Thinking Out Loud

September 3, 2019

In Religion Reporting, There’s a Tradeoff Between Objectivity and Accuracy

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:37 am

I’ve said before that only insiders can report a news story in Evangelicalism.

I realize this means that there is a certain loss of objectivity that a reporter borrowed from the business beat or the political department would have, but I believe it’s worth sacrificing that aspect of objectivity if it means getting the report mostly correct.

The reason is simply that there is so much terminology, so much nuance behind our stories that an outsider simply can’t appreciate. In the name of objectivity, it would be possible to get the story wrong.

I wouldn’t consider writing a piece about a Muslim cleric or a Buddhist community any more than I would consider writing about NASCAR, South African politics, or gourmet cooking.

Fortunately, there is the website Get Religion, which keeps us abreast of the missteps by (mostly) print media in attempting to cover stories of (mostly) Christianity. Usually these include things like wrong terminology, poor theological understanding, unawareness of the full history of the story, or missing entirely the sub-strands of the story being covered.

I was reminded of this on the weekend reading some tweets from religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, made, as it turns out, in reference to an item I now also see covered on Get Religion.

She wrote,

I’ve been reporting on religion, especially the inner workings of U.S. evangelicals, for 12 years now. I’m fully aware of the skeletons in the closet. I have fun stories to share! BUT if your publication can’t write a fair piece about them, you risk alienating 25% of the country.

I was inspired to become a religion reporter after Bush’s re-election, when reporters were baffled by what many of them portrayed as stupid evangelicals willing to vote for a buffoon. I thought perhaps I could explain. 12 years later, I don’t think the media has woken up.

I’m tired of watching the media botch religion coverage, whether news or opinion.

If you see your faith poorly covered, you will instantly distrust the rest of that outlet’s coverage.

That last sentence is key. Can you truly put your faith in a media outlet if their coverage of the subject that is perhaps closest to your heart is being rendered carelessly?

For Sarah, I suspect it’s doubly discouraging, knowing she could have been asked to write the piece and done a better job. Full disclosure: In this instance, the piece in particular at the New York Times was an Op-Ed — an opinion piece — and not hard news. But I know for writers and reporters like Sarah and others like her this is a constant frustration.

I’ve had the privilege of writing some print pieces for nationally distributed media outlets. But for 30 years I’ve also lived in a small town, doing a somewhat visible ministry that interacts with all the churches and parachurch organizations. In all those years, I’ve never once been interviewed as a source to help the local newspapers clarify a religion story, and often it means they’ve missed the mark almost to the point of getting the story completely wrong.

It leaves the public misinformed, and leaves the media outlet looking less than they would desire.

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July 12, 2019

Blessed are the Doubters

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

Recently Brant Hansen made an entire chapter of his book Blessed are the Misfits available to readers for free. It’s longer that what I’d run here, but I thought I’d steal a small part of it, but then atone for my crime by encouraging you not to read it here at all but instead to click to the link in the header below and get the full context…

Blessed are the Skeptics

…You should know something about this particular God, the God of the Bible, and it’s immediately apparent in the first words of Genesis, even if we don’t notice it.

Now, in other ancient creation stories, the universe is the result of revenge, or incest, or wars, or murderous plots. The sun, the mountains, the trees… everything is the result of some violent clash. For example, in the Enuma Elish, which is a Babylonian account of creation believed to have been written in the 12th to 18th centuries B.C., the world is made out of a lot of conflict, to put it mildly.

Briefly: There’s the freshwater god, Apsu, and Tiamat, the saltwater god. There are additional gods, and they live inside Tiamat. They make a lot of noise, which ticks off both Tiamat and Apsu. So Apsu wants to kill them.

But the most powerful god, named Ea, kills Apsu. Ea then has a son named Marduk, who’s the new greatest god. He likes to make tornadoes. This causes problems for Tiamat, who still can’t get any sleep because the gods living inside her are bothered by all the loud stuff Marduk is doing.

