Thinking Out Loud

April 16, 2019

The “We’re Late for Church” App Lets You Delay the Start of the Service

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

I was staring at the clock on my vehicle’s dashboard and mentally mapping out if I could make it to church comfortably (and self-righteously) on time for the 9:00 AM service. I had four minutes, no valid weather excuse this week, and then two normally red traffic lights decided to cooperate.

I was thinking that it’s too bad there isn’t an app that contacts the church and grants you an extra 30 seconds of grace. The church should always be about grace, right? The app would somehow signal to the tech team to start the countdown clock a half-minute later and then the worship team would start the first song later as well.

The way I figured it, for a medium-sized church, if five people activated the app from their car it would grant a 30-second delay. If ten people did that would buy everyone 60-seconds. (You could have it set for up a two-minute delay if you wished.) But once that 60-second delay has been factored in, this new information appears on the corner of the giant screen in the auditorium, and people sitting there (who arrived on time) who have the app can log in and down-vote those trying for a later start.

Better yet, once you’ve hit the one minute delay mark, those people still on their way and trying to get the airline to delay the flight (so to speak) have their names displayed in that same corner of the screen. That’s right, this app includes shaming. People who are frequently late would be regularly shamed.

The church should always be about grace, and this app allows for it.

Just not anonymously.

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February 11, 2019

Recipe for a Joyless Christianity

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am

One of the best ways to experience a completely joyless salvation is to believe you were never ultimately lost in the first place.

One of the best ways to remain smug about your standing with God in Christ is to feel you were entitled to it all along.

One of the best ways to not be gracious is to remain firm that any grace you have received — amazing or otherwise — is something you deserved. 

One of the best ways to be unloving is to never fully consider the love that has been poured out on you.

All four gospels record the story of the woman with the alabaster jar. But Luke adds this detail:

7.41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

July 1, 2016

The Music That God Likes

Today’s guest post is from Ruth Wilkinson who may or may not be related.


It was hot. I was tired.

I was spending the summer working in the kitchen of my favorite camp, supervising and cooking. And when you’re doing work you believe in, with people you like, it’s easy to run to 16 hour days.

I’d finally hung up my ladle, made a cup of tea, and sought out a quiet, dark and relatively cool spot to relax before going to bed.

The porch. Concrete floor and walls. Old wooden pews against the wall. An unimpeded view of the moon on the lake. Behind me, a window, open to the ‘lounge’, which was busy with other staff playing games, chatting, making music. And me in the shadows outside, listening.

Under the window indoors there was a piano. If not for the wall, I’d have been leaning against it.

Two people came to the piano and sat down. His camp name was Rocky, one of the senior summer staff, full of character and wit.

Her camp name was Joy.

If you met her, you’d know that it could never be anything else. She’s one of those people who carry light with them into the room. A 100 watt smile, always ready. Hugs, encouragement, hope.

She was also about 80% deaf. A hearing aid in each ear. Her parents, as some do, had decided not to have her taught sign language. They wanted her to grow and live in the world of the hearing. So her interaction with the people around her was through lip reading and her own slurred, exaggerated speech.

But Rocky and Joy had decided that it was time for her to learn to play the piano. ‘Cause camp is like that. Behind me, out of sight, he sat down at the high end of the keyboard, and she at the low end. I doubted they knew I was there.

He hit a C chord and sang “Je – sus..” and showed her where the C note was. She hit it. Bom.

He played a G chord, sang “loves me…” and showed her where the G note was. Bom.

A minor. “This I….” G is one up from A. Bom.

C. “Know…” Back to the first one again. Bom.

F chord. “For the…” Which one’s F? Yeah, that’s right! Bom.

And on they went, all the way through 2 verses and 2 choruses, patient with each other.

C chord. “So….” Bom.

They laughed and high fived each other. He was called away.

I thought, “Well, that was nice. I’m glad I heard that.” Sipped my tea, looked at the moon, rested my head against the wall and thought about grace.

