Thinking Out Loud

September 9, 2018

Awkward But Perfect Spiritual Formation Metaphor

This summer a local church ran a VBS program which had a mining theme, so I don’t know if the advertising tag line originated with the publisher or with the church, but it’s stuck in my head:

Come like a carbon
Leave like a diamond.

It’s definitely not a Biblical phrase, but it aptly describes God working to form us, shape us, mold us into the image of His Son.

And carbon, at least in the form of charcoal with which we’re more familiar, is messy. You touch it and your hands get dirty. But that’s what we hand God to work with when we ask him to assume Lordship of our lives.

On the other hand, there is nothing like the brilliance of light being reflected and refracted in a diamond. That’s the image of God’s completing His work in us, though we won’t fully see ourselves as perfected this side of eternity. That comes later.  

We all want this. But the crushing pressure of true diamond formation is unimaginable. Really, that is the metaphor. That becoming a diamond is sometimes going to be painful.

But it’s going to be worth it.

Come like a carbon
Leave like a diamond!

 

 

Advertisements

June 28, 2018

Choosing Kingdom Over Empire

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

Several years back, I got to know Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon. As I read his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon (where he takes his weekly sermon and shrinks it) I realized it was an absolutely perfect fit for Christianity 201 (our sister blog) and so his writing appears there most Thursdays. Today, I wanted to give readers here a taste for what Clarke writes there, and as this is today’s C201 post, many of you get to read it here first for a change! You can also read it at Clarke’s blog.

Will we ever wake up in a world with no violence or conflict? We see it on the news, we hear about it in the lives of people around us, maybe we experience it personally. Yes, there will be a day there will be no more conflict. Christ will return and there will be

a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:1,5 NRSV)

But are we to just wait for that day, putting up with all this conflict until then? The prophet Nahum will help us find our way.

Nahum points us in the right direction by pointing out what happens when we get on the wrong track. Nahum is a prophecy to a people who had been on the wrong track. The Assyrians were on the track to empire. Nahum had the task of telling them that they had reached the end of the line. There are three problems with the track to empire.

First problem with the empire track; empire is temporary. Much of the history of the world is a history of the empire after empire seeking to become the biggest and best. The history of the world teaches us that they all fall in the end. Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, it doesn’t matter, empire is always temporary.

There is a better track; the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is eternal. We may struggle to understand the book of Revelation, but the main message is really quite simple; empires rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God is eternal.

So are we building towards empire, or Kingdom? Are we building for things that are temporary? Are our time, talents, and treasures going toward things that last?

Second problem with the empire track: empire destroys relationships. In empire living, there are only allies or enemies. The peoples within and around an empire are either going to help the empire get bigger, or they are going to get in the way and be a threat.

There is a better track, one that leads to the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, there are only neighbours. Jesus taught us to “love thy neighbour as thyself” and then went on to define our neighbor as anyone and everyone.

When we meet people, do we see them as either allies of enemies? Do we see them as either being useful to us, or in our way, and even a threat? Or do we simply see them as neighbours to be loved?

Third problem with the empire track; empires are built through brute force and brutality. Nahum tells of this, for example:

1 Ah! City of bloodshed,
utterly deceitful, full of booty—
no end to the plunder!
2 The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
3 Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies! Nahum 3:1-3 (NRSV)

Yet she became an exile,
she went into captivity;
even her infants were dashed in pieces
at the head of every street;
lots were cast for her nobles,
all her dignitaries were bound in fetters. Nahum 3:10 (NRSV)

In building empires, countless of people were killed. For those who lived, eyes were often gouged out, tongues cut off, people sold off and removed far from home. So brutal were some empires that even unborn babies were ripped from their mother’s wombs, and orphaned infants dashed to the ground. This is how empires struck fear in their enemies. Better to surrender to the power of a “better” empire, than experience it firsthand. Nahum’s prophecy is about the Assyrian empire experiencing what it dished out to others.

All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
For who has ever escaped
your endless cruelty? Nahum 3:19 (NRSV)

There is, thankfully, a better track, the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is built with a different kind of force: “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” Zechariah. 4:9 (NKJV).

