Thinking Out Loud

May 29, 2017

An Interactive Devotional Experience

Imagine for a moment that I’ve had a particularly frustrating and upsetting week. A praying close friend, aware of all this takes a moment to send me an email with the curious subject line, “A message through me from God to you.” With a sigh, I click and read:

My child, I know the past few days have been trying. Please be assured of my continued you love for you and know that in these times I have been as close, if not closer, to you than ever.

Not at all thinking it through, I hit ‘reply’ and type:

Really, God? It would have been nice to have a sign of that love. A change in circumstances. A good night’s sleep, even.

I no sooner hit ‘send’ and then it hits me. What have I done? My friend will be upset. Will I damage our friendship by not appreciating their effort in reaching out? Has my response betrayed a total lack of faith? Am I just going to get God mad at me?

Not 60 seconds later a message comes back:

A sign? Okay. How about an encouragement note from a close friend?

I sigh, but this time it’s a different sigh, one of resignation.

Sorry, God.

Book Review • The Listening Day: Meditations on the Way – Volume 1  by Paul J. Pastor (Zeal Books, 2017)

Have you ever wanted to talk back to your devotional book? I imagine myself saying, ‘That’s easy for you to write; you don’t know my situation.’ Perhaps I’ve already done that a few times.

The Listening Day is a collection of 91 page-per-day readings by Oregon’s Paul J. Pastor (yes, real name) who is also the author of The Face of The Deep, which we reviewed here. At first look, the book appears to follow the format of several popular titles in the same genre, where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always.

I am often wary of this format. I would not presume to say, ‘Thus says the Lord’ unless I were certain that I had heard from God in the first place, and so I have what I consider a righteous skepticism toward books which run with this format. I’ve read the criticisms, most of which were directed at a highly successful title by an author who was and still is generally unknown. For many, the format is reminiscent of God Calling by A.J. Russell which is often used in conjunction with the AA program and has been criticized for the process by which it in particular was written, something called ‘automatic writing.’ 

Those situations don’t apply here. The author is well known to readers of Christianity Today, his first book was published by David C. Cook, and I’ve listened to him teach at his home church in Portland, where he is a deacon responsible for spiritual formation.

The book is different. For two reasons.

First, although each page begins with two well-paired key scripture verses for the day, there are many scripture passages alluded to and embedded in most of the daily writings. The book is thoroughly anchored in Biblical texts. I didn’t encounter anything where I thought, ‘God would not have said that.’ Rather, with my discernment radar set to its maximum setting, I felt the plausibility of God saying such things — especially to me personally — was quite high.

Second, there was the interactive factor. This was, in one sense, a dramatic encounter with God. The interjections on the part of the reader — typed out on behalf of you and me — were the things I would say. This book got very personal very quickly. With further honesty, sometimes the interruptions were followed by apparent silence on God’s part. Been there, too.

The introduction came with an admonishment not to try to binge-read the entire book, but rather to take one reading per day. Good advice, but impossible for a reviewer who has to read every word of every page before composing a review. Slowing down to 15 entries per day over 6 days, I asked myself, ‘What if this were the only thing I had time for in the morning as I started my day?’ I think it would be a most appropriate beginning because the dialogue format is a reminder of God’s presence from the moment I awake, and this is critical in a world where many Christians are spiritually defeated between the bed and the breakfast table. 

A note about the “Volume One” in the title: Without giving away too much at this point, I’m assured that there is more to come. Stay tuned.

Climb the tree of life–
the branches are wide and strong enough for all.
Reach from beauty,
stretching to understanding,
pulling up on wisdom
until you come into sight of the place where I hang,
beyond words, above the healing leaves, high above the kingdom.
There you will know me, just as you are known,
at the crown and light of the listening day.


We ran an excerpt of one of the readings a few days ago at Christianity 201.

Zeal Books is a new company from the former owner and President of Multnomah Publishing and includes among it current roster a book by Bruce Wilkinson.

