Thinking Out Loud

July 16, 2017

We’re Back from Europe

We are back from eleven days in Europe

In the early days of my reading faith-focused blogs — approximately 2005 to 2009 — I was often disappointed to turn to some of my favorite writers only to learn they had taken the day to talk about their latest vacation. This occurred at a time when even an out-of-state (or province in our case) trip would have been impossible. Over the years there have been four significant factors preventing us from going anywhere. In order:

  • Raising children, including one who would have been considered special needs at the time.
  • My health; though we did take some road trips.
  • Economics, especially in the sense of affording air travel.
  • My parents health which perhaps wasn’t always as much a barrier as we thought, but certainly did require us to be in daily contact, which would have complicated an overseas holiday.

So when the opportunity to catch up arose, we selected a package which took us to Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. We also passed through Slovakia which I later got to visit more closely while Ruth took a different side trip.

I knew nothing of these countries prior to leaving and did not have time to do much research. I probably could have pointed to Germany on a map and said something about wiener schnitzel, polka music and beer. (For the record, I don’t remember hearing an accordion and my beer consumption consisted of splitting one with my wife on the last day of the trip.)

As familiar as sightseeing destinations are in Paris and England and Rome, the recent terrorist activity in the first two doesn’t lend itself to worry-free touring. (I’ll grant that Germany has not escaped such events.) So we chose this particular set of countries. They were different. They were unknown. They were a nine-hour flight away.

The trip was certainly eye-opening. As I sit typing this at 5:45 in the morning — my body confused by the six hour time difference — I am reminded particularly of our reaction the first day to the historical sections of Budapest on our first full day, and our first glimpse of the old town of Prague last Wednesday. It was surreal.

We were there. It wasn’t a movie set. We saw it. We felt the bricks. We walked on the cobblestones. We pinched ourselves a few times to make sure it wasn’t a dream.

In North America, generally speaking nothing old is older than the late 1700s. Our old buildings are mostly mid-to-late 1800s. In Europe, tour guides speak of a structure saying, “this was erected in the year 921” as casually as they are reminding you not to leave personal belongings on the bus. “…And the one on the left was built in the 1100s.”

Europe is also all about cathedrals. Our last tour director — the trip was in two stages — told us that many travelers reach a the ABC stage, meaning “Another bloody castle.” But they might also say, “Another bloody cathedral.” You know your brain is saturated when, knowing the ornateness and beauty that awaits inside, you pass by because you are simply cathedraled-out.

But it does offer the opportunity to consider a number of faith-focused things. Tomorrow we’ll look at the emergence of a new group of conservative Christians in Germany, and then move on to look at

  • The very not-seeker-sensitive synagogue district in Prague
  • Resenting the church’s wealth
  • Church funding in Germany
  • Meeting people who grew up Godless

and other topics as I think of them and go through our pictures.

So that’s the line-up for this week, plus hopefully a return of the link list on Wednesday.

If you don’t want to hear about someone’s holiday excursion when having one of your own seems remote right now, please understand I totally get that.



The Eugene Peterson Thing

On the last few days of our trip an interview Religion News’ Jonathan Merritt did with Eugene Peterson blew up into a major tempest and then within 24 hours, as quickly as it had begun, the gale subsided. We’ll obviously be focused on other things this week, but here’s a 7:00 AM Sunday morning update from Religion News in case you missed it:

  • Jonathan Merritt’s column was actually the third in a series of Q&As with the author. | Read the story
  • Merritt’s question to Peterson was by no means unfounded, especially given what he said in this 2014 video. | Read the story
  • Our summer intern Madeleine Buckley looked at other prominent Christians who’ve had a change of heart on LGBT issues. | Read the story
  • Commentator Jacob Lupfer says the controversy shows that Peterson is exactly where most non-mainline Christians are — “confused, conflicted, and torn between fidelity to beliefs … and compassion for people they know and love.” | Read the story

Note: I thought what Peterson said about engaging in hypotheticals in interviews like this was brilliant; it’s hard for a pastor to answer a question which begins if there was a gay couple and if they were Christians and if they asked you to marry them…