Jesus said “those who draw the sword, will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:62-54 NRSV). Jesus was doing two things when he refused to use violence at his arrest in Gethsemane. He was taking the Kingdom track for our sake, so that we might be forgiven rather than destroyed. But he was also giving us an example to follow, an example of Kingdom thinking, Kingdom living, Kingdom dying. Jesus call us to pick up the cross and follow, which means to trade empire for Kingdom. We are to become Kingdom people, good news people.

We are empire people when we show up with swords and guns and bombs. We are Kingdom people when we show up with the Spirit of God: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22,23 (NRSV). Do we show up to our relationships with swords or the Spirit? Do we show up on Facebook, Twitter and other social media with swords or Spirit? Do we show up ready ready to fight people? Or to fight with people against the evil in their lives? Do we show up as empire people or Kingdom people?

You might perceive a problem with the Kingdom track. It does not seem to take into account your suffering at the hands of another. It is unfair. You deserve vengeance. And perhaps you are right. It is unfair. However, the prophecy of Nahum, though addressed to the Assyrians, was for the encouragement of Israel when they experienced what seemed to be very unfair treatment. Having been on the wrong track for a long time, Assyria has reached the end of the line. However, nowhere in the prophecy of Nahum is there a call for Israel to take up arms. There is no need. We can think of Paul’s word to the Christians in Rome who also knew a thing or two about being treated unfairly:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)

Every day we wake up to violence and conflict. Every day is an opportunity to live as God’s good news people. Every day is an opportunity for Kingdom rather than empire. While we may not feel we have much influence in conflicts around the globe, the ones close to home are opportunities for Kingdom building.

November 9, 2017

The Essential Art of Concision

I debated between calling this “The Lost art of Concision” versus “The Developing Art of Concision.” First, a definition is in order:

Therefore, when I speak of the concision as a developing art, I mean the necessity of being able to put ideas across in a short-and-to-the-point manner; something you need in a world of soundbites. Last year I wrote,

It was Noam Chomsky who introduced me to the idea of concision. I’ve taught it as, “You’re selling your car through a media which is charging you $1.50 per word. How do you describe your vehicle persuasively, but keep the cost down?”

But when I speak of it as a dying art, I’m thinking specifically of the migration of many bloggers from what I’m doing now — typing/writing words — to podcasting; and to Twitter’s decision to gift everyone with 140 additional characters on Tuesday evening.

Twitter is obsessed with the number 140. (Originally videos were limited to 2 minutes and 20 seconds, which is 140 seconds.)  The new length, 280 characters, doubles this even though 160 would have been a nice gift in itself. Or 180 or 200. 280 seems long, it seems to rob Twitter of it’s basic character, heretofore. But I didn’t always feel that way. When I joined, I wrote:

I can’t say what I have to say in 140 characters.

In case you missed it, I tend to write long.

But the word concision has come up on this blog somewhat frequently. Earlier this year I wrote,

I have for a long time questioned how much time sermon has left.  With all due respect to those of you currently honing your homiletic craft at either the undergraduate or graduate level, I really think that this particular form is destined to go the way of the CD or the land line phone. I’m not saying there aren’t some great preachers out there; I spend my evening hours listening to sermon after sermon online. But that’s me. For others there are a host of reasons why sermon doesn’t work. ADD or ADHD comes to mind. Some sermons are simply too long. Some say it’s just not how they learn. Some claim that high profile Christian pastors have simply set the bar too high and average pastors can’t achieve the quality that is now widely available online. Others would argue that we’ve become accustomed to media bursts, sound bites, and increased concision.

The Bible itself is amazingly concise. Readers are often fascinated to learn how narratives they had heard about — Creation, Jonah, The Prodigal Son — when they actually got around to reading them, were expressed in a very limited fashion. In an article about Christ’s ascension the subject was raised (pun intended):

A reader wrote, “We’re told… at his ascension that he will come again in like manner as they have seen him go.” But what do we know about that manner? How long were the disciples staring as he rose into the sky? Was there a low cloud ceiling that day? The Bible’s tendency to brevity and concision makes me think that perhaps God didn’t just beam Jesus up, but his ascension may have have been more prolonged; a vertical processional to heaven.

