Thinking Out Loud

October 11, 2021

Review: Searching for Enough by Tyler Staton

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

Thomas didn’t really show up until page 149.

Despite being tipped off on page 10 as to the overall direction of the book Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith, I was expecting him earlier because the apostle Thomas is the centerpiece of Tyler Staton’s signature sermon.

I’ve heard him preach it all the way through twice, and almost three times to different audiences, and I’ve continued to be captivated by his teaching style. I was introduced to him though Bridgetown, on a Sunday that John Mark Comer was away, and tracked down some sermons to Oaks Church Brooklyn in the heart of New York.

If you preach at Bridgetown it means you’ve done your homework. The teaching part of the service runs the better part of an hour, and during that time you’d better have something to say, including the necessary research and an equal balance of references to things academic and scholarly, and the stuff of everyday life.

In the past few weeks, Tyler Staton formally took the teaching reins at Bridgetown, moving his family from one side of the country to another, as John Mark Comer moves on to some new projects.

At the time the book was completed New York City was very much in his blood. That city is a mix of all types of people, each carrying all manner of stories and so is Tyler. He has no problem finding connection points with his audience through references to the basic challenges of life; the challenges we face in our search for enough.

John Mark wrote the foreword to Searching for Enough, including the advice to read slowly. At this point I’m thankful to have finished the book — and the review — in the same year the book was written. There’s a lot of rich content here, and as I considered some brief words here, I found myself back at the beginning and drawn into the story all over again.

This is very much a look at the life of Jesus, and especially the final week — what we call the passion week — when “all four accounts slow way down;” and merge, falling into “perfect harmony with one another, suddenly documenting each precise detail when they had been a sweeping survey up to that point.”

And then, post-resurrection, Thomas, aka Didymus (the twin) comes into view. The book dares us to see Thomas as our twin, and recognize that his doubts are not that far from removed from where we often find ourselves; along with anecdotes from the lives of people similar to us, and those who walk a very different road.

Searching for Enough passes my personal litmus test for what a book on the Christian life should be. It’s one I would recommend reading, but is especially good when paired with some background familiarity with Tyler’s teaching style as found on video at YouTube, Oaks Church and Bridgetown.

Available in paperback from Zondervan wherever you buy quality books. Thanks to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Products.

 

April 30, 2021

Change: Resisting vs. Embracing

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:25 am

A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend…

Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 – The Voice Bible (selected)

A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
a time to keep, a time to throw out;
A time to tear apart, a time to bind together

Ecclesiastes 3:2-9 – The Message (selected)

I am creating something new.
There it is! Do you see it?
I have put roads in deserts,
streams in thirsty lands.

Isaiah 43:19 – CEV

I think it was Skye Jethani who I first heard use the phrase, “The Myth of Continuity.” The meanings I just looked up are above my pay grade, but I believe he was referring to the more common state of believing that things will always continue just as they are. This can be true in both a micro and macro sense.

In my lifetime, I’ve known people who seem to thrive on change. Perhaps you know them also. People who have had several quite different careers. People who have lived in very distant cities. People who can re-invent themselves at the drop of a hat to adapt to new challenges and new situations.

Then there are those who are happy for each day to be somewhat the same; somewhat predictable. They take the line in the poem attributed to James Francis Allen, “One Solitary Life” which says that Jesus “never traveled more than 200 miles from the place he was born” as prescriptive, as a model for life.

In Greek culture there were four different concepts of love. Growing up in the church I heard many sermons that helped me remember philia (the love we have for a brother and maybe the hobby or activity about which we are most passionate); eros (the sexual love that the kids in the youth group were told to save for marriage); and agape (the unselfish love which when lived out places others above ourselves.) But I heard rather varied definitions of storge.

Storge (stor•gee) is described in the things I’m reading as I type this as a love between parents and children, but although the usage isn’t common, I was taught it can also mean the love of things familiar. And we all see that. The familiar, the routines, the rituals, the personal traditions. It’s that feeling you get when you attend the family reunion each year, or that particular sequence of events on Christmas Eve that start with the eggnog — that’s strange, I seem to have set my glass down somewhere and now I can’t remember where — to the reading of Christ’s birth narrative and the opening of gifts.

