Thinking Out Loud

November 12, 2017

5 Ways We are A Living Sacrifice

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
– Romans 12:1 (NIV)

“The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.” (source unknown)

Today we are joining with Christianity 201 as part of its weekly Sunday Worship series. To read the entire series, click this link. Our key verse reminds us that worship is something we do, but rather worship is something we are. Years ago, Christian musician Chris Christian wrote,

We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering1

I really try to eschew pithy illustrations and stories here at C201, but I find this one most appropriate:

A chicken and a pig were discussing how they could do something for the farmer. Finally the chicken said, “He loves a good breakfast; why don’t we give him bacon and eggs?”

To this the pig replied, “That’s easy for you. All it demands of you is an offering, but for me it demands total sacrifice.” 2

Here are some things I think will help us remember what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. Each starts with the letter ‘s’ followed by a different vowel.

Sacrifice

If we are to judge it, the measure of a sacrifice is not the size of what is given, but the size of what is left over.

A sacrifice will cost us and it will be consumed. There is no taking back the investment of our energies, gifts or material possessions given up in the service and pleasing of God. The last distinction is important. In service we see tangible results. But God is sometimes pleased by our giving up of things. Ask yourself: How much cash would you put on the offering plate if, as it was in Old Testament times, what was giving was then burned? That’s what our Old Testament predecessors did with the best of their grain and animals.

Set-Apartness

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

In a world that values conformity, no one wants to be the odd duck. Yet the book of Leviticus is essentially God wanting to insure that his people could maintain a distinct identity. It was all about showing yourself to be different.3

Sinlessness

Jerry Bridges has written,

Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. 4

Sovereignty

“There is a God. You are not Him,”

Jesus himself deferred to his Father on many occasions; providing us a reminder of who is in charge. We choose to forget this because we are driven to be in control.

Surrender

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice is only son, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.5

Although we speak very different languages, two symbols are universal throughout the worldwide church. One is the word “Hallelujah” which I’m told is rendered the same in most languages. The other is lifted hands as a sign of surrender.

A writer at Charisma points out that our fingers, hands and arms are also most associated with human strength, power, creativity; both in a human sense and if we examine the Biblical record of God’s actions presented in a way we can best understand them. 6

 


1 Full video at YouTube.

2 This story is often used by leadership coaches as well. Here’s a longer version with the punchline contrasting contribution and commitment.

3 We looked at maintaining a distinct identity in this March, 2017 article.

4 We included more quotes from Jerry Bridges on this topic in this article.

5 This is excerpted from a fuller look at Abraham’s trip up the mountain with Isaac at this link.

6 See the full article about lifting hands at this link.

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March 18, 2017

Parents to Kids: We’re Called to be Different

A lot of modern Christian parenting consists of making sure when your kids arrive at the age where they are making choices, that they avoid the pitfalls which have brought down many a young life. Usually mentioned are promiscuous sex and the varieties of drugs and alcohol. Many of these messages come across as “Don’t do this;” “Don’t do that;” Don’t ever let me catch you doing…;” and “I never want to hear that you…” (I think the wording of the last two needs some refining; it could suggest a workaround is possible if one doesn’t get found out.)

Better, I believe to say to your kids, “We follow Christ. We’re different from the world.” The NLT rendering of Romans 12:2a (and The Living Bible before it) has always stuck with me:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors. Why not wear garments woven with two types of fabric? I think there’s a lot more going on there than what appears on the surface, but it’s part of that unique characteristic God wanted his people to have. Why wear tassels on their garments? I believe it’s again, identity; perhaps a precursor to the days when soldiers in The Salvation Army would don a uniform to be highly identifiable in a larger culture.  The old KJV at 1 Peter 2:9 calls us “a peculiar people;” the NIV translates that as “God’s special possession.”

The idea of distinction is seen in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:

Ex. 11:6-7 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

So we tell our kids, “The world does their thing and we do ours. We are citizens of a different world. We intersect with the world constantly, but we’re following a different, though parallel script.” Or something like that; your kids may need that in simplified language.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)

 

 

November 19, 2016

Holy, Holy, Holy: What is Holiness?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:15 am

Most people know The Bible Project for their book-by-book summaries of scripture. But today I discovered this topical video posted about a year-and-a-half ago. More information about their work at JoinTheBibleProject.com.

