Thinking Out Loud

July 10, 2017

If I Pray It But Don’t Live It

Yesterday and today we’re featuring the better writer in the family, my loving wife Ruth Wilkinson. This is a liturgical type of reading she wrote for our church service last week.

If I pray “Our Father”
and then fail to come to you as a child, trusting and learning –
Forgive me.

If I pray “who art in Heaven”
and then spend all my energy on earthly things –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Holy is your name”
and then, carrying your name, live unholy –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done”
and then fail to listen for and obey your voice on Earth –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Give us our daily bread”
and then ignore the immediate and desperate needs of others –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”
and then choose to go where I know I’ll be tempted –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Yours is the kingdom”
and then fight for my own rights and my own way –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Yours is the power”
and then live according to what my neighbours or friends or society might say or do –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Forgive me”
and then hold grudges and dig in my heels –
Lead me in your way.
Give me your strength, your grace and your love for those around me.

So that I can pray “Amen”.

“So be it.”

“Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”

Forever.

Amen.

January 1, 2017

Opening Prayer

Filed under: Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 am

lords-prayerLet’s kick off a new year by opening in prayer…

…For many of us the school day began with the playing or singing of the national anthem followed by reciting The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples in The Sermon on the Mount, also referred to by Roman Catholics as the Our Father. In the longer, commonly used version we recited, I found it interesting to observe that there are three words repeated twice, two are nouns and one is a verb.

The first word is heaven. It’s interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in Matthew 6:9 all the English translations kept the same word. You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required. Jesus is shaking up the prayer paradigm with Abba or Father, a form of address with unprecedented familiarity, but then we’re reminded that God dwells in eternity, that he is wholly other. He exists beyond what we can see, beyond what we can know, even beyond what we can process. One theological dictionary states, “the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness.” Solomon wrote, “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.” (I Kings 8:27)

The prayer forces us to look upward.

The second word is kingdom which somewhat bookends the prayer in the commonly-recited version. Standing before Pilate, a crown of thorns on his head, beaten, mocked and ridiculed, it probably didn’t look like Jesus was establishing a kingdom. But this was the heart of his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”(Matthew 4:17); we’re reminded that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom…” (Matthew 9:35) and the word is reminiscent of this Old Testament text, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.” (I Chronicles 29:11).

He is establishing an invisible kingdom. But we, the gathered assembly of believers and followers are the visible representation of that kingdom here on earth.

The prayer forces us to look outward.

The final repeated word, the verb, is forgive. Elsewhere, also speaking on prayer, Jesus taught, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) It’s interesting that in a prayer describing the infinitude of God’s dwelling place and the vastness of his kingdom we see a petition for forgiveness, tied to the way we forgive others. It reminds me of Isaiah who is confronted by the majesty of God only to realize the contrast to his own sinfulness. “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

The prayer forces us to look inward.

What better way to begin a new year than to forgive those who have hurt us, offended us, or trespassed against us.


For a longer, 3-part version of these thoughts, click this link.

 

June 7, 2015

When Interpersonal Relationships Break Down

Six years later, I honestly don’t remember what it was that precipitated this column…

Lately I’ve been keeping track of a number of relationships in my personal life and business life that have been changing. Some of these represent cases where there have been relationship breakdowns, usually precipitated by something external that I did not instigate, but often compounded by my reaction(s). I’m a very principled person, and I’ve never let a great friendship stand in the way of taking a stand for an ethical or moral precept, at least not among people who I expect should know better.

But some of them are relationships which have been in a wonderful state of repair and healing. Enough time clicks by on the magic clock and both parties say, “Who cares?” and pick things up where they left off. In one case, I can no longer remember what the issue was between myself and the woman concerned, though when we do meet up, I hope she gives me some kind of clue. I don’t want to reopen old wounds, but I’m dying to know what the deal was. It must have been a doozie, but with God, forgetfulness — which we regard as a human failing — is actually a divine attribute.

