Thinking Out Loud

May 2, 2017

Background to Yesterday’s Article

I’m posting this a little later in the morning in order to keep yesterday’s post here pinned to the top for a few hours longer. I am sure it left some of you thinking, ‘That’s a long way to go to make a point.’

I fully realize that any suggestion that there are things God doesn’t know cuts deep to the heart of some peoples’ theology. However, I never said that. Rather, I see God closing his eyes vis-a-vis the future and saying, ‘Okay. Surprise me!’ There’s a huge difference.

Is it central to core doctrine? Absolutely not. I do see it however as part of God delighting in us or in more KJV terms joying over us.

The first exposure I had to anything like this was Garry Freisen’s book Decision Making in the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View. It was originally published in the early 1980s (I think) and an updated anniversary edition is still available. The book ran counter to the idea that there was one college you were to attend, one person you were to marry, one city in which you were to live and one career path you were to follow.

Some of the people who liked the book were still reluctant to give up the idea of God’s complete foreknowledge and control. This reviewer wrote, “God has already sovereignly determined which tennis shoes we will wear that day, but we shouldn’t waste half the day waiting for a swoosh to appear in the clouds.  So long as there is no biblical principle being violated, just put on some shoes and get busy.” The word determined is interesting here.

On an older Walk In The Word radio program, James MacDonald spoke of being told that there was a dot that represented the center of God’s will; as opposed to Freisen’s idea that there is a circle of possibilities and as long as you stay within that circle you remain in God’s will. Describing his spiritually formative years, MacDonald intones:

Don’t get caught
Off the dot
That’s what I was taught.

I think the thing with Friesen’s book is that represented the first time in my life I became part aware of the cycle of un-learning which is necessary for those of us who grew up in the church, and wrote all our beliefs — or at least what we thought was being taught to us — in wet cement and then watched it harden. As we grow older, unless we’re completely closed-minded, we realize that we need to deconstruct some of those things and re-learn.

People who didn’t grow up in church may not have such hard and fast convictions on matters such as this. For those of were in church starting at minus-nine-months, we can fall into ‘Elder Brother Syndrome;’ and feel that our understanding is the correct one. Or the one Pastor John [MacArthur, Piper, Hagee, Steinbeck] teaches. Or the one our own pastor shared in a sermon eight years ago. Hey… it beats doing the research or thinking about it for ourselves.

Then along comes Greg Boyd et al and reintroduces the idea of Openness Theism — I say reintroduces because usually these ideas are not new in the grand scheme of Christian philosophy and thought — and everyone gets in an uproar because it’s slightly new to their ears, therefore it can’t be right.

So don’t ask me where yesterday’s story came from. I’m told a mother can have ten children in yet in a way that is mathematically absurd, give each one of them all her love. The mom in the story yesterday has seven kids, but we really only see her dealings with one of them. Five of them apparently aren’t even home from school yet. She’s focused just on that one but she realizes that the one child’s Fall choices when it comes to the city athletics program impacts the other children, their future, and the schedule her and her husband face getting the kids to lessons, practices, games and other activities.

If she can run all the sequences and possibilities, I think God, who is infinitely above anything we could imagine is capable of running an infinite number of sequences and possibilities for us. I can’t say he has determined our choices. Not every time. Not every choice. Sorry.

To say otherwise is to put him and us in a box. Rather I see him saying, ‘So what’s it gonna be?’

Can anything we do be a surprise to God? Theologically speaking, no; but God can allow himself to be surprised. Nothing Adam and Eve did in Eden surprised him because that was part of a much grander scheme. But your choice as to whether to live in Cleveland or Dayton; whether to marry Rebecca or Morgan; whether to study Public Relations or Information Technology; and whether to go to a local college or one out of town; all of these represent choices he could be leaving entirely up to you.

Once you have decided, he simply presses “Update” and then, if he so desires, he can have foreknowledge of an infinite number of other possibilities. 

I don’t see a Biblical conflict here.

 

 

 

 

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May 1, 2017

Open Theology and a 10-Year-Old Girl

It was the first of May and already the city’s Parks and Recreation Department Fall registration brochure had shown up in the mail. Amanda flipped over to the page “New This Year” and let out a sigh. This news was not going to go over very well.