It also came up in a piece on diminishing attention spans:

You see this in the way books and articles in periodicals are written now; in fact you’re seeing it in the piece you’re presently reading. Pick up an older book — say 60 years or more old — and you might find an entire page consisting of a single paragraph. You might even find several consecutive pages consisting of a single paragraph. (I’m told that some chapters of Paul’s epistles were often a single sentence in the original Greek, no doubt a weaving of dominant and subordinate clauses that the reader of that time would follow easily.)

Today we use paragraph breaks to keep the content flowing; to keep the eyes moving on the page; to force us writers to adopt a greater degree of concision. Our writing is also broken up by more numbered or alphanumeric lists, by bullet points, by sub-headers and by pull quotes. (We use them often at Christianity 201, where the devotions are by definition somewhat longer, and we want to make what would otherwise be an entire page of text more interesting.)

The trend towards podcasting is actually surprising, given the push toward brevity in a bullet-point world. Have you ever thought of what a full transcript of your favorite podcast would look like printed out? It would run for pages and pages. A blog post on a similar topic would be less than 2,000 words, and easily digested in under 7 minutes. (Or spoken in 15 minutes. Compare word length to spoken time at this speech minutes converter.)  We wrote about podcasts on an article on the trend from literacy to orality:

Inherent in podcasting is the right to ramble. Listeners get the nuance that’s missing in a traditional blog post (and this is one of the great liabilities of email) but they have to take the time to wade through the host(s) stream-of-consciousness narration. There’s no concision, a quality that decades ago Noam Chomsky had predicted would be, moving forward, a key asset in communications. A great concept that’s probably a seven or eight paragraph blog post instead becomes a 53 minute podcast.  Andy Warhol’s comment that “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes;” might be modified to, “In the 21st century, everyone will have their own talk show or be the host of their own radio station.” 

As Christian communicators however, we have to be careful when we try to reduce to mystery or complexity of the gospel to a concise motto, slogan, tag line or formula. In an article titled What is the Gospel, I wrote,

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?  Concision is great, but maybe it doesn’t work here.

Anyway Twitter, thanks for the extra characters; but I earnestly hope I have the wisdom to not overuse them. Readers, it’s a busy world out there; keep it short!


Yes, today I basically quoted myself throughout this article. To further embellish Chomsky’s teaching on concision would have made the article…well…not so concise.

For those mystified by the final graphic image, TL/DR stands for Too long, didn’t read.

For further reference in thinking about the difference between podcasting and blogging, this article is less than 1,100 words; you can halve the minutes in the above example.

 

April 17, 2017

Willow Creek Continues to Rewrite the Playbook for Weekend Services

Two weeks ago Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs had an “Authors Weekend.” Teaching pastor Steve Carter interviewed Anne Lamott and then went into an another exchange with Lee Strobel, the latter having been a former Willow staff member. (Later in the week Josh McDowell visited on Wednesday night.) You can watch those interviews at this link.

Doing an interview in a church service can be a hit or miss proposition. Especially if it is replacing a traditional teaching segment aka sermon. Furthermore, the reaction to any particular guest is going to be subjective. Just a week or two earlier, Willow hosted Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas. That one didn’t resonate with me so much.

But watching Carter talk with Lamott and later Strobel, I realized what they are doing has some broader implications.

First, I have for a long time questioned how much time sermon has left.  With all due respect to those of you currently honing your homiletic craft at either the undergraduate or graduate level, I really think that this particular form is destined to go the way of the CD or the land line phone. I’m not saying there aren’t some great preachers out there; I spend my evening hours listening to sermon after sermon online. But that’s me. For others there are a host of reasons why sermon doesn’t work. ADD or ADHD comes to mind. Some sermons are simply too long. Some say it’s just not how they learn. Some claim that high profile Christian pastors have simply set the bar too high and average pastors can’t achieve the quality that is now widely available online. Others would argue that we’ve become accustomed to media bursts, sound bites, and increased concision.