So here’s my five rules for surviving relational breakdowns:

  1. bizarrobelieverjerkNothing should be so severe that it would cause you to move to the sidewalk on the other side of the road if you saw that person coming down the street. Civility is always the higher good.
  2. You should never have relational estrangement with more than five people at a time. To get a sixth person on the list, you have to be willing to call up the person who has been on the list the longest and make peace. You may prefer to use four or three as your magic number. It should never be more than five.
  3. Treat the whole thing as if it’s entirely your own fault, even if it wasn’t to begin with. Sometimes that can be difficult. A pastor I know took great issue with something I sent him in an e-mail a year ago; then just weeks later got up and gave his congregation the same message. I know that I was right, but if I ever happened to run into him, the first thing I would probably say is, “Look, I’m sorry…” In fact, I have nothing to apologize for, but it can be a great opportunity to practice humility and thereby model Christian charity.
  4. Ask yourself if there’s some other factor at play that you haven’t considered. For about 15 years, I knew that a particular individual was angry with me. A mutual friend said, “He’s never going to forgive you.” I always thought it concerned something in our professional relationship, but about a year ago, my mind flashed back to something that happened at a party involving our children. I immediately contacted him to make things right.
  5. An irreparable situation means the relationship can’t be fixed for now. The bible is very clear that as far as it is up to you, you should live at peace with everyone. Elsewhere, we’re told that loving our brothers and sisters means believing the best. I interpret that as believing the best is yet to come.

P.S.: I’m still working some of these out, so don’t expect to see my book on this on the shelves anytime soon!

In heaven above
With the saints that we love
It will be glory

But on earth here below
With the saints that we know
Well… that’s a different story.

 

April 4, 2015

Weekend Link List

Pull up a chair and join us for some weekend links

Pull up a chair and join us for some weekend links

Featured Stories

David Cameron’s Easter Message – While both U.S. President Barak Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper both claim Christianity as their own, I haven’t heard of either one penning a faith-centered message for Easter. Was the British Prime Minister in over his depth? “I’m hardly a model church-going, God-fearing Christian. Like so many others, I’m a bit hazy on the finer points of our faith.” Theologically, I suppose this is a bit of train wreck, but full marks for trying. He ends, “I hope everyone can share in the belief of trying to lift people up rather than count people out… That after all is the heart of the Christian message. It’s the principle around which the Easter celebration is built. Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children. And today, that message matters more than ever.” The heart of Easter at your church may vary slightly.

Responding to a Spouse’s Sexual Sin – Part of a video series, The Mingling of Souls where Matt Chandler and Lauren Chandler answer questions. Lauren: “Although it feels intensely personal, it is not. It is an issue in her husband’s heart that’s rooted in sin, it is sin; it’s coveting; it’s rooted in choosing the creation over the creator; it’s against God, and though it feels very personal, it’s not personal… What a privilege, as painful as it is, that she gets to be a part of his reconciliation to the Lord and to her, and how she gets to be the hands and feet of Jesus; that she gets to be a minister of the gospel to her own husband. It’s hard, and it involves a pouring out, and it is very much like Jesus did for us… You will have to sustain something that feels very offensive, but Jesus did it first for you.”

The Wedding Cake Issue Just Got Exponentially More Complicated – Benjamin L. Corey thinks there’s more than just one reason for a Christian to refuse to do a wedding cake. He’s got ten, one of which is: “The Bible clearly states in Deuteronomy 24 that a man cannot serve in the military during his first year of marriage. If you sell a cake to that young military couple, you will be endorsing a lifestyle that is directly rebelling against God’s inerrant word. Don’t do it!” Plus, according to Ezekiel, you shouldn’t do the cake if one of them works at a bank.

Children’s Ministry Reveals Much About Adult Ministry – “I truly believe that you can get a sense about how your church feels about the Bible by looking no further than the children’s wing of the church. In a way, Sunday School is a great litmus test to see how important the Word of God is to the larger church… Do children have Bibles in their hands at church? Do they open those Bibles when they are in Sunday School? …Make sure to peer behind the aesthetics of children’s ministry. Take an interest in what is being taught and don’t let visual appearance fool you.”