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January 3, 2017

Updating the Classics

Of the writing of books, it would seem there is no end. I know… I should copyright that sentence. But any observer of Christian publishing knows that the new year will bring thousands of new titles. But perhaps we need a few old books. We need their wisdom, but we need them in language we can understand.

A few years ago I made this suggestion. A few days ago, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and see how hard or how easy it is to do this.

First the challenge. This appeared in January, 2010…

Keith Green

In the early 1980s before his death in 1982, contemporary Christian singer Keith Green was publishing the monthly Last Days Newsletter in which, among other articles, he was translating a number of classic sermons and shorter works into modern English.

James Reimann, a Christian bookstore owner, took a look at the classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, and decided to present this rich, quality material in a way that his customers would understand it. The updated edition was published in 1992 and now outsells the original.

However, events of this type are rare. Some bloggers re-post the works of Charles Spurgeon on a regular basis, but if this material is so vital to Christian living, why not update the text?

Jarret Stevens gave us The Deity Formerly Known as God, an update of J. B. Phillips’ Your God Is Too Small, written for the next generation with the addition of bold typefaces and illustrations. When you have such a good base text to begin with, your work can’t help have value.

As a blogger, I’m often told how eloquent a writer I am, but the truth is that while I read several books per month, I struggle with older writing styles. I see the value in Spurgeon, Charles Wesley, E.M. Bounds and Andrew Murray, but I’m unlikely to impulsively grab one off the shelves unless it pertains to a particular topic of interest.

The Christian book industry needs to be encouraging more modern renderings of some of these great books. The authors’ take on scripture is often different and deeper from what modern writers extrapolate from the same scriptures. We need to connect with some of these classic interpretations before they are lost to a changing English language.

So on to the execution. This was written in January 2017 and was easier said than done; trying to get inside the author’s word usage took about three times longer than I expected. (By the way, Matthew Henry would have loved bullet points, numbered lists, bold face type, headings and subheadings, etc.) This appeared at C201 yesterday, and had to be finished in a hurry…

…The pastor in the church we visited on New Year’s Day started 2017 with a message on sin. Although he used literally dozens of scripture references — many from Romans — this passage in Isaiah 30 (12-14 in particular) was the only verse for which he prepared a slide for us to read. Many people just want to hear things that will make them feel good. Elsewhere, we read about people having “itching ears.”

Today, we’re going to contrast the contemporary language of The Message with the more formal commentary of Matthew Henry. However, where you see italics, I’ve used more modern expressions. Everything from this point on is Matthew Henry as amended.

So, go now and write all this down.
Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
“Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
“Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.” – Isaiah 30: 8-11 (MSG)

They forbade the prophets to speak to them in God’s name, and to deal faithfully with them.

They set themselves so violently against the prophets to hinder them from preaching, or at least from dealing plainly with them in their preaching, did so banter them and browbeat them, that they did in effect say to the seers, See not. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. It was their privilege that they had seers among them, but they did what they could to put out their eyes — that they had prophets among them, but they did what they could to stop their mouths; for they tormented them in their wicked ways, Rev. 11:10.

Those that silence good ministers, and discountenance good preaching, are justly counted, and called, rebels against God. See what it was in the prophets’ preaching with which they found themselves aggrieved.

  1. The prophets told them of their faults, and warned them of their misery and danger by reason of sin, and they couldn’t take it. They must speak to them warm and fuzzy things, must flatter them in their sins, and say that they did well, and there was no harm, no danger, in the course of life they lived in. No matter how true something is, if it be not easy to listen to, they will not hear it. But if it be agrees with the good opinion they have of themselves, and will confirm them in that, even though it be very false and ever so undeserved, they will have it prophesied to them. Those deserve to be deceived that desire to be so.
  2. The prophets stopped them in their sinful pursuits, and stood in their way like the angel in Balaam’s road, with the sword of God’s wrath drawn in their hand; so that they could not proceed without terror. And this they took as a great insult. When they continued to desire the opposite of what the prophets were saying they in effect said to the prophets, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the paths. What do you do in our way? Cannot you leave us alone to do as we please?” Those have their hearts fully set in them to do evil that bid these accountability monitors to get out of their way. Be quiet now before I have you killed! 2 Chron. 25:16.
  3. The prophets were continually telling them of the Holy One of Israel, what an enemy he is to sin ad how severely he will judge sinners; and this they couldn’t listen to. Both the thing itself and the expression of it were too serious for them; and therefore, if the prophets will speak to them, they will determine that they will not call God the Holy One of Israel; for God’s holiness is that attribute which wicked people most of all dread.

