Thinking Out Loud

April 7, 2016

Every Generation Has its Tree in the Garden

After writing on Tuesday morning about the Set Free Summit taking place in North Carolina, I got to scrolling through old posts here and discovered one from six years ago which has never re-run.

If you know what the conference is about, you’ll read what follows through that lens, which is what I believe I had in mind when I wrote it. The idea that right now, thanks to the same wonderful technology which is allowing people all over the world to read my words, an entire generation is captivated by the empty yet addictive appeal of the latest iteration of the Temptation Tree.

Or maybe there are several…

It was a simple test. Other than this, you can do anything you want to, just don’t touch that tree over there. Yeah, that one.

Adam and Eve lived in less complex times. It was a good time to be alive if you were bad at remembering peoples’ names. Or not so good at history. And the only moral law they had was “The One Commandments.” Thou shalt not touch the fruit of the tree in the middle.

You know the tree. The one that looks so inviting. The one thing you can’t have. The big fluffy tree that’s like a giant “Wet Paint” sign that’s just begging you to touch your finger to it. Except they didn’t have paint back then.

Anyway, you know how that story ended.

I believe that throughout history there has always been a tree in the middle of the garden. It’s there in the garden of our world. In the garden of our society. In the garden of our nation. In the garden of our community. In the garden of our families. In the garden of our hearts.

There’s always a tree.

The warning not to touch its fruit is given to some by direct command, though others believe that the idea of not tasting of its bounty is written on the hearts of people; they simply know.

Some people say that everyone knows this, some people think people do need to be commanded, to have it spelled out for them; while others spend long hours drinking hot beverages wondering what then of the people who haven’t heard of the command.

In some cases, there is always one large tree to confront. In other cases there are several trees which must be avoided. Some reach a point where they simply lose interest in the forbidden fruit, it no longer tempts them, only to find themselves looking squarely at another tree, which holds a similar prohibition.

“Why, when I have lived my whole life never having been tempted to touch the tree in the middle of the garden, do I find myself now, at this stage of life, looking squarely at another tree in another part of the garden which is so very captivating, but apparently so equally off limits?”

Many, therefore, succumb.

Meanwhile others say there are no trees that are verboten. The time of such restrictions has passed, and one is free to enjoy all the fruit of all the trees. They entice others to eat, and the penalty for such as trespass doesn’t seem to befall these, though the eating of the fruit does leave a kind of stomach ache that lasts for a long, long, long, time.

At the other extreme are those who manage to transcend all of the temptations and all of the trees. These people enjoy a kind of regret-free, stomach-ache free existence. They are above such weaknesses. They don’t eat the fruit. They don’t touch the tree. They stay away from all the trees in all the gardens that might be simply wrong to taste, touch or even look back on.

They are however, rather quick to condemn those who who do succumb. “We warned them;” they say. “We put up signs that pointed people to the other trees; the safe, practical trees; the open spaces free of vegetation.”

They do this, not realizing, that their response is their tree.

Their careful analysis of the condition of gardens inhabited by weak people who do in fact stumble, who do in fact fail; their commentary on the nature of human weakness; their lack of compassion for those who have been unable to resist the appeal of the tree and its fruit… somehow… in some way… that became their tree.

They have gazed at it. They have touched its trunk, its branches and its leaves. They have tasted its fruit.

They are really no different.

For all have missed it; coming up short in understanding of the true nature of the creator and his expectations.

They forgot to look at the tree they were standing next to all along.

March 19, 2016

Jesus For President (It’s better than some of the current options)

While I’ve re-run many articles over the course of the blog, book reviews have not been among them. Book mentions are usually unique to a particular time and place and only relevant while the book is new. The attention of reviewers and readers alike then moves on to whatever is next.

