The move — in the wake of a decades-old priest shortage — will grant “non-ordained ministers” the chance to serve as lectors, read scripture, act as eucharistic ministers and, in a crucial symbolic change, wear robes while serving in the sacred space around the altar. The changes, however, will continue to forbid women from being made deacons or ordained priests. continue reading here

■ I don’t track with everything Carey Nieuwhof writes, but this one is worthy of your consideration. 8 Disruptive Church Trends that will Rule 2021: The Rise of the Post Pandemic Church. (Spelled his name correctly first time!)

■ A video podcast discovery: The JXN Cloud is an online church community based out of Jackson, Michigan which does a morning show at 6:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on YouTube that will appeal to younger listeners.

■ Not new: This week Sheila Wray Gregoire linked to a 2019 piece she wrote about how local churches find and hire youth pastors. While the article contains no horror stories — local print and broadcast media do a great job, however — the article contains enough cautionary warnings for churches and Bible colleges to rethink the whole process.

■ Sometimes, like everyone else I use Twitter to just rant. Like this one related to the image above: “I really despise publishers like NavPress who leave no way for consumers to contact them directly. This is the image for a new Bible, ISBN 9781641582544; an image that is widely circulated on the internet. It’s advertised as a teal Bible. That’s not teal. Not even close to teal. Sky blue? Powder blue? Teal is a blue-green combination. Its HTML is #008080. Words are meant to have meaning. Either the description of this Bible is wrong, or the image is wrong, but I would caution people against ordering if they don’t know which is the case.” Thus endeth the commercial art lesson. (Twitter brings out the best in people, right?)

■ This should have been the winner in Matthew Pierce’s weird Christian tweet contest, 2020 edition. At least IMHO.

■ If you’re a Bruxy fan but found the prospect of 97 minutes (above) too daunting, here’s his now famous nesting dolls analogy from a sermon the week before. (Only 5 minutes.)

■ The moral dilemma. Is this an Everest too high for some to climb? How would you respond to him?

■ This should have been more widely seen when it appeared on January 11: Rick Warren speaking with Relevant on the pandemic, racial justice and political unrest. A positive interview with the author and megachurch pastor.

■ ICYMI (from December): Lauren Daigle said she was out for bike ride, saw the police and thereby assumed it was an officially sanctioned event. She offered to sing a song. Then all hell broke loose

■ Finally…

December 30, 2020

Their Personal Brand was Damaged in 2020

It wasn’t a good year for some people. Whether due to political allegiances, marital collapses or financial improprieties, the year was filled with missteps that damaged the brand of many key authors, pastors and leaders. The election and the pandemic proved to be catalysts for revealing some people’s true character. And we didn’t even consider the implications of the discussions that arose in the wake of Black Lives Matter.

Also, an apology to readers outside the U.S. that this is so America-centric. But then again, what happened in the States was often the lead news item on nightly roundups in Canada, the UK and Europe. If they didn’t know already, reporters in every country had to learn overnight how to report on the U.S. political system and election system. These are names you probably recognize anyway. There were many others not included.

Here’s my recap:

Ravi Zacharias – The real tragedy here is that so much has come to light since his passing, leaving him no opportunity to respond or to repent. The legacy of his namesake ministry has been damaged in the process. It was more than just the exaggeration of academic credentials. It was about serious sexual misconduct. RZIM needs to do what they haven’t done so far: Act quickly. Rename the ministry in Canada and the U.S. as well as in Europe where it’s known as Zacharias Trust. Second, replace Ravi as the “voice” of the Let My People Think radio feature with some of the many gifted apologists currently on its speaker roster.

Eric Metaxas – An Australian blogger wrote, “Reading Metaxas’ tweets is like watching a man slowly drive his career as a public intellectual over a cliff.” In 2020, the author and talk show host did what so many did, suspending all reason and logic for an unqualified backing of Donald J. Trump. His “losing it” seemed to have no limits toward the end of the year, with the alleged sucker punch of a protester outside a RNC event, and his theft of Pentatonix’ audio track for his “Biden Did You Know?” video which YouTube appropriately removed a day later.

John Ortberg – Following an investigation into the popular author and pastor’s knowledge concerning a volunteer at Menlo Church which some argued should not have been permitted to be involved in children’s ministry there due to a possible attraction to minors, Ortberg was reinstated in March only to be outed in June by a family member who said that the pastor and author was actually protecting the identity of a different family member. That was all it took to pave the way for a final farewell.