Now what is the doom passed upon them for this?

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
“Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Observe,

  1. Who it is that gives judgment upon them? This is what the Holy One of Israel says. The prophet uses the very title they find so objectionable. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are needed to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing. We must tell men that God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they will find him, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
  2. What is the basis of the judgment? Because they despise this word—whether, in general, every word that the prophets said to them, or this word in particular, which declares God to be the Holy One of Israel: “they despise this, and will neither make it their fear, to respect it, nor make it their hope, to put any confidence in it; but, rather than they will submit to the Holy One of Israel, they will continue in oppression and perverseness, in the wealth they have collected and the interest they have made by fraud and violence, or in the sinful methods they have taken for their own security, in contradiction to God and his will. On these they depend, and therefore it is just that they should fall.”
  3. What is the judgment is that is passed on them? “This sinfulness will be to you as a wall ready to fall. This confidence of yours will be like a house built upon the sand, which will fall in the storm and bury the builder in the ruins of it. Your contempt of that word of God which you might build upon will make every thing else you trust like a wall that bulges out, which, if any weight be laid upon it, comes down, nay, which often sinks with its own weight.”

The ruin they are bringing upon themselves is,

  1. Surprising: The breaking shall come suddenly, at an instant, when they do not expect it, which will make it the more frightful, and when they are not prepared or provided for it, which will make it the more fatal.
  2. Total and irreversible: “Your and all you hold dear shall be not only weak as the potter’s clay (Isa. 29:16), but broken to pieces as the potter’s vessel. He that has the rod of iron shall break it (Ps. 2:9) and he will not spare, will not have any regard to it, nor be in care to preserve or keep whole any part of it. But, when once it is broken so as to be unfit for use, let it be destroyed, let it be crushed, all to pieces, so that there may not remain one shred big enough to take up a little fire or water”—two things we have daily need of, and which poor people commonly get in a piece of a broken pitcher. They shall not only be as a leaning fence (Ps. 62:3), but as a broken mug or glass, which is good for nothing, nor can ever be made whole again.

September 23, 2016

What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, Faith, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 am

clarke-dixon-picClarke Dixon is a Canadian Baptist pastor whose posts at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon end up at Christianity 201 on Wednesdays or Thursdays. The one this week was a little bit different, though; and I thought it would be a good fit here as well…

Guest post by Clarke Dixon

You may be wondering “what’s up with a sermon called ‘What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?’” You can blame this one on one of my sons who over the summer said “hey Dad, you should preach a sermon on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” If you have never heard of such a thing, be assured many others have, including, of course, my sons.

So what even is it? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the god of a new religion called “Pastafarianism.” Now to be clear, most “Pastafarians” do not actually believe this religion per se, rather it is practiced as a parody of religion. When you hear that some Pastafarians get their ID pictures taken with colanders on their heads, you may think that it is a big joke. It kind of is, but at the heart of it are some important issues that the atheist community want people to think about. “Belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster all began in the United States with one man challenging a school board to reconsider whether Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution. He was reasoning that if time was given to the story of God creating the universe as found in Genesis, then equal time should be given to his god, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His letter was put on the Internet and it has since become “a thing.”

There are two questions that the The Flying Spaghetti Monster should cause a Christian to grapple with:

  1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?
  2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?