But she stayed at the piano. Playing notes, combinations of notes, what she thought might be chords.

I thought, “Oh, dear.”

She began to play more loudly, more confidently. Crashing and tinkling.

I sighed.

She started to sing. The singing of the deaf. Loud. No tone, no melody. No rhythm or any relation to what her hands were playing. Right out the window, over my head.

I groaned.

She sang, “Jeeeeeeee – sus! (crash) Jeeeeee – sus! (bom) I love you Jesus! (crash) I love you God! (bom) Thank you for saving meeeeee! (tinkle) OH, GOD, I LOVE YOUUUUUUUU! (crunch) YOU ARE BEAUTIFUUUUUUUL! (kabom) YOU CREATED THE UNIVERRRRRSE! (CRASH BOM)”

I thought, “God, I’m tired. I just wanted some peace and quiet. Is that so much to ask? How much longer is she going to keep making this NOISE?!”

I’m not exactly sure how to describe the next sensation I experienced. The closest I can come is when you’re a kid at the grocery store with your granny, and you say something rude to the guy behind the counter and she slaps you across the back of the head.

SMACK!

And in that moment, I heard that voice that you hear with every nerve and fiber of your body. Whispering.

“She’s not singing for you. And you have no idea what she sounds like from here.”

 

~Ruth Wilkinson


Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

June 6, 2016

Would Your Church Welcome These People?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:37 am

What is that person doing in our church

At least until they got to the door, the gay couple walked from the church parking lot holding hands. One was wearing a rainbow belt. The other had rainbow earrings. There was no denying the identity they wanted to register with everyone else at worship that morning. Some people were visibly uncomfortable.

Today however, I want to look at some other possibilities for discomfort. How would your church react in these cases:

  • The man who has been at the center of an ongoing local television news story concerning the alleged misappropriation of public funds.
  • The woman who, a few years ago, was charged with careless driving after a vehicle accident which left a pedestrian permanently disfigured.
  • The heavily tattooed man who shows up for church wearing a leather vest but no shirt or t-shirt underneath.
  • The girl wearing a hoodie with the logo of a chain of sports bars where the female staff are dressed provocatively.
  • The local newspaper writer whose most recent article was very critical of an evangelism program offered by another local church. 
  • The family that shows up; two boys, a girl, a husband, and a wife who is wearing a hijab.

Two questions might come to mind:

  • What on earth is he/she/they doing here?

and the very similar:

  • Of all the churches in town, why did they have to pick our church?

I believe that the church — both the local assembly and the collective Church — need to consider our responses before some people show up at weekend services.

Eugene Peterson translates the beginning of Romans 14:

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

Ken Taylor’s original restating of the same passage reads:

Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

Interesting story behind the latter version: A bunch of us from the youth group were sitting in the church auditorium balcony waiting for the service to start when we noticed a guy heading toward us who we simply didn’t want to sit with us, near us, or even in the same building.

“Spread out so it looks like there’s no room;” one person said.

“Avoid eye contact;” someone else said.

“Pretend you’re reading something;” I added.

So I opened my copy of The Living Bible and there it was, “Give a warm welcome to the brother who wants to join you…” Yikes!

Perhaps my story seems a little distant from where we started — the gay couple holding hands in the parking lot — but really the principle is the same.  A chapter later, Paul writes to the Romans:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring glory to God.

Later in 1 Corinthians 9:22 he takes this further. I like how J.B. Phillips translated this:

To those who were under the Law I put myself in the position of being under the Law (although in fact I stand free of it), that I might win those who are under the Law. To those who had no Law I myself became like a man without the Law (even though in fact I cannot be a lawless man for I am bound by the law of Christ), so that I might win the men who have no Law. To the weak I became a weak man, that I might win the weak. I have, in short, been all things to all sorts of men that by every possible means I might win some to God. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel; I want to play my part in it properly.