Madison arrived home from school and Amanda said, “After you get your snack we need to talk.”

She grabbed her snack as her older brother Luke walked in the door and ran to the fridge before heading off to his game console.

Madison placed the straw in the juice pack and then returned to the living room where her mom was waiting. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

Amanda explained that the Fall sports schedule had arrived. “Madison, they’ve moved swimming and it’s now the same night as your indoor soccer league.”

She waited for Madison to process the impact of her words. Finally she said, “Well, I can do the next swimming level at Eastside pool, right?”

Amanda was impressed with the girl’s resourcefulness. However, “They’re changing all the pool times, and Eastside has Level 3 the same night as you have choir. Plus it’s a 30-minute drive.”

Madison would not be swayed. “Maybe I could do Level 3 at the private aquatic place where Zoe goes. I could get a ride with her parents?” She raised her voice at the end of the sentence as if waiting for rubber-stamped approval.

Amanda sighed for the second time that hour. “Honey, we just can’t afford to send you there. Remember, we’re a family of seven kids, and if we make an exception for you we have to pay extra for programs for everyone. Besides, it’s the same night as we’re driving Luke across town his youth group, and we’d miss some of your competitions.”

Wheels in the ten-year-old’s brain were still turning. “Luke’s old enough to take a bus.”

“Luke’s old enough to take the bus there, but he’s not old enough to take the bus home at 9:00 when it ends; especially in the winter.”

“Maybe there’s someone else who lives in Westside who goes to Luke’s church.”

“We’ve already looked into that with their student ministry director. We’re kind of an exception.”

“Well Luke could find a church close to home with a youth group that works.”

“He’s already raising money for a February missions trip with that church that your cousins are also going on. We’re not going to take that away from him.”

Madison was realizing that much of this was coming down to choice and that while her mom could just tell her what to do, she was being forced to make the choice for herself.  Finally she said, “Well, I guess I could just skip indoor soccer for a season.”

At this, Amanda realized full disclosure required her to tell the whole story; “Maddy, you can easily take a year off soccer, but when you go back in, you’ll have to go through tryouts all over again. You’ll be competing with all the kids who want to get on that team at that level. If they’re really good, you could get cut.”

Madison looked at the recently-won soccer trophy still in a place of prominence in the living room. “But Mom; I’m really good at soccer.”

Amanda shot back, “Does that mean you don’t want to give it up; you’re willing to give it up; or that you’re confident you’d get back with your teammates a year later? Also what if Level 4 swimming is scheduled opposite soccer in the new year?”

The girl was processing this. “Well, we won the finals, but I did miss three open shots in that game. If it’s the same coach a year from now, and he remembers that, he may want to cut me.”

And then she paused.

A long pause.

Finally she said, “Mom, this is really, really complicated. When is the registration deadline for swimming and soccer?”

“June 15th. Or as long as there are openings.”

“Can I drop choir?”

“Yes, but choir isn’t impacted by this. Unless you think Eastside is still a possibility. But I’m not sure it is.”

Finally the little girl crunched up the snack pack and the juice box and said, “Mom, I’m going to my room to pray about this.”

Amanda smiled and once the girl was out of earshot whispered quietly, “Maybe I should have thought of that.”


One decision affects another. At Quara.com an image of the “most epic flow chart ever.”

Amanda’s frustration with the city for changing some of the nights for pool activities was triggered not so much by the dilemma facing Madison as it was trying to run all the different scenarios of how this affected her six other siblings.

For example, making an exception for Madison when she’d already turned down her older sister Sydney when faced with similar scheduling conflicts. Or setting a precedent with Madison when her youngest brother Aiden clearly wanted to get into aquatics. And the costs. And the busyness placed on her and her husband ferrying kids to activities. And wondering down the road, which route would better serve her daughter when she reached high school athletics: Soccer or swimming?

She knew clearly which choice she wanted Madison to make. She had a favorite in her mental road-map for Maddy’s life. But it was going to be her daughter’s choice. Not hers. And Amanda has already run the various sequences in her head for Maddy’s decision and how it impacts the fall season for her, her husband, and the six other kids; and how it could impact Madison for the winter schedule and the many seasons which follow.