But I was drawn to this short review because the book is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in this an election year; not to mention the release of a 10th anniversary edition of the author’s first book The Irresistible Revolution. So grab some cooking grease to power the bus engine as we head out on the road once again…

“Growing up we were taught to sing the exciting songs of Noah and Abraham and little David and Goliath. But we were never taught songs about debt cancellation, land reforms, food redistribution and slave amnesty. We don’t know if it was just hard to come up with words that rhyme with “debt cancellation” or if folks were hesitant about venturing into the ancient (and sometimes boring) world of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy… Whatever the case, these books are where some of God’s most creative and exciting ideas come alive.”

Jesus for President pp 57-58

About fifty years ago elementary school students had something called ‘readers’ which contained base materials for a variety of subjects. Each page brought some new adventure, they were the equivalent of a variety show for students with poems, psalms, pictures, maps, science articles, biographical stories and fiction. Basically, everything in it but the kitchen sink.

I’ve just finished reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. Like Shane’s previous book, The Irresistible Revolution, this book has everything but the kitchen sink, too. 

This book begins with an overview of the early Jewish history as recorded in the Pentateuch. There is also a great deal of focus on Constantine’s influence on the Church in the 300s. Constantine, a hero to some for his legitimization of Christianity, isn’t doing well on review these days. (See Greg Boyd’s The Myth of an American Nation for more of this, or listen online to some of Bruxy Cavey’s teaching at The Meeting House in Oakville, ON www.themeetinghouse.ca or check the blogsphere for reviews of The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. etc.)

But kitchen sink style, Claiborne and Haw then move on to practical ways that the Church can make a difference especially in terms of the environment, the economy and creating equity. They don’t stop at stamping out poverty. They want to stamp out affluence, too. In some respects, they could have got two very different books out of this, but their understanding of Israel’s history, their interpretation of Christ’s teaching, their take on the first few hundred years of Christianity; all these provide context for where they see the church today. In other words, first you get their motivation, then you get their methodology.

Like the school readers of old, you’re left with a primer on social action, with every page yielding something new. (And the visual dynamics of each page help, too.) And not one paragraph, not even one sentence in the book is theoretical. It’s about living all this out on a daily basis. 


Keep up with Shane and partner-in-crime Tony Campolo at RedLetterChristians.org

A year after this was review was published, I later covered the Jesus for President DVD which is still widely available. You can read that review here.

 

 

February 15, 2016

The Changing Face of the Global Church

“The Meeting of the Waters” in Manaus, Brazil: Two visually distinct rivers converge to form the Amazon River

I am no doubt a better person for the various books I have reviewed here over the years., but honestly, I’ve probably forgotten some of them. There is however one title that I still find myself quoting in discussions, particularly on the subject of missions, but often about the global church in general. 

Two very different missionaries are presented, one the author calls “Mission Marm,” the other is “Apple Guy.” Two vastly different mindsets having to join together not unlike the branches of the river above referenced in the book’s title. Reading that analogy alone is worth the price of admission.

This was the second half of a two part review I did  — here’s a link to  the original first part — of a 2010 book by Fritz Kling, The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church (David C. Cook, still in print). The book is based on what the author calls “The Global Church Listening Tour;” one-hour interviews with 151 church leaders in nineteen countries.



As Canadians, we often find ourselves despairing over the USA-centric approach of many popular Christian books. So one expects a book with a ‘global’ perspective to transcend any particular nation. However, in some chapters more than others, Kling would relate his findings to the church in America. In this case that’s a good thing. If the book were just theoretical it would not accomplish much. Some of the real value here — although it’s never truly spelled out in ‘macro versus micro’ terms — is the application of what’s happening globally to the local church; the church you and I attend on weekends. But then again, this is a very, very ‘macro’ kind of book.