Faith Focused Film Announcement of the Week – “Hugh Jackman will be playing the role of Paul, and he, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck will produce the film under their Pearl Street Films production company. The film is believed to cover Paul’s conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus, his ministry to the gentiles and his imprisonment. Jackman told Parade magazine in 2009 that he is a student of transcendental meditation … His father, however, became a born-again Christian after attending a Billy Graham crusade in Australia, which Jackman attended as a young boy.”

Childbirth Imagery in The Cross – “Early and medieval Christians were less reluctant than many of us to imagine God in motherly terms…Imagining Easter as a kind of childbirth offers us another way to understand Christ’s suffering on the cross. Birth is not passive, pointless, cruel suffering. It is active work—labor. Women who have given birth sometimes speak of the great sense of strength and triumph they feel when their baby finally emerges. These mothers suffered pain, perhaps even risked death, to bring forth someone new, to bring forth new life. And so when Jesus goes to the cross “for the joy set before him,” as the writer of Hebrews puts it, it’s not masochistic, nor is it passive. He puts forth strength and endurance; like childbirth, it is a commitment to struggle.”

Street Preacher Told Not to Use Certain Verses – “A street preacher has been told by a judge which Bible verse he should have used when discussing homosexuality, as he was convicted of a public order offense at Bristol Crown Court…In court Judge Shamim Qureshi told Overd that he should have used Leviticus 18 instead of Leviticus 20 to make a point about homosexuality, the Christian Legal Center said. Overd commented: ‘I am amazed that the Judge sees it as his role to dictate which parts of the Bible can and can’t be preached. This is not free speech but censorship. The Judge is redacting the Bible‘, he added.”

Bible Reading Blues – “I always felt like I was drinking from a shallow well in every single Bible Reading Plan I picked. I’d lose steam and feel guilty that I wasn’t checking off my daily reading, I’d forget where I was reading, or forget the narrative line. I found myself spending more time trying to piece together things than actually reading and ingesting what I was reading. I loved the Word of God, but I mostly loved it because I knew there was life in it, not because I actually felt life in my reading.” But then the scene changes, “I saw themes I hadn’t seen before, and I understood Paul as a person in a way I never had. It was as though my Bible reading went from watching a drama take place on a stage to actually being a part of the play.”

Churches Have Bullies, Too – Thom Rainer: “They wreak havoc and create dissension. They typically must have an “enemy” in the church, because they aren’t happy unless they are fighting a battle. They tend to maneuver to get an official leadership position in the church, such as chairman of the elders or deacons or treasurer. But they may have bully power without any official position. Church bullies have always been around. But they seem to be doing their work more furiously today than in recent history.”

Finally… – On Easter Sunday, if you’re doing Children’s ministry, you can offer to bring both the craft and the snack.

From Stuff Fundies Like: Gospel Baptist Church wants to make extra special sure that you don’t think women are in charge of anything more important than the nursery. They want to make so sure that they had an extra banner made just to point it out.

From Stuff Fundies Like:  Gospel Baptist Church wants to make extra special sure that you don’t think women are in charge of anything more important than the nursery. They want to make so sure that they had an extra banner made just to point it out.

Short Takes

  • That moment where your 21-year old son, who was in to Dubstep and Electronica writes you from college to say this is his favorite song right now.
  • New York City churches are allowed to rent schools, for now. The Mayor: “While we review and revise the rules, groups currently permitted to use schools for worship will continue to be able to worship on school premises.”
  • Tweens and porn in the UK: “Shocking new figures reveal that one in ten 12 to 13-year-olds believe they may be addicted to pornography, and 12 per cent admit to having made or taken part in a sexually explicit video.”
  • Passover like you’ve never seen it. A 2-minute video.
  • It’s a different type of small group, one that is a faction that forms against the pastor. “28 percent of pastors have been pushed out of their churches by attacks that originated from a relatively small group of people… Nearly half of those pastors who had left then seriously considered abandoning ministry altogether.”
  • It’s been out there for a while, but I just noticed that 3 of the Top Ten bloggers on this Top 100 Christian blogs list are Canadian, including the first two.
  • I get what Fred Clark’s doing with this series, but the series itself needs a better name.
  • Finally, from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s media division, TwentyOneHundred Productions, we finally know how the Apostle Paul drafted his letters:

Paul's Epistle Template

 

 

August 7, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Darwin - Cats

Is it Wednesday already? Time for another list of links of interest to people like you from blogs and websites great and small. But wait! None of the links below actually work; you need to click through to the Wednesday Link List’s new home at Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Journal.

  • How about a 19-second video to kick things off? (Apologies to those who clicked!)
  • Frank Viola offers a completely different take on the spiritual life of John Lennon.
  • What did the Pope really say in that in-flight news conference? One writer thinks it’s not exactly what was reported.
  • You thought there were fewer this year and you were right. Stats on why not as many churches are doing VBS.
  • Got the standard 2.3 kids? John Wesley would not approve. I suppose you could call this an article about being procreative.
  • A UK church organist, 68, was walking to a midnight Christmas Eve service as he had done for 40 years when two men, both 22, beat him to death in a motiveless attack. Now, his widow offers a message of forgiveness.
  • Essay of the Month for June (but you may not like it): The atheist daughter of a noted Christian apologist shares her story so far.
  • Related: An Atheism, Theism, Agnosticism, Gnosticism infographic.
  • Essay of the Week: Ten things church worship leaders want the rest of us to understand.
  • Related: What if we looked at our church’s corporate worship time as a spiritual discipline?
  • The year isn’t even over and already we have a winner for the worst reporting of a religious story in 2013.
  • I’ll let Michael Frost Tweet this intro: “The conservative journal Christianity Today makes the case for welcoming same-sex couples to church.”
  • A blog to know about: Jesus I Will Follow You is a tumblr that answers questions from young readers on tough subjects.
  • From my own blog this week: A blog summary on the Presbyterian Church USA’s “In Christ Alone” hymnbook controversy and a look at same sex marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada.
  • It’s easy to deal with what’s appropriate beachwear for women when you’re on a Christian radio show. It’s harder when it’s your own 13-year old daughter.
  • Rob Bell is offering two more of his 2-day conferences in September and October that are already renowned for their lunch break to go surfing.
  • Music to brighten your day: Shine Bright Baby’s song from their new album Dreamers; enjoy Beautiful Love.
  • A link that takes you to more links: An Arizona pastors offers a 6-part blog series on the sins pastors commit including letting their wives manage everything on the homefront.
  • Here’s a March post which is a link to ten articles at the blog “Canon Fodder” by the author of The Question of Canon on — wait for it — ten things you should know about the New Testament canon.
  • In searching through blogs I had bookmarked months earlier, I landed on this very succinct post which I offer for your prayer consideration.
  • Before you hit the FWD button next time, here’s four reasons that Christians need to stop forwarding hoax emails.
  • A historic Roman Catholic Church that is already a shrine to a saint whose legacy is devotion to animals plans to set aside a memorial space for Fido and Fluffy.
  • Your assignment: Write a modern worship chorus utilizing the titles of television soap operas. [Warning: Consumes 4.5 valuable minutes]
  • Finally, a reminder for the end of the week, end of the month, end of the summer, or anytime you need a reminder.

I have no idea where the first graphic — the premise of which I’m not sure I agree with — originated; but the comic books below are purported to be real.  For additional wit and wisdom, follow me (please!) on Twitter. And one last time, here’s the link to today’s Wednesday Link List without the Linkectomy.

the-pat-robertson-and-friends-coloring-book-9781891053955Christian Conservative Coloring Book

September 6, 2012

October Baby Releases Direct To Video

Last night my wife and I watched the movie October Baby which releases here in Canada direct to video on Tuesday; i.e. without the benefit of a prior run in theaters and the buzz that situation normally affords.  We don’t watch a lot of Christian films, but after seeing Facing the GiantsFireproof and Courageous, my wife noted, “Okay, we’ve had the football players, the firemen and the policemen… how about something for women next time?”