So Tiamat makes 11 monsters to help her do get revenge for Apsu’s death. Other gods aren’t happy about this, so they make Marduk their champion. He kills Tiamat.

…and then he forms the world out of her corpse.

(And this explains why you haven’t seen The Marduk and Tiamat Puppet Show.)

Anyway, in Genesis, God makes the world because He wants to, and He loves each part of it. He makes this, and it’s “good”. He makes that, and it’s “good”.  The way it’s written is clearly in overt contrast with the Enuma Elish. This God is different, and He loves what He made. All of it.

The world was full of gods, but this one identifies Himself this stunning way, in Exodus 15:26: “I am the Lord who heals you.”

This God is the Healing God.

As repulsed as I might be by Christian hypocrisy, including my own, I am very attracted to a God who heals. Healing isn’t a side issue. When Jesus walked among us, it’s how he demonstrated his very identity: A lame man walks. A girl is raised from the dead.

When John the Baptist’s own faith wavered, Jesus sent people to remind him of the healings. The blind see. The deaf hear. That means the Kingdom of the Healing God is here.

I could look elsewhere, but to whom else would I go? Jesus, after all, is the God who heals little girls.

No, I do not want to walk away from this. On the contrary, I want to be part of it, doubts and questions and all.

Thankfully, scripture also reveals a God who is patient with people like me. In the book of Jude, we’re even told to be merciful to people who doubt.

So I memorized that verse. “Be merciful to those who doubt.”  (Jude 1:22 NIV)

I like to memorize really short verses…

June 28, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:48 am

For the past six months, my friend Pastor Clarke Dixon has been preaching an epic-length series under the title “Compelling.” Six months is a long time, but it represents a commitment to assemble all the major apologetic arguments in one place. It was truly a labor of love — in many ways — and I decided we would share it here as well as we’ve been doing every Thursday at Christianity 201 for the last six months. Each of the points below is a link, and you can access the full articles for each subject by clicking through.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth.  People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviors that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the TV series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centered, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


Use the above links to read any of the posts in the series. At each you’ll find a link for the audio version of the full sermon on which they are based.


1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

June 21, 2019

Andy Stanley Clearly Articulates the Premise of Irresistible

Maggie John of the daily Christian television show 100 Huntley Street has posted a full, 49-minute interview she did with Andy Stanley, talking first about his famous father and his call to ministry, and then focusing in more directly on his book Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleased to the World. (Thomas Nelson, 2018)

Some people have their minds made up about what Andy did say or did not say and that’s unfortunate, because I don’t see how anyone can watch this with an open mind and not grasp the point he is trying to make; namely, the need to switch our emphasis from “The Bible says it,” to “Hundreds witnessed it;” to remind ourselves that the key to our faith is not rooted in a book as it is rooted in a resurrection.

I suppose that actually giving this some thought is too big a stretch for some. It’s easier to pre-judge Andy and his book and bring personal bias to the discussion before actually slowing down to hear him out. It’s easier to go on the attack on Twitter and other media than it is to consider that if we fail to listen to this, we’re in danger of losing an entire generation. It’s easier to create a panic, accuse someone of heresy, or rally the troops around a common enemy.

I’m all in on this. 100%. I’ve embedded the video below, but if you click on the YouTube logo, it will open on their site and you can capture the URL to watch on another device. You may read my original review of the book at this link.

 

March 16, 2019

The Language of the Humble

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:48 am

Guest post by Aaron Wilkinson

Nelson Mandela is often quoted on the internet as having said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I don’t know if he actually said that but it’s a good quote. However, there may be exceptions.

At the beginning of the year I drafted a regimen by which I would read through the book of Psalms – 7 every week (one every day would inevitably fall apart and I’m a week behind as it is). But just reading through one translation is boring so I decided to make it more interesting. People often recommend reading two translations side by side to get the bigger picture of the translated text. If you can, you can expand on this by reading in two different languages. I got my hands on an Italian bible over Christmas, so off I went.