So what are the seven currents? There’s a great economy of language in Fritz Kling’s writing style, so I can’t do this adequately, but here’s a few things that stood out:

  1. Mercy — Kling uses an anecdotal approach in this social justice section: a young woman who gives up a promising law career to work with oppressed people in India; a young man who is a native of India who operates a technology firm guided by Sermon-on-the-Mount principles.
  2. Mutuality — It’s hard to function in the global church if you think you or the country you come from has all the answers; and that bias leads to further believing that you (or we) should be the ones in charge. He also suggests that people in other parts of the world don’t understand our various debates about practices or behaviors or doctrines, since they simply take the Bible at literal face value.
  3. Migration — There are three issues here: Worldwide migration patterns in general; the migration taking place from rural areas to cities at a time when churches are fleeing the urban core for the suburbs; and the ministry opportunities that exist when you have displaced, and therefore lonely people all around.
  4. Monoculture — This chapter looks at the dominance of the English language as a symptom of the much larger, accelerating spread of Western culture, and in particular, Western youth culture.
  5. Machines — Kling begins with a look at technology as a tool in disaster relief. (He mentions a 2008 cyclone that hit Burma. As the book was being published a major earthquake struck Haiti.) He moves on to discuss the role of technology in evangelism, and backtracks to show how that motive led to some other technological applications now enjoyed worldwide.
  6. Mediation — Kling delineates several areas where there is a need for reconciliation and mediation. He notes this will be a challenge for Westerners to function in a world that has become, in particular, very anti-American. He speaks in detail of the conflicts that exist, “not between Muslims and Christians, but between Muslims and other [more militant] Muslims.” Kling believes Christians should be leading the way toward reconciliation on all fronts.
  7. Memory — Knowing the past can be a blessing and a curse, but in many places, Kling sees more downside than upside, with entire cultures having a depreciated view of themselves. Still, Christians need to fully enter into, understand and even embrace the history of the place where they serve, and from there aim to bring hope and wholeness.

As I originally stated, I still hope this book finds the wider audience it is deserving of. This is a book for pastors and missiologists for sure, but I think it’s also a title that business leaders, church board members and people who simply care about the future of the church should want to study.

January 30, 2016

When Worship Leaders Actually Minister

This week, we had much discussion about a pivotal event in my wife’s worship leading career, that came about after I rediscovered this blog post in the archives. Even then, it was many years in the making, and something that both of us had been thinking and talking about for a long, long time before she wrote it.


• • • by Ruth Wilkinson

A number of years ago, a terrible thing happened.

Our local Christian school had just celebrated their Grade 8 graduation. Excited 14-year-olds, proud parents and grandparents, a ceremony, a party.

That was Friday evening.

One of the students, a girl, went home that evening, full of life and fun and hope, said good night to her parents, went to sleep, fell into a diabetic coma and died in the night.

The next day, phone lines burned up as the word spread and the Christian community prayed together for this family and for the girl’s friends.

Sunday morning during the service, the then pastor of #thechurchiusedtogoto mentioned the terrible thing in his ‘pastoral prayer’ before the sermon and the congregation prayed together for the comfort and healing of us all.

Over the next week, it started to sink in as these things will do, and a lot of people, solid believers who love Jesus, began asking hard questions. People deeply wounded by the fact that God could allow this to happen.

We own the local Christian bookstore, and some of these folks came in looking for answers. The best we could do was share their questions and their pain. Because there are no answers, besides the trite ones that don’t work.

The next Sunday, I was scheduled to lead worship. I chose songs that were familiar and simple, songs that spoke only of who God is and always had been and avoided “I will worship you” and “Thank you” types of lyrics.

On the platform, in my allotted one minute of speech, I said that a terrible thing had happened last week. That a lot of us were still hurting and questioning and angry. That it can be difficult to sing praises at a time like this, out of our woundedness. But that God was still God and though we don’t understand, we can trust him.

And we sang.

The next day, I got an email. From the (P)astor. Telling me off.

Apparently I had crossed a line. I’d been “too pastoral”. He said that I had no right to address the need in the congregation that week because he had “mentioned it” in his prayer the week before. And that was his job, not mine.

This was in the days before I was liberated enough to allow myself to ask, “What the hell?” so I went with the sanctified version of same, “What on earth?”. How could I possibly have been wrong to acknowledge what we were all thinking, and to act accordingly?