Dave Ramsay – The self-proclaimed Christian financial guru’s complete disregard for health guidance dealing with the pandemic opened up a broader discussion and revealed what might be considered a somewhat toxic workplace.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. – Again, another person whose credibility was destroyed by unwavering support for Trump, which then opened up further investigation resulting in revelations of Falwell and his wife participating in what were, at the very least, some unusually close relationships involving other people. Current students and alumni are fighting to see his name distanced from Liberty University in order to preserve the value of the education they received. Falwell brought some of this on himself however, posting some pictures one might have wanted to keep private, which in itself showed a complete lack of discernment and wisdom.

Jim Bakker – Long before the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, Bakker had the cure for Coronavirus and was willing to sell it to you. Too bad it took the NIH (in the US) or NHS (in the UK) so many months to catch up to what Bakker already knew. His actions also cast a shadow on everyone who has ever been a guest on The Jim Bakker Show.

John MacArthur – Defying California state law, MacArthur’s Grace Church packed in unmasked worshipers during Covid-19’s second wave, insisting that God requires us to worship together and be assembled together. In many respects, this is an incomplete theological understanding of what it means to be united and what it means to be the church. Should MacArthur be on this list, or were his actions in 2020 simply a continuation of what he’s always been?

Franklin Graham – Another Trump election casualty, Graham’s situation collecting salaries from both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse was thrust back into the spotlight. Being a Graham, expectations of character standards are always high and some are suggesting that Franklin doesn’t even come remotely close.

Jay Sekulow and Family – By December it’s easy to forget stories that were circulating in January, but in that month Ministry Watch reported on the salaries paid to execs of ministry organizations and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) turned up repeatedly in the list. Jay Sekulow was #3 on the list at $1,421,188, while “spokesperson” Kim Sekulow was #5 with $1,053,432, and Gary Sekulow, CEO/COO was #7 at $985,847. (For some ministries the most recent year listed was several years old.) The money paid to some ministry leaders is an absolute atrocity.

Focus on the Family – Another story from earlier in the year, this popular organization declared that they were actually a church and as such not required to do any public reporting of their income or executive salaries. See our January article for all the ridiculous defenses given for this action.

Mark Dever – The ecclesiology in general and church governance — and Covenant Membership in particular — of the 9 Marks church group caused one watchdog blogger to write, “…they appear to be in danger of redefining what constitutes the church. They have invented a system that is full of rules and regulations, many of which are conjecture. Yes, they quote Scripture but they often interpret Scripture through their own peculiar lens.” Just another example of the Calvinist/Reformed movement slowly parting ways with mainstream Christianity.

Carl Lentz – Not sure that the greater damage resulting from Lentz’ confessed affair is to him or to the leadership of Hillsong. Especially Hillsong’s North American expansion efforts. Maybe I should have listed Brian and Bobbie Houston instead. What did they know and when did they know it? Still, give it a year or two and I would expect to see Lentz surface heading another church somewhere.

Paula White – As a post-Charismatic, I have no objective problem with speaking in tongues, but feel that Trump’s “Spiritual Advisor” chose neither the right time or the right place. And what happened to the “angels from Africa?” Are they still on their way? What were they doing there in the first place? The public needs to know. Whatever damage Graham, Falwell and Metaxas did to Evangelicals, White did the same to her fellow Charismatics and Pentecostals.

Jen and Brandon Hatmaker – In some respects, I feel bad isolating this one ministry couple, so allow them to serve as stand-ins for all those Christian pastors whose marriages didn’t make it to the finish line.

Rachel and Dave Hollis – Ditto. Rachel is author of the huge publishing success, Girl Wash Your Face which only saw mediocre sales through some Christian channels despite being a national bestseller. Again, on this list as a stand-in for other Christian authors with a similar 2020 separation story.

Robert Jeffress – Another of the “court Evangelicals,” this SBC megachurch pastor and frequent guest on FOX-TV was a reminder of why churches and pastors should stay away from politics. It will take years for the damage done to the capital “C” Church to recover, and some say the name Evangelical is tarnished permanently.Meanwhile the SBC continues to report declines in baptisms and membership, which impacts its Broadman & Holman and LifeWay publishing empire.