See what you think about this explanation of holiness.

July 9, 2016

Media to Fill Your Home

It’s been awhile, but this is the third time for this article here, this time with revisions…

I’ve previously written here about how we’re big fans of sermon audio when we travel, and as someone who works in a Christian bookstore environment, it’s a given that I’m a huge booster of Christian books and music.

But today I want to approach this from a slightly different perspective. Many times I’ve written about the battle that goes on for our thought life, and how this takes place on a moment by moment basis. Back in June, I posted a great analysis of the types of thoughts, that are going on in our heads at any given point in time.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting, but I am increasingly aware of the contrast that exists between the mental processes that take place when I omit to turn on the radio — which is mostly presets for Christian stations — and drive in silence, versus the times I have worship songs playing. This is a giant contrast in my thoughts and attitude, not a mild difference.

Listening to Bible Teaching

I frequently listen to sermons from Willow Creek, The Meeting House, Woodland Hills and North Point, in addition to live sermons at church, and the occasional streaming of conferences.

Life was not always so.

I can remember asking my parents why they had to constantly listen to more preacher programs. Their media of choice was WDCX, an FM station in Buffalo, and WHLD, a Buffalo AM outlet. Of course, my choice would have been Top 40 rock station 1050 CHUM in Toronto. I think that was the real issue.

But today, although I hunger to learn and grow and discover more about Christ through what others have learned, I also am acutely aware of what happens in the absence of Christian media in the home.

Bible teaching can come in other forms besides radio and television. There are the aforementioned sermons-on-demand and live-streaming church services on the internet, plus many pastors often do a separate podcast. But there are still audio CDs of sermons kicking around, and of course books.

Reading Christian Books

One of my latest rants is that, in the average 21st Century family, I’m not sure the kids have ever seen dad sitting in a chair reading, and here I’m speaking of reading anything, a newspaper or magazine would suffice. How much more is it important to take time out and immerse yourself in the Bible, devotional material and study resources. If you missed it, I encourage you to read an article we did on Bill Hybels’ “Chair Time” concept.

Listening to Christian Music

For some Christ-followers, the dominant form of uplifting, inspirational and wholesome media is Christian music; which may consist of hymns, mass choirs, southern gospel, adult contemporary, Christian rock in all its various genres, and the current favorite, modern worship.

Again, these can be accessed in various forms. Some choose mp3 files which can be played back in the car and in the home. Many people are still buying music CDs. Christian music song videos abound on video sharing sites like YouTube. There is an abundance of Christian radio available online, and here in North America, most people live within range of a broadcast station that plays music, teaching or a mix of both.

But I have to say that as a worship leader, nothing compares to the songs what you experience in a worship environment with your faith family. Even today, I hear a song and I’ll remember which church I was in when I heard it and who was leading worship that day. Or I’ll be reading a scripture and I’ll recognize the verse as a line from a worship lyric. If you happen to be blessed with a gift that allows you to play in the worship band, a particular song can get stuck in your head for hours, and in a good way.

For a listing of some of my favorite songs with video, visit the sidebar in the right margin at Christianity 201.

Christian Movies

Our family was never a movie-culture family. We’ve been to the cineplex less than a dozen times, ever. But the production of Christian cinema has exploded over the last few years, and if you’re the type who enjoys gathering everyone around the home theater there are now some really decent films from which to choose, plus you’re supporting a genre that has tremendous outreach potential. You can purchase DVDs — great for loaning out after you’re done — or stream movies live.

Listening to God

These varied media I find to be a positive alternative to anything else, and in fact fulfill a direct instruction from scripture:

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

May 24, 2016

A Day Lived Entirely for God

wwjdSeveral years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8

Media Diet

  • True, Not False:”Whatever things are true”
  • Noble, Not Base: “Whatever things are noble”
  • Right, Not Wrong: “Whatever things are just”
  • Purity, Not Filth: “Whatever things are pure”
  • Beautiful, Not Ugly: “Whatever things are lovely”
  • Praise, Not Complaint: “Whatever things are of good report”

Ministry Diet

  • More Salvation Than Sin
  • More Truth Than Falsehood
  • More Wooing Than Warning
  • More Victory Than Struggle
  • More Celebration Than Lamentation
  • More Life Than Death
  • More Strengths Than Weaknesses

In another article, I looked at how an unhealthy thought life might manifest itself:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

In yet another article with a similar title, I shared an often-repeated illustration:

There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

Let me say in reiterating these three passages that I do not claim to have constant victory in this area. I need to be writing this every bit as much as I hope you need to be reading it…

…What got me started on this was the realization that, in a blog post that has been repeated here every year for the past four years, I arrive at the phrase,

You have this moment.