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July 1, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Pastor Priest Rabbi

Before we begin, as a public service, here is your horoscope for today:

Your Horoscope

Of the things I clicked this week, here’s what I bookmarked to share this Wednesday:

Coke Name Bottles

June 29, 2015

Changing Views on Gay Marriage

SCOTUS - NYT

This weekend we ran a series of the all time most-read articles on this blog, so this is the first opportunity I’ve had to respond to the events of Friday. There is no doubt the United States begins the week having entered a whole new era. Something that was once illegal (and still is in many places) and was considered an abberation (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM) is now the law of the land, mandated by a constitutional ruling by the Supreme Court.

Now, I don’t wish to discuss the particular issue here, but rather, I simply want to note that we’ve seen over the last few years leading to this decision has been a huge shift in values — even among some Christian people — and I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I know that among my readers are those who have different feelings on not only the issue of the day, but on many different areas where the sphere of spiritual concerns overlaps the sphere of civic or legal issues. Some are truly rejoicing in the events of yesterday, for many different reasons. I think it’s great if you can see an up-side to all this. My point is simply that through one Supreme Court decision we have witnessed a tectonic shift of huge proportions.

Interestingly, while looking up the above scripture verse when I prepared this originally for Chritianity 201, BibleHub posted a link to Habakkuk 1:14 (NLT)

The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

There are some who would argue that the only thing that changed yesterday is that another court, the court of popular opinion, grew vocal enough to tip the scales of justice.

Unfortunately, there are also a few who have a misunderstanding that if something is legal it is no longer sin. It is important to recognize that there is not a one-to-one correlation between the two. Many things that are legal are still sinful, and many things that the law says are illegal have little to do with the spiritual condition of the heart.

For example, if we take a simple Ten Commandments approach, the 1:1 correspondence will hold more often, since many of our laws derive from Judeo-Christian teaching. But society accepts many other things which would go against Bible teaching. To the contrary, if where you live it is against the law to make a left turn at the corner of Central Blvd. and Main St. during the evening rush hour, that does not derive from scripture. Still we should note that in the second case, the left turn, it can also be argued that the principles of Romans 13 apply:

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

The problem is trying to read this in the reverse, and saying that what the law permits, God also is okay with; the logic of that does not hold. The “governing authorities” of verse one are not the ones to whom we hold ultimate accountability.

It’s more to the point to refine our understanding of what sin is and isn’t. The word means ‘missing the mark.’ It connotes an archery image of firing our arrows but not quite hitting the bulls-eye, or worse, not even hitting the target sheet at all.

I believe that knowing God’s best exists means we can’t settle for anything less; we can’t be content with the good or the better knowing there is a best.

When we fail to be concerned with aiming for the best we grieve Father, Son and Spirit.

The ultimate question of the day therefore is the question that should guide the everyday actions of all believers: Can God be trusted?

Do we think that maybe, just perhaps he has his reasons for suggesting we organize our family units in a certain manner and live in a particular way. Is it just, as some suggest, that some laws were given were given to provide Israel with a distinct identity from its neighbors, or is there, to put it one way, a method behind the madness?

I believe God’s best is so not because it’s best for him, but because he knows what’s best for us

We must keep this in mind, especially when the tide of public opinion changes, and the law of the land shifts accordingly.

June 11, 2015

Gay Marriage: When There’s No Room for “I’m Not Sure.”

There are small churches everywhere for whom the pressure to respond to every cultural issue simply doesn't exist.

There are small churches everywhere for whom the pressure to respond to every cultural issue simply doesn’t exist.

It’s hard to be on social media and ignore the dust that Tony Campolo kicked up on Monday in affirming gay marriage. I’m not here today to discuss the actual issue, but a particular nuance raised in an article on Religion News Service referencing Albert Mohler, in which he’s quoted as saying: “This is a moment of decision, and every evangelical believer, congregation, denomination, and institution will have to answer. There will be no place to hide.”