The Episcopal Church – In a rather strange irony, the denomination which so greatly values the Communion sacrament as most central to their weekend worship found themselves preventing parishioners from improvising at home, which other bodies both permitted and encouraged during the lockdown. This resulted in the creation of the term “Eucharistic fast” to describe abstaining from The Lord’s Supper. Anglicans can only receive the bread and wine if the elements have been consecrated by an Anglican officiant. Eventually some churches got creative in finding ways to get the necessary items to congregants, but I can’t help but think they painted themselves into a corner by so greatly limiting access to the table. 

Chris Rice – In October an investigation was launched concerning sexual assault claims against the Christian musician dating to when Rice was a guest artist at youth retreats for a Kentucky Church, reports the pastor found to be “credible.”

K. P. Yohannan – The financial oddities (or as I just accidentally typed it, auditees) of Gospel for Asia keep getting “curiouser and curiouser.” This isn’t a 2020 story, nor is it limited to the U.S., but an ongoing saga which simply doesn’t go away.

Sean Feucht – Similar to the Trump-related stories above, with an extra conspiracy theory or two thrown into the mix; instead of running for public office, this guy should have stuck to playing music and leading worship; though now I’m not even 100% sure about that.

Kirk Cameron – Like Feucht above, Cameron staged a mass event which totally disregarded health advisories. We’re supposed to spread the gospel, not super-spread Covid-19.

John Crist – After stepping back from touring and creating video content following sexual misconduct allegations in 2019, the comedian resurfaced in 2020, but to some, the humor just wasn’t working; it was too soon. Crist would do well to simply abandon the Christian market altogether and rebuild his brand as a mainstream stand-up comic where this sort of thing happens with greater regularity and with nobody batting an eye.

Kenneth Copeland – The faith healer and prosperity teacher was another Trump casualty, but his laughing at the thought of a Biden victory was somewhat eerie if not somewhat demonic; and in Copeland’s camp, they know a thing or two about demonic. 

Willow Creek Leadership – A year ago Bill Hybels might have appeared on a similar list to this, but for the past twelve months, the leadership at Willow has in equal amounts both launched and stepped back from new initiatives, seeming like a small boy wandering the aisles of a department store in search of his parents.

Matthew Paul Turner – The author of Christian books for both children and adults came out as gay and announced his divorce. The latter has wider acceptance in the Church these days, and in some sectors the former is heading in that direction. His admission probably burned some bridges but it’s hard not to respect his transparency.

Albert Mohler, Jr. – I was once a fan, but in 2020 he became another SBC leader who got sucked into the Trump vortex.

James MacDonald – The disgraced former pastor popped up a few times in 2020 to make sure he was getting everything he had coming to him from Harvest Bible Chapel and Walk in the Word. The man who once used Easter Sunday to kick off a series on personal finances has revealed what is most near and dear to his heart. The NASDAQ is risen. It is risen indeed.

…That’s probably enough of this for one day. Or one year. This gives me no pleasure, but compiling this over the past several hours has been eye-opening. There was also one person I deliberately chose to exclude, and another I held back because of conflicted feelings about what I was seeing for myself and what others were reporting. Time will tell. It always does.

2021 can only be a better year, right? Let’s pray for that to be true.

December 3, 2020

With the Arrival of Jesus Comes Something Completely Different

Book Review: The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus (Revised Edition) by Bruxy Cavey (Herald Press)

I’ve never undertaken to read and review an updated edition or second edition of any book I’ve already covered, but this is an exceptional undertaking worthy of fresh consideration. Besides, I’ve often said that while some writers’ body of works builds up to a crescendo over a lifetime, other authors state most plainly and forthrightly in their first volume what represents the tenor of their ministry; so why not revisit that a decade later, as is the case here.

The updated version of The End of Religion represents a complete revamping of the original NavPress book from start to finish, with the addition of a new preface and five entirely new chapters.

This is a book about Jesus.

In that vein, it looks at the manner in which the human tendency to religiosity has sometimes, and in some places made the Christian faith about everything but Jesus. Its aim is to renew us to seek the restoration of the type of faith practiced in the First Century and echoed throughout history by those who practice that goal, but also a type of discipleship seemingly lost in modern Protestantism, Catholicism or Evangelicalism.