No matter what Madison chooses, Amanda is still the parent. She’s still in charge. She’s still guiding and directing her daughter’s life. But she’s offering her daughter the luxury — the latitude — of free choice. To make her own decisions and deal with the consequences.


What Amanda is being forced to do on a small scale, God is capable of doing on a grand scale.

To me, this story effectively illustrates the concept of open theology. Only God is capable of running all the various scenarios and sequences for billions of us. He is omnipotent, omniscient and has omniprocessing. (Try finding that one in a theological textbook.)

He’s still in charge. He’s still the sovereign. No matter what we choose. He’s still guiding. He still has some personal favorite choices he’d like us to make (because he can see all the sequences) but he’s offering us the luxury — and latitude — of free choice. He can even close his eyes to the future and let our choice surprise him.

And doing so doesn’t rob him of an iota of sovereignty.

It’s how he made us.

It’s how he designed the system to operate.

And it delights him to no end to watch us working it all through.

 

 

 

February 12, 2017

“God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life”

four-spiritual-laws-1by Russell Young

(A joint post between Christianity 201 and Thinking Out Loud)

Consider the cliché: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  This pronouncement is often given by those trying to evangelize.   This cliché is easy to accept at first glance.  It is encouraging to the one going through one of life’s struggles; it offers promise.   Those who accept that there is a god would esteem him to know all things and to be all powerful.  They also accept that he is all loving.  Consequently, the message is given and taken as if the person being addressed would only confess faith, his or her life would be wonderful, richly blessed and filled with joy. Although these descriptors are true, they are not true according to the world’s understanding.

What was “God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the apostles? They all, but one, experienced horrible deaths.  Think of God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the many faithful today who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. What are people to think when they suffer through disease and poverty? How are they to interpret God’s “wonderful plan”?

God does have a plan for our lives. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ may be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1: 11─12 NIV)

The plan is not “for us” directed; it is “for the praise of [God’s] glory.” Later in that book Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 NIV) This is also the declaration of a plan.

God’s plan is “wonderful” but will not necessarily bring the worldly blessings that many infer.   Paul wrote: “The Lord will reward everyone for the good he does whether slave or free.” (Eph 6:8 NIV) The rewards of God are not trivial nor are they necessarily temporal and their accomplishment requires suffering.  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12 NIV) Despite the trials, persecution, pain, and poverty that true believers endure in this world, they will reap a harvest of blessings and eternal life, if they remain faithful to the end. (Mt 10:22)

The walk of truth and obedience brings glory to God and eternal rewards.  This is his wonderful plan.  It does not include ease, riches, and the pleasures of this world, and those who present clichés need to take care concerning the impressions that they leave others.  They can mislead and be destructive to furthering the gospel. Weak faith based on misrepresented truths can give way to disillusionment and destruction and the spreading of a false gospel. Should the one being evangelized know the truth about what is before him or her?  Absolutely!  They must count the cost if they are to become strong and useful. Perseverance to the end is the only way that God’s plan can become wonderful. True believers know this and have committed themselves to victory over all sorts of trials through the presence and power of Christ. It is for the fulfilment of God’s plan in one’s life that his people have been called for the praise of his glory and it is in that fulfilment that they bring him glory. His plan is to conform the faithful to the likeness of his Son and to assist in the building of his kingdom.

It should never be accepted that God has ordained a moment by moment strategy for the way a believer is to live, that his moments have been pre-destined and firmly established.  The manner in which believers are led will depend upon how well they listen and how closely they follow.  Paul wrote, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:27 NIV) It is God who searches our hearts and from his search determines a strategy to affect the Spirit’s purpose.  Sometimes God will discipline, and at other times he will punish.  “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5─6 NIV) God’s plan is wonderful because he has a personal interest in accomplishing those things in our lives that will give opportunity for transformation of heart and practice so that a person might become acceptable to him. (Rom 15:16)  It is wonderful because it leads to eternal life, but most of the ‘wonderfulness’ will come in glory, not as we walk this earth.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young has been a regular Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 for the past year and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

August 30, 2016

Casting Lots and the Sovereignty of God

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:29 am

This is approximately the first one-third of an article by Leighton Flowers at Soteriology 101. Click the title below to read in full. The article was originally posted in April and now has over 250 comments.