This exercise has lead to all sorts of fun discoveries, many of a sort that I anticipated, but others that were rather surprising.

When you hear the same words over and over again from birth, they can become stuck. You stop thinking about what they mean and they become just noise. In the best of cases, I find repeated texts always have something new to offer as I encounter them in different situations. Like a gem that rotates and refracts light in different ways, or a tree that always yields fruit. In the worst cases, the words get stuck and need a jump start.

When I read Psalm 10, I skimmed the words “O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted,” without really paying attention. I think I see the words “O, Lord” and think, Okay, whatever follows is going to be abstract theology language that doesn’t reflect how real people talk or think or feel. Then I compared the Italian, which says ‘the desires of the humble (umili).’

I was comparing afflicted and humble and suddenly the words became faces. Whenever I go through the downtown there are people asking for change. I don’t carry cash and have nothing to offer, so I apologize and move on if I don’t cross to the other side of the street. I often ignore the humble and afflicted, and that’s just when they ask for spare change. Who knows what their desires are for their relationships, housing situations, etc. Apparently God does.

And heck, if he can hear their desires, surely he can hear mine!

I hear this kind of language every day and it doesn’t go to my heart. It gets stuck and it needs some percussive maintenance to get it moving again. I’m sure that God both hears us and speaks to us in our own language, but sometimes it’s worth switching that language up so that we know we’re paying attention.


Aaron Wilkinson blogs when inspiration strikes at Vox Surrantis: Voice of One Whispering

February 28, 2019

This Hope

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

On Sunday Ruth was asked to deliver the sermon at the historic First Baptist Church in downtown Port Hope. Although she spoke from an outline, I asked her if she could write it up to share with readers here…

by Ruth Wilkinson

….we rejoice in our afflictions because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces character, proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us…
(Romans 5:3-5)

There’s a lot of encouragement in these words. The writer is telling us our own story, that he gets it; life has problems, disappointments, difficulties. But we choose to continue, to keep trying, to not give up. We build character – purified strength, a clearer understanding of who we are – and we hope. We look forward to better days, to things becoming easier.

Struggle, perseverance, greater strength, hope.

But doesn’t it seem a bit the wrong way ’round? Doesn’t it seem that hope should be listed near the beginning? Struggle, hope, perseverance, strength.

After all, if we have no hope to begin with, why persevere? What’s the point of strength if there’s no hope in the first place?

Maybe we need to understand — What is hope?

We’re all children of our culture. Our worldview is influenced by what we see and hear, the conversations we have, the values we’re taught by school and friends. So what does our culture say about hope?

The obvious place to start is with a dictionary definition – “To desire with anticipation. To want something to be, or to be true.” To desire. To want.

I hope I get a new phone for Christmas. I hope I win the lottery. I hope there are no essay questions on the exam. I hope she likes me. I want this to be. I want this to be true.

Our culture says that hope expresses itself in our lives in different ways:

Hope is a fantasy:

In The Selfish Gene, author Richard Dawkins argues that only purpose that exists in the universe is the passing on of genetic material. Evolutionary biology and psychology define our entire human reality. Our future, our destiny as a race, our purpose, our goal and our hope is continued genetic reproduction.
As a result, anyone who asks the question, “Why?” – Why are there things in the world like suffering, love, and beauty – is a delusional fool.

Hope is the thing with feathers:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet never in extremity
It asked a crumb of me

~Emily Dickinson

The poet paints a picture of hope as something living in the human heart and part of human nature, hardwired and built in. Hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. A mysterious, wordless feeling that, although things are cold and strange, if we just trust the universe it will unfold as it should and everything will be okay.

Hope floats:

The title of this movie is taken from words spoken by one of the characters;

“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.”

We see hope as something that comes from beyond ourselves, an impersonal, outside force that we find on the surface of all that’s uncertain, difficult and chaotic. It floats along beside us downstream, helping keep our heads above water. A sort of cosmic pool noodle.