The enemy of storge when used in that sense would seem to be change and disruption. The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory takes the events one might encounter in a lifetime and gives them a stress rating from 11 (receiving a minor traffic ticket) to 100 (the death of one’s spouse.) Even seemingly positive events like an outstanding personal achievement (25 points) or taking out a loan to purchase a new car (17 points) or the birth or adoption of a new family member (39 points); each of these can be stressful in their own way.

Personally, while (for example) I love to travel, I don’t think that overall I relate to change well. Especially the unexpected kind. Or the changes that bring with it an entry into the unknown. I want to be in control.

My first roller coaster ride in my life was Space Mountain at Disney on a day that they were doing a fuller “lights out” ride through the darkness than what they provide today. (I should also add that nobody told me ahead that it was a roller coaster.) I don’t care if the coaster jerks or drops but I want to be sitting so I can see the track or see the car ahead. I want a road map. I want a copy of the program for the play.

Changes are inevitable, however. Heraclitus (you remember him, right?) said that “The only constant in life is change;” and commenting on this Plato added, “Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.”

On our trips to Cuba, the tour guides will often remind the Canadians and the Europeans that Cuba doesn’t have the seasons we know: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Rather they have the “regular” season interrupted by the “rainy” season and “hurricane” season. When I was in California the first time, it was strange to see the Christmas decorations being placed without the atmospheric and meteorological markers I associated with them.

But at least Cuba has some variance. I do suspect there are parts of equatorial Africa where every day is truly the same. Still, people who have moved to these type of climates will tell you that after a certain number of years, they began to miss winter; they began to yearn for some snow, not in the storge sense, but in terms of needing the escape from the sameness; from the too easily predictable.

Sometimes we need things that get our adrenaline going, and while the stimulus may not be positive at the outset, much depends how we challenge that energy; how we choose to dissipate the stress.

Which brings us back to the concept of seasons. In the Evangelical milieu in which I find myself, seasons of life is a phrase often repeated. Something ends, and the conclusion is that “it was for a season.”

The question is, do we embrace such changes of season or do we resist? I think our personality types (God-given personality types, I should add) determine that outcome. 

From Christianity 201:

If God uses seasons to prepare us, then I believe that you can be fruitful no matter what the season is in your life. You can glean from each season of your life things that will grow you and produce fruit for the future. You may be looking at your life right now and see a desert wasteland, but Isaiah 43:19 says that God is about to do something new. He’ll make rivers in the desert so that you can produce fruit and grow. No matter how dark life gets or how abundant your blessings are, God has a design and a purpose to grow you through this season.
– Chris Hendrix

From an older article here:

You can’t go back and re-live seasons gone but you can learn from them. You really don’t want to fast forward to future seasons because when the ones you are in are gone, like flowers when they have flourished, they are gone for good. The key for us all today is to carpe (seize) the one you’re in! So choose today to learn from seasons gone, love the one you’re in and, with faith and expectancy, have excitement concerning the ones yet to come that are promised by your God. Every season has something for you so make sure you harvest it out!
– Andy Elmes

If we really believe that God is moving us on to the next stage of life, we’ll thrive on the challenge, even with its short-term pain. If we’re really trusting Him, we’ll see where the next chapter takes us.

Today’s blog post is dedicated to … well, you know who you are.

February 1, 2021

Dan Kimball Tackles The Bible-Reading Elephants in the Room

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:20 am

Review: How (Not) to Read the Bible by Dan Kimball

I hope you’ve had the opportunity to take a friend to your church and had that moment where, seeing everything through your friend’s eyes, you suddenly see everything that is happening in that space through an entirely different lens.

It’s the same with reading the Bible. We pick it up every day and are often quick to skip over potentially troublesome passages because we know the bigger story, we know the outcome, and we know the divine author. But your friends get tripped up in the first few chapters and then, human nature being what it is, are quick to write off the book completely.