Casting Lots To Find God’s Will: Proverbs 16:33

Casting Lots

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).

John Piper was asked, “Has God predetermined every tiny detail in the universe such as dust particles in the air… including all our besetting sins?” He responded saying:

“Yes… Now the reason I believe that, is because the Bible says, ‘The dice is thrown in the lap, and every decision is from the Lord’ … and why would he choose the dice that is cast into the lap, because he is trying to think of the most random thing he can think of, and he says that. So, randomness is not random to God. God is not the least taxed by keeping every sub nuclear particle in its place… which means yes, every horrible thing, every sinful thing is ultimately governed by God…” <link>

Which is paralleled elsewhere in a book edited by Piper which says,

“God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory and his people’s good. This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…” <Link> (which we discuss more fully HERE)

It may seem reasonable to conclude that if God predetermines even something so seemingly random as the roll of dice that He likewise would predetermine something like the heinous intentions of a child molester, right?

Wrong! This is simply poor inductive reasoning mixed with some bad eisegesis.

Remember, one of the key practices of good hermeneutics is to always seek the intention of the original author. In Proverbs 16:33, is the author’s intention to say that God predetermines the outcome of casting lots in same manner He predetermines the decisions of people? I seriously doubt it.  In fact, I believe the meaning is almost the exact opposite. Allow me to explain.

You see, many people in that day were superstitious and resorted to practices like casting lots or drawing straws to make decisions, rather than using sound judgement, scriptural teaching or seeking Godly wisdom. So, the author is more likely saying something like, “If you resort to superstitious dice throwing to make your decisions, you still won’t thwart the overall purposes of God.” The author is not suggesting that God is meticulously controlling how the dice will fall, because that would just go to support the logic of their folly. After all, if God is determining the outcome of the dice, as the theistic determinist reads this passage, it makes perfect since to resort to this kind of decision making process!  Clearly that is the antithesis of the author’s actual goal in making this point.

Proper hermeneutics also teaches us to look at the context…

…[continue reading here]

June 3, 2016

Should a Christian Be Cremated?

We covered this topic about five years ago, but it came around again last week at Christianity 201. I thought we’d share the article, by regular Wednesday C201 contributor and pastor Clarke Dixon here as well. Clicking the title below will allow you to see the article at its original source.

NLT 1 Cor. 15:51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Burial and Cremation: What Is a Christian to Do?

by Clarke Dixon

“The conclusion is simple. Cremation is devil worship and rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel . . . the true followers of Jesus Christ will have nothing to do with it. His ministers and churches will not allow it, and they will speak boldly against it.”

So concludes an article I had reason to come across recently… People have asked me whether it is OK for them to be cremated to which my normal response is “yes, so long as you no longer have a pulse.” So why do I not speak against cremation as the writer of the article would urge that I do? What is the Christian to think and plan to do in this matter?

Cremation UrnThe first thing we should note is that nothing can trump the power of God.

What happens to the matter we are made of now, really will not matter to God. Some people have a fear, namely “what if there is nothing left of me to be raised at the resurrection?” And what if one’s family has ignored the desire for burial and gone ahead with cremation then lost the urn, or what if the circumstances of one’s death has ensured that there is no body to bury? Grim, but it happens. Let us note however, that we are not to be equated with the matter that makes us up. Most of our cells will be replaced over our lifetime, but even more importantly, the very atoms that make us up are continually being swapped out, so much so that it is suggested that the majority of atoms are replaced yearly. If our bodies are independent of the of the particular matter that makes us up, then what actually are they? They are the result of the information that guides the matter into place. We can think of creation when God spoke everything into existence. It is interesting that the language of speaking and communicating is used, for creation is not just about the creation of matter, but about the vast amounts of information that guides that matter into place. This was no cosmic tweet! And so if each atom of your body is scattered to the air, don’t worry, for as one of the youth from my last church profoundly put it, “God’s got your DNA.” He knows who you are and who you are to be, so as a matter of fact it does not matter what happens to the matter that matters so much to you right now.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that we “will be changed.” In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the analogy of a seed to teach about the resurrection body. As with all analogies, we ought not to press the analogy too far, for example expecting that only if our corpse is “planted” will we expect to be raised. That is not what Paul is saying, but rather he is pointing out the continuity and change that we can expect. There will be a continuity that points to individuality, so if you die, you yourself can expect to be raised again as an individual. But you will be different, in fact whether alive or dead when Christ returns “we will all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:52 NRSV) For “this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NRSV) which does not mean to say that these particular atoms are used, but that you, who once had a body on a journey towards death, will now have a body full of life.