In a sense this film is the answer to that request.  Heavy on characterization and emotions, but not very complex in terms of plot and light on action.

The lead character in the picture is Hannah, consistently played by Rachel Hendrix a first year college student who is devastated to learn that she is the survivor of a botched abortion. Predictably, the movie then takes on a road trip theme as she with the help of Jason the friend that “has always been there” for her, played by Jason Burkey, an actor with extensive film and commercial credits. The other central character is Jacob, her father, played by popular actor John Schneider.

The spiritual meaning of the picture has more to do with forgiveness than any particular abortion-related message. There’s also an interesting twist regarding Shari Rigby, the actress who plays the role of Cindy, but for that ‘real life meets art’ moment you don’t want to miss the credits. (That’s not a spoiler, but it’s worth the risk since most people shut off the DVD player as soon as the credits begin to roll.)

The cast also has a minor role for Chris Sligh, who you’ll remember from the 2002 season of American Idol, who also provides several songs for the soundtrack.

The connection to the aforementioned Christian movies is the involvement of Provident Films, who also produced Flywheel and Second Chance. Because of the success of Fireproof and Courageous, many people will, like us, pick up this one to see the latest offering by that franchise. And hopefully some women viewers will find a storyline with a more feminine appeal and direction, though some, like my wife, may wish a few football players or firefighters had played a part after all.

May 13, 2012

Classic Christian Music Song

While assembling things for my own little YouTube upload project, we discovered one of the songs I most wanted to include was already online, and we’d determined only to do songs that didn’t exist anywhere else.  I might still make an exception for this one, but I wanted to share it with you today in this tribute video form.  The band is Scarlet Red; the song is simply titled Why.

It wasn’t long before I saw the painful truth before my eyes
All my sin had brought a price to pay,
and I knew it was for me that Jesus died.


I truly love this song, and I hope you enjoy listening to it, perhaps even more than once.

May 4, 2012

Why Albert Mohler Should Retire

…It’s a much more polite post title than the one I originally considered…

Another Evangelical leader has proven this week that when Evangelical leaders reach a certain age they seem to go a little bit off, not unlike bakery products that have a best before date, or as they say in the UK, a sell-by date.  And the manner in which they go a little bit off is to attack their own.

We have already mentioned here the travesty of Jack Van Impe insisting that Rick Warren has bedded down with Muslims to fuse some new brand of faith he calls Chrislam.

This time it’s SBC theological president Albert Mohler, Jr. on his blog accusing Andy Stanley as supporting gay marriage.

Well, first let me qualify that. Albert Mohler’s blog is not a blog in the sense most people use that term. There is no place for comments, for dialogue, for interaction. True, he gives an email address, but…

We begin with Christianity Today:

Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times [Jesus] seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”

That tension can be seen at North Point after sermons on remarriage after divorce, which people hate to hear but are glad they did, he said. It also exists for gay members, who have left predominantly gay churches for North Point because they want more Bible teaching, but are nervous about how welcome they’ll be, he said.

In trying to love like Jesus does, the church can also seem inconsistent and leave people wondering what they’re really about, Stanley said.

You can watch the sermon in question here, select part five (April 15th).

This is a good place to mention that Andy Stanley is considered one of the finest communicators in the United States.  He chooses his words very carefully, and he is what I consider a very wise man. He obviously wants to continue to living in the tension(s) he described that Sunday.

But while Mohler has Stanley in his sites from the very beginning, he couches his rhetoric with a vague academic church history lesson about megachurches in America. Apparently size matters, and not in a good way. Megachurches breed liberalism in Mohler’s view. Logically then, smaller churches should be fertile ground for orthodoxy. In some bizarre parallel universe, perhaps.