This is a theme the book constantly returns to, but it does so inasmuch as it is constantly returning to Jesus.

Bruxy Cavey is the teaching pastor of an alter-cultural church in the greater Toronto, Canada area called The Meeting House. With one mother-ship in Oakville on the city’s western fringes — they prefer the term ‘Production Center’ — they have 20 satellite sites — they prefer the classic term ‘parishes’ — which in less pandemic times meet in theaters in Southern Ontario, with a number of additional distant affiliates in diverse places such as Scotland and Italy.

By the way, I love that word alter-cultural. Bruxy’s teaching style, self-deprecating nature and overall sense of humor are found in the book which makes the serious topics it studies a fun read, although I do recommend using two bookmarks, keeping one in the text itself and one in the notes.

Organizationally, the 27 chapters of the book are arranged in three sections which look at the irreligious life of Jesus, how his life and teachings stood in contrast to key elements of the Judaism which provides the context for his time on earth, and the implications for our own words and deeds. Each chapter contains an ample helping of scripture references and there’s also the aforementioned notes to consider.

Who is the intended audience? In many respects, his 2017 title (re)Union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints and Sinners (Herald Press; see my review here) is by definition the book you give to someone camped out on the edge of faith. That said, this newer one covers so much primary, formative and apologetic ground that if the seeker in question isn’t intimidated by 400+ pages, they might really appreciate gaining a very thorough understanding of what it is to which they are potentially making a commitment.

While there were echoes of the previous edition to be encountered, I found them to be rare. This is a very updated update! I’d recommend this to anyone looking to read something with an intense Jesus focus.

9781513805498 | Herald Press | $19.99 US – $25.99 CDN

November 16, 2020

Why There’s Never Been a Typhoon in The Caribbean

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:01 pm

Today’s header is a bit of a tease; click-bait if you will.

There has never been a typhoon strike The Dominican Republic or Cuba. It’s never happened. It’s not that the conditions necessary for a typhoon-like storm have never developed there.

Rather, it has to do with the word. By definition, a typhoon is a tropical storm that develops and makes landfall in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, or the Indian Ocean. The Caribbean is affected by the Atlantic Ocean weather systems.

Could the word be changed over time?

The word marriage certainly did. Contrary to some of my more conservative Christian friends, I don’t have a problem with governments recognizing civil unions. But historically — and I know some will get upset with me over this — I’ve objected to gay or lesbian unions being called marriage because as a writer, I valued the original intent of that word just as much as I would strenuously interrupt you if you proposed that south Florida had just been hit by a typhoon. In other words, do it if you are compelled to, give it a name, recognize it for tax purposes, but don’t call it marriage.

(I now have just as many progressives upset with me for objecting the use of the word in an LBGT+ context as I have conservative Christians upset over the resignation in my laissez faire phrase, “Do it if you are compelled to.” I’m not gonna win on this one, am I?)

The same is also true of the word Evangelical. It meant something, but a few Evangelicals themselves shot the category in the foot when they — intentionally or accidentally — made it mean conformity to a particular political agenda. The word has been damaged goods for some time now, and a combination of Evangelicals, journalists and linguists are constantly looking for a new adjective to replace it. (Or collective noun, depending on where it lands in the sentence.)

(These same Evangelicals used to knock on doors two-by-two to share The Four Spiritual Laws or invite your children to hop on the Baptist bus for Sunday School, but then Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses eventually owned the whole going-to-the-door-in-pairs thing. So the meaning of actions change just as words do.)

Words change. I’ll grant that. Often they lose their original force or are reduced to something less than they started. (It’s the second law of thermodynamics again.) Hence we have the word pejorative to describe the depreciation of meaning.

But while Evangelicals may find a new word, what will replace the longstanding man-plus-woman heterosexual marriage?

Maybe we’ll call it classic marriage.

Here’s the advertising copy: “Looking for a new twist on relationships? Consider a classic.”

Or something like that.

 

 

 

April 7, 2020

In Times of Transition: Secure a Job, Then Relocate

Many of the job losses people are suffering right now are not temporary. For various reasons, they work in vocations which either won’t recover from the present crisis, or will recover but operating in a different paradigm.

This is our story. It’s appeared here twice before, in 2010 and 2013, but there are new readers who haven’t seen it. A lesson learned too late is still a lesson learned, right?

