Thinking Out Loud

November 27, 2017

Short Takes (2): Sin-Shaped Doctrine

All this week — except for Wednesday — we’re doing a series of shorter subjects.

Throughout Christian history debates have raged on controversial doctrinal subjects. We see in part and understand in part. We see through a glass darkly.

Different people read the same scriptures and come to very difficult conclusions as to their meaning. Each is convinced theirs is the correct one.

In preparing for this week’s articles here — I was originally going a very different direction — I started wondering if theologians or church leaders over the centuries were ever influenced by something else: Personal sin.

Too far fetched? Most of us can think of at least one entire denomination that was founded on one individual’s personal desire or preference. Concerning King Henry VIII, a BBC article notes that he

…was anxious to ensure a male heir after his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had borne him only a daughter. He wanted his marriage annulled in order to remarry. In 1534 after several attempts to persuade the Pope to grant an annulment, Henry passed the Act of Succession and then the Act of Supremacy. These recognized that the King was “the only supreme head of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia“.

But how many others, even in our time, have looked at a particular doctrine and said, ‘God would never punish that, he is a God of grace and mercy.’ So with a few published articles in theological journals we’re offered a different take on a familiar doctrine, and if other writers converge on any given viewpoint, a theological trend emerges.

Their desire is to place God in a more lax position concerning things that the church previously believed he had addressed rather clearly.

If we occupy a position of leadership or influence and our personal lifestyle requires us to characterize God as less stringent on particular issues, then through our speaking or writing we can potential introduce new ideas which become part of the contemporary religious literature.

But the root of it just might be personal sin.

 

 

 

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June 1, 2017

God Would Like You to Get to Know Him

Filed under: books, Christianity, God, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

Book Review: God Has a Name  by John Mark Comer (Zondervan, 2017)

This book arrived with an assortment of titles on Monday afternoon, and by Wednesday afternoon I had turned the last page and could have kept going. I became aware of the author and the book following his recent appearance on The Phil Vischer Podcast, though I had a passing awareness of his previous title Loveology. Then I listened to a series of sermons from Bridgetown Church in Portland on prayer.

John Mark Comer is Pastor of Vision & Teaching at Bridgetown, a church which, while it does have a morning service, focuses more intensely on two evening services at 5:00 and 7:00 on Sundays. Spiritual formation is encouraged through a series of practices, some of which are assigned as a type of homework to be pursued by members of the congregation throughout the week.

God Has a Name is a phrase-by-phrase exposition of Exodus 34:4-7, the verse Comer says is the most quoted verse in the Bible by the Bible.

NIV Ex.34:4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

In addition to the exegesis, the book’s secondary mandate is to provide us with the various instances where direct quotations or allusions to the passage appear in both Testaments. These are introduced where they appropriate to the phrase under consideration.

This book really impacted me personally in many ways.

First, the very title of the book stands in contrast to what we have done in the last several centuries, referring to God as the LORD, in all capital letters.  It’s respectful, but robs us of the relational aspect. We speak of accepting Christ as “our personal savior,” but the relationship isn’t always that personal. God’s name is Yahweh.

Then there’s prayer. Comer teaches that there is a certain elasticity with God. Our prayers can cause him to change his mind in a most literal sense. This view stands in contrast to a doctrinal position where God has ordained certain details absolutely and finally before the foundation of the world. This has impact on how much we see as predestined, though Comer doesn’t overemphasize that particular aspect. (You could say not everything is chiseled in stone; ironic in a passage that talks of something being chiseled in stone.)

There’s also a section dealing with this God, Yahweh, held in contrast to other gods. The point is made that the other gods have potency — both then and now — in ways we might overlook. He’s discussing spiritual warfare here, but avoids that term and goes several pages without actually using words like demons or Satan, but makes a clear case from scripture that these forces are real and powerful. I found in this section something that’s been missing in the teaching I’ve heard lately.

That phrase about punishing the children? Awkward, right? But again, we’re offered a fresh picture of the consequences of sin that are more in line with God’s overarching compassion than a cursory reading of the verse would suggest.

I’m not sure if the author reads some of the Old Testament stories with the degree of literalness some would like. He refers to the story of Jonah as “God’s comic book,” but makes clear that the teaching principles surrounding this and other narratives mentioned can clearly be extracted from the text regardless of how you’re reading it. Of course Jesus seems to affirm the Jonah story. Or is he just referring to it? (This should be the subject of a future book; I’d love to hear how he lands the plane on various passages.)