I immediately thought of the four older women who sat in the back row of a church I once attended. They have to stake a position on this issue? They need to have an opinion? He did say every believer. And what does he mean by a place to hide? If it means hiding your position that’s one thing, but what if you just want to hide from this issue?

Furthermore, I’m not sure that I could state my own position on this with clarity because the issue is so terribly complex. It bears on one’s feelings about homosexuality, but even there we find people talking about different degrees of everything from mild same-sex attraction to actual copulation. It bears on one’s feelings about the word marriage, and whether or not one can be opposed to gay marriage but support gay civil union. It bears on your response to sin and whether or not we have to clean up to meet God or if we’re invited to be ourselves; to come as we are. It bears on how one feels about how the church sees itself: As a private club for members only, or as agents of grace and mercy on The Jericho Road.

(My personal take leans toward the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ position; the belief that some people are experiencing something that is good, but it’s good only because it borrows elements of the best.)

The article by Jacob Lupfer cites Mohler’s own blog noting, “For conservative evangelicals, there is no middle ground — no “third way.” Either churches will affirm covenanted same-sex relationships or they will not.”

Maybe it’s ostrich-like of me to believe this, but I like to think that somewhere — many somewheres — there is a church that simply hasn’t done a sermon or held a seminar on this topic; they are quietly working their way through a study of Hebrews, or Mark’s gospel, and they don’t feel the need to respond.

The article was prompted by support for Campolo by Christianity Today’s former editor David Neff. Fearing that this might send a signal that CT lines up with Campolo, current editor Mark Galli is quoted as saying, ““We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter,” he wrote.”

Galli is touching on something important here. As the capital-C Church, we can’t let ourselves and our positions be overwhelmed by what’s happening in the broader culture. We can’t allow the daily news to be the lens through which we interpret scripture and establish doctrine.

But there’s a lesson in that principle for Mohler as well. Just as we can’t allow culture to shape our theology, so also we can’t permit culture to force what constitutes the preaching and teaching agenda of local churches. The rest of us don’t have to call an emergency membership meeting next Wednesday night to sort out our position just because we’re being told we have to have one. Again, this is a very complex issue.

Some will say my imaginary somewhere churches exist in a cultural backwater somewhere, but if they just want to trust God and let these social issues work themselves out under God’s sovereignty, I’m fine with that. True, the gay issue may come home to roost in some of those places, as it might in the families of the blue-haired women on the back row of my former church; but armed with a knowledge of the ways of God that only comes through in-depth study of the Bible, they’ll meet that crisis with a calmness and conviction that’s rooted in Christ, not in the need to declare a position that puts them on one side or the other.

In other words, thanks Tony, Albert, David, Mark; but now can we please talk about something else? We’re allowing ourselves to get oh, so distracted.

 

 

 

February 25, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Family Circus 02-22-15

First, the PARSE links for Pastor People:

Carl Trueman on Evangelicals as Johnny-Come-Latelys to Lent – “I suspect that the reasons evangelicals are rediscovering Lent is as much to do with the poverty of their own liturgical tradition as anything. American evangelicals are past masters at appropriating anything that catches their fancy in church history and claiming it as their own… I also fear that it speaks of a certain carnality: The desire to do something which simply looks cool and which has a certain ostentatious spirituality about it…” Hmmm…

The Church and Beer Combo Meal – This time it was PBS’ turn to highlight the trend: “At Pub Theology in Washington, most believe that traditional churches are too rigid and confining… It’s estimated there are upwards of 130 church pubs in the US, many more in Europe, and that the number is growing.” But not all clergy interviewed for the story were supportive.