Was this the one time we disobeyed God? …Okay, maybe there were lots of times…

The time in particular that I’m considering is the time we moved to the city where we now live. It was 1989, and we came with some “push” factors (wanting to get out of our 9th floor apartment in the city of three million) and some “pull” factors (liking the look of the town, as seen from the highway).

Later, I would write a song with an opening sentence that talks about the “pull” factors:

The part of the town that you see from the highway
Is never the part that the people there know…

When the business we were going to start in this town didn’t happen, we got caught up with the momentum of the “push” factors and decided we would move anyway. We would go into this foreign place and trust God to work out the details for employment and income. Not so smart.

(Tangent: Never move to a town where you plan to raise a family if you don’t know anyone and therefore don’t have your potential babysitters or family supports lined up ahead of time. Ours included teenage girls who were (a) completely inexperienced — “You mean I was supposed to change him?” — with kids, (b) dealing with medical crises, (c) dealing with severe emotional breakdown.)

I think there was some element of God’s leading us to where we moved. We thought we were moving to start a business, but instead, we ended up getting involved with a church that really needed us. I was invited to write a newspaper column every weekend for ten years which paid for our groceries. My wife got to raise her boys in a house and not the apartment in the big city. I was asked to teach a year at a Christian school. My started a number of local area ministry projects which have made a big difference in the lives of people.

But did God just allow us to “make the best of it?” Was there a principle we missed?

I think there was, but I didn’t know the particular chapter and verse at the time. The verse is found in Proverbs 24:2 —

Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house. (NLT)

First plant your fields; then build your barn. (Message)

Fix your business outside. Get your fields in shape and then build your house. (rough English translation of Louis Segond translation in French)

In other words, get a job, know where your mortgage payments are going to come from. Heck; know where your next dollar is coming from. Settle your career in that place first, then talk about your residence. Don’t move to Dallas, or Lisbon or Sydney without having a job waiting.

But we were young, we were idealistic, we were acting on a mix of faith and foolishness. I think we prayed about it — a bit — but earnestly praying together as a couple hasn’t been our strong suit. If you’re a younger married couple, and the shoe fits, take that as a personal admonition to do better than us when it comes to prayer. Starting now.

Joshua 9:14 — the story of Joshua’s ill-advised treaty with the Gibeonites — makes an even stronger case:

The Israelites … did not inquire of the Lord. (TNIV)

So the men … did not ask counsel from the Lord (ESV)

I really feel that God has journeyed with us and blessed us so many ways. But there have been some uphill battles that I believe trace back to not adhering to a basic scriptural principle. In many ways we’ve lived like monks who have taken a vow of poverty, nonetheless we’ve been blessed with some family circumstances that made it possible for us to live what appears from the outside to be a comfortable lower-middle-class life.

But my advice to people today is always the same: Prepare your work in the fields and then build your house.

April 1, 2020

Celebrating 10 Years of Christianity 201

Filed under: blogging, Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:23 am

It’s our daughter’s birthday.

Daughter blog that is.

Christianity 201 was started ten years ago today, and with only two early-days hiccups I am aware of, has posted every single day for ten years.

As I write something for later today, I wanted readers here to be part of the completion of this milestone, and also thank the writers from whom we’ve “borrowed” material over the years…

Last week one of our contributing writers reminded me of a paragraph on our “about” page, I had forgotten,

Why “201” –A lot of energy is expended in the Christian blogosphere debating and discussing things that are either divisive or fleeting. I wanted this particular voice in the blogosphere to be about things that were more lasting, and the possibility of God’s blessing on those who read this to be a realistic expectation.

That sums up why I started Christianity 201 on April 1, 2010, and it remains its purpose today.

The original articles weren’t formatted the same however. I didn’t demand of myself that each day include scripture — that came months later — but only that the focus be centered on Christ and His Church. So there were a lot of quotations. Here are some excerpts from some of the early posts:

On the first day of C201, April 1, 2010:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ. – E. Stanley Jones.