Dan Kimball’s newest book How (Not) to Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-Women, Anti-Science, Pro-Violence, Pro-Slavery and other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture (Zondervan, 2020; and winner of the ‘World’s Longest Subtitle’ award) is an attempt to confront the elephant in the room; many elephants actually of which he focuses on six:

  • unusual and antiquated laws given to Israel
  • the relationship in both Old and New Testaments with the practice of slavery
  • the role of women in society; in Jewish religious life; in the modern church
  • the relationship between the Bible and science; particularly in Genesis
  • Christianity’s claim of exclusivity over all other religious viewpoints
  • the so-called “texts of terror” and seemingly gratuitous use of violence

One of the striking things about the tone of the book is the degree to which Dan Kimball is at ease discussing such things. He understands the mindset of those not yet part of the family, so to speak, and both addresses them directly, but gives the rest of us greater insight into their way of thinking. This is actually the third book by Kimball I have in my library. The title of one says it all: They Like Jesus but Not the Church, which again reflects how conversant he is with reactions to Christianity in the broader marketplace.

So two potential audiences emerge here: Those needing a seeker-friendly addressing of the problematic passages in scripture, and those wishing to better understand how to engage those discussions. Because of his relaxed writing style, I can also see this being a useful tool for homeschool families, though some might not appreciate his treatment of the seven different models for examining creation.

His treatment of the serpent tempting Eve reveals this as a wordplay, with the original having three possible meanings and the text incorporating all three in different ways. His nod to Christianity at the time of Galileo reminds us that the church hasn’t always been at the forefront of scientific understanding.

There isn’t a bibliography as such, but in the footnotes, we see material was drawn from writers such as Michael Heiser, John Walton, Paul Copan, The Bible Project, and a book I’m now anxious to look at, In the Beginning We Misunderstood.

All this said, the book is rather repetitive at times. While I love Kimball’s ideas and presentation, the editing here seems somewhat lacking. Its 300 pages might easily be cut back to 250, and there are times the book almost plagiarizes itself, such as the sentence on page 142 which is repeated three sentences later on page 143: “Unless Paul is contradicting himself in the same letter, he doesn’t intend for women to never speak a word;” and “Unless Paul is contradicting himself, the verse cannot mean for women to be totally silent.” There is also very frequent mention of Greg Koukl’s “Never read a Bible verse” principle (you should read the whole context) though I recognize that perhaps for Kimball, you can’t state this too many times.

My greatest question reading this was wondering if the arguments presented would be sufficient to allay the objections of non-Christians. Perhaps. Hardcore skeptics? I’m not sure. Perhaps to that end, the book would need to be longer, not shorter. Where Kimball gets full marks is his willingness to confront these issues, and the aforementioned ease with which he navigates each potential stumbling block; a few of which were part of his own personal faith journey.

Better yet, the reader is assured that, ‘I’m not the only one wondering about these passages;’ and offers springboards for further investigation and conversation. A number of additional resources were due to be ready in January to promote additional study by groups or individuals. Learn more at DanKimball.com.

 

 

 

January 21, 2021

“I” vs. “We” — Couples, Families in God’s Presence

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
– Romans 14:12 NIV

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.
-Matthew 12:36 NLT

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
-2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
-Matthew 25:32 NIV

Before we begin, apologies to those of you who are single, separated, divorced, or widowed. I wrote this with couples in mind, but as you see from the title, have expanded it slightly to include the concept of entire families.

I have several married couple friends who have shared social media accounts. It isn’t something I recommend. It was hard enough for Ruth and I to share an email account until she finally got her own computer. But I realize that, with Facebook in particular, there are sensitivities that some couples overcome by not having any contacts or communications apart from the other.

The problem is that many times all of us express opinion on Facebook and Twitter, and believe me, husbands and wives don’t always agree on everything, and this is probably a healthy situation. Some work around this by presenting names in parenthesis, such as: “I (Paul) thought the show was funny.” And of course there are things on which we do agree, not everything should be a battleground.