The book ends with a challenge to us to bear the name of God in our time and place today.

John Mark Comer offers a unique voice and a distinctive writing style. After finishing the book, I found myself re-reading sections of it last night. I intend to keep following his sermon podcasts at Bridgetown and I encourage you to check them out as well as the book. 

Postscript: This falls into that “first book to give a non-churched friend” category. It would answer some questions they may have or respond to things they may have wondered, or simply help them get to know God personally.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to review this.

 

May 29, 2017

An Interactive Devotional Experience

Imagine for a moment that I’ve had a particularly frustrating and upsetting week. A praying close friend, aware of all this takes a moment to send me an email with the curious subject line, “A message through me from God to you.” With a sigh, I click and read:

My child, I know the past few days have been trying. Please be assured of my continued you love for you and know that in these times I have been as close, if not closer, to you than ever.

Not at all thinking it through, I hit ‘reply’ and type:

Really, God? It would have been nice to have a sign of that love. A change in circumstances. A good night’s sleep, even.

I no sooner hit ‘send’ and then it hits me. What have I done? My friend will be upset. Will I damage our friendship by not appreciating their effort in reaching out? Has my response betrayed a total lack of faith? Am I just going to get God mad at me?

Not 60 seconds later a message comes back:

A sign? Okay. How about an encouragement note from a close friend?

I sigh, but this time it’s a different sigh, one of resignation.

Sorry, God.

Book Review • The Listening Day: Meditations on the Way – Volume 1  by Paul J. Pastor (Zeal Books, 2017)

Have you ever wanted to talk back to your devotional book? I imagine myself saying, ‘That’s easy for you to write; you don’t know my situation.’ Perhaps I’ve already done that a few times.

The Listening Day is a collection of 91 page-per-day readings by Oregon’s Paul J. Pastor (yes, real name) who is also the author of The Face of The Deep, which we reviewed here. At first look, the book appears to follow the format of several popular titles in the same genre, where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always.

I am often wary of this format. I would not presume to say, ‘Thus says the Lord’ unless I were certain that I had heard from God in the first place, and so I have what I consider a righteous skepticism toward books which run with this format. I’ve read the criticisms, most of which were directed at a highly successful title by an author who was and still is generally unknown. For many, the format is reminiscent of God Calling by A.J. Russell which is often used in conjunction with the AA program and has been criticized for the process by which it in particular was written, something called ‘automatic writing.’ 

Those situations don’t apply here. The author is well known to readers of Christianity Today, his first book was published by David C. Cook, and I’ve listened to him teach at his home church in Portland, where he is a deacon responsible for spiritual formation.

The book is different. For two reasons.

First, although each page begins with two well-paired key scripture verses for the day, there are many scripture passages alluded to and embedded in most of the daily writings. The book is thoroughly anchored in Biblical texts. I didn’t encounter anything where I thought, ‘God would not have said that.’ Rather, with my discernment radar set to its maximum setting, I felt the plausibility of God saying such things — especially to me personally — was quite high.

Second, there was the interactive factor. This was, in one sense, a dramatic encounter with God. The interjections on the part of the reader — typed out on behalf of you and me — were the things I would say. This book got very personal very quickly. With further honesty, sometimes the interruptions were followed by apparent silence on God’s part. Been there, too.

The introduction came with an admonishment not to try to binge-read the entire book, but rather to take one reading per day. Good advice, but impossible for a reviewer who has to read every word of every page before composing a review. Slowing down to 15 entries per day over 6 days, I asked myself, ‘What if this were the only thing I had time for in the morning as I started my day?’ I think it would be a most appropriate beginning because the dialogue format is a reminder of God’s presence from the moment I awake, and this is critical in a world where many Christians are spiritually defeated between the bed and the breakfast table. 

A note about the “Volume One” in the title: Without giving away too much at this point, I’m assured that there is more to come. Stay tuned.

Climb the tree of life–
the branches are wide and strong enough for all.
Reach from beauty,
stretching to understanding,
pulling up on wisdom
until you come into sight of the place where I hang,
beyond words, above the healing leaves, high above the kingdom.
There you will know me, just as you are known,
at the crown and light of the listening day.


We ran an excerpt of one of the readings a few days ago at Christianity 201.