This isn’t easy. Not at all. The church faces challenges all the time, but one thing we’re not is a private club for the pious and the religious. We’re a service center for the broken, the hurting, the needy…

If you’re uncomfortable around certain types of people, make sure at least that you have someone in your church family who is comfortable. But don’t use this strategy as an excuse for not recognizing what it is God is wanting to cultivate in you.

I usually quote from the more modern translations, but I want to end with this KJV phrase reminder from 1 Cor. 6:11

And such were some of you…

 

June 23, 2015

When Christian Authors and Artists Lives Get Messy, Should Retailers Pull Their Product?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 am

no longer availableAs someone who has spent time leading worship in several different churches, I still get excited when I hear a new song. If the song really captures me — as one did recently — I’ll tell everyone I meet about it.

About a month ago I found such a song. It was a beautiful worship song that also contained teaching and exhortation — the best of all possible worlds worlds — and reminded me of some classic Andrae Crouch, or at least what he might write in 2015.

And then everything crashed. I was telling a group of people about the song and they proceeded to tell me a whole load of details about the artist, an affair, a marriage breakup and more. Hours later I went online only to discover everything they said was true, not that I should have doubted.

While I should have grieved over the artist’s sin (and my own), at that point my thoughts were entirely selfish. “Darn;” I thought; “I really liked that song.”

Two weeks later I decided to play the song on YouTube one more time. Still resonates. Then my wife and I had a discussion about whether or not the composition is in any way invalidated by the fact that the writer, like all of us, is flawed.

On Sunday night the discussion came up again in reference to an author. (See yesterday’s blog post.) Should Christian bookstores and online vendors simply pull his product off the shelves? If they do so, should this be permanent or just for a season? Is the truth contained in those books in any way invalidated by the author’s moral failure, or does the transgression disqualify it somehow?

Back in the day, Christian booksellers went through this when Amy Grant and Sandi Patti each were divorced. When Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz came out as gay. More recently, when Mark Driscoll admitted he plagiarized large sections of his books.

Of course, sometimes, the truth just isn’t there. The boy in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven now admits he was never there in the first place. That’s a different type of situation. But last time I checked, those classic Amy and Sandi albums are back on the shelves, and this time around, some stores didn’t bother pulling Driscoll product at all.

I really like the song with which I began this discussion. I don’t wanna go all Charismatic on you and say it’s anointed, but it’s certainly special, at least to me. Does it not remain valid despite all the back-story? Didn’t God use a donkey once?

January 4, 2015

Blessed to be a Blessing

This morning at church the message wrap-up focused on asking for, and receiving God’s blessing so we can bless others.  I kept thinking of this song by Aaron Niequist, who currently serves at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL.

 

In Jesus’ name I’ve been changed, I’ve been filled,
I’ve been found, I’ve been freed, I’ve been saved!
In Jesus’ blood I’ve been loved, I’ve been cleansed,
And redeemed, and released, rearranged

But how can I show You that I’m grateful?
You’ve been so generous to me.
How can I worship more than singing?
And live out Redemption’s melody.

I have been blessed – now I want to be a blessing
I have been loved – now I want to bring love
I’ve been invited – I want to share the invitation
I have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

In Jesus’ name we are changed, we are called,
We are chosen, adopted, and named!
In Jesus’ blood we are loved, we are healed,
We’re forgiven and free of our shame!

We want to show You that we’re thankful
Flooding Your world with hope and peace
Help us to worship more than singing
Giving Redemption hands and feet

We have been blessed – now we’re going to be a blessing
We have been loved – now we’re going to bring love
We’ve been invited – we’re going to share the invitation
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

Thank You for this new life, thank You for the invitation!
God, we want to live it loud enough to shake the nations in Your name!

We have been saved – we’re going to shout about the Savior
We have been found – we’re going to turn over every stone
We’ve been empowered – to love the world to Heaven
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

 

October 21, 2013

Which Comes First? Conforming to Spiritual Requirements or Receiving Grace?