Finally, the Bible teaches us that God’s purposes stand. Job says “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 NRSV). We have not learned this truth if we are worried about the future of our remains. As a Christian your resurrection is not dependent on the circumstances of your remains but on the purposes and power of God.

So it is not a matter of God’s power and ability, but is it a matter of obedience?

It is not a matter of law. Curiously, there is no law in the Old Testament stating what you must do with a corpse, though there are plenty of laws for what you must do if you come into contact with one. And there is no law given in the New Testament either. In fact it is instructive that when Jews and Gentiles join together in Christianity with all the ethical sorting out that goes on when two peoples bring their baggage along to a merger, we have no mention of burial versus cremation. Jews tended to bury their dead and Gentiles would sometimes cremate theirs, yet when they come together into Christianity this is not an issue. It is interesting that the issue doesn’t get a mention at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 which would have been an ideal time to lay such to rest.

Though it is not a matter of law, burial was the custom. As already stated it was the norm for God’s people in the Old Testament to bury their dead, and while we hear of burials happening in the New Testament, we never hear of cremation. Throughout the history of the Church, burial has been the more common custom. But does the fact that burial has been more customary make cremation a matter of disobedience? We should note that our burial customs today are not the same customs practiced in Biblical times. Embalming was not a customary practice, and in fact we know that in New Testament times the custom was often to bury twice. First the body would be laid in a tomb (and not in a casket) where it would decompose, then after a year the bones would be collected together and placed in small box (just long enough for one’s femur bone) called an ossuary leaving the former space vacant for someone else. Now consider that when a funeral home hands you an urn, it is not filled with ash, but rather the pulverized remains that do not burn away into the atmosphere, namely bone. You could therefore almost make the case that cremation is closer to the Biblical model of keeping a box of bone than our current custom of embalming.

But if we opt for cremation are we not taking on a pagan custom? We might consider the one time we do hear of embalming happening in the Old Testament, with Joseph in Genesis: “And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26). Embalming and use of a coffin was an Egyptian custom, and was related to the Egyptian theology of resurrection. That Joseph took on the pagan burial practice of the land he had made his home does not appear to have threatened his status as a godly hero of the faith. Further I have heard it said that Christians should not cremate their dead for Hindus cremate theirs. But Hindus also sing, and laugh, and breathe, and do all manner of things that we also do. Rather than ask what cultures and religions carry out the custom, we might better ask in what spirit we carry out ours. Chocolate itself is not an evil thing, but if I were to eat it in a spirit of gluttony, then I might be doing something bad. Right now I cannot think of any other spirit to eat chocolate in so perhaps that is a bad example, but if I could eat it in a spirit of celebration of God’s goodness in providing sweetness, then I would be doing something good. If I were asking for cremation in a spirit of willful rebellion towards and rejection of God, then yes, cremation would be a very bad thing to do, but if I ask for it in a spirit of trust and rejoicing in the power and grace of God, then it is not.

But if we opt for cremation are we not doing violence to a gift from God? Some will want to say “you cannot just do to a body whatever you want, it is a gift from God that is to be cherished in how it is handled.” Yes we certainly do want to cherish the gift of our body while alive, but does that carry over into death? The words of Paul are instructive here: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Here our current bodies are contrasted with those to come, they are mere tents in comparison to proper buildings, and though gifts indeed, they are not ones Paul seems too keen on cherishing as he looks forward to a better gift to come. They are tents which are prone to destruction, in fact there is no dignified process ahead for one’s corpse whether pumped up with embalming, naturally decomposing, or cremated – it is all rather undignified and a violence to the body. For many of us the concept of dignity will be a personal matter, and speaking for myself, I would find it a most undignified end for my body to be done up with make-up and dressed up with a suit and tie.

