Thinking Out Loud

December 3, 2017

Short Takes (7): Flying Elephants

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:27 am

As a younger person, I frequently traveled to those large summer outdoor youth festivals which, for some reason, all seemed to take place in Pennsylvania. I remember one of the speakers talking about II Cor. 5:17

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (NASB)

What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! (NLT)

The speaker said that most people think of “becoming a new creature” as referring to something like the proverbial caterpillar who becomes a butterfly; but it’s not talking about that kind of metamorphosis.

Rather, he said, the Greek means that “anyone in Christ” is actually “a species of being that never existed before;” adding “More like a winged elephant than a winged butterfly.”

I’ve never seen a winged elephant, though in the early days of Microsoft, I saw some flying toasters.

The thing about a flying elephant is this: It gets peoples’ attention. If anyone is in Christ, the world is going to notice the change from what we once were, but also the uniqueness of what we have become. We’re going to stand out like a city on a hill that no one can hide; like the light of the world.

There’s a song we sang at camp a lot of years ago:

Little by little, every day
Little by little in every way
My Jesus is changing me

Since I made a turnabout face
I’ve been growing in His grace
My Jesus is changing me

He’s changing me, my precious Jesus
I’m not the same person that I used to be

Sometimes it’s slow going
But there’s a knowing
That someday, perfect I will be

If someone walks up to you and says, “Hey, you haven’t changed a bit;” and you’re a Christian and they’re not talking about physical appearance like your hair color or your weight; then something is seriously wrong.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (New Living Translation):
17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Breaking it down by subjects, as on a child’s report card, it might look like this, with two subjects:

2 Peter 3:18 (New Living Translation):
18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I gotta be honest; some days I do well in the knowledge department and not so well in the grace department. But there are days where the reverse is true as well.

Need a more complex report card with more than just two subjects? Here’s the next level version:

Colossians 1:9-12 (New Living Translation)
9 … We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. 11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father…

Here’s to change; personal change that you know inwardly and others see outwardly.

 

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November 21, 2017

“Who Is Jesus Christ in Your Life?”

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

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

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

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

“I have a secret weapon;” I declared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My voice trailed off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He just smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

“Lots.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, what?”

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

July 30, 2015

Time With God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

February 2, 2015

David The Shepherd King: Bible’s Most Detailed Narrative

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

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

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

There are 20 chapters each going several directions at once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

 

 

January 29, 2013

God Requires Ultimate Headship Over Us

I originally wrote what follows a couple of days ago at Christianity 201. While it serves as an introduction to the concluding video, I believe it’s something we all need to consider more.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multi faceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others. So we find as we read God’s word that many passages are connected to other passages, and that many others, even on their own, offer depths and riches of meaning and application.

But there is also the aspect that many verses are links in a chain, offering part of a whole larger imparting of God’s ways and God’s instructions on a variety of subjects. To fully grasp the mind of God — to see what is called the whole counsel of God — we need to dig deeper.

For example, what is the mark of our work and witness in the world? The first answer we would expect is love.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~John 13:35 NKJV

But we all know people who, because they are created in God’s image, are very loving people, do good works, are benevolent and charitable; but they have never acknowledged Christ’s deity or given him lordship over their lives.

So we go deeper. The mark of the true Christian is the fruit of the spirit.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!~Gal 5: 22,23 (NLT)

But in addition to growing in love (and joy and peace, etc.) we are to grow in the knowledge of God.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. ~II Peter 3:18 (ESV)

But clearly there is more, as we see in Paul’s prayer — and expectations — for the Colossian church:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. ~Col 1: 9-12 (NIV)

(We looked at this passage here.)

But clearly there is another dimension to there being evidence of Christ’s lordship over our lives — our possessions, our thought-lives, our decision making, our priorities and yes, our anxieties) and this is the idea of Christ’s rule and reign in our lives as we work toward becoming more conformed to his image.

I have no specific verse for this because there are so many. Someone once told me that the word Saviour appears 37 times in the KJV, and the word Lord appears over 7,000 times. That Jesus Christ is Lord is among the great themes of the Bible. The sovereignty of God, his ‘King-ship’ and Lordship over all creation is mirrored in the expectation that he will have rule and reign in our individual lives.

But if you want a specific reference, you do no better than the book of Romans which talks about whereas once sin ruled over us, the believer is now ruled by Christ.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— ~Rom. 6:6 (NIV)

I’ve led this progression of thoughts in this direction for two reasons. One, as you can see below is to introduce the song, Reign in Us by the band Starfield. This song has really been on my mind all week since encountering it again in a weekend service. More importantly, the other reason is that I believe that Christ leading us and captivating all that we think and do is going to impact the world in ways we can’t imagine.

Yes, the world will know we are Christians by our love, but they will also know it because we have submitted all to Christ. I’m not there yet — I have a long way to go — but as I write this, I make this my desire.

For those of you without high speed internet, the video is a static image; this is primarily an audio file that will load in seconds.