Second, I have for a long time advocated teaching modules rather than a single focus half hour. A few of us are old enough to remember when NBC introduced the show Real People. Hailed as the first magazine format program — though I’m not sure it predated 60 Minutes — this variety-meets-information type of programming is now widely used. I always thought that the ideal solution in church would be to break up the 30 minutes into three 10 minute segments, separated by music, announcements, or scripture readings. One module might be topical. One might be exegetical. Or if you prefer, one might be light while one might go deeper. One might deal with family life. One might delve into an obscure Old Testament character. (If that last one sounds boring, remember, we’re talking ten minutes here. You don’t have time to lose people!)

What Willow and Carter did that Sunday met these objectives in the ways that follow, but I also want to add one extra point.

The interview was a nice alternative to a sermon. Key here was the fact that the two authors really had something to say. The aforementioned sports star was a good testimony, and she’s probably a role model for a lot of young girls — and they did have a sermon that week as well — but Strobel and Lamott brought a lot of substance to the table. There was also spontaneity, including an opportunity to text in questions. (I wasn’t there in person, but watching the Saturday night service live, I could have easily participated in this.)

The interviews would appeal to different people. Strobel’s was also a testimony, but also tied into an upcoming movie. A number key points in Christian apologetics were covered. Another aspect to this story is what happens in a marriage when one partner has crossed the line of faith and the other is hostile toward Christianity. I hadn’t read anything by Lamott but her personal, unaffected demeanor probably connected with people early in their Christian journey, with seniors, and also with women. In other words, a wide swath demographically.

The interviewer had done his homework. This was the thing that really impressed me. Steve Carter wasn’t just ‘winging it.’ He had spent some time studying both the literature and the biographies of his two guests. Willow had a point to all this, they were doing it for well considered reasons; otherwise they wouldn’t have done it at all. But if they were going to do it, they were going to do it well. (Their commitment to excellence shone through their Good Friday and Easter services this past weekend, also available online.)

Finally, a confession.

I’m a sermon guy. Yes, I just said it’s a dying art form, but I enjoy them. So it would be quite easy for me to feel disappointed I wasn’t going to get one from Willow that week. Truth is, I tuned in especially to see what Strobel would say, and because his connection as a former Willow Creek staffer made it especially interesting. Plus I’ve seen Carter and Bill Hybels do this sort of thing many times before and they aren’t exactly novices.

Can your church snag top name guests? You probably don’t have the budget, nor do they have a lot of availability. But there are probably some stories that Christian people in your community can tell better on a two-chair set than can be related from behind a podium. There are probably topics that can be presented with two members of the pastoral staff taking a tag team approach. There is probably preaching content that can be modified to suit a Q & A format, even if it’s not as spontaneous as you would like it to be. Finally, there’s possibly someone in your church who might, on a one-off Sunday, have something vital to share but would need the help of a more seasoned speaker to rein them in when they go off topic or off focus, or to simply keep the message moving.

I’m not advocating this for everyone; I’m just saying it deserves consideration.


 

 

March 14, 2017

Salvation is Instantaneous, Spiritual Formation Takes Time

img 032915I am frequently reminded that people new to the journey of following Christ often need time in various outward areas. Their inward growth may be great: A love for Jesus, a desire to tell others, and a cultivation of personal discipline in Bible study and devotions. But becoming a follower of Christ isn’t about outward conformity, and some things may need more time, such as:

  • Language – If you are directly involved in mentoring the person, then it’s appropriate for you to try to help them shape their speech along higher standards. But if you’re not the one doing discipleship with them, you have to let this go, most times. You’ll be surprised how more is caught than taught on this one.
  • Spending Priorities – A person may have begun a process of percentage giving to their local church, but still has spending patterns about which you may not approve. This may just be a matter of time and spiritual maturity. On this, I keep thinking about the little diagram in the Four Spiritual Laws booklet, wherein the various aspects of life have come under Christ’s control. (See second of two images below.)
  • Dress – This is usually a discussion about women, though it doesn’t have to be limited to them. In a church setting, sometimes someone needs to be pulled aside on this one, but it has to be done very lovingly so as to not drive the person away. Admittedly, in many of our local churches, this one is awkward.
  • Addictions – The Twelve Step Program meetings, in various forms under various names, are proof that once addicted, battling this can be a lifelong fight. One program which confronts this from a Christian perspective is Celebrate Recovery. Some things however, like smoking, should be considered superficial.
  • Attitudes – Everything from racial prejudice to arrogance could get tossed into this basket. Remember, they’ve not arrived yet, and neither have you. Rather than have an agenda here, it’s far more beneficial to you to watch the Holy Spirit work in their lives.