But, knowing from long experience that there was no point in arguing, I acquiesced and he was mollified.

However.

That episode stuck with me. Like a piece of shrapnel the surgeons couldn’t quite get.

“Too pastoral”.

Ephesians 4:11 speaks about gifts given to “each one of us”. The writer lists 5. Widely accepted interpretation of this verse sees each of the 5 as a broad category of Spirit-borne inclination and ability, with every one of us falling into one or another.

Apostles – those whose role it is to be sent. To go beyond the comfort zone and get things started that others would find too intimidating or difficult. Trailblazers.

Prophets – those whose role it is to speak God’s heart. To remind us all why we do what we do, and, whether it’s comfortable or not, to set apart truth from expediency. Truth-speakers.

Evangelists – those whose role it is to tell others about Jesus. To naturally find the paths of conversation that lead non-believers to consider who Christ is. Challengers.

Pastors – those whose role it is to come alongside people, to meet them where they are and to guide them in a good direction. To protect, to direct, to listen and love. Shepherds.

Teachers – those whose role it is to study and understand the written word of God, and to unfold it to the rest of us so we can put it into practice. Instructors.

I’ll be the first to point out that “worship leader” isn’t included in the list. Which means that those of us who take that place in ecclesial gatherings must fall into the “each one of us” who have been given these gifts.

Every time a worship leader (or song leader or whatever) stands on the platform of your church and picks up the mic, you are looking at a person to whom has been given one of the 5-fold gifts.

But can you tell?

Don’t know about you, sunshine, but I want to.

I think that, after a week or two, you should be able to tell. From their song choices, from the short spoken word they’re given 60 seconds for on the spreadsheet, from what makes them cry, smile, jump up and down – you should be able to tell that:

  • This woman has the gift of an evangelist. She challenges us to speak about Jesus to the world because he died for us.
  • That guy has the gift of a teacher. He chooses songs with substance and depth of lyric. He doesn’t just read 6 verses from the Psalms, he explains things.
  • That kid is totally a prophet. He reminds us of what’s important and what’s not.
  • This dude is an apostle. He comes back to us from where he’s been all week and tells us what’s going on out there.
  • This woman is a pastor. Her heart bleeds when yours does. She comes alongside and walks with you through the good and the bad and encourages you to keep going.

A worship leader who is free to express their giftedness in the congregation is, himself, a gift to the congregation.

A worship leader who is bound by rules and by “what we do” is a time filler.

Church “leadership” who restrict the use of Christ-given gifts are, in my humble opinion, sinning against the Spirit and the congregation.

Those gifts are there for a reason.

Let us use them.


December 6, 2015

With Christmas Coming, Do Your Kids Feel a Sense of Entitlement?

We never gave our kids an allowance. Not once. Working for ministry organizations and then owning a commercial ministry where we don’t pay ourselves a salary may have precluded it somewhat. But at the end of the day, I just didn’t see the point. Some kids are paid for being good. Our kids were good for nothing. [Rim-shot!] I just didn’t want them to think that we owed them anything.

We rarely bought our kids much of anything when we went to the mall. Perhaps never is a bit strong. The general presumption was that we were going to look, that the mall was a recreational destination where we would also do some comparison shopping and if the mood hit us, actually make a purchase. There was never the expectation that we would emerge carrying packages. The kids never thought that they were going to come away with increased personal possessions.

As a result, I think my children have a balanced perspective when it comes to materialism. In their mid-teens, they learned to pick up the tab for the things they needed or wanted on their own. It helped that both had paying jobs in high school. A part-time job at that age in our town is nothing short of a miracle.

Now they’re in their 20s. Both have a VISA card, and are well-versed in online banking. My youngest told me he feels guilty when he makes a large purchase. Maybe we need to tweak that attitude a little.