You thought of us before the world began to breathe
You knew our names before we came to be
You saw the very day we fall away from you
And how desperately we need to be redeemed

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one
With one desire we come
That you would reign that you would reign in us
We’re offering up our lives
A living sacrifice
That you would reign that you would reign in us

Spirit of the living God fall fresh again
Come search our hearts and purify our lives
We need your perfect love we need your discipline
We’re lost unless you guide us with your light

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one …

We cry out for your life to revive us cry out
For your love to define us cry out
For your mercy to keep us
Blameless until you return

Oh great and mighty one

So reign please reign in us
Come purify our hearts
We need your touch
Come cleanse us like a flood
And set us out
So the world may know you reign you reign in us

writers: Tim Neufeld, Jon Neufeld, Ben Glover

April 2, 2012

Refreshment When the Well Runs Dry

This weekend I had the pleasure of reading Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose by Mark O. Wilson (Wesleyan Publishing House, March 2012), pastor of Hayward Wesleyan Church in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.   Although the endorsement on the book’s cover by Mark Batterson indicates this as a book for pastors and church leaders, it is so much more than that.

Wilson has put everything in this book except the kitchen sink. It’s an encouragement collection of stories, quips, analogies, adages, and many scripture references. I hesitate to introduce comparisons, but I would think of this as a large glass of water for someone engaged in Christian service who finds themselves running dry; or an energy bar for the person whose strength feels depleted.

He arranges the 190 pages into three sections: Vacuus, Repleo and Fluo.  The first section sets the stage  indicating the nature of the problem: 45.5% of pastors surveyed said they have experienced depression and burnout (p. 19) a stat which resonates with Mark’s own experience;

“I realized I had been depending on yesterday’s grace; failing to keep my spiritual life fresh and up to date. My soul was empty and needed to be replenished.” (p. 16, italics added)

The second section talks about the process of filling up, but he contends we need to be emptied before we can be refilled; which begins with confession and repentance.  I quoted a section of this on the weekend at C201. I also loved this quotation:

Our job is to seek His way instead of demanding our own. Instead of me writing the check and asking God to sign it, I need to sign a blank check and ask God to write it.  (p. 50; US-check = cheque-UK)

And several other insights for which I didn’t note page numbers; like this one, the response of a young boy who is given a fully grown St. Bernard for his birthday:

“Wow. That’s great. But is he mine or am I his?”

And this prayer:

“God. Your will. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.”

The last section deals with the resulting overflow that results from being filled, and how that reflects in the life of the individual and the life of the church as a whole, in compassion ministries, holiness, and influencing both the local community and the world.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this; and I want to share the entire first chapter with you. This link will take you to a .pdf file sample of the introduction and chapter one.

We all face desert times in ministry and in our personal Christian pilgrimage. But times of refreshing are available even when the road is rough and the well runs dry.

March 22, 2011

Crazy Love: The Last Review

I must be the last person in the Christian blogosphere to get around to reading Crazy Love.  I promised myself to write a review — probably the last review — of the book when I finished it this week, but I’m sure my words would be lost in the sea of reviews out there; and I really don’t have anything unique to add, other than Crazy Love is certainly worthy of the numbers of people who have read, and are continuing to read the book.

So instead, I’ll post here a profile of the author that appeared a few days ago at my other blog, Christianity 201.

If you keep an eye on bestseller lists, and if there’s an author who has resonated with a whole lot of people at once, for whatever reason, you ought to check out what that author has to say.

It definitely applies to Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love and the more recent Forgotten God. Though published in 2008, it’s at the top of many lists for 2010.  A lot of people still don’t know him however, and I think another dimension to an author’s popularity — without embracing celebrity culture, something Chan himself would despise — is to check out other resources that help you to get to know the heart of the author.

Especially if you can see and hear that author speak. What a difference to then be able to read the author’s printed works and hear the author’s voice inside your head as you read or imagine their smile or the spark of passion you see in their eyes. But — and this is important — to also know more background as to where the author is coming from.

If you want to play this out with reference to Francis Chan, there’s a little 4-minute video that really says it all.  Again, I’m probably the last person in the Christian blogosphere to refer to this, but in case you haven’t seen it…

Sometimes certain natural giftedness plays out and certain authors and music artists simply work their way up the “success” ladder of Christian influence. However, there are other times that I believe people are justified — even if it can be a little cliché — to say that God has “raised up” certain people with a unique message for our particular place in history.  The message of Crazy Love is a message that can never be repeated enough; and Chan brings a fresh treatment that 21st Century readers — along with people who have heard him speak at live events — can connect with.

If you’ve got 55 minutes to invest, here’s a recent message where Francis returned to Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California after seven months away. (If you’re on dial-up or have a slow connection, scroll down to the second link, which is audio only.)

If your time is very limited, after an intimate time of getting re-acquainted with his former congregation, the sermon begins at 16:47. Sort of.  But then you’d be missing what it looks like when a pastor is truly in love with his congregation.  Maybe you’d do better to only watch the first 17 minutes! Please remember, I’m not posting this because it’s the best Francis Chan sermon out there — though I do think it’s good — I’m posting this because it reveals his heart.

This link below is for people who get frustrated with slower connections and lagging video; it’s simply the audio of the same sermon. Enjoy.

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