Did I leave some out?

None of us started this walk fully formed, fully arrived; but solid 1:1 discipleship, the influence of a small group, sermons which deal with the lifestyle application of various scriptures, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit will make a difference in what people see.

With people who manifest outward traits that you or others find problematic, remember that God looks on the heart.

 

January 20, 2017

A Theology of Non-Anger

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:20 am

For some time now, I’ve ended the day unwinding with a 20-minute podcast compiled from excerpts of The Brant Hansen Show. Brant‘s a long-time Christian radio guy who has served with Air-1 and WAY-FM. He’s joined daily by producer Sherri Lynn to whom God has apparently given the gift of laughter.

On the sidebar of Brant’s website I kept noticing a reference to Brant’s book, but I figured it to be some self-published project, after all, these days everybody has a book. Only a few days ago did I realize it had been released through Thomas Nelson, and decided it warranted further investigation.

unoffendableUnoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better was actually released in the spring of 2015, so we’re coming up to two years. (You’ll notice my blog hasn’t been reviewing new releases lately; I just share what I’m enjoying.) If you think that the people in Christian radio are somewhat shallow, you’re going to be pleasant surprised — perhaps amazed — at the substance in this book.

Basically, Unoffendable is a study of instances in scripture (and real life) where anger is a factor. You could call the book a treatise on the theology of anger, though I prefer to take a positive spin and emphasize non-anger. We can be so quick to assume, to lash out, and to hurt. Our knee-jerk reactions aren’t good for the people in our line of fire, and they’re not good for us.

The timing on this is significant as commentators are constantly reminding us that the hallmark of social media in particular and the internet in general seems to be our ability to be easily offended. At everything. We are an offended generation.

The book isn’t necessary a self-help title. You won’t find, for example, six steps to avoid getting angry. Rather, through personal anecdotes and lessons from scripture, proceeding through the book’s chapters instills a climate of non-offense as you read. There’s a sense in which the book has a calming effect.

In many respects, the book is an extension of and consistent with the radio show. There are sections where Brant quotes letters he received from listeners and in my head, I was hearing those as the phone calls he takes on air. Our ability with today’s technology to access spoken word content by authors means you can really allow your imagination to hear the author as you read. We found a station that streams the whole show — not the podcast — daily and listened in just to get the feel.

I encourage to get your hands on this. Read it for yourself, not just to give to so-and-so who gets mad so quickly. I think there is a sense in which we can all see ourselves within its pages; because we all have times where we’ve over-reacted.


Order Unoffendable through your favorite Christian bookseller; or get more info at Thomas Nelson.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for the review copy.

September 16, 2016

Tyrannus, Not Tyrannosaurus

This week, with our usual Wednesday exception, I did all the weekday devotional writing at Christianity 201 by myself. It’s amazing what you can do if you force yourself to minimize distraction, and even so, there was plenty of distraction this week. I thought we’d share three of the posts here on the weekend.

Someone peeking in the bookstore window!

Someone peeking in the bookstore window!

A few months ago, my wife was out for a walk near our oldest son’s house, and told me she noticed a Christian bookstore, Tyrannus Books. We returned several weeks later when the store was open and discovered it to be an Asian-languages store with a few English titles. Such is the diversity of Toronto, Canada.

I never asked them about the name. We tried to find it later and couldn’t remember it clearly. I kept wanting to call it Tyrannosaurus Books. But then last week I heard a radio preacher quote this passage:

Acts 19:8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

So we see that:

  • Paul begins publicly, in the synagogue
  • He then separates his core group for a more intensive discipleship process
  • It’s no crash course, the commitment is for two years (or more, see below)
  • The result is the evangelization of both Jews and Greeks across a wide area.