If we began noting that nothing can trump the power of God, let us finish by noting that nothing can trump the grace of God.

While the writer quoted at first would imply that one would lose their salvation by choosing cremation, a “rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel,” we must ask if our salvation is in jeopardy. From my study of the issue of burial versus cremation for the Christian, I have not found the case convincing that to be cremated is to reject Jesus and His gospel. If in fact I turn out to be wrong (yes it happens, ask my wife!) and cremation does sadden our Lord, at worst it is a misunderstanding on my part, not a willful rejection of a clearly stated will. Is God’s grace not sufficient to cover such misunderstandings? Is the love of God so weak so as to be so easily ended through my one decision?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39 NRSV)

Let’s not belittle the grace, love, and power of God by taking salvation back into our own hands. Will you be buried? Will you be cremated? God’s grace, love, and power in Christ will shine through either way.


We also covered this topic here in 2011 under the heading
Cremation and Christianity.

April 30, 2012

God Meets a Family in the Midst of Crippling Loss

After my time serving on staff at a local church came to an end, we took a two-year break from that church and attended another in town, somewhat renown for its children’s ministry and Bible teaching. The pastor at the time was an excellent speaker, and his oldest son, Benjamin, was in a Sunday School class with our oldest.

Flash forward more than a decade and we learned that Ben had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. To say this seemed to hit close to home was more than an understatement. It seemed to me like only yesterday the kids were saving seats for their dads at a Sunday School Father’s Day party by crossing their legs over the empty chairs next to theirs. My wife heard about a Facebook group, Pray for Benjamin Elliott, and as new feeds came in, she would forward them to me by email. Praying for Ben became part of our nightly prayer routine as a family.

After it looked like Ben had triumphed over the disease, sadly he relapsed; and not longer after, the Facebook group was renamed, The Ben Ripple; mostly because it appeared that the stories which rippled out from Ben’s life and death were impacting so many lives both near and far. Ben’s mom, Lisa Elliott carefully crafted each post, and the thought did occur to me that someday, this material might benefit a greater readership, and sure enough, much of the material from those Facebook posts have been gathered together into a book of the same name, The Ben Ripple.  (I suspect this will not be her last book.)

I asked my wife to take another look at those Facebook entries through the book, and share a few thoughts from a mother’s perspective.

The Ben Ripple is a challenging read.  Walking through another person’s pain and loss, even in retrospect, takes some doing, especially having been one of the followers of the ‘real time’ Facebook updates, which comprised an honest, hopeful and wounded journaling from a woman of faith and intelligence whose life was suddenly shaken loose.

In this book, Elliott brings back those first raw outpourings, ties them together with some more objective reflections on what was happening in the family’s lives at the time and closes each chapter with practical suggestions for those dealing immediately with cancer, and for those on the periphery who just want to not say or do the wrong thing.

Her writing is both skilled and passionate, drawing the reader closer to understanding and empathy with a situation that most of us will never experience –  the loss of a child –  and one that more and more of us live through – fighting cancer.  She takes time to explain the treatments, with their setbacks and successes, and to appreciate the medical professionals who were involved in her family’s lives.

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

The Ben Ripple is a remembered and continuing journey well worth walking.

~Ruth Wilkinson

The Ben Ripple is published in paperback by Word Alive Press and available through them in Canada and through Ingram and Spring Arbor in the U.S.   A copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a Kitchener, Ontario based promotion and publicity agency which comes alongside Christian publishers to provide key titles with enhanced visibility.