But if I go beyond that, I have to ask, “What would a day lived entirely separated to God look like?” Or, “What if I were to get through a day with no regrets, nothing that I wished I had done differently?” (I realize that, in saying this, I am perhaps simply arriving at the phrase often associated with the AA movement, ‘One Day at a Time.’)

So I remind myself and ask you to remind yourselves

You have this moment.
You have this hour.
You have this morning/afternoon/evening.
You have this day.

What we do with our hands is important, but where we go with our thought lives is also something that should be a major consideration. WWJT? What would Jesus think?

The Voice Luke 11: 34 Listen, your eye, your outlook, the way you see is your lamp. If your way of seeing is functioning well, then your whole life will be enlightened. But if your way of seeing is darkened, then your life will be a dark, dark place. 35 So be careful, people, because your light may be malfunctioning. 36 If your outlook is good, then your whole life will be bright, with no shadowy corners, as when a radiant lamp brightens your home.

NLT Phil 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

 

 

August 31, 2015

Homeschooling: Protecting Your Kids from The World and Other Christians

We have had contact with a number of people over the years who did homeschooling, including a former employee at the local Christian bookstore who, with her husband, became close friends. Heck, we even jumped into the homeschool pond ourselves once, for almost a full school year. But you do meet some interesting people in the homeschool movement. Recently, while looking up some past blog articles, I came upon two which I had completely forgotten, which will run here today and tomorrow; I apparently spelled homeschool differently back then…

My job necessitates a certain amount of interaction with what I would call the widest possible variety of people who consider themselves Christ followers. If someone is new to the community, I try to find them a place to connect with like-minded believers. This can take a great many forms, and I always try to leave the person with a choice of two or three possibilities, so it doesn’t look like I’m promoting one group over another.

I’m actually quite good at this. I say that honestly because I’ve identified about 35 worshiping ‘bodies’ in the part of the world where I live, and I’ve attended “main event” services at 31 out of the 35. So I think I know where a person is going to fit in.

The family that came in today would prove to be more difficult. After making it instantly clear that they were not interested in your standard, brick-and-mortar church, I quickly adjusted my pitch and told them about a couple of home church groups I’m familiar with; groups I am allowed to refer new people to.

This wasn’t good enough. Apparently, these people receive their teaching straight from the Word of God, and they receive their fellowship from each other. (My goodness, Mrs. W. and I would say it’s challenging enough when couples work together; where does this leave you if your total fellowship is your spouse and kids?)

The problem is that nobody is good enough. This man told me that he finds many church people to be lacking in personal holiness. No argument there. I again adjusted my pitch, to try to see where I could encourage this guy that there indeed ARE people out there who are striving to live and walk in holiness; keeping in mind that God’s demands for each of us may be different.

But once started on this theme, there was no stopping him. Like the proverbial freight train heading downhill, he attacked people who celebrate Christmas, people who don’t follow the ten commandments, and on it went. I tried to interject Paul’s bit from Romans about how one man says its okay to eat meat offered to idols while another chooses not to. Didn’t help. He then attacked me for having absolutely no fruit in my life. (He had known me for about five minutes at that point.) To wrap things up, he informed me Saturday is the only sabbath we should observe.

Well, actually, just before he got to that point, there was this big giant sign that lit up in my brain that said “CULT.” Instead of finding the perfect environment in which to advance Biblical faith, he had basically founded his own false cult, even if it did resemble a few others you may be familiar with.

And to think, all I was trying to do was welcome this guy to our town and make him feel that there were potential points of connection if he and his family so chose.

scared-kids-1Just before he finished boiling over, and while the neon “CULT” light was flickering on, he said to me, “Look, you’re scaring my kids; they had to go back to the van.”