Debriefing the Sermon You Just Preached – Of the four points in this article, the second addresses the great vulnerability of a pastor right after speaking: “Any criticisms you hear need to be received, graciously acknowledged, and then honestly considered, but not one hour after your sermon.  Most of us who have just poured our hearts out in preaching are not at a good place to evaluate criticisms.  Always graciously receive all comments.  However, those comments that may be particularly hard or even harsh to hear are better evaluated after two good nights of sleep.  Write them down.  Leave them on your desk.  Try to forget about them until Tuesday…

New Church Construction at its Lowest Since 1967 – In a four minute audio segment, NPR looks at the house church movement. “The Bible says, ‘What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has has a hymn, a word of instruction, or an interpretation’ — all of this done for the strength of the church,” [Greg] Stultz says. “Where is that being done?” Furthermore, one of the groups would actually qualify as multi-site: “Three years later, Redemption now has three house churches that meet around Bristol. Once a month, they have a group service…”

Memo to Pastors: Knowing Your Audience when You Preach on Sex – “In your congregation are numerous people who have committed adultery. There are hundreds of porn addicts and fantasizers of both genders. We are not a sexually pure people. So please don’t preach like we’re riding on your high horse with you (whether or not you mean to be up there). The Bible is clear about sex and its place in marriage, and it is your job to preach it. But when you stand up there and preach like ‘we all know fornication is evil’ it shames us. When you lay low the adulterers with your scorn it shames them. And are you even thinking of those who became sexually active by force through rape or molestation? How low must they feel when you speak of the “loss of purity” like it’s a candle that was blown out?”

Revisiting the President’s Conversion Story – Within the church we call it a testimony. We call it a conversion. So when Get Religion — a website that reports on how religion is reported — looked at a recent statement by Governor Scott Walker, it also hauled out a 2007 transcript of Obama’s own description of the day he responded to the altar call: “…I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity [United Church of Christ] one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany…But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.”

Writing a Book for Limited Distribution – Every once in awhile, an article surfaces which is more than six months old, but would be new to many of you. So even though older things online aren’t as cool as things written yesterday, here are 5 Reasons to Write Books for Your Own Congregation.  Sample: “You know your audience. Few writers get to target so specific an audience because most mass market books are geared for the widest readership possible. But when you write for your own congregation, you can tailor your subject, approach, illustrations, and suggestions to your unique ministry setting.”

Poll Results – Not entirely scientific, but Thom Rainer asked his Twitter followers for reasons why churches today seem to be less evangelistic than in the past. Here’s some random samples: “Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.” “Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.” “Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.” “Some churches have theological systems that do not encourage evangelism.” “Our churches have too many activities…” He grouped the many responses into a list of 15 reasons.

Rob Bell on Gay Marriage – Excerpt: “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness,” Rob Bell said. “Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.” That statement prompted a question from Oprah: “When is the church going to get that?” “We’re moments away,” Rob Bell said. “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”

40 More Recommended Articles – If you’re a pastor trying to balance vocational ministry with marriage and parenting, David Murray, author of the just released book The Happy Christian has 40 online resources you don’t need to search for.

Counseling for Pastors – “The counselor assumed I was making a referral. He was surprised that I was scheduling myself. That first appointment was so healing, so fresh, so needed… In our next church board meeting I presented a proposal about the church both requiring and paying the cost of each staff member seeing a counselor at least twice that year. After a healthy discussion, they agreed.

Please remember that inclusion of items here or at PARSE does not imply endorsement.

Water into Wine Birthday Card

Short Takes

  • Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is now a multiple award-winning movie, though these may not have been the type of awards they were going for
  • …In other movie news, the creators of Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Courageous have a new title in the works. Check out the preview for War Room, releasing in theaters August 28th…
  • …But when the history of Christian movies is written, the one story that won’t get left out involves the classic, The Jesus Film, which has now been translated into 1,300 languages.
  • In a more detailed look at Rob and Kristen Bell’s comments on gay marriage, a response from Line of Fire host Michael L. Brown: “So, according to Rob Bell, the Church of Jesus should follow worldly culture and deny the plain teaching of God’s Word in order to be ‘relevant…’ I guess what’s trending on Twitter trumps the timeless wisdom of the living Word of the living God, I guess an emotional appeal carries far more weight than transcendent Truth.”
  • I do not, for one minute, understand what people get from reading Chris Rosebrough, even though I might agree with him on a number of issues. He recently created these faux-billboards. Some of them are funny and also quite true, but what is gained here? Yet, as the author of the piece linked here points out, people do need more discernment. (But I wouldn’t want this to be the tenor of my discernment ministry.)
  • Twitter is reading our tweets. (It’s probably in the agreement when we signed up.) So based on your Twittering, an analysis of the top 100 things we gave up for Lent.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Book-Reviewer on that… that book… which became a movie.
  • A Detroit doctor refuses to treat a baby who has two moms.
  • What to do when you don’t know what to do: Setting personal parameters for the issues that aren’t black and white.
  • This summer, Pope Francis be a plush doll from the same company that does Yankees’ pitcher Derek Jeter and the Green Lantern, Bleacher Creatures, announced just as we’re hearing that a figurine from the Playmobil toy company of Martin Luther — aka “Little Luther” — is shattering sales records.
  • KidMin Korner: Ideas for sharing St. Patrick’s Day with children.
It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, also a product.