March 28, 2012

Wednesday Link List

  • Okay, so the guy who sold you the insurance coverage that looks after your pet dog or cat after the rapture wasn’t actually planning on doing anything after you vacated the planet.  Bart Centre, who lives in New Hampshire, came clean after the state Insurance Department delivered a subpoena because he appeared to be engaged in “unauthorized business of insurance” through his Eternal Earth-Bound Pets business. Just don’t tell Fido and Fluffy.
  • Equally ridiculous is the story where a Pentecostal church staged a fake raid on its youth group — to illustrate the conditions faced by persecuted church people  in the third world — and now face felony charges.  Be sure to catch the video where the pastor states he would do it again.
  • Jamie Wright may call herself “the very worst missionary;” but when it comes to the liabilities of short term mission projects, she really gets it. The “Hugs for Jesus” people who showed up in her part of the world had no clue what to do if anyone wanted follow-up. In baseball, a connection of bat and ball without follow-through is called a ‘bunt.’ Short term missionaries are bunting where they could be hitting home runs.
  • Not a Christian website, but does it count if a Christian told me about it?  Just kidding; anyway, enjoy Ten Lessons Parents Could Learn from the Pilgrims at NetNanny.
  • Got 36 minutes to hear a great sermon? I’ve dropped by Joe Boyd’s blog before but never heard him preach; but the idea of Jesus being blind got me curious. When was Jesus ever blind; literally or figuratively? This was videoed while he guested at another church, and his style is somewhat laid back but the content is excellent.
  • Your Sunday morning service was a communion service.  And after that there was a fellowship lunch.  Which one was closer to being the real sacrament?  Before you get nervous about that question, read what Deacon Hall has to say.
  • At age 103, Rev. Grover C. Simpson, pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Marked Tree, Arkansas is thinking it might be time to consider retirement. Well, closer to 103½ actually.
  • Brandon Hatmaker on serving the poor: “I’d consider it more a success if I spent an hour with a homeless guy and he never mentioned church, what he does wrong, or what he doesn’t do right. I know, sounds weird. But, I’d rather him talk about his story, his family, what happened that landed him on the streets. That would be an indicator to me that he’s not performing for me. And that maybe, just maybe, I really cared about his story. And that just possibly, my God might care as well.” Read more.
  • The post at Rightly Dividing is really short, but the comments add a lot of value to the question: Does anyone die “prematurely?” Does anyone die “before their time?”
  • Occam’s razor is not the latest personal care product for men. Maybe this will help. Anyway, at Glenn Peoples blog, loved this line: “…that this was one of those instances where a scientist had gone crashing headlong through a philosophical issue and made a bit of a hash of it.”
  • Two of the cathedrals destroyed in New Zealand’s earthquake may not have survived structurally, but according to one writer, “Increasingly, they had morphed into tourist temples…They were increasingly irrelevant to ordinary Cantabrians as vital centres of worship.”
  • As if we didn’t exhaust this topic yesterday, there’s always the website devoted to the forthcoming movie, Jesus Don’t Let Me Die Before I’ve Had Sex. The movie which just raise $32K in its Kickstarter campaign, will be “a feature-length documentary examining the teachings of the evangelical church on sex and exploring the undercurrent of idealism that leaves many lay members feeling frustrated and confused.”
  • Speaking of edgy movies, some people have seen the Blue Like Jazz movie already and have posted reviews; a lengthy review by Mike Cosper and a shorter one by Tiffany Owens at World Magazine.
  • And speaking of sex, Joy Eggerichs is the daughter of Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs who wrote the huge marriage book, Love and Respect. She blogs at Love And Respect Now, and offers this explanation as to why a rapidly growing number of women are watching porn.
  • No specific link, but if you head over to Timmy Brister’s blog, you should be able to catch the letter “Z” as he concludes his “Gospel Alphabet” series.
  • In Tennessee, when they say “community hymn sing,” it involves Michael W. Smith, Randy Travis, Committed, Marcia Ware, a 150-voice choir and full symphony orchestra. But you get to sing along with the projected lyrics.
  • If you go to Andy Stanley’s church, North Point Community, you know the worship time resembles a rock concert; hence a warning in your church bulletin: “This service contains flashing lights which may cause problems for people with photosensitive epilepsy.”  (Warning from me: .pdf file takes awhile to load.)
  • Can’t get enough links? There’s always Brian D.’s blog.
  • Today’s closing cartoon-type-thing is from Naked Pastor. David’s blog may seem irreverent at times, but tell me this is any different from what’s going on in many of the Psalms.