But if hope is just part of human nature, if it’s just the universe holding our hand, or if it is just a delusion – doesn’t it make sense for it to be there from the start, giving us a reason to endure?

My culture’s understanding of hope is not helping.

*******

Paul, who wrote the verse we’re looking at, wrote a lot of the New Testament in the form of letters to different people and groups of people. He taught and encouraged the very first followers of Jesus who found themselves figuring out what this was going to look like and how we should live.

Paul had a lot to say about a lot of things. The language he said these things in was Greek. Paul was from a town called Tarsus and Greek would have been his first language. It was also at that time a language that many nations had in common, sort of like English is now.

To understand why Paul wrote what he wrote, it helps to look back at the original language; what did that word mean to those people at that time? If they looked at a dictionary, what would it say?

When we look at the word that’s translated into the English word “hope”, their dictionary would not have said “optimism” – it would have said “expectation.” Not “desire” – but, “confidence.”

Not “I hope I win the lottery”, but rather “I hope spring will come soon.” We know it will. It can’t not. We have that confident expectation.

So when he says “endure, build character, find hope” he’s not telling us to work hard and become a better person so we can feel better about how things will turn out. He’s not saying try hard enough, become good enough, feel better.

He is saying that we’re on a path towards something in which we can be confident; on a path toward an ending that we can trust.

So when he writes:

“All creation eagerly waits with anticipation… in the hope that creation itself will be set free from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:20) he’s saying that we have a confident expectation that this wounded, broken world will be made right.

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25) he means that however long it takes, we can be patient, holding to our confident expectation.

“For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope…through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Romans 15:4) is stating that we’ve been given a written record of how God has worked through history, so we can look forward with confident expectation to what He’ll do next.

***

“This hope will not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:5)

We watch the news and see governments who should make things better often make things worse.

Our heroes and public figures who we expect to set an example often make things worse.

Industry and employers we rely on to lay a foundation often yank that foundation out from under us.

The doctor gives us bad news.

And our optimism takes a hit.

Our culture says that hope is a feeling, an emotion, a sense of something we long for. A feeling that something is wrong in the world and ought to be made right. So we hope.

• We want our relationships to be made right.
• We want the government to make good and just laws.
• We want medical science to find answers for things that are scary and painful.
• We want technology to find solutions and to correct the damage done.
• We want employers to open doors, to meet our needs and make lives more secure.

How can we have confident expectation in a world where people and institutions let us down?

We can’t.

***

So what is this hope that will not disappoint us?

One of the people to whom Paul wrote letters was named Timothy. His first letter to Timothy begins with this:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour, and of Christ Jesus our hope.”

Christ Jesus, our hope.

When Paul writes about hope, he’s not writing about a feeling that everything will be ok, or about good karma, or the potential of humanity to make the world a wonderful place.

He’s writing about one person.

And NO, this Hope is not a delusional fantasy. This Hope is the ultimate reality who painted his self portrait when he created us, who came to earth in our skin with a face to see and a voice to hear, who left footprints in the dirt, who left behind the recorded life of a human being.

And YES, this Hope does live in our hearts, bringing us comfort – but even more! He doesn’t sing a wordless tune, asking nothing from us. He sang the Psalms with His people, He spoke, He taught, He called people by name, and gives us a chance to understand the big picture and a chance to work alongside Him to bring it to life.

And YES, this Hope does comes alongside, keeping our heads up, carrying us over chaos and darkness
— but even more! He didn’t just float downstream on the surface of the chaos and darkness, he stepped out onto the surface of the chaos and darkness, he turned the storm into a sidewalk to come meet us to where we are in our hard times, to be the strength that we need to persevere, to teach us how to grow and become stronger and purified in Him, and in our knowledge of who we are in Him.

And this knowledge turns our focus – not to the hard times, not to the hard work, not to the pain of being purified and strengthened – but to the One who is our confident expectation.

And this Hope will not disappoint us.