Also:

  • Some translations use preached and reasoned; while many use discussed (or discussions), disputed, debated, and argued. Paul was a master of rhetoric, but I like to think that discussions is best, as it describes an interactive format. This is something lost in many of our modern churches, although small groups fill the void.

The NIV Study Bible fills us in on the name

Probably a school used regularly by Tyrannus, a philosopher or rhetorician. Instruction was probably given in the cooler, morning hours [although] one Greek manuscript of this verse adds that Paul did his instructing from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. This would have been the hot time of the day, but the hall was available and people were not at their regular work.

The Reformation Study Bible adds that, “Nothing further is known about Tyrannus.”

This story takes place in Corinth. The NIV Study Bible also tells us:

[This was] Much longer than the three Sabbaths in Thessalonica (17:2), but the same approach: Jews first, then Greeks (see note on 13:14). kingdom of God. See notes on Mt 3:2; Lk 4:43.

Two years and three months (see v. 8) was the longest stay in one missionary location that Luke records. By Jewish reckoning, any part of a year is considered a year; so this period can be spoken of as three years… One of the elements of Paul’s missionary strategy is seen here. Many of the cities where Paul planted churches were strategic center that, when evangelized, served as focal points from which the gospel radiated out to the surrounding areas…

The IVP Bible Commentary offers this, which leads into the more familiar verses which follow:

The Jews’ reaction—becoming obstinate (literally, “being hardened” or “hardening themselves”; compare Ex 8:15; 9:35; Ps 95:8; Acts 7:51) and refusing to believe (literally, “disobeying”; see comment at 14:2)—shows the negative effects of rejecting the gospel over a period of time. We cannot remain neutral; we are either softened toward or hardened against an oft-repeated message. Their rejection was expressed in a public maligning of Christianity (the Way). This may mean a formal rejection, since publicly translates a phrase that literally means “before the assembly.” Paul’s withdrawal is also described in semiformal terms. He took the disciples may present a type of self-excommunication (aphorizo; Lk 6:22).

As always, Paul’s withdrawal leads to further advance, for he now reasons daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (either the teacher or the proprietor)…This gives us a picture of a tireless apostle and an eager audience. Each is willing to give up the normal time of rest in order to speak and hear of the kingdom.

Only where there is such commitment to teach and such hunger to receive the word of the Lord will there be advances like that portrayed in the next verse. [11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul…]


Read the full chapter at Bible Gateway

 

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.

 

April 7, 2015

Now The Student Has Learned More Than The Teacher

In my life I have been privileged to lead people into a prayer of commitment to follow Jesus Christ. It happened at a Christian camp, and at a concert, and I believe in one other church-based setting as well.  I say ‘I believe’ because all these incidents were a long time ago. While I probably have more ‘ministry’ hours in my days than ever before — and have more to offer now than I did back then — I am rarely in or near what would be called ‘the delivery room.’

discipleshipInstead, I connect people and resources, and connect people to other people who can aid them in their Christian walk. While I don’t have any formal mentoring relationships with the people I serve, I try to be an encourager and aid to their spiritual formation and discipleship. My passion for apologetics is far from a passing interest, and I enjoy being on the “front lines” of ministry; yet most of my contacts are people who have already crossed the line of faith.

Sometimes, these people grow in their faith to a point where I have to be totally honest and say they have surpassed me.

There is no particular shame in this. There is nothing wrong with being the middle school math teacher of the kid who grows up to get a PhD in Nuclear Physics. It happens. I suspect there are lots of elementary, middle school and high school teachers who have stories of former pupils who have gone on to greatness.

Still, there is a certain strangeness associated with the point in the relationship where the person just doesn’t need you like they once did.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they pray. You can tell if they’re moving toward the cross. You can tell if they have a faith that is deepening. I’m thinking right now of some people whose background was a mix of various ideas and faith traditions. A sort of leftover soup of doctrines and experiences, or if you prefer an audio metaphor, a theological cacophony. Or maybe just a faith that was swerving all over the road.

I wasn’t the only one in their lives. But I tried to be there to answer questions or correct misunderstandings.