I felt both of them had a head-start when it came to money given the part time jobs. Some start even earlier. I wasn’t ready for the young girl who came into our store with a debit card. I think she was about nine years old. Okay, maybe ten. Not much more than that. It was one of those split-second moments of seeing something almost comedic, like when little boys would dress up in their father’s jackets and ties, back when their fathers actually wore jackets and ties. Maybe the analogy today is wearing their father’s shoes. (Not sure what the girl equivalent is; can tell me?)

The other side to consumerism is that I’ve tried to do is encourage our kids not to waste, because I believe the issue of materialism and the issue of waste go hand-in-hand. Maybe rationing the squares of toilet tissue is a bit much,* but certainly there’s no need for the second glass of the expensive treat we bought, such as Welch’s Grape Juice — the real stuff, not the Grape Cocktail their flogging now — or even a second glass of the cheaper apple juice.

Mind you, they’ve inherited that from me. I see food on the table and feel this desire for more. I had no siblings growing up, yet I seem to be in this constant competition for my fair share. At church potlucks, I tend to position myself close to the food table. I have a sense that all the other people in our congregation are people who will eat my share of the dinner if I do not guard it carefully. Not sure where I got that. But like father like son(s); the kids don’t like to miss out.

My youngest, aka Kid Too, was usually the first to take a piece of chicken or roast beef from the platter, a luxury of choice I was always taught is reserved for the cook, aka Mrs. W. He chooses well. He has taken a culinary course and knows the good pieces. The tender pieces. I always complain at that point that he just took “the best piece.” I am not trying to cause trouble. I sized up the platter before we said the blessing and already saw the piece that I considered the finest, and he took it. More competition.

At this point, I’m thinking of the title of the book by Francis Shaeffer’s daughter, Susan McAuley Schaeffer, How To Be Your Own Selfish Pig. I have been mastering this art for years, but not through actual pigging, but by ranting about the perceived pigging of everyone else.

As I write, it occurs to me that I probably wouldn’t be so obsessed about portion control if my youngest had shown more gratitude during those years. Actually, he does this a great deal, but in other areas. If he were to tell me how much he enjoys the times we purchase the more expensive grape juice, I would probably lavish him with more. He is changing with age however. When he comes home at Christmas I expect his sense of appreciation for all we do to have matured even more, though I still feel I should be saying grace with one eye open…

Then it hits me. That’s what God is waiting for. He has many good things in heaven’s storehouse which have me in mind. But he’s waiting for me to say thanks for what I have been given. As the Biblical story of the ten lepers teaches us, the thank-you rate is about 10%.


 

*I don’t actually ration toilet tissue, though I have been known to do calculations as to the number of squares that — hmmm …too much information?

November 22, 2015

Door to Door Evangelism: Marginal Groups Willing to Invest the Time

Several years ago I met with a man who was a somewhat lapsed Episcopalian (or Anglican as we say here) who had been meeting on a monthly basis with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. He had a lot of questions about various issues, and so he invited them into his home and they returned regularly, staying about an hour each time.

There was a time when Evangelicals were very big on the concept of door-to-door outreach and visitation. Many a Saturday morning in the 1950s and 1960s might be spent in twos or threes ringing doorbells in a local neighborhood.

But as time went by, people tended to associate the “two by two” approach with only two groups: Mormons (LDS) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These two groups took ownership of this method of proselytizing, with the result that today it’s not widely used by others.

Before anyone starts dismissing these groups out of hand, I want to commend the approach for the following reasons:

  1. It’s Biblical. The disciples were sent out in this manner. I’m not sure that by concluding that certain groups had taken over this approach and the simply giving up, Evangelical Christians did the right thing. What contact do we now make with our surrounding neighbors?
  2. They deliver. If the last few years of Missional Church has taught us anything, it’s taught us the importance of being sent. So much of what the church calls “outreach” is really “in-drag.” Millions of people are falling through the cracks of printed brochure distribution or mall campaigns or e-mail invites. But it’s harder — though not impossible — for them to ignore a knock at the door.
  3. The people who this man met at his front door were willing to invest the time with him. On hearing that, I made sure that I took out as much time as he wanted. Fortunately, the phone at my workplace didn’t ring and no one else needed to see me. I would have given him all day.
  4. They knew their subject matter cold. He was impressed with both their depth and their passion as they presented answers to his questions and introduced their beliefs, and also how their various doctrines fit together. It’s important that we are able to do the same. It has been said that of all the religions on earth, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.
  5. They are optimistic about the results. I asked one Mormon missionary what would constitute the ideal “at the door” contact. He replied, “Someone who hears the message, receives the message, and commits to be baptized.” I asked if he’d ever heard of that happening all in the very first visit, and he said, “Yes, for sure.”
  6. They followed up. They returned to see him several times.