Of all the parts of this conversation, “You’re scaring my kids;” was probably the one I’ll remember a week from now. It occurred to me later that this was a school day, and that these people were obviously home schoolers. Absolute, complete, total isolation of their kids from the world, and also, apparently from other segments of the Christian world.

Had these kids never been exposed to any real “discussion” of Christian doctrine? Had they never heard an opposing point of view? I was actually enjoying the discussion. I felt that the Lord brought to mind some key scriptures that spoke to some things he was saying, and at least three times his wife silenced him so I could get them out. This is the stuff that good small group meetings are made of; and had you been there, you probably would have been itching to add something to the thoughts that were already on the table.

scared_kids-2I was calm, I was relaxed, I was peaceful, I was asking God all the while to give me some love for this guy, and … also … I was scaring his kids.

If you read my post a few days ago about the worship gala we attended, you’ll see a comment posted followed by a very long defense of my desire to ‘critique’ the event. It seems though, that in some parts of the Christian world, there is a strong desire to shut down debate, discussion and differences of opinion.

These kids have probably grown up thinking that their dad is an ‘expert’ on all things spiritual, and have probably never heard anyone challenge his opinion. Well, today they did. Part of the “working out” of our salvation is “working out” our doctrines. As iron sharpens iron, in the course of give and take, we share our various “God pictures” and so better understand the ways of God.

I have personal doctrines that are written in pen and ink, but I have other beliefs that are written in pencil. I’m still working them out. Someday, perhaps soon, perhaps later, this couples’ kids are going to have to work out their beliefs; because each of us stands before God individually. My own kids have learned that there are a variety of doctrinal belief out there; they have the freedom to challenge my take on certain scriptures; they have visited a wide variety of church situations, have sat under DVD and audio teaching of the widest variety of speakers; they are in every respect shaping their personal spiritual future before the eyes of a loving God.

By the way, I’m not trying to make a stereotypical example of home schoolers. Please don’t write; it will just force me to post back something lame like, “Some of my best friends are home schoolers.” Instead, I’m just noting that these people reinforce that very stereotype. The home schooled kids I know are part of church kids or youth groups. They attend regional conferences or rallies or festivals. Some of them are also part of house churches, but they are house churches that are attended by several families. Not just their own family.

If you want to separate yourself entirely from the world; if you want to think that nobody can match you for personal holiness; if you want to ignore the verse in Hebrews about fellowship; that’s fine. Just don’t put your kids in that same spiritual bubble and think there won’t be a price to pay down the road.

It’s a real pity when a healthy exchange about doctrine frightens kids.

August 29, 2015

Night Out With The Girls

This first appeared here at this time last year. I felt it was important enough to repeat. It’s also one of several “thought life” posts I’ll be repeating over the next few days.


With the kids now older and facing high-school homework after supper instead of the early bedtimes of former years, Patricia donned an light jacket before heading out for her weekly Wednesday night coffee shop ritual with Julie and Deanne. Well, almost weekly; there were frequent cancellations in the past three years, but they tried to meet as frequently as possible.

Short Stories“So when are we leaving?” her husband Rick asked.

“What do you mean we?” she responded.

“I thought it might be fun to crash your little group; as an observer or like those war reporters who are embedded with a platoon. Unless, of course it’s me you talk about every week.”

“No, we tend to talk about church, and politics, and raising kids.”

“So is there room for an extra body?”

“You’re serious?”

“Absolutely.”

Patricia texted the other two, “What do u feel about Rick joining us 2night?”

Julie didn’t answer, but Deanne texted, “Sure Y not?”

And so for an hour, Rick sat with the women and talked about church, and politics and raising kids.

On the way home, Patricia said, “You’re not going to want to do this every week are you?”

“No; it was a one-off thing.”

“So Rick, I know you, what was this about really?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“Honestly? I didn’t want to be home for a full hour with the computer. When you go out, and I’m alone at home, it never ends well.”

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

Isn’t it ironic that the very technology that offers you the option of reading Christian blogs like this one, downloading sermons, looking up Bible verses online, etc., also offers both men and women the ease and convenience of experiencing sexual temptation like we’ve never known before.

Knowing as I do the various search terms that will find you all manner of websites, I can honestly say that every time I approach the machine — and I do business online all day long, plus prepare three blogs — I am reminded that each visit represents a choice: Choose things that will strengthen spiritually, or choose things that will do spiritual harm.