The Christian Post quotes Rick Warren demanding an apology from Mohler on this front:

A prominent evangelical’s recent blog headline – “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” – has irked Pastor Rick Warren, who is calling for an apology for the “sensational” title.

Warren, founder of Saddleback Church, sent a tweet to Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Tuesday, saying: “A TITLE questioning1000s of churches’ orthodoxy due to size is unChristlike.U need to apologize to pastors Al.” …

…Taking issue with the title of the blog, Warren commented: “@albertmohler Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?”

In response, Mohler tweeted back: “@RickWarren Glad to hear from you, Rick. I would certainly not be offended by that title … In fact, I might use it. Megathanks.”

Where does Mohler derive such arrogance?

But church size is a red herring in this story.  As a somewhat biased fan of Andy Stanley, I had to weigh in at the CT piece:

I had been a consumer of Andy’s video teachings for at least five years prior to becoming a regular follower of NorthPointOnline about three years ago, and was watching live when this illustration happened. I think anyone who has had this type of exposure knows Andy’s heart and and tenor of his ministry.

Just as we’re told that Jesus’ parables should be interpreted only to say ‘one thing,’ so also should this illustration only be evaluated in terms of its primary purpose. You can’t condemn a sermon for what it did not say, or every sermon preached would have to contain a compendium of Christian doctrine and ethics.

Mohler described the resolution of the story Andy Stanley told his congregation. 

…He later told of the former wife’s decision not to live in bitterness, and of her initiative to bring the whole new family structure to a Christmas service. This included the woman, her daughter, her former husband, his gay partner, and his daughter. Stanley celebrated this new “modern family” as an expression of forgiveness.

Note Mohler’s use of the word “celebrated.” This is where you see most clearly that you cannot trust what this man is writing. “Celebrated” is a calculated value-laden word which simply doesn’t describe the proper context.  At CT, I continued:

The reference to the TV show “Modern Family” was not giving endorsement to that type of family dynamic; the family in the illustration is simply reflective of the times, and the television reference immediately connected with the audience. That family is also a work in progress, an unfinished story in which the operation of grace and truth will hopefully continue to unfold.

Dan White, Jr. was another CT respondent who felt that Stanley was deliberately walking a fine line on this issue:

…Currently in our political culture of communication the non-negotiable’s are:  1. Define what camp you fall into,  2. Demonize anybody who does not fit squarely into your camp,  3.  Apply debate techniques not active listening and 4. Defend/clarify your position at all costs.  I believe this style of discourse is more secularism than it is biblical. 

I listened to Andy Stanley’s message.  He taught the principle that the tension of Grace and Truth sometimes makes things unclear, ambiguous and complicated.  Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times Jesus seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”   Listening to Stanley’s conservative critics, I’m not sure they see Jesus this way.  I’m not sure they’ve dealt with the way Jesus was perceived by his listeners. 

Jesus spoke in parables and in Matthew 13:34 he makes the point that “Jesus did not say anything without using parables.”   Why would Jesus indulge in short artistic fictional stories to convey such essential messages? Each parable would often end with the refrain “whoever has ears let him hear.” Each parable would often include a hidden message that would be accessible to some and confusing to others.  At one point the disciples share their frustration “Why do you speak in parables?” As if to say “Jesus why are you doing this? Your telling stories but nobody is getting your point, can you find a clearer more obvious approach?”   What the disciples did not understand was Jesus was intentionally enticing people into new territory.

Jesus was not offering easy answers and doctrinal points, he was inviting people into an interactive relationship. He said listen with your ears which meant listen to the deeper meaning.  Don’t listen for the literal meaning, seek deeper for meaning that requires a sincere effort of your imagination and a personal investment.