My answer to this may be tainted by the fact that I am Canadian. If a school system is publicly funded, and is made available to all the public, then one particular religious viewpoint should not be privileged over the rest. Many a good Christian will be very disappointed with me right now, but if we Christians were in the minority, and Muslims in the majority, would we want Islamic precepts being taught in our public schools?

However, are we too quick to roll over and play dead? I fear we Canadian Christians often are. There is a field of study that looks at the origins of the universe from no particular religious viewpoint. It is commonly referred to as Intelligent Design (ID for short) and begins not with a religious text, like “In the beginning, God . . . ,” but with the study of our world and the universe. It looks at the apparent elements of design in the universe and infers that behind the design is a Designer. The illustration is sometimes used of flying an airplane over an island and finding the letters “SOS” written in sand. You know someone is, or has been, there based on three letters. Then go on to consider the amazing amount of information stored in DNA. Or how amazing it is that so many things have to be “just so” for life to be possible. Such evidence of design begs for a Designer.

Some think that the more we learn about the universe from science, the less we need any notion of a god to explain things. God has been moved to the margins it has been said. However, this would be like someone taking apart an iPhone and in figuring out how the parts and software work together, saying “there is and never has been a Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. We don’t see them present with us making this thing work.” You see the misstep. As John Lennox has pointed out, God is not a “God-of-the-gaps” God, that is, the explanation of the things we cannot understand, but rather is the “God of the whole show.” If an iPhone is an incredible achievement in design and engineering, the universe is infinitely more so. As the Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Should ID be taught in schools alongside Evolution? After all, some would point out, perhaps correctly, that it is not science strictly speaking. It wanders into the realm of philosophy. Whatever it is, it is good, clear thinking. Schools should be places of good, clear thinking.

But does ID get you to Jesus? Or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter? This brings us to our second question.

fsm2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

This is an insinuation of those who practice Pastafarianism, namely that belief in Jesus, or in any god for that matter, is as ridiculous as believing in something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So is it?

Here we look to the where the evidence leads, particularly with respect to the origins of each religion. For example, if you were to investigate the origins of “belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the evidence would lead to knowing exactly when, where, and even why the whole thing started. You can easily account for the birth and development of Pastafarianism without needing the actual existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to account for it. It is clearly a people made religion. You can go on to apply this same inquiry of all religions, asking “how did they begin and develop, and can you account for such things without the existence of the god they point to?” This all works very well until you come to Christianity. I am only scratching the surface here, but birth and development of Christianity falls nicely into place if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is hard to account for why the first Christians believed what they believed, did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. N.T. Wright is one of the best scholars to look up to learn more about this.

If you are looking for a more accessible read you could look up the writings of an expert in evidence by the name of J. Warner Wallace. He was a cold-case detective and an atheist, who upon reading the Gospels came to realize that what he was reading bore the marks of genuine eyewitness testimony. I am only scratching the surface, but he gives us pointers on handling the evidence, some of which are paraphrased poorly by me below, but told in better detail himself. Consider:

  • The variations between the Gospels are evidence of genuine witnesses being behind them. Detectives get suspicious of collusion when witnesses all end up saying the exact same things in the exact same way.
  • The case for the reality of Jesus and the truth for Christianity is a cumulative case, built upon many bits of evidence.
  • While there is no direct evidence for Jesus available to us today, circumstantial evidence is enough to establish truth. All convictions of cold cases are built on circumstantial evidence.
  • Evidence does not need to get you beyond every possible doubt for a conviction, but beyond every reasonable doubt. Some people hold the bar far too high when it comes to Jesus so that no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
  • Not every question that is raised in a case needs to be answered. Belief in Jesus as Lord is reasonable, even when questions linger.
  • Unbiased jurors make the best jurors. That is why there is a process of jury selection, to weed out those who would begin with prejudice and bias. Some people will never believe Jesus rose from the dead because they start with a bias against the possibility of any miracle.