It didn’t take long. I could tell. You can tell a lot about people by listening to them praying in a group setting. They were getting it. Before long, their spiritual identity was more set. I don’t use that word ‘set’ randomly. In The Mind Changers, a classic book on the spiritual decision-making process, Emory Griffin compared the process to candle-making with three distinct phases: Melt, Mold, Make Hard.

Before long these people were stepping up to take leadership positions in the church they attended. And then they didn’t need us anymore…

…Sometimes in church life we have students who surpass their teachers; people who simply flourish spiritually and exceed the ones helping them. That’s a good thing. While gratitude to the ones who helped us take our first spiritual steps is a good thing, I don’t think anyone is expecting the Physicist to return to the middle school teacher for help solving complex equations.

I think at that point, you do what I’ve done, and move on and find the next person who needs your help. Like the clerk at the fast food counter, you can say, “Can I help who’s next?” (My wife and I hate that phrase.) You find someone who needs you. Right now I’m thinking of someone whose walk with the Lord is growing by leaps and bounds, but if anyone is keeping score — and God isn’t — I’m always going to have something to offer simply by being more well-read.

But that doesn’t count for much eternally speaking. If you want a better barometer of how far along people are, I would say for a third time, you can tell a lot about people’s spiritual depth by how they pray.

 

Disclaimer: Today’s post is a mash-up of a couple of things, including an article that was going to appear yesterday but was pulled at the last minute. Some people referenced here are composites of various individuals and situations.

March 4, 2015

Wednesday Link List

 

Read the screen carefully: The modern Evangelical religious establishment probably wish this is how the text read.

Read the screen carefully: Some who are part of the modern Evangelical religious establishment probably wish this is how the text read.

Don’t forget to read the short-takes following the featured links…

Sundays are Still the Worst – A year ago here we linked to a website dedicated to stories of servers in restaurants who are forced to deal with an influx of church-goers whose behavior is abominable. Sundays Are The Worst still gets submissions, but this recent one shows in great detail what all this looks like from the other side. ” I wasn’t expecting a tip, but I also didn’t expect any of the nasty notes (calling me a whore, slut, telling me I’m ugly and too stupid to do anything besides serving, that I was incompetent, that I was going to hell, etc.) from the women. Some of them even finished off their notes by stating that they’d “pray for me to better myself.” But the icing on the cake? The notes from the husbands of three of the women who left their phone numbers for me. This was the experience that ended it for me. In tears, I collected all of the notes, finished clearing up the table, went to my manger and showed him the notes, and told him that I quit, and that I wouldn’t be coming back.”

Essay of the Week: Tradition vs. Nostalgia – “Michael Spencer, having been rooted in Baptist traditions in the American South, used to write just as strongly about churches that were little more than memorials to the ‘good old days’ of the post-war era, when people wore suits and dresses to church, sang the ‘old hymns’ (actually, fairly recent revivalistic gospel hymns), filled age-graded Sunday School classes, heard ‘real preaching’ from the King James Version, and went forward for the invitation. Lots of good in all that, I’m sure. But Michael had seen how wistfulness for all that had killed churches dead. Real dead.”

You Should Feel Like a Room Without a Roof – “I am increasingly convinced that Christianity is an inherently optimistic – and even happy – faith. Now I get it, even as I make that assumption more than a few of you are objecting to it. Your objections are most likely rooted in your view of the depravity of humanity, or your eschatology that believes some level of impending doom is imminent. It also might be true that you know of human suffering – particularly the suffering of other believers who live under regimes and find themselves at the wrong end of the wrath of various non-believers. I won’t contest any of those realities, but I still contend that our faith ought to be optimistic.”

Well Remembered but not Remembered Well – The FBI released 250 pages of documents relating to Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. On the one hand, “Multiple FBI bulletins describe Phelps as ‘keenly aware of what his rights and limitations are… He and his followers carry a video camera with them to film those who attempt to stop them from demonstrating.'” On the other hand, “The feds also suspected they were dealing with a mental case, according to a 1987 document that stated: ‘[Fred] Phelps was felt by office of origin to be in need of psychiatric care as a result of persons interviewed claimed Phelps to be irrational.'”