Is it ever Ok to be ambiguous?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes was.  Is it ever O.K. to come across unclear in order to lay the trust-bricks that relationships require?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes did.  Is it ever O.K. to not give a Yes or No to the “is it a sin” question because the history of the question is so convoluted with agendas?  I believe Jesus sometimes did for the sake of the larger mission and the loaded context of religiosity.  Sure this tension is a harder tightrope to walk.  Some call it the slipper-slope; I call it fighting for balance  This is the very reason why many are not comfortable with the third way of navigating through culture.  It’s much easier to just park firmly in an ideological camp and harp on your doctrinal talking points over and over.  Instead Jesus often models a way of being that is beyond what sin issue is served up to Him.

 Much of the conservative backlash to Andy Stanley’s presentation seems to be intoxicated with anxiety by whatever the hot sin issue is at this time…

There is one redemptive paragraph in Mohler’s conclusions:

Given their size and influence, the megachurches have an outsize responsibility. I am a member and a teaching pastor in a megachurch, and I am thankful for its faithfulness. I know a host of faithful megachurch pastors who are prepared to pay whatever cost may come for the sake of the Gospel…

On that, at least we agree. Where we differ is that I know of one faithful megachurch pastor who fails to make Mohler’s list. And we differ more violently on the need to make such unwarranted pronouncements.  Some opinions are best kept to oneself.

…I spoke with a pastor about this a few months ago who expressed his concerns about people whose ministry seems to be going along well and then they, in his words, “start losing it.” That’s when I wrote this piece about knowing when to quit.

One sure sign is when we start shooting at our own soldiers. If Mohler isn’t ready to enjoy retirement in Palm Springs, he should at the very least quit the blog that isn’t a blog.  The CT article concluded:

Stanley declined repeated requests for comment.

That’s the type of wisdom Albert Mohler, Jr. should have employed from the very beginning.


Update: Missed this one yesterday: For some additional commentary on the tension between grace and truth as it relates to this story, be sure to check out the article by Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk, and the 150 (so far) comments.

…What an incredible illustration of God’s scandalous grace in action. Yet Mohler misses this entirely. He misses grace in his headlong race to be sure that Andy Stanley understands right and wrong. Mohler writes,

…We desperately want all persons to feel welcome to hear the Gospel and, responding in faith and repentance, to join with us in mutual obedience to Christ. But we cannot allow anyone, ourselves included, to come to Christ — or to church — on our own terms.

No, it seems we must come on Al Mohler’s terms….

[HT: Clark.]

April 8, 2012

Resurrection and Grace

The following is widely blogged:

In What’s So Amazing about Grace?, Philip Yancey recounts this story about C. S. Lewis:

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.

They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.

The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.

Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the conferees had to agree.

The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

While I like the story, had I been present, I would have challenged the notion that other religions have verified accounts of resurrection. One of the other things that sets Christianity apart is the evidence for the resurrection; evidence which forms the themes of countless books on Christian apologetics.

But where I want to go with this today is this: If you think about it, grace and resurrection are somewhat similar ideas. The DNA present in the concept of grace is embedded in the concept of resurrection, and the DNA of resurrection is embedded in the concept of grace.

Both represent a ‘pass’ if you will.

I sin, but forgiveness is made available by the grace of God.

I die, but in expectation of being raised to eternal life just as Christ conquered death.

I avoid having to perform acts of penance or go through acts of contrition in order to recover my spiritual dignity; I simply need to sincerely ask God’s forgiveness, it is a gift from God, not involving effort or earning.

I avoid having to wonder if my remorse was sufficient, I can receive assurance from God’s Word that my transgressions are forgiven, because he is ever-faithful and ever-just.

I avoid a meaningless death, but die knowing that this is not the end; that death itself is a gateway to something greater that God has in store; something my eyes have never seen, my ears have never heard, my imagination has never conjured up.

Now, some will argue that avoiding the consequences of sin and someday experiencing the reality of victory over death is really the same thing; and I would agree. The two are linked.

But imagine — and you don’t have to — a belief system that includes both grace and resurrection.  Why would you look anywhere else?