The evidence points to the unreality of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reality of Jesus. Evidence is spoken of in the Bible:

3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
this was attested at the right time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)

The word for “attested” is a word meaning “evidence, proof, testimony.” That there is one God, and that Jesus is how we can know God has been “attested to,” or “evidenced.” Jesus is the greatest proof of Who the Designer is, and the greatest evidence of His love for us. Which brings us to our conclusion.

The evidence points to what seems too good to be true. If the evidence pointed to atheism being true, that would be a depressing thing. If the evidence pointed to Islam being true, that could be a scary thing. If the evidence pointed to Eastern religions being true with their focus on karma, that would be an unfortunate thing. But the evidence points to the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of God, and the reality of God’s grace and love for the sinner. That is the best possible place for the evidence to lead. It seems too good to be true! Yet that is where the evidence points. So instead of asking “what’s up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we should instead be asking “what’s up with God loving us so much?”

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

 

February 1, 2016

Returning Thanks for Our Daily Bread

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

This is not a sponsored post; just something I felt was right to do today.

Our Daily Bread - Radio Bible ClassFor years, many of us have used the devotional booklets from the organization formerly known as Radio Bible Class. We’ve picked up copies of Our Daily Bread in our church lobby, at a Christian bookstore or perhaps were given one in a hospital or prison.

Today is a good day to say thanks and encourage this ministry.

In the United States go to odb.org. In Canada go to ourdailybread.ca .

Also, whether or not you’re familiar with the devotional, here is a list of other resources produced by this fine organization.

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.

March 12, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Prophecy Class

Yes, it’s true; Target does have people who visit Wal-Mart and link list creators do drop in on other link lists to see what’s making the rounds. If you find yourself craving more of this sort of thing by Saturday, two of my weekend favorites are the Saturday Ramblings at Internet Monk and the Saturday Links at DashHouse. I only borrowed one from iMonk, but linked three stories from church planter Darryl Dash, so this week’s lengthy intro was mostly guilt-induced. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the Link List Overlords; then click the stories you want to read there.

The Wednesday Link List is a production of Paul Wilkinson with proofreading assistance from Mrs. W. who is actually the better writer in the family.

T on the Wall

March 11, 2011

Words About The Words

So there you are, sitting in a weekend service, and the pastor says, “the word we know as ‘deacon’ is taken from the Greek diakonos which means ‘someone who serves food at a table;'” and you’re fascinated by the implications of this.

But a week later, when he says, “The word often translated ‘work’ or ‘works’ is taken from the Greek word ergon which means employment or toil;” and you find your eyes glazing over.

Sometimes what Bible college students and seminarians call “word study” can be captivating and engaging, and on other days, you find yourself saying, “So what?”

So you purchase a Strong’s Concordance, and the next week at small group, with great enthusiasm, you’re spouting off all the different meanings of “love” in the New Testament and finding yourself met by blank stares and yawns.   How can you capture the relevance of this subject without losing your audience?

Keri Wyatt Kent thinks you can do it devotionally.  In a new book, Deeper Into The Word: Reflections on 100 Words from the New Testament, she provides a devotional word study in evenly measured sections that may be read consecutively, randomly, or only when needed.  (Being a rebel, I actually started at the back of the alphabetical arrangement.)

This is a great book concept; one I wish I’d thought of myself. I only hope the ‘buy-in’ factor will be significant and that booksellers (physical or online) don’t consign this title to the Bible reference section.  It needs to be upfront.  (An Old Testament counterpart releases in November of this year.)

Like the examples I introduced with, I found that some of these studies clicked with me more than others.  Perhaps the need-based approach to this book is preferable, but then it’s limited by having only 100 entries.  I asked my teenagers to name some Biblical words or concepts and it took about seven or eight guesses before we found one actually in the book, which was “love,” which I ruled ineligible! However, they liked the concept, and after I had read two sections, asked if we could do one more.