Beware of “We”

Almost every day at this site’s sister blog, I begin with something like “Today we’re featuring the writing of a new author…” Of course we is me. I produce and edit and format the daily devotions on my own; it’s a one-person project. “We” in this case is sometimes referred to as an editorial “I.”

But it can be overused. I tend to type, “Today we want to consider…” first and then, taking a moment to reconsider, realize I need to own the content more, and re-type, “Today I want to look at…”

I have some friends who share a few social media accounts. They use “we” a lot. I decided to call them out on it. Friends will forgive, right?

And they did. While they made it clear that I was making assumptions, they also assured me that while I may see them speaking with one voice on various things online, they do hold and value individual opinions on various issues, including theological ones. Honestly, I was relieved to hear that. I really shouldn’t have expected anything different.

When the stakes are higher

But then I think of another couple who recently gave up on church and I would say perhaps for one of them even any pretense of deism.

I opened this article with several scripture verses. (I know some of you thought I’d written this for my devotional blog, but I actually wrote it for you guys!) I keep thinking of the idea of each of us standing before God individually. We don’t get to have our spouse stand next to us.

This is also true for families. We don’t have the option of an inherited faith. Perhaps growing up your parents rooted for one particular college sport team and so you just joined them in that passion. Or liked one late night talk show host over another. Or one local radio station’s format better than another which played similar music. This is the stuff of good humored banter at the dinner table. Dare I mention political parties?

With faith, you stand on your own. I am aware that there is a passage in Acts from which is derived the idea of household salvation, and I know it does happen where an entire family turns to Christ at the same moment and is perhaps all baptized on the same day; but from that point on each of us is on an individual journey.

This leads to the possibility of one member of a family, or one spouse attending church and being faithful to Bible reading on their own, and I do frequently run into personal contact with a woman who is the wife of an unsaved husband or the man who is the husband of an unsaved wife. I feel deeply for people in that situation, and try to point them to resources written specifically to address this.

But let me clear on this: That’s better than not attending weekend services because your husband or wife won’t attend. Or not being active with a local congregation because your brothers, sisters, parents or children don’t want to take part.

In the end, when I stand before God, I simply can’t use the word “we” as any possible line of defense.

 

December 3, 2020

With the Arrival of Jesus Comes Something Completely Different

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

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

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

This is a book about Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 16, 2020

Why There’s Never Been a Typhoon in The Caribbean

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

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

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

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

Could the word be changed over time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe we’ll call it classic marriage.

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

Or something like that.

 

 

 

August 20, 2020

How Conservatives Demonize Progressive Christians

Excuse me while I come to the rescue of some people that a few regular long-time readers here wish I wouldn’t defend.

Recently someone posted a Babylon Bee ‘news’ item on Facebook proposing that progressive Christians now have a brand of Bible highlighters that are actually five different shades of Whiteout, in order to, quoting a fictional source, “give progressive Bible readers many options, from lighter shades of correction fluid for erasing problematic Scripture passages, to heavier shades for completely eliminating sections that are clearly heretical to a modern understanding of God’s heart.”

It’s been at least a year since I stopped reading the Bee, and I’m certainly not going to post the link, but I did check back last night and can only tell you that the article is actually two years old, but apparently still making the rounds.

I found it absolutely infuriating. It comes from the same mindset that thought nothing of using Rachel Held Evans’ name as a swear word on a weekly basis. (Podcast hosts, you know who you are.)

I wrote back the person who had copied the ‘story’ to Facebook and said that, “essentially this appears to equate those who embrace a more progressive perspective on some doctrines to Thomas Jefferson, who would have used Whiteout if it had existed. Besides, things are never that black and white. I would be considered very conservative on the essentials, but regard other matters as adiaphora.”

To be honest, I had been waiting all week to use adiaphora in a sentence.

He wrote back, “There are people who pick and choose what doctrines they like, then essentially whiteout the ones they don’t. When I hear the word “progressive” I tend to equate that more with rejection of doctrine with an air of superiority and elitism. I could be wrong about that though. Just my gut reaction to the word.”