Hopefully through meeting with me he met someone with an equal passion for and knowledge of the true Christian faith. I encouraged him not to seek answers from the single source he has been using, and told him about a variety of resources available online. We continued meeting and while in recent years the contact has been somewhat fleeting, he always knows where to find me.

October 9, 2015

The End of Me: A Book For Those Who’ve Reached Their Limit

This is my 4th time around reviewing a book by Kyle Idleman and those previous titles — Not a Fan, Gods at War, and AHA — have been very well received; plus we’ve also looked at the video curriculum for each of those titles plus several posts devoted to the H20 DVD series. It’s partly that I enjoy his writing and speaking, but partly that I just want to be agent for creating awareness of products I believe can be especially useful in the life of those who have been on their Christ-following journey for awhile, those just starting out, and those who haven’t yet crossed the line of faith.

The End of Me - Kyle IdlemanWhich brings us to The End of Me: Where Real Life in The Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins (David C. Cook, paperback, September 2015), the fourth major release by the teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Do you ever read the little subject categories they place near the barcodes on books? On my copy this one says “RELIGION” (in capital letters just like that) and then the subcategories “Christian Life” and “Spiritual Growth.” I want to suggest three different bookstore categories where I would file this title.

Bible Commentary – Okay, suppose any Christian title is in some way an amplification of Bible truths, but some authors include this dimension more than others. The End of Me starts out with four particular statements from The Sermon on the Mount where Jesus seems to turn the logic of religious presuppositions on its head. The broken in spirit inherit the Kingdom. Those who weep are comforted. You know these as selections from a part of the sermon we call The Beatitudes. He then continues with four additional principles that are rooted in other parts of the New Testament that continue the upside-down theme. The empty are filled. The weak are strong.

However, each chapter goes beyond the obvious, single allusion to a particular passage. We see that the whole tenor and character of the New Testament reflects these principles multiple times over.

Self Help – Christ’s call to discipleship is very much a call to action. Through his ministry, Kyle Idleman has run into people in all types of life situations and shares these along with personal anecdotes of people missing out on the fullness that God has for them through poor decision making.

In other words, if we can learn the upside-down principles Jesus teaches, we can actually save ourselves a lot of grief and pain.

Humor – As with the previously mentioned three titles, Kyle Idleman is one of those naturally funny people. Some of it is self-deprecating humor, some is dry and sarcastic, and some of it is simply his writing style. The footnotes may be distracting to some, but to me, they’re an integral part of the text.

I like an author who doesn’t take himself too seriously, although he takes his faith very seriously.

There are a number of things about The End of Me that are similar to themes in the previous three published works. Like Not a Fan, there is the idea that following Christ involves commitment to ideals and values and beliefs that go against the ways of a secularized society. Like Gods at War there is the dimension that to live in the upside-down Kingdom is to do so against various other worldviews that are competing for our attention and allegiance. And like AHA, there is the important factor of realizing we’ve reached our limit — the end of life on our own terms — and coming to our senses.

Look for The End of Me in the book aisle in the bright red wrapper.