Like the goaltender in a hockey game, we can’t always block every “thought shot” that is fired toward us, but I believe we can exercise self control on a minute-by-minute or even second-by-second basis. I am always reminded that:

You have this moment.

You may not have won an hour ago, and you might slip an hour from now, but you have this moment to make the individual choice that affects this moment.

Right now, it’s a rainy day as I type this. It was a weather cancellation nearly a decade ago that found me with idle time typing a random phrase into a search engine that led to a random chapter in the middle of an online erotic novel. That’s right, it was text, not pictures. It wasn’t pictures for quite some time.

Idle hands. The entire universe-wide-web at my disposal.

Even today, I admit that search engines permit all manner of random thoughts to be explored online with varying results. I often find myself like the guy who loves to join his buddies on fishing expeditions, but actually hates the taste of fish. It’s about finding the fish, but not necessarily enjoying or consuming the fish.

I suppose it’s different for everyone.

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

I think it’s interesting that Genesis 2:9 tells us that the original source of temptation — the fruit of a tree in Eden — was found in the middle of the garden. Not off to one side. Not hidden behind other trees.

In the middle.

For men men — and women — reading this, your tree is right in the middle of the family room or living room; or it’s a laptop that is in the middle of wherever you find yourself.

Maybe your tree and my tree are different, but the result is the same: Temptation never disappears.

I looked at this a different way a year ago at Christianity 201. There’s a link to a song, and a specific point (about 70 seconds) in the song you can fast-forward to.

I’ve found it to be helpful.

Feel free to share what works for you.

You have this moment.

Luke 11 23

Luke 11:34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy,your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

Although the original writers were not Christians, I do so much appreciate the musical Godspell because despite some glaring liberties, much of it stays true to the Bible text. In a song, “Learn Your Lessons Well,” there is a spoken portion that uses an adaptation of the text above from Luke 11, which is paralleled in Matthew 6: 21-23.

In an updated Broadway cast recording of the song posted on YouTube, this formerly spoken word passage was set to music. It almost doesn’t fit the rest of the song, it is so hauntingly beautiful; the section runs from 1:16 to 2:24. (I’d love to see this recorded as a separate entity.)

the lamp of the body is the eye,
if your eye is bad
your whole body will be darkness
and if darkness is all around
your soul will be doubly unbright
but if your eye is sound
your whole body will be filled with light
your whole body will be filled with light
your whole body will be filled with light

Sitting at a computer — where else? — as I type this, the temptation to look at the internet’s dark side is always there. However, keeping this little song snippet in my mind has served on many occasions to prevent me from going down that road. And the phrase “doubly unbright” while grammatically questionable, has a way of sticking in your head.

…Continue reading the rest of the article here

August 31, 2014

Night Out With The Girls

With the kids now older and facing high-school homework after supper instead of the early bedtimes of former years, Patricia donned an light jacket before heading out for her weekly Wednesday night coffee shop ritual with Julie and Deanne. Well, almost weekly; there were frequent cancellations in the past three years, but they tried to meet as frequently as possible.

Short Stories“So when are we leaving?” her husband Rick asked.

“What do you mean we?” she responded.

“I thought it might be fun to crash your little group; as an observer or like those war reporters who are embedded with a platoon. Unless, of course it’s me you talk about every week.”

“No, we tend to talk about church, and politics, and raising kids.”

“So is there room for an extra body?”

“You’re serious?”

“Absolutely.”

Patricia texted the other two, “What do u feel about Rick joining us 2night?”

Julie didn’t answer, but Deanne texted, “Sure Y not?”

And so for an hour, Rick sat with the women and talked about church, and politics and raising kids.

On the way home, Patricia said, “You’re not going to want to do this every week are you?”

“No; it was a one-off thing.”

“So Rick, I know you, what was this about really?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“Honestly? I didn’t want to be home for a full hour with the computer. When you go out, it never ends well.”

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

Isn’t it ironic that the very technology that offers you the option of reading Christian blogs like this one, downloading sermons, looking up Bible verses online, etc., also offers both men and women the ease and convenience of experiencing sexual temptation like we’ve never known before.

Knowing as I do the various search terms that will find you all manner of websites, I can honestly say that every time I approach the machine — and I do business online all day long, plus prepare three blogs — I am reminded that each visit represents a choice: Choose things that will strengthen spiritually, or choose things that will do spiritual harm.