Zeal Books is a new company from the former owner and President of Multnomah Publishing and includes among it current roster a book by Bruce Wilkinson.

February 17, 2015

Book Review: The Happy Christian

In November of 2013, I reviewed a book by David Murray, Jesus on Every Page. When I was contacted about reviewing a new book by David, I immediately replied in the affirmative, only to receive an email that The Happy Christian was on its way. Wait, what? All I could think of was all my online friends who would cringe at the idea of reviewing something like “10 Ways to be a Happy Christian;” and then the book arrived and I was horrified to see that there were indeed ten sections, and the book’s cover art certainly alluded to a smiley face. Surely, I must find a way, to ditch this review obligation, right?

Happy ChristianI decided to read a few pages and before long, David Murray won me over. If anyone picks up this title looking for something trite or pithy, they are going to be ambushed.

If anything, I would call this book “An Encyclopedia of Fulfillment.” It looks at the things people crave and were made for and how society at large tries to find that satisfaction, but then shows how acknowledging Biblical principles where were there all along is the only way to find that satisfaction in life.

Each of the chapters also uses a cute mathematical formula, but the book is anything but formulaic. There’s also a healthy dose of reality in each chapter which eliminates any chance of this being characterized as a tome on positive thinking.

I hope I don’t offend the author or editorial team by saying this, but The Happy Christian is a book that pretends to be shallow but isn’t! In other words, it’s constructed along the lines of one of those “ten things” listicles but turns out to be much deeper.  There is an examination in each chapter to the writings of a secular psychologist (or similar) but they are used as a motif for deeper consideration. The book is highly footnoted — 381 end-notes, I counted them — and many of these are scripture references.

A few days ago I ran an overview of the second chapter, which looks at our media diet and how that shapes us. You can read that short excerpt by clicking here.

The type of happiness David Murray is describing here isn’t a passive thing that happens to you, but rather more of an activist happiness, a state of satisfaction and fulfillment in life that comes from entering into the life Christ offers, rather than sitting back waiting for happiness to arrive like a check in the mail. 

There are also a number of unexpected issues that the author raises which might challenge the reader, such as the idea that if the situation allows for it, Christians should select retailers or tradespeople from among fellow Christians. In the chapter on grace, he writes:

God blesses the world for the benefit of the church and every Christian in it.  His multiple varied blessings of industry, business, government, science, friendship, art, food, music, water, seasons, talents and gifts, conscience, courts, medication, air conditioning, and more are ultimately working together for the good of those who love Him.

That’s why we shouldn’t be ashamed to use non-Christians for goods and services.  Sometimes Christians and churches may decide to buy a certain good or service from a company simply because it is a Christian company.  The product or service may not be the best, but it has a Christian owner.  That’s faulty thinking, thinking that results from failing to understand God’s everywhere grace.  If God has enabled a non-Christian to make the best product or provide the most efficient service, we should gladly buy from him or her and regard it as God’s grace to that person and to us.  (p.112-3)

My only criticism is that perhaps in an effort to shape the book into a “top ten” format, the teaching on generosity and forgiveness were combined; I think each really deserved its own chapter.

The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World releases February 24th in paperback from Thomas Nelson. Look for the somewhat smiling cover where you buy quality books.

December 22, 2012

Where is God When Trouble Strikes?

In February, 2011, I ran a piece at Christianity 201 by David MacGregor, a pastor in Brisbane, Australia; the area which had been hit by record flooding over the preceding months. The same day, I also linked to another of his articles where he is most honest about the trials of dealing with the flood’s aftermath. The unsettled feeling he gets looking toward the future makes it hard to sing certain songs, like “It Is Well With My Soul.” I recommend reading it again today, as well, in light of more recent events here in North America.

After stumbling on his blog, I decided to scroll back and read more of his writing, and uncovered this post and poem, written more closely after the catastrophic weather events there. I think that both articles combine to show that we can be broken, and yet still see the presence of God even in the middle of it all. He called this piece, Christ Shows His Face: A Flood Reflection.


Long time since I last posted. Combination of post-Holy Land acclimatization, everything Christmas, helping out at NCYC 2011, beginning a holiday at Hervey Bay, coming home prematurely because of Brisbane River floodwaters entering our house, moving back into our home just two days ago and finally getting power restored just two hours ago.