Another person who wrote a lot of the New Testament was John. John had an experience that he tried to describe for us – what he saw of the big picture.

This is our confident expectation:

We will see a new heaven and a new earth, because the first heaven and earth will have passed away, and there will no longer be any storm-tossed, chaotic sea. We will see the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, adorned in strength and purity like a bride.

We will hear a loud voice from the throne calling out, “Look! God’s home is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people and God Himself will be with them.

God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Death will be gone.

Grief, crying and pain will be gone because creation will have been set free from the bondage of corruption.

And the One sitting on the throne will say, “Look! I am making everything new!”

The one sitting on the throne.

This is Christ Jesus. Our Hope.

December 31, 2018

Of Lives and Years; Of Beginnings and Endings

Have you made your New Life’s resolutions?

As I was thinking about how to wrap things up for 2019, it occurred to me that there might be four different possibility for how your year has gone; and those are the same four which can be applied to the longer span of our lives. For some context as to what I mean by this, here’s something I wrote in 2009. A small portion of this is actually appearing for the 4th time; much of it for only the 2nd time, and some is new.

I’m certainly not one of those “Everything happens for a reason” people, but I do believe every book in the Bible is there for many reasons, and with II Kings, the clearest message that I see is that when it comes to their relationship with God, not everybody ends well.

living-bibleIn II Kings we see a succession of leaders, many of whom are relegated to the most minimal of mentions. In the original The Living Bible, Ken Taylor in his most paraphrasial — ya like that word? — moment in the entire work actually lapses into point form in the later chapters. Those chapters could be called the “bullet point translation.” One could think that perhaps Taylor tired of the various Kings simply not getting it. Basically there are four main types of stories told and each King is representative of one of them:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

There are several benefits to reading this. It should make you want to end well, to leave a legacy of faithfulness and devotion to God, His word, and His work. But if you’re not solidly signed up with the eternal security camp, it also means you must end well. It allows the possibility that I can blow this Christ-following thing, with severe consequences.

Of course it helps that God, by His Holy Spirit is constantly nudging us closer to His ways. There are times in our lives however, when we don’t respond to His prompting. In the Revelation given to John, a message to the church in Laos ascribes three possible states of response: hot, cold, or lukewarm. Although the descriptors here apply to the local church as a collective noun, I believe the same terms can also apply to us individually.

heat-sensitive-imageMany of those who are cold or even lukewarm will recommit themselves down the road, but in terms of the here and now, if you were to take a picture of the spiritual temperature of people using a “spiritual heat sensitive” camera, you’d find that not everyone is responding to what the Spirit is suggesting. Or demanding; God’s not big on suggestions! Some just love their sin too much. Others are just spiritually apathetic. Some are just too busy.

One of the biggest myths in the Church (capital ‘C’ this time) is to suggest that “It’s all good.” To me, that’s not dissimilar from the Universalist perspective. It’s all good if it all ends well. Right here, right now, in the middle of the story, we don’t see so clearly how it will end. We have absolutely, positively no idea what’s going on in the lives of people at the deepest level, so we can’t begin to assume what God may be doing, or what He may be using to work His purposes, but if II Kings tells us anything it is that even Kings, representing the highest their country has to offer, can refuse to see the need to make God part of their lifelong equation.

lifes-journeyAnother myth is to say “We’re all on a spiritual journey.” The Greeks held that there were four core ‘essences:’ Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Knowing their list didn’t account for everything in the world, they held that there was a fifth essence, ‘quintessence,’ representing ‘spirit.’ Unfortunately many people live lives that are dominated by earth or air or fire or water or whatever modern equivalents represent our modern passions. Their journey can’t be characterized as spiritual at all; or if it contains elements of spiritual life, it appears to be a journey to nowhere.

In Jesus time, we see life represented in the phrase, “heart, soul, mind and strength;” both in terms of Jesus early life in Luke 2:52, but also in how we are to love the Lord with all our being. Some people allow their lives to be dominated by mental or intellectual accomplishments (mind) or physical prowess (strength) or their physical or emotional passions (the eros and philios loves; soul) rather than by a focus on their own spirit and the spiritual side of life.