It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, it is also a product.

August 19, 2012

“Heather Has Two Mommies” is So Last Century

Filed under: family, marriage, media — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:47 am

Wikipedia family tree for the television show Modern Family

Forget it, Heather. Your family is now so commonplace that it’s time to push the envelope once again. And Lily in TV’s Modern Family, this applies to you, too. Melinda at Stand to Reason wrote this piece (also below) in response to this news story.

Heather Has How Many Mommies?

A California bill could allow judges to recognize more than two parents. 

Stories like this about continuing to change the family gets me to thinking about the roots of the idea.  And the fundamental idea we need to keep defending. The reason people can propose such a bill – and all sorts of other things these days – is because the fundamental idea of family has changed.  And we’ve accepted the idea that sex is not intrinsically related to marriage and children.

I’m sure there are further antecedents, but it seems to me one of the fundamental disjunctions between sex and reproduction was birth control in the 60s, hailed by feminists because women no long risked the “burden” of children when having sex.  Birth control allowed people to think of sex without the consequence of reproduction.  With that risk managed, sex and marriage became detached. Also in the 60s, no-fault divorce became common.  Legally, marriage was no longer a lifelong contract that required sufficient reason to void.  If you didn’t love someone anymore, divorce.  So marriage became about love, not commitment.

Of course, we end up with children born out of wedlock and the idea became accepted that two parents weren’t necessary.  Feminism touted the idea that there were no differences between men and women, so why would a child need two parents – or parents of each sex?  They’re interchangeable. 

When we’ve walked this far, marrying whomever we love and mix-and-match parents don’t seem very outlandish. 

Ideas have consequences.  I think very often we’re fighting skirmishes over ideas that fit in a bigger picture.  And we have to go back to the roots and talk about family and how sex, marriage, and children are best served in that natural and God-given unit.

June 3, 2012

Two Audiences, Two Responses

If you spend any amount of time in the Christian blogosphere, by the time Christmas rolls around, you are going to have had enough of the discussion of Christianity and Homosexuality. This blog is no exception.  Some of you are glazing over even as you read this, and a few of you have already clicked away.  Bye, bye. Try again tomorrow…

However, I was very impressed with an exercise that took place at Team Pyro (aka Pyromaniacs) (Gasp, yes, a reformed blog) over the past week, where readers were asked by Frank Turk to compare and contrast two different approaches to this problem, one from John Piper, who is speaking largely to a very loyal Christian following, and second from Timothy Keller, who attracts secularists, skeptics and seekers in rather refreshing numbers; people who, as Team Pyro pointed out, will never venture into the Christian blogosphere.

I decided the videos were worth posting here as well, but you need to (a) read Frank’s introductions and (b) read some of the comments.  So here are the links to part one and part two.  As huge as this issue is, it’s a microcosm of how we deal with similar issues within and outside the church. Jesus was rather rough on the Pharisees, but had a great deal of grace for sinners. I like what Keller did here especially and think it’s worth watching a few times. (And don’t remind me about Joel Osteen’s response.) 

Please remember if you decide to comment here, that this is about the nature of the response depending on who is the audience. Comments here (and at Pyromaniacs) should be limited to this particular focus or will otherwise be deleted.

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