From the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law. The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21). This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe. The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18). This is what he is like. His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy. At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.” The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here. I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

Keeping the commands to earn God's favor

 

…and many church people force people to conform to this pattern.

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God. The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God. While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc. That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation. So it looks like:

Keeping the commands in gratitude for grace received

…that’s mercy; that’s grace.

When we have been the recipients of such love, we will of course want to respond; we will want to offer something back to please the One who gave Himself to redeem us.  If we understand that, we understand the good news of the Gospel.

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God. In either model people will strive to make God happy through various means relating to that second group of commands and will forget that what makes God happiest is when we put Him first, honor Him with with our worship, honor His name, and honor His day.

 

August 7, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Darwin - Cats

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

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

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

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

April 26, 2013

Theology Lite: Max Lucado on Pretzels

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

So there I was driving home and listening to one of six Christian radio stations I can now get in my car, when Max Lucado’s Upwords radio minute came on.  This is essentially a sponsorship opportunity for radio stations; a vehicle for them to sell additional advertising.

Now, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for all the books Max has written and the contribution he’s made to Christian literature, in fact I’ve given a few favorable reviews here.  Furthermore, I especially like Max on video. I think the warmth and tenor of his personality comes through the camera better than through the printed page, though, I must confess, I now read his material hearing his voice in my head.

But as I listened to Upwords, I thought, “As fluffy content goes, this is more fluffy than usual.”  So I looked to see if the text was available online to share here, and it was:

Max Lucado UpWordsYears ago I was traveling with my daughter, Jenna.  When I realized she and I weren’t seated together,  I asked the fellow sitting next to her to swap seats with me.  Surely he’ll understand, I thought.  He didn’t.  I was left separated from my 12 year old on a long transatlantic flight.

I began plotting how I’d trip him if he dared walk to the restroom during the flight. I turned to intimidate him with a snarl and saw, much to my surprise, Jenna offering him a pretzel. What?  My daughter was fraternizing with the enemy! As if the pretzel were an olive branch, he accepted her gift and they both leaned their seats back and dozed off.

I learned the lesson God had used my daughter to teach me. All of us are here by grace and, at some point, all of us have to share some grace. So the next time you find yourself next to a questionable character, don’t give him a hard time—give him a pretzel!

That’s the full text.

Now my goal here is not to take this apart letter-by-letter, punctuation-mark by punctuation-mark. (We’ll leave that to discernment ministry bloggers.) I did make note — especially if I’m ever near him on an airplane — that Max was considering tripping this stranger, and that even in the final paragraph, he still ranks as a “questionable character.”  Of course this is the same man who recently, in his book Grace, confessed to a week of drinking beer out of a paper bag in a convenience store parking lot, and an attempt to bribe an airline official.  Truly, I’m not making that up.

No, I was just concerned that the whole broadcast was a tad light, as in lite. No Biblical text, though I suppose that’s not the goal of Upwords. No deep theology. Not even a teaser for an upcoming book.  (This story is in fact from an older book, The Great House of God.)

I guess I have no major complaint other than perhaps I’d like my sixty-seconds back.  I do think the radio airtime could be better used. I think that Max himself could use it better. Especially in view of the program’s mandate as outlined on his website:

In 1991, Max Lucado was presented the idea of developing a radio broadcast that focused solely on Jesus Christ.

Perhaps there’s a philosophy to this radio vignette; possibly Max builds a listener following and then hits the spiritual home run on Fridays, or at the end of the month.

I just think people are tuning in for something more substantive than pretzels.

October 10, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and we were away, so the list is slightly smaller. Remember to have your submissions in by 8 PM EST Monday night.

If you blog on blogspot, you should know that your blog address here in Canada automatically redirects to a .ca ending instead of .com and manually changing links to your blog is somewhat time consuming! We’re just assuming it flips back for our U.S. readers.

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