 

July 25, 2015

Worship Moments

Filed under: Christianity, worship — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:34 am

Last week we attended an outdoor Sunday service in which the focus was honoring and respecting God’s creation. Toward the end, I was reminded of a poem I thought we had posted here, only to learn I had done so on a different website. On Friday’s post at Internet Monk, there was a statement that “American readers will refuse to read poetry.” Reading the poem there, I was reminded again of the one below.  I know nothing of the author of this poem, which I had memorized when I was much younger; in fact I had always thought it was written by Tennyson. Some conservative Christians will bristle at the phrase “Mother Earth,” but I love the premise of the first verse and last verse especially.

IN THE WOODS

Scott, Frederick George

THIS is God's house--the blue sky is the
   ceiling,
 This wood the soft green carpet for His
   feet,
Those hills His stairs, down which the brooks
   come stealing
 With baby laughter, making earth more
   sweet.

And here His friends come, clouds, and soft
   winds sighing,
 And little birds whose throats pour forth
   their love,
And spring and summer, and the white snow
   lying
 Pencilled with shadows of bare boughs
   above.

And here come sunbeams through the green
   leaves straying,
 And shadows from the storm-clouds over-
   drawn,
And warm, hushed nights, when Mother
   Earth is praying
 So late that her moon-candle burns ill
   dawn.

Sweet house of God, sweet earth, so full of
   pleasure,
 I enter at thy gates in storm or calm;
And every sunbeam is a joy or pleasure,
 And every cloud a solace and a balm.

June 7, 2015

When Interpersonal Relationships Break Down

Six years later, I honestly don’t remember what it was that precipitated this column…

Lately I’ve been keeping track of a number of relationships in my personal life and business life that have been changing. Some of these represent cases where there have been relationship breakdowns, usually precipitated by something external that I did not instigate, but often compounded by my reaction(s). I’m a very principled person, and I’ve never let a great friendship stand in the way of taking a stand for an ethical or moral precept, at least not among people who I expect should know better.

But some of them are relationships which have been in a wonderful state of repair and healing. Enough time clicks by on the magic clock and both parties say, “Who cares?” and pick things up where they left off. In one case, I can no longer remember what the issue was between myself and the woman concerned, though when we do meet up, I hope she gives me some kind of clue. I don’t want to reopen old wounds, but I’m dying to know what the deal was. It must have been a doozie, but with God, forgetfulness — which we regard as a human failing — is actually a divine attribute.

So here’s my five rules for surviving relational breakdowns:

  1. bizarrobelieverjerkNothing should be so severe that it would cause you to move to the sidewalk on the other side of the road if you saw that person coming down the street. Civility is always the higher good.
  2. You should never have relational estrangement with more than five people at a time. To get a sixth person on the list, you have to be willing to call up the person who has been on the list the longest and make peace. You may prefer to use four or three as your magic number. It should never be more than five.
  3. Treat the whole thing as if it’s entirely your own fault, even if it wasn’t to begin with. Sometimes that can be difficult. A pastor I know took great issue with something I sent him in an e-mail a year ago; then just weeks later got up and gave his congregation the same message. I know that I was right, but if I ever happened to run into him, the first thing I would probably say is, “Look, I’m sorry…” In fact, I have nothing to apologize for, but it can be a great opportunity to practice humility and thereby model Christian charity.
  4. Ask yourself if there’s some other factor at play that you haven’t considered. For about 15 years, I knew that a particular individual was angry with me. A mutual friend said, “He’s never going to forgive you.” I always thought it concerned something in our professional relationship, but about a year ago, my mind flashed back to something that happened at a party involving our children. I immediately contacted him to make things right.
  5. An irreparable situation means the relationship can’t be fixed for now. The bible is very clear that as far as it is up to you, you should live at peace with everyone. Elsewhere, we’re told that loving our brothers and sisters means believing the best. I interpret that as believing the best is yet to come.

P.S.: I’m still working some of these out, so don’t expect to see my book on this on the shelves anytime soon!

In heaven above
With the saints that we love
It will be glory

But on earth here below
With the saints that we know
Well… that’s a different story.