Of course, it is not for us to know what God is doing in everyone’s lives. We are responsible for the ending to our own story, not that of anyone else.

I want my life to be spirit-focused; to be quintessence-focused. I want the center of that focus to be Jesus Christ. I want to end well. I want those around me to end well, too.

So while we’re caught up in what is really the ‘micro-focus’ of how a particular year began or ended or both, we need to also consider the ‘macro-focus’ on the overall progression of our lives. 

It’s a time for New Year’s resolutions, but also a time for New Life resolutions.

November 2, 2018

You Can’t Throw Money in the Kettle if You Don’t Carry Cash

For 120 years, The Salvation Army’s Christmas kettles have been synonymous with the holiday season and the spirit of giving. Kettles are already on the streets in more than 2,000 locations across Canada, collecting spare change and cash from passersby to help us serve more than 1.7 million vulnerable people in 400 communities across the country each year.

After a break of a few years, we’re back with another year of providing our online friends in Canada an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people in need. (American readers: Just wait a few paragraphs!) The program in Canada is called iKettle. Any of my Canadian readers can host a kettle with a few clicks of the mouse.

So first this is where my Canadian* blog readers kick in. You can’t toss spare change in the kettles anymore because you pay for everything with plastic cards, and you don’t get change. Any bills in your wallet are probably there for emergencies. Plus, while it pains me to say this, a lot of you shop online and don’t even have the collection kettles in your face anymore. (Maybe that’s why you shop online!)

So here’s where you go to contribute*

Donations stay in the community where you live, so if that’s Winnipeg or Calgary or Ottawa or Halifax or some place in-between, that’s where the money will be applied to the Salvation Army Family Services branch; including smaller towns where they have an active presence.

I really hope you’ll help us launch this over this weekend. We will be repeating this appeal on the blog several times during. Our giving can meet the needs both in overseas relief and development and in the cities and towns closer to home. This is an opportunity to do something on the domestic front in yet another year that’s been rough on many people.

*For my American readers there is a secure online donation website just for you.

There are also online opportunities to give in most parts of the world where the Salvation Army operates.

This is a trusted, respected ministry. When you give, you’re giving locally. But don’t just give. Consider volunteering. Share the link to this article with Facebook friends. And by all means, find one of the many books that tell the William Booth or Salvation Army story and read every page.

Do your giving
while you’re living
so you’re knowing
where it’s going.

September 17, 2018

Irresistible — Andy Stanley’s New Take on New Testament Faith

By his own admission, publishing this book is a career-risking move.

Furthermore, the criticism that Andy Stanley has already endured over statements which are contained in Irresistible would cause some to lay low for several months until the storm passes.

But that’s not Andy Stanley. Instead, he takes nearly 300 pages to fully flesh out his reasons for saying that Christianity needs to “unhitch” itself from the Hebrew scriptures, or what we call The Old Testament. Yes, that. For some those were fightin’ words. For others, the implication was that those writings weren’t inspired or aren’t relevant to knowing the backdrop from which events kickstarted in Bethlehem 2,000-plus years ago. That’s called putting words in someone else’s mouth

…It’s hard to review a book when, for many weeks, you were tracking with the sermon series on which the book is based. There are usually few surprises. Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World (Zondervan) is based on a sermon series called Aftermath which the North Point pastor preached after Easter this year. The church website sums it up this way: “Jesus’ resurrection launched a series of events that introduced the world to his new covenant and new hope. But old ways don’t easily give way. Not then. Not now.” That could also well serve as a summary of the book.

The book is divided into four sections and like a good British mystery, each section is building toward the concluding chapters. I said, “few surprises,” above but unless I missed something in the teaching series, Andy pushes beyond the original conclusion and suggests something even more radical in the way we format our copies of the texts. (I’ve decided to avoid the spoiler.)