This has been an incredibly draining time – and that’s without the massive hardship and loss experienced by so many. It was SO hard being stranded for those days at Hervey Bay, yet unable to get back to Brisbane due to flooded rounds between there and Brisbane. I reckon it’s been some of the hardest few weeks of my life.

We had no option – from afar – to leave the evacuation of our home (either to the top story OR the church OR friends’ places) to an incredible armada of folk from our church, longtime friends and of course Joel and Jeremy back at the ranch. Like so many others, I find myself not starting the year anywhere near refresh. I feel totally drained.

I was taken by a Facebook posting by radio station 96.5 FM’s Billy Diehm last weekend. Billy was asked basically, “Where was God in all this?”. His marvelous answer was loosely along the lines of: God was there in every volunteer, every emergency services worker… So true.

So – the song that had been ‘coming’ for weeks finally poured out yesterday – Christ shows his face… This song is dedicated to all of those “face of Jesus” folk these past weeks, and especially those who ministered to us…

Christ shows his face

 

Christ shows his face
when lives are pained
weary hearts are breaking.
shows God’s grace
while troubles rise,
past foundations shaking

Every smile
Every hand
Every soft embracing
Christ shows his face
when lives are pained,
hope is hard, displacing

Christ shows his face
in thirsting souls
When hunger’s met with feeding
When nakedness for all to see
is met with love, with clothing

Offered rest
Offered home
Offered hope’s new morning
Christ shows his face
when all seems dark, the
light of Christ keeps shining.

Christ shows his face
in community
extending past their comfort
Sharing steadfastly as one
Self-giving for another

Every smile
Every tear
Every soft embracing
Christ is found
when all seems lost, when
When love’s true heart
When love’s true hope
When love’s true light keeps shining.

© David MacGregor 2011
Willow Publishing

click the article link in the introduction to locate a link to a lead sheet for the music for this poem

the link to 96.5 was added because way up here in frozen Canada, I’m actually a regular listener

June 26, 2011

Classic Reading: Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby

While the Christian blogosphere tends to focus on the latest author and the latest book, I’ve always believed you should read a current book and then read a classic, or in this case, a modern classic:  Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God by Henry Blackaby (B&H Publishing Group, revised edition 2008).  The foundation of the book is what he calls “The Seven Realities of Experiencing God;” and everything else in the book — and the related study Bible — flows out of those realities. 

I thought it would be great to have them be part of this blog, and I’m grateful to the blog A Cup of Joy for already having these typed out.  The realities are listed with accompanying scriptures that should quickly indicate that the book is also a study on the life of Moses. 

7 Realities of Experiencing God

(From Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby)

1. God is always working around you (Exodus 2:23-25)

“And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them.”

2. God pursues a continuing personal love relationship with you that is real and personal (Exodus 3:1)

“Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.”

3. God invites you to be come involved with Him in His work (Exodus 3:8, 10)

“And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites…Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring fouth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.”

4. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways (Exodus 3:2-8)

“And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses, said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”

5. God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action (Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10, 13)

“And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?…And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?…And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee…And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue…And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.”

6. You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing (Exodus 4:19-20)

“And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life. And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.”

7. You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His work through you (Exodus 6:1-8)

“Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. And God spake unto Moses and said unto him, I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD.”

May 24, 2011

Francis Chan on Erasing Hell

The hot topic of the spring of 2011 will forever be recorded as “Heaven, Hell and the Hereafter,” but probably the response of Francis Chan will be noted as one of the more heavyweight contributions, given the huge ongoing popularity of his first book Crazy Love.   The ten minute video clip below initiates that response and also serves to promote the July 5 release of Erasing Hell: What God said about Eternity and the Things We Made Up from David C. Cook.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first let me pause and point out a serious liability of the whole video upload thing.  Unlike a blog, where I have control of whose comments are posted, it would appear that YouTube selects “featured comments,” in this case choosing one for which I’m sure the uploader would not approve.  So let me encourage you to watch the video here, and to link your friends back here, not because I need the stats, but just to avoid a lot of nonsense.

I think what’s going to happen with this book is that a lot of people who are down on Rob Bell are going to say, “Finally, here’s a book to stop Love Wins in its tracks.”

And in case you miss it, I think what Francis Chan is saying is that we’re fighting over doctrine and missing the point that this is about the souls of real people some of whom we interact with on a daily basis; and saying basically, how dare you trivialize this or reduce this to a doctrinal debate.

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