 

March 7, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate

While this is not a direct continuation of yesterday’s post, anyone who has interacted to any degree with the Christian blogosphere is aware that much strong opinion out there on a variety of topics. You can’t help but sense that many people are simply consumed by their obsession with people who don’t look like them or talk like them or belong to their tribe. Some of the best Christian authors and pastors are lined up in their sights and anything they write, say or even think is completely pre-judged. (I just deleted a blog from my computer’s bookmarks, because every time I clicked it, I found my blood pressure rising perceptibly from the first paragraph I would read.)

If you track with Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201, you know that I’ve been very slowly working my way through a four-book series by Michael Card, the Biblical Imagination series, and I’m currently in the one on the third gospel, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, which surfaces every few weeks. When I looked back to find the source of what follows, I couldn’t nail down a specific section to quote, but I don’t want to take full credit for this, Card’s writings have helped me put myself more into the picture of Jesus’ give and take with the crowd and the religious leaders.

Basically, today’s online haters are best described by the phrase, Modern Pharisees. As such they find themselves in opposition to people on two different levels.

Modern Pharisees Hate Sin

There’s no crime in that. Heck, God hates sin, right? But sometimes hating sin translates into hating the sinners themselves. To Jesus, a person’s performance record with reference to the standards of a Holy God was never in and of itself reason for condemnation. Rather, the term scripture uses translates as missing the mark. Our failure to meet those standards is part of larger nature that needs to be seen for what it is, and then, for those of us who are repentant of this, in our earnestness to please God and in our confession of that failure, we come to understand that we can’t ever make amends with God on our own. We need his help to lead a more God-pleasing life, but we also need is covering or atoning for our mark-missing which by implication means we need a savior. We find that in Jesus, we look to the cross, and then grant him Lordship over each and every detail of our life.

But this applies to everyone equally. Each one of us has that built-in, human tendency to stick our hand on the wall next to the “Wet Paint” sign. Or as Paul said it to the Romans, ‘All have missed the mark (or sinned) and come up short of God’s standards (or holiness.)’ So if you want to wave a placard that says ‘God Hates Fags,’ (which is not true), you need to also have one that says, ‘God Hates Adulterers,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Cheat on their Income Tax,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Steal Paperclips from Work,’ (all equally untrue) because basically, ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’

Except that God doesn’t hate anyone. He hates mark-missing because his standards are high. Very high. The highest. However, on the other hand, sending Jesus as an atonement was His idea. He lets us see our inability to achieve the standard and then, to as many as received that offer, to as many as believed on Jesus, he lets us off the hook, so to speak.

So hating sin is a God-paralleling thing to do. Hating sinners on the other hand is, well, sinful.

Modern Pharisees Hate Grace

And this is where it all gets weird. You would think that those who accept the offer are cause for celebration. Doesn’t the Bible saith that there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth? Yeth, it doth! So if the angels are having a party, can we do any less?

The problem is that the thinking of many is bound by bounded set theory. This is the idea that there is a line and some people are in, and some people are out. Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While there is some truth in the idea that a time is coming when the sheep are separated from the non-sheep — I don’t wanna be a goat, nope — it’s wrong to think that it’s up to us to decide, or that it’s even up to us to worry about who’s who.

So…at the least suggestion that someone from the fringes might actually be in, there is much consternation and concern. Clearly, we can’t have that sort of thing going on, and the best way to deal with people who don’t look like us, act like us, dress like us, read the type of books we read, sing the kind of songs we like, etc., is to condemn them as heretical.

Because if they are in, well, that just cheapens grace. And that would make us all look bad, right? Given the chance to rewrite scripture, Modern Pharisees wouldn’t celebrate the return of the prodigal son, and the thief on the cross wouldn’t stand a chance.

But that’s grace. That’s what grace is. And grace was God’s idea. If you don’t like it, talk to Him.


 

Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea 
Higher than the mountain 
Sparkling like a fountain 
All sufficient grace for even me 
Broader than the scope of my transgressions 
Greater far than all my sin and shame 
O magnify the precious name of Jesus
Praise His name!

 

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