I was also struck by the humorous tone used to convey a rather serious subject. It creates a reading environment in which even a new believer — struck by the differences between the First and Second Testament and wondering aloud, “What’s up with that?” — can have a complete understanding of the world in which the news of the resurrection was first preached, and how the two parts connect.

In many respects, the book is personal. His motivation for writing begins with a 2007 trip to China in which he was asked a poignant question about the church in America. In the book (and elsewhere as well) Andy mentions a verse displayed in his office, Acts 15:19: “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (NLT) He’s committed to removing any barriers to faith which might be hampering someone who would otherwise want to be part of Christ’s family.

As he has stated many times, one of those barriers is the material found in the Old Testament (or if you prefer, First Covenant). The violence. The scientific questions. The seemingly arbitrary rules for conduct. The supernatural occurrences. Instead, he believes (as the book’s subtitle affirms) that we need to be focusing on “the new” and in so doing, focus on what the first generations of believers had in a world before church buildings, a world before printed copies of the scriptures, and a world where the resurrection was everything.

It was a faith to die for.


Release Date: September 18, 2018 | 9780310536970 USA | 9780310536987 UK, Aust/NZ, Canada


Thanks to Dave K. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for a review copy.

 

 

September 4, 2018

Abdu Murray: Contending for Clarity in a World of Noise

Although the book, Saving Truth was released back May of this year, people in my part of the world are just now becoming aware of it. Abdu Murray is the North American Director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM); it’s actually his third book; and like the late Nabeel Quereshi, Murray is a convert to Christianity from Islam.

Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World (Zondervan) begins with the announcement from the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary that “post-truth” was their word of the year in 2016. Since the book was published, we had the statement from Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s attorney, who famously said in mid-August that “truth isn’t truth.” It’s into that chaos that this book steps.

I can’t really review this book without noting a key comparison to another we reviewed here almost exactly a year ago. Like The Problem of God by Mark Clark (also Zondervan) this book is arranged to deal with factors which can crop up in a faith-focused discussion with an unbeliever. While Clark sees his ten as problems to be addressed, Murray sees seven areas — and some of them are the same ones — as subjects where the core issues have been lost in confusion and clutter. While we may bristle at the expression “post-truth;” one can’t be reminded of the conditions a generation ago where the word was “post-modern.”

In terms of how the world responds to the premise of there being absolute truth, the situation today is quite similar and the old arguments have simply been recycled.

Specifically he looks at:

  1. The post-truth mindset
  2. The notion of freedom
  3. Human dignity
  4. Sexuality, gender and identity (the lengthiest chapter; 44 pages)
  5. Science, Scientism and faith
  6. Religious pluralism (all roads start at the same place; end differently)

The end result is what Murray terms a “culture of confusion” a world where the rug of truth has been pulled out from under everyone, including people on either side of any given issue.

As with the writing of Ravi Zacharias, without being an academic title, this book will appeal to the more informed reader; and like Zacharias, broadens its appeal with humor and by mixing quotations from key philosophers and scientists with lyrics from modern music. Many of the anecdotes in the book are based on recordings of the interactions that RZIM presenters have with skeptical audience members at colleges and universities. In other words, this is not “lite” reading, but it does contain practical responses to objections to Christianity that can be filed away for future use.

One inescapable takeaway is that everybody believes something, or to put it differently, everyone has faith in something. Atheism, as an example is very much a belief system, one that demands the faith of its adherents.

This is a book to read with pen in hand in order to go back to underlined sections for reference.


256 pages | US ISBN: 9780310562047 | International Edition: 9780310599838

For my Canadian readers, Abdu Murray will be featured throughout September on Canada’s national Christian television talk show, 100 Huntley Street.


A review copy of Saving Truth was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin Communications; providing Brand Strategy, Publicity and Integrated Marketing in Canada.


DOWNLOAD A FREE .pdf OF THE FIRST CHAPTER OF SAVING TRUTH AT THIS LINK
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