Creating Environments for Sex Abuse Recovery – Responding to past article here at Leadership Journal: “In more than a decade of research, almost every article I’ve come across addressing sex offenders in church communities reveals pastors and leaders focusing exclusively on the sex offenders—the theological grounds for their presence, the church’s obligation to care for them, how to support them, how to monitor them, how to protect ministries from potential lawsuits due to their presence, and so on… But offenders are not the only ones in need of a welcome in our churches. Too often when victims/survivors are considered, it is offender focused. Survivors are told they are required to forgive or reconcile with offenders… we must find true empathy for victims/survivors and how sexual abuse has affected them.”

Definitely Not a Midweek Service – A look at a church in Syracuse, NY which holds one of its weekend services on Thursday night: “I started our Early Weekend Service (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.) because I realized what a huge need there was for it.  A third of the American workforce works on the weekend. At least 60% of families with children between the ages of 6 – 17 participate in organized sports, with many of those having weekend events. We are located in an area where a large number of people have camps/vacation homes that affect their attendance during the summer. Throw in both parents working and chores to be done, lawns to be mowed and families just wanting to spend time together, and church on the weekend wasn’t always making it on the calendar.”

Religion and America’s Top Office – “There are arguments for and against our need to know what presidential aspirants believe… Not so long ago, it was enough for most Americans that our culture’s vibrant religious traditions fostered personal morality, civic virtue, public-spiritedness and a commitment to the common good. We expected our presidents to adhere to some faith, but few were obsessed with parsing out his views on specific doctrines…The trouble with making presidents’ religiosity just another weapon in our ongoing ideological war is that we may have ruined religion for presidents themselves.”

Kids, Death and Funerals – The author of this piece notes that, “the biggest segment of disenfranchised grievers are children. Children are disenfranchised for two reasons: their parents haven’t confronted death on a personal level and have become so frightened of it that their natural reaction is to shield their children from the perceived “monster of death.”  And two, parents simply repeat the evasive cliches and religious euphemisms they’ve been taught, leaving kids to believe that the deceased is just “sleeping” or “gone to be with the angels.” Cliches act as an unintentional defense mechanism that often keep the children from full death confrontation and thus grief.” He then offers ten ways to involve the children.

Does This Make Me Look Pious? – “Luma [Simms] opens saying that one of the reasons that she converted to Roman Catholicism was so she could wear a mantilla. She states, ‘The mantilla is a lace veil women have worn over their heads while worshipping God since the time of the New Testament Church.’ But was it? While women did wear head coverings in the New Testament Church, the mantilla is a more recent, fashionable custom that originated from Spain and seems to have made its way into the west around the 1960’s. Women in the New Testament church were not wearing lace.”

The Moral Neutrality of Mathematics – “Surely there’s one thing Christians and atheists can agree on—math. Like dirt and rocks, it’s not good or bad—it’s just a tool. 2 + 2 = 4 no matter what you believe. You don’t need the Bible to appreciate and use tools properly . . . right? I’ve often heard Christians, even Christian teachers, say that some aspects of our lives, such as math, are just tools, neither good nor bad. No “Christian perspective” is required to fully understand and use them…The argument that math is neutral like rocks ignores the fact that God called all creation, even the rocks, good when He created them on the third day…”

No, no, no! It's Omartian. No apostrophe. And pronounced Oh-MAR-Tee An, not like little green men from Ireland. Peoples' names matter.

No, no, no! It’s Omartian. No apostrophe. And pronounced Oh-MAR-Tee-In, not like little green men from Ireland. Peoples’ names matter.

If you’re reading this on its release day, Wednesday March 5th, don’t forget that tonight is the opening night of a very limited run for The Drop Box movie in major U.S. and Canadian cities.

Short Takes:

There is absolutely no reason for Mark "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage" Gungor's picture to be here. But he does make you want to smile, doesn't he?

There is absolutely no reason for Mark “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” Gungor’s picture to be here. But he does make you want to smile, doesn’t he? Watch the podcast at markgungorshow.com

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.