February 2, 2012

My Letter to Andrew

Andrew is the central character in a story about church discipline at Mars Hill Seattle which has blown up in the Christian blogosphere since Matthew Paul Turner posted part one on January 23rd.  (Covered on this blog, here.)

Or at least he was the central character. More of the recent conversation concerns ecclesiology, and church discipline in general and opportunity for ad hominum remarks concerning Mark Driscoll.

So I’m wondering if anyone is really reaching out to Andrew in all this…

Dear Andrew,

It’s never a good idea to offer advice where it wasn’t asked for, nor is it a good practice to listen to unsolicited advice from people you don’t know.  I’m admittedly half a continent away, and equally separated by age; and there are those close to you who more suited to speak into your life.

I just wanted you to know that besides re-blogging what Matthew Paul Turner wrote, I also prayed for you. James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways…” Welcome to the community of the broken.

In hindsight, you probably weren’t ready to get married. You know that now, and I know there is much remorse attached to your story. You are no doubt much wiser today than you were just a few months ago. Of all the fruit of the Spirit, self-control is the most needed when facing temptation that is being constantly fed by a 21st century worldview of sexuality.

One of the things about your story struck me very early on in MPT’s version of it: “Andrew was born and raised Independent Fundamental Baptist, so not only was Andrew accustomed to Mark’s anger-laced fiery style of sermon, he had a deep appreciation for it.”  It never really occurred to me that people could be attracted by an authoritarian leadership style, but if that’s what you grew up with, I can see that it might have been a comfortable fit, once you got past a few of the doctrinal differences.

But then — and at this point someone would normally write, ‘through no fault of your own,’ except that it was, after all through a fault of your own’ — you saw the other side of how this authority plays out when someone apparently crosses the line from “in” to “out.”  To be labeled a “wolf,” or called a “predator.”  That’s strong language. There are some who would say you had suffered enough at this point; you were repentant, remorseful and humbled (if not humiliated) and that it was time for restoration; time to move on to the next phase, of living and walking in the fullness of all God created you for, because if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We can know the feeling of being ‘washed clean’ of our sin and get back up on our feet standing in the righteousness of Christ.

Galatians 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…

I don’t get the spirit of that verse playing out in the email you received when you felt changing churches was the option you wanted to pursue, and I certainly don’t get it from the letter that was sent to the membership.

But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter what men do or even what church leaders do.  Your ultimate judge is God himself.  He is the one you answer to. Yes, under his sovereignty pastors and leaders are appointed, and we’re told to honor that office and pray for them, but they are fallible.

In the meantime, Andrew; hang on to God.  Keep praying.  Continue to read and study your Bible.  Find a place where you can engage in corporate worship with other believers who don’t know you or know this story.  Maybe find a Christian counselor or mentor who can continue to help you work all this out over time.  But don’t allow discouragement or disillusionment to take over your life.

And pray for the people at Mars Hill.  Not a prayer that comes from a smugness nor from bitterness, but simply pray that God will lead them to be both forthright in their application of the gospel, but agents of grace in how they allow that to play out. Pray for them to get better at it, to improve in their understanding of the mystery of grace.

Pray because there are going to be other Andrews.  There’s going to be a ‘next time’ involving someone else, and the next Andrew may not be able to handle it in the manner that you did.

And don’t write that church off, either.  Church congregations are like small cities, with as many stories taking place as there are people.  There are, to be sure, countless people there who are doing good, growing in faith, and deepening their understanding of the ways of God; because of the leadership there, and sometimes in spite of the leadership there. 

Nor should you be in distress when someone you meet follows the instructions given to them in the membership letter and shuns you.  It’s far easier for humans to believe something bad about someone, and people subject to authoritarian church leadership will, after all, do what they are told. 

In the meantime, church history is filled with people who experienced rejection for a variety of reasons, including rejection from the religious establishment so you’re actually in good company.

As you choose a permanent place of worship, and enter into future relationships, I know you’ll do both with a wisdom you have gained from this process.

Your brother in Christ,

Paul Wilkinson.

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