And everything — his reaction, the Bee piece, and the whole habit of conservatives to rail against everything that’s not emanating from their tribe — is indeed a “gut reaction.” To him, Progressive Christians are picking their doctrine from a salad bar, putting some things on the plate and leaving others aside. So another shot gets fired across the bow.

Here’s the thing: The so-called “Progressive Christians” that I know personally, and whose books I’ve read have no desire to use Whiteout — isn’t that a brand that would require The Bee (and ourselves) to include a TM symbol — or a pair of scissors. They wrestle with the scriptures. They desire to take it all into account. They would actually make the original Bereans proud, not earn their condemnation.

Since he was unfamiliar with what Thomas Jefferson did, I replied, “The Jefferson Bible had many sections where the former president had removed content with scissors. But you are correct, we all do this in various ways and to greater or lesser degrees. A pastor who mentored me said, “every denomination is an overstatement.” We emphasize one thing at the expense of something else. Check out The Jefferson Bible at Wikipedia.”

And I guess we’ve left it there…

…Yesterday a friend also posted something to Facebook. A gallery of “Faithful Gospel Preachers.” Maybe you’ve seen it. I wrote him back.

Anyone can go to seminary and in 3-4 years emerge as a “faithful gospel preacher.” Especially in a tribe that places so much attention on saying the right words, and words in general.

But there’s more to it than that. What is the fruit of having all the correct doctrine if you’re a spiteful, hateful person? They end up sounding like a clanging cymbal.

Especially toward those with whom they disagree.

There are a couple of names there who I would never allow to speak into my life.

It’s like there’s a cost of correctness, and that cost is the jettisoning of the fruit of the Spirit.

And there was one person listed whose social media comments indicate a severely messed up view on marriage and family; some have argued even psychological issues.

Those three or four people taint the entire list for me.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if men like this — and they’re all male, by the way because goodness you can’t have…well, you know — are what drives so many into the arms of the so-called progressive tribe.

I know that’s how it works with me. When it is offered in compassion, I’ll take the messy doctrine — warts and all — any day over the certified and approved doctrine presented without love.  


This I will link to: The image above is from the Church Times UK, an article entitled, “Evangelism Isn’t Just for Evangelicals.” I especially liked the subtitle: “Progressive Christians have good news to impart, not prepackaged solutions.” And this quote, “The heart of liberal Christianity, for me, is, fundamentally, very orthodox.” Click the image or here to read.

May 16, 2020

How Exactly Do You Wish the Death of Your Enemies?

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:19 pm

The last eight weeks have brought many to the point of discouragement, frustration, anger and bitterness. It’s so easy to see why. I can’t imagine too many people not wishing that this plague had never happened; wishing we could reset the clock and have things exactly as they were before.

During this time there has been an increased increase in the Psalms. David wrote at least half; though we have contributions from the Sons of Korah, from Asaph, from Solomon and from unknown sources. And David poured out his heart to God. We have to marvel at the transparency of his emotions.

But David also wished his enemies dead. He asked God to bring about their swift destruction. More than once.

Is that a model for prayer in the 21st Century?

Pouring out my own heart, I wrote a piece here a few days ago about unanswered prayer. At least that what it was intended to be about. I think we need to be especially carefully dangling that carrot in front of prospective believers or new believers. Offering answered prayer as a sure thing, when it’s really something that God isn’t necessarily going to deliver.

Some of that article was personal, describing a handful of situations, one of which would fall into that general category of enemy or enemies.

However…

Despite my frustration and anger, I can’t see myself wishing the death of someone else. I just can’t bring myself to pray that prayer, ‘Lord, kill him.’

Perhaps it’s the difference of a New Testament; New Covenant perspective; a post-incarnation era unknown to the Psalmist. Perhaps it’s living at time in history when the grace of God is the only thing we have to offer the world. Perhaps I have a hint of “God is not willing that any should perish” coursing through my bones.

Please recognize that I’m thinking of this in terms of a domestic situation; this isn’t about the larger just war versus pacifism issue. This isn’t about an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I just think that the God of the impossible is able to exceedingly beyond anything we could request or imagine. He’s capable of writing the scene so that it plays out with a creative twist we couldn’t have conceived.