I think the book could best serve as a gateway product to whet the appetite for more serious word study.  It also makes an excellent gift for that person on your list who is “too spiritual” to accept a Christian fiction title or a gift book with pictures of flowers and sunsets.

In other words, while this is very much a niche product, it’s a title I would very much like to see succeed.

And now I will take a ‘rest,’ which is from the Greek anapauo, which means, “to give intermission from labor.”

Deeper Into The Word is published by Bethany House in paperback at $13.99 U.S.

January 1, 2011

A New Kind of Devotional Resource

Sales of devotional books — what some in mainline Protestant churches refer to as meditation books — tend to spike with the coming of a new year.   This fall, Zondervan released a resource authored by Shane Claiborne with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (author of God’s Economy), Enuma Okoro (The Reluctant Pilgrim), and a large supporting cast (including more substantial borrowings from Phyllis Tickle and Andy Raine) that introduces liturgical prayer to a largely Evangelical audience unfamiliar with prayer books or liturgy itself.   Believing this book to have been somewhat lost in the shuffle of fall book releases, I am taking the time to highlight it as we begin 2011.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals has the look and feel of a hymnbook.  (Outside the U.S., a paperback edition is also available.)   The authors’ intention is that it be used as a ‘common’ resource, i.e. in a group setting.   So the readings — not unlike the responsive readings in the back of hymnbooks, if you remember hymnbooks — have a designation for the leader to speak certain lines and the rest of the assembly to respond with other lines.

In point of fact, I think that the majority of copies sold will end up being used devotionally, hence the setup I used to introduce the book.  However, my initial premise — people beginning new spiritual disciplines in January — doesn’t fully apply here, as the book’s daily morning readings begin with December and cycle through to the end November.   A seven-day cycle of evening readings is also included.

It isn’t possible to fully review a devotional book without personally engaging it, and it is equally difficult to try to review a prayer book or hymn book.   Of the book’s 590 pages, I mostly immersed myself in the dozen or so pages that make up the introduction, probably the most contemporary primer on classical liturgy available to the next generation.   It briefly explains the origins of liturgies in monastic life, and introduces the idea of the church calendar; with an emphasis on how these routines and dates stand in contrast to the emphases of contemporary society.

The book’s intended audience is not limited to those for whom Common Prayer would represent a first-time purchase of such a resource.  “We wanted it to work for folks who have never seen a circus and those who have seen hundreds of them.”

For today, January 1st, the reading begins with a brief paragraph about the role of the Quakers during the U.S. slave trade;  some invocational lines; a suggested song, “This Little Light of Mine;” six verses from Psalm 7, taken from the Book of Common Prayer (as are all the Psalm readings); eight verses each from Genesis 12 and John 16, taken from the TNIV (as are all other readings); a quotation from one of the Quaker founders; a place to pray for others and repeat The Lord’s Prayer; a personal prayer for help in answering God’s call on our life; and a collective sentence of benediction.

Though not fully written out, you can also read today’s outline at commonprayer.net

In addition to the basic 366 readings, there are also some extra ones for Holy Week.   There is also a selection of songs and special prayers at the end of the book.  Although there wasn’t one for the start of a new year, I felt this one, for “major life transition” was appropriate in anticipation of the changes the new year can bring:

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.   Lord teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change instead of fearing it.   Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me.  I give you my discontent.  I give you my restlessness.   I give you my doubt.   I give you my despair.   I give you all the longs I hold inside.  Help me to listen to those signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

October 26, 2010

Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder

I’m the kind of person who walks through the supermarket picking things up and then setting them down again in order to pick up something else.   I’m sure I keep stock clerks busy replacing all the stuff I’ve grabbed and then absent-mindedly deposited in the next aisle.   (You’d think they’d offer baskets or carts or something…)

So when Perry Noble posted today on the topic of distraction I knew I had to re-post this one here.    As someone once said… … …okay, I forgot what it was.   See what I mean?