On the uniqueness of Christ:

If Jesus had never lived we never would have been able to invent him. – Walter Wink

On staying the course spiritually:

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout. It is usually the result of a slow leak. – unknown

On the cross:

I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about. – George MacLeod

On Grace vs. Religion:

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant. – Bruxy Cavey

On treasuring scripture:

You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature. – Ghandi

On the Holy Spirit:

The Ten Commandments… are impossible to fallen people, but not God whose nature they are. …It is the indwelling Spirit of God who, alone, can reproduce and express the moral character of God within us. – Charles Price

On intimacy with God:

There is a way to read the Bible that keeps God at an arm’s length. If you primarily read the Bible as a book of principles to follow and people to imitate then your relationship with God won’t be intimate, it will be contractual. – David Paul Door

A guide for those who preach:

1. How often is Jesus mentioned?
2. If Jesus is mentioned, is he the subject of the verbs? In the sermon is Jesus and his work proclaimed… or is someone else and their work proclaimed?
3. What are those verbs? Are they that Jesus came, lived, died, rescued, saved, and the like? Are they biblical terms? – R. Alan Cole

On the nature of sin:

We never see sin correctly unless we see it as against God. – Jerry Bridges

On evaluating ourselves:

I don’t want to underestimate my sinfulness because all that does is cheapen the grace of God! But more importantly, I don’t want to underestimate the grace of God. We need to be reminded over and over again that the grace of God is so much bigger than our biggest failure! – Mark Batterson

On not worrying about what others see:

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore. – Tim Keller

…The other thing that struck me about the early days of Christianity 201 was the use of music. Sometimes, in the early days, a post was simply an embedded video and a reflection on the lyrics. Ten years later, we have “the worship industry” and it’s far too easy for writers to be dismissive of the power a Christian song can have in the life of a believer, so few devotional writers include music. For an index of the songs we’ve used — updated last about a year ago — click this link.

I’ll probably add a few more words to this when it’s posted at C201 later today — it rolls out at 5:35 EST daily — but I wanted readers here at Thinking Out Loud to share the excitement.

March 21, 2020

Parents: Don’t Assume Kids Will Automatically ‘Catch’ Your Faith

Just take them to Church each weekend and your kids will ‘catch’ it, right? In a sense, that may have been more true in previous generations than it is today. But many parents are finding they singularly can’t take anyone spiritually beyond where they are themselves without help.

Some good input for parents comes from Canada’s Natalie Frisk in her book, Raising Disciples: How to Make Faith Matter to our Kids (Herald Press). After her undergrad work at Redeemer University in Hamilton, she completed her Master’s degree at the same city’s McMaster Divinity School.

In a recent interview with Redeemer’s Resound magazine, the story unfolds as to how the book came to be:

Throughout her time as a youth pastor, Frisk would get a lot of questions from parents about having their kids follow Jesus. “I started to keep track of that with no real plan for what to do with it at the time,” she says.

It wasn’t until later, when an editor from a publishing company asked to meet with her, that she realized she had some great material for her book.

“It is the shared wisdom of so many people who have been part of my spiritual community,” she said. “It’s kind of crowdsourced from people who are rockstar parents. There was a lot of community involvement. I just got to write it down.”

Today she is a curriculum developer for The Meeting House family of churches and that curriculum is being adopted by churches all over the world, including many in the newly-formed Jesus Collective.

Her publisher, Herald Press summarizes the book,

Children and youth will just “catch” the faith of their parents, right?

Not necessarily. Talking with kids about Jesus no longer comes naturally to many Christian parents. In Raising Disciples, pastor Natalie Frisk helps us reconnect faith and parenting, equipping parents to model what following Jesus looks like in daily life. Filled with authenticity, flexibility, humor, and prayer, Frisk outlines how parents can make openings for their children to experience God in their daily lives.

As curriculum pastor at The Meeting House, one of the largest churches in Canada, Frisk calls parents who follow Christ to ask the big questions about the spiritual formation of children and teens. In practical and thoughtful ways, she equips parents to disciple their kids in various stages of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Raising Disciples will awaken parents to the possibly of Jesus-centered parenting and encourage us to engage in the lost art of discipling our own kids.

Redeemer’s Shannon McBride continues Natalie’s story,

…[T]here are two parts to how parents can model faith to their kids: intentional practices and unintentional lived moments.

Intentional practices are things like praying with and in front of your kids and reading your Bible. “They see you doing it, so they know you value it,” she says.

Unintentional lived moments are things like modelling forgiveness to your kids. Frisk says parents should apologize to their kids when they do something wrong. “Get down to their level and ask for forgiveness. And forgive them when they apologize. That offers a glimpse of the heart of our Father God.”

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