I really believe that. It’s a testimony to the faith I still have.

In the middle of the doubt I increasingly wrestle with.

May 14, 2020

Root Causes of Cynicism and Doubt

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

Any commitment to follow to Christ is going have its basis in the truth of the resurrection. We know anecdotally that other foundations, valid as they might be, can crumble when tested. Some objections to faith recur more frequently to others and can be (a) barriers to entry, in terms of making a first time decision to be a Christ follower, or (b) the roots of doubt or cynicism which can cause even a long time faith to collapse.

A quick online search reveals some of these:

  • The Genesis / Creation / Evolution question
  • The problem of evil and suffering in the world
  • Things done, both presently and historically by Christians, often in Christ’s name
  • Things done to them personally by Christians, aka the Church at large
  • The authority and reliability of the Bible
  • Philosophical issues concerning the very existence of God

But there’s one thing I never see listed, and I can name that song in two notes:

  • Unanswered prayer

I would say this is more the case with situation (b) above, but it could also apply to the person who in coming to Christ brings with them specific petitions or to use the theological term, supplications.

It’s also something I find myself struggling with more and more.

There. I said it.

I’m not alone in this. I think of people with whom I’ve interacted over the last few years, and the long-time, ongoing prayers of their hearts have been for a son, or daughter or spouse to come (or come back) to faith, and those prayers have not been answered.

I think of two people I know who have dealt for years with intense chronic pain who in one case can’t sleep at night because of it, and in the other case can’t think clearly when it strikes with intensity.

I think of people who ache to be chosen for some type of higher activity in their workplace, or in their church, but are always ignored or passed over in favor of someone else.

I think of two couples who have special needs adult sons, who believe in a God of the impossible when it comes to healing (or even improvement) but are also resigned to the unanswered nature of their requests.

Finally, I think of people for whom outsiders would say, ‘Their lives seem okay;’ who aren’t facing world-shattering challenges but just wish some of their circumstances could be different. They ask God to simply give them something to put in the ‘win’ column…

…Apologists can spend energy coming up with answers to the first six objections, but also need to have an answer to the seventh one, ‘Why aren’t my prayers answered?’

I think of one such apologist, now reaching the end of his ministry, who never neglected to see the pastoral question when facing doubters and skeptics; to see the question behind the question.

Those are often at the roots of a faith-shaking that the theoretical, intellectual, or philosophical questions can mask.

A mature faith will recognize that not every request is granted in the affirmative. But when prayer has been offered as a means of touching the heart of God concerning our life situations, we do sometimes long for a response.


For those of you reading this on a tablet or desktop or laptop, here’s a challenge. I usually try to illustrate blog posts with an image, but when I did an image search using the phrase “unanswered prayer” it turned up an interesting collection of quotations. I decided against using any of them, but they bear checking out if you have the time. Feel free to share one in the comments if it strikes you as significant.

April 30, 2020

Singing Your Way Through Pandemic Anxiety

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:04 pm

Live To Tell – Enough (Living with Anxiety During a Pandemic)

Our friends Martin and Nancy released this two days ago, and I want to see it get more exposure. Nancy wrote the song, and Martin did the arrangement.

Nancy explains in the video notes:

This song came out of a sleepless night earlier this month when I guess I really started to freak out about the pandemic. Admittedly, I was watching too much news but when a good friend died and a proper funeral couldn’t be observed, it really hit home. From a social perspective, how challenging it is to grieve from a distance.

The lyrics you’ll hear reflect my disquieting and intimate thoughts and are very specifically written for now. The use of the term “peaceful waters” is an homage to John Prine who died from complications of COVID-19 a couple of days prior to me being inspired to write this song.

“There’s no gold in the silence, just a quiet form of violence.”

In this song, I am laying claim to my generalized anxiety disorder, the tension between how I experience my world as it is now and how I imagine it could be – and how I am coping.

Tucked inside the larger narrative is a love song to Martin. I pray that we all have such a good companion to help us get through this.

God bless you. Stay safe, stay home as much as possible, and thanks for listening.

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