Getting distracted is DANGEROUS!  (I remember taking my eyes off the road for just a few seconds the other day…and when I looked up I was about to take out a row of mailboxes!  I immediately jerked the car back into the road…and if there had been another car coming I would have NAILED them!)

In ministry we can’t allow ourselves to become distracted (which is SO MUCH more of a challenge than it was 10 years ago because of the “advancement” of social media.)

So…what are four distractions that we are constantly going to have to resist as leader?

#1 – Pleasure – We are going to have to fight doing what is easy rather than what is right!

#2 – Pride – There WILL come the temptation to begin to think, “Look at all of this great work I have done!”  I can think of two leaders in the Scripture who had simular thoughts…it didn’t go well for them!  (See Daniel 4:28-33 and Acts 12:19-23)

#3 – Procrastination – Many times we KNOW what the right decision that needs to be made…but because it may be tough to do so we delay it, hoping that maybe God either just “work it out” or change His mind!

#4 – People – Someone is always going to not like what you do, who you are and what you stand for…always!  When you get in the people pleasing business you get out of the business of pleasing God!  (See Galatians 1:10)

#5 – Performance – One of the greatest problems with success is that leaders can actually begin to believe that they are the ones that caused success to happen…and in order to keep/maintain it they have to work harder and harder…thus establishing a pace that literally sends them into a wall at 100 mph.

#6 – Problems – We can’t view problems as God’s punishment…but rather we must view them as God’s preparation!  David didn’t see the lion and the bear as a problem…but rather he viewed them as opportunities to prepare him for the greater problems in life he knew that were sure to come.  (See I Samuel 17:33-37)

#7 – Passion – Passion can be a distraction when we use it to run over people rather than lead them!  God did NOT give us the Spirit of timidity…but of power, LOVE and self discipline!  (II Timothy 1:7)  Power without love always leads to legalism and domination.  We MUST be passionate about what God has called us to…but we must also learn how to use that passion to lead others to where they need to be…not drive them there!

~Perry Noble

October 17, 2010

Toiling on the Sabbath

Filed under: Religion, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:45 pm

We have a washing machine but not a dryer.   We’ve never owned one.  My parents never owned one.

So on days like this where it’s too warm to turn on the radiators — we don’t have a furnace, either — but too cool and overcast most days to hang laundry outside, wash days have to be chosen carefully.

So one load got done yesterday, but two loads needed to be done today.  We hung one out before leaving for church, and did the other one after lunch.

However, my youngest decided that the dust in his room is what’s bothering his allergies and embarked on an all day cleanup that involved removing great amounts of fabric-bearing furniture to the outdoors, and then hauling out the central vacuum, which I thought we were done with yesterday.   But since it was out already, I figured I might as well touch up a few things that got missed the day before.

My oldest decided to do some cleaning in his room as well.   My wife’s transgression of the sabbath was limited to working on her newest cross-stitch.

I did observe my computer sabbath until around 5:00 PM, when the first e-mail that greeted me was work-related.    And then, because we’re flat broke, we spent about a half-hour rolling coins;  quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies that were accumulating around the house, which is strange because we pay for everything using plastic.

At one earlier point I did manage to take 30 minutes to crash out in a garden chair, and stripped to nothing but shorts, soak in the last of the sun’s warm rays before the snow starts flying in a few weeks.   I tilted my head to the sun, closed my eyes, and prayed:  “Okay, God; what exactly did you have in mind for this day to be set apart for you?”

I’m sure he meant more than the 90 minute church service we attended.   Last week at this time I had some books to review, but today my reading consisted of catching up on a week’s worth of newspapers.    Other than the phone not ringing so much, this day isn’t much different than all the others.

I believe strongly that a day set apart for the worship of God should consist of more than simply not working. There ought to be a positive that balances out the negative; a commission that balances out the omission.

Any thoughts?

# # #

Prayer request:  Pray for J. and B.   J. is on her way to the hospital to deliver the baby who apparently no longer is showing vital signs.   I can’t imagine the emotions that would go with that.

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