 

August 27, 2011

Need a Rescue?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:53 am

When Jesus’ teaching began to go a little deeper, and his many followers realized that staying with him wasn’t going to be a constant free potluck dinner, the scriptures record that some of them decided to go rabbi-shopping elsewhere.  Jesus turned to his core group and asked them, “Are you going to leave as well?” and Peter says, “Where else can we go?”

60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

   67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

It’s easy to think Peter was just choosing among several lousy options and saying, ‘Oh well… this will have to do… nothing better is going to come along….;’ and in so doing we miss the power of verse 69:

69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Last night we spent some time with some people for whom the summer has brought their person version of what Paul Young would call “a great sadness.”  Maybe you’re dealing with something similar. For them, and for you, I want to share a song that has been on my heart all week.


You are the source of life
And I can’t be left behind
No one else will do
And I will take hold of You

‘Cause I need You Jesus
To come to my rescue
Where else can I go
There’s no other name
By which I am saved
Capture me with grace
I will follow You

My heart is Yours for life
I need Your hand in mine
No one else will do
I put my trust in You

I will follow You
This world has nothing for me
I will follow You
This world has nothing for me

I need You Jesus
To come to my rescue…

© 2003 Vertical Worship Songs (Admin. by Integrity Music, Inc.)
Jared Anderson

April 23, 2011

Stuck in Saturday: Pete Wilson

I remember reading this section when I read Pete Wilson’s book Plan B, and so when Pete blogged it this weekend, I knew it was the perfect post for Saturday here as well.  The following is just a preview; you’ll have to click this link to read the whole article in context, which I hope you’ll do right now.

It was Friday, remember, when Jesus was crucified.  But the paralyzing hopelessness the disciples experienced continued to intensify as they moved into Saturday.

I think it’s interesting that we don’t talk a lot about Saturday in the church.  We spend a lot of time talking about Good Friday, which of course we should.  This is the day redemption happened through the shedding of Christ’s blood.  It’s a very important day.

Nobody would argue that Easter Sunday is a day of celebration.  We celebrate that Jesus conquered death so that we can have life.  It doesn’t get any better than Easter Sunday.

But we don’t hear a lot about Saturday do we?

Click here to pick up this section in context.

January 15, 2011

Winning the Life Lottery

The very fact you’re reading this on a computer places you among the wealthiest of the seven billion or so people who inhabit the planet.  While the evening news brings reports of devastation in Haiti or political uprising in Tunisia, most of you are enjoyed a much less stressful week.

I frequently visit The Ad Collector, a blog which features the best of advertising campaigns from around the world, with a special focus on adverts for non-profits and public service organizations.  A month ago they featured a Swedish series of billboard-type display ads  under the caption, The Lottery of Life which juxtaposed life in Sierra Leone, Darfur, Palestine and The Phillipines with life in Sweden, with the aim of getting people to visit a website sponsored by Save The Children. (If you have high-speed internet, enter your name and spin the wheel to see how things might have worked out differently.)

But is it just a spin of the wheel that you ended up in the UK, or the US, or Canada, or New Zealand, or some other less troubled place? I’m not a huge fan of this poem by Roy Lesson, founder of Dayspring cards — I can’t believe I’m actually posting it —  because they tend to plaster it all over so many pieces of merchandise they create, including seasonal variants, but if you believe in the sovereignty of God, your geographic placement has to be more than just the random spinning of a giant wheel…

Just think,
you’re here not by chance,
but by God’s choosing.
His hand formed you
and made you the person you are.
He compares you to no one else.
You are one of a kind.
You lack nothing
that His grace can’t give you.
He has allowed you to be here
at this time in history
to fulfill His special purpose
for this generation.

-Roy Lessin

Notice I did not say, “if you had been born somewhere else;” because some would argue that then you would not be you. Nonetheless, you are a product of your environment generally, and its geography in particular. This ought to fill you with much gratitude to God, especially in light of these pictures which remind you of the conditions in all the other places around the world.   Conditions that exist right here, right now, even as you sip your beverage in a comfortable chair reading these lines…

So what is our response?

Photo captions: Hold your mouse over each picture for the caption; or, respectively the pictures are Sierra Leone, Darfur, Palestine and The Philippines.

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