Like the goaltender in a hockey game, we can’t always block every “thought shot” that is fired toward us, but I believe we can exercise self control on a minute-by-minute or even second-by-second basis. I am always reminded that:

You have this moment.

You may not have won an hour ago, and you might slip an hour from now, but you have this moment to make the individual choice that affects this moment.

Right now, it’s a rainy day as I type this. It was a weather cancellation nearly a decade ago that found me with idle time typing a random phrase into a search engine that led to a random chapter in the middle of an online erotic novel. That’s right, it was text, not pictures. It wasn’t pictures for quite some time.

Idle hands. The entire universe-wide-web at my disposal.

Even today, I admit that search engines permit all manner of random thoughts to be explored online with varying results. I often find myself like the guy who loves to join his buddies on fishing expeditions, but actually hates the taste of fish. It’s about finding the fish, but not necessarily enjoying or consuming the fish.

I suppose it’s different for everyone.

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

I think it’s interesting that Genesis 2:9 tells us that the original source of temptation — the fruit of a tree in Eden — was found in the middle of the garden. Not off to one side. Not hidden behind other trees.

In the middle.

For men men — and women — reading this, your tree is right in the middle of the family room or living room; or it’s a laptop that is in the middle of wherever you find yourself.

Maybe your tree and my tree are different, but the result is the same: Temptation never disappears.

I looked at this a different way a year ago at Christianity 201. There’s a link to a song, and a specific point (about 70 seconds) in the song you can fast-forward to.

I’ve found it to be helpful.

Feel free to share what works for you.

You have this moment.

Luke 11 23

Luke 11:34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy,your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

Although the original writers were not Christians, I do so much appreciate the musical Godspell because despite some glaring liberties, much of it stays true to the Bible text. In a song, “Learn Your Lessons Well,” there is a spoken portion that uses an adaptation of the text above from Luke 11, which is paralleled in Matthew 6: 21-23.

In an updated Broadway cast recording of the song posted on YouTube, this formerly spoken word passage was set to music. It almost doesn’t fit the rest of the song, it is so hauntingly beautiful; the section runs from 1:16 to 2:24. (I’d love to see this recorded as a separate entity.)

the lamp of the body is the eye,
if your eye is bad
your whole body will be darkness
and if darkness is all around
your soul will be doubly unbright
but if your eye is sound
your whole body will be filled with light
your whole body will be filled with light
your whole body will be filled with light

Sitting at a computer — where else? — as I type this, the temptation to look at the internet’s dark side is always there. However, keeping this little song snippet in my mind has served on many occasions to prevent me from going down that road. And the phrase “doubly unbright” while grammatically questionable, has a way of sticking in your head. 

…Continue reading the rest of the article here

February 22, 2014

Lord’s Prayer: Trespasses or Debts?

What if there was an organization like ISO that checked how we measure up spiritually?

What if there was an organization like ISO that checked how we measure up spiritually?

We were visiting a church where it’s their custom to recite the Lord’s Prayer — you know, those words Jesus said immediately after telling his disciples not to repeat the same words over and over again — in unison while standing.  I can usually do this with eyes closed since it is a prayer, but need to refer to the projected words when they reach the part about forgiveness to see if they say,

  • forgive us our trespasses…

or

  • forgive us our debts

instead, they chose this wording:

  • forgive us our sins

which is, after all, at the heart of the prayer that we could word,

  • Help us to forgive others even as we have experienced forgiveness.

But “sins?”  Sin is missing the mark of God’s standards, so how can people sin “against us?”  Then I realized that this wording has in it the quality of the judgement that God (rightly) could hold against us versus the judgement that we (not always rightly) might bring about someone else.

In other words,

  • Forgive us for the times we don’t measure up to Your standards just as we forgive others who don’t measure up to our standards.

So do we do that?

I think it’s easier to forgive debts and trespasses than to forgive those who don’t meet our personal criteria of… whatever it is.

Romans 15 (AMP) :7 Welcome and receive [to your hearts] one another, then, even as Christ has welcomed and received you, for the glory of God.

Related post:Nothing But The Best (March, 2008) – A look at the criteria we set for our churches.

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.

 

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