Thinking Out Loud

April 1, 2019

A Morning Devoted to Un-Truths

This weekend I’ve been cross-posting articles from Christianity 201, as that blog begins year ten today. It seemed only fitting to go back one last time for this article, appropriate to April Fool’s Day.

For much of the morning, in some parts of the world, people made (or are still making) outrageous, preposterous or untrue statements; waited a few seconds; followed by, “April Fools!” No doubt online there were false news stories, manipulated photos, and skillfully edited videos. In most cases, nobody gets hurt and everyone has enjoys having their gullibility quotient tested.

I don’t want to go so far as to say that Christians should never enjoy a good prank, but it’s important that this never defines us.

In Matthew 5:37 we read,

All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

The context is about swearing oaths, but in The Message Bible, the definition is widened:

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

The entire passage is paralleled in James 5:12

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

Wikipedia notes how these verses impacted one Christian sect:

Quakers place importance on being truthful at all times, so the testimony opposing oaths springs from a view that “taking legal oaths implies a double standard of truthfulness” suggesting that truthfulness in legal contexts is somehow more important than truthfulness in non-legal contexts and that truthfulness in those other contexts is therefore somehow less important.

But by refusing to take an oath, many were imprisoned. The article also noted some of the variances we encounter today:

  • I swear on my mother’s life
  • I swear on my grandmother’s grave

The idea is that we are promising something that is precious to us to demonstrate sincerity. I didn’t grow up around people who use these expressions, but to be honest (pun intended) I often wonder that people who feel the need to add this might be the ones most likely not telling the truth.

This passage also means more than just whether or not we can be trusted when we make a statement, it’s also about whether or not we can be trusted when we make a promise. My wife and I often joke that we’ve spent a measurable percentage of our lives waiting for people who said they would arrive somewhere at a certain time. Before we even got married, I noticed that my wife was extremely punctual, and I’ve always hated being late and keeping people waiting. But often others find it easy to say they will be somewhere at a certain time and then think nothing of arriving a half hour later (and we’re not talking about being fashionably late to a large party or gathering.)

For the Christian, decision-making can be extra-complicated, as we desire to submit everything, big and small, to God’s will. But if commit to something, if we agree to do something or be somewhere, then we need to honor our commitments and agreements.

Freelance writer Fiona Soltes writes,

There’s much to be said for being a person of integrity and doing what you say you’re going to do. There’s even more to be said, however, for being a person who carefully considers decisions with God’s input and sticks to those decisions once they’re made. God is, after all, the same yesterday, today and forever. If we are to be like Him, we must show ourselves faithful and dependable, as well.

Jered Bridges commented on this passage in the context of living in a world filled with hidden cameras. He noted our ultimate accountability is not to the people we make promises to, but rather…

Proverbs 5:21 warns that, “…a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.” (ESV) Ultimately it matters not if there’s a hidden camera watching you —- the eyes of the Lord penetrate far further than a grainy twenty-frames-per-second camera could ever go. It is in the healthy fear of those eyes that we should accordingly adjust our conduct.


~PW (2014, C201)

 

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November 5, 2018

Where Does the Broader Society Get Its Standard for Correct Behavior?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:52 am

Megyn Kelly, Roseanne Barr, Matt Lauer, Brian Williams; the list goes on.

Why are the people on our television screens held to such a high standard of correctness, while politicians seem to get a free pass?

Rudi Guiliani famously told NBC’s Chuck Todd that “Truth isn’t truth.” The network loves playing the clip as a Meet the Press promotional teaser. It sounds like a license to say anything. It doesn’t have to be rooted in facts. Why not, ‘Facts aren’t facts.’

Yet somehow, words seem to matter if they’re the wrong words spoken by the wrong person at the wrong time.

It’s as though the phrase actions speak louder than words has been turned on its head and is now words speak louder than actions.

Cross the wrong special interest group, culturally appropriate the wrong group of people and it can cost you your high paying job in entertainment, information or news.

These are interesting times.

All this can creep into the church as well. In some respects, we have a longer tradition of false piety, in particular when it comes to speech. Eugene Peterson has rendered a familiar passage in Matthew 5:

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” 

So how did the people in the list of names at the top of this piece lose their jobs? You can decry a “Godless world,” and yet there are standards to which people are held. Where did the world at large get those? 

Apologists are quick to seize on this and rightly so. If there is no God, is morality derived entirely from logic, or from the social contract theory? Certainly those play a part, but there is evidence that even in these pluralistic times,  Judeo-Christian moral teaching is looked on as authoritative. 

At least for the time being. 


We leave you with a pop song from 1982 by The Thompson Twins. However, as you listen keep in mind:

  • no one in the band is named Thompson
  • no one in the band is twins
  • the song is called “Lies.”


 

 

 

July 21, 2018

No, Everybody’s NOT Doing It

Because we’re inundated with media that tells us that everybody is doing it, the other side should probably have equal time. If you’re on the fringes of the whole God scene, or maybe not even that close, here’s what I think some people I know would tell you…

Materialism

  • many of us are not going to a vacation resort this year
  • what you think is our ‘new’ car actually came off a three-year lease
  • I really don’t want a bigger house, in fact I’d like to downsize
  • those new appliances we ‘bought’ were free with credit card points
  • we think all those electronic gadgets are a waste of money

Boasting

  • yes, we paid off the bank loan, but then we took out another
  • many of us have kids that did not get straight A’s on their report card
  • Harry’s new job was a departmental move, not a promotion
  • the ten pounds I lost wasn’t exercise, they closed the local Krispy Kreme
  • the little league team we coach made the finals only because another team had to forfeit

Ethics

  • there are many people who do not embellish their resumé
  • no, actually I don’t cheat on my income tax
  • since you asked, not everybody looks at porn online
  • sorry, you’re wrong; not everybody tells lies to get ahead
  • if you look carefully, most of us really do drive the speed limit

Sexuality

  • the kids in my core youth group at church actually aren’t sexually active
  • the truth is, I haven’t thought about having an affair with the receptionist
  • I’m not that insecure that I need to flirt to prove I’ve still “got it.”
  • a lot of us women are not interested in reading the fantasy bestseller
  • there are many people who think inward qualities matter more than outward appeal

Anything you’d like to add?

September 8, 2017

A Group Exercise in Transparency

In what will soon be ten years of blogging, I’ve been privileged to meet a number of other online writers, but only on rare occasions have those meetings been in-person. Diane Lindstrom is one of those exceptions. Although my wife and I don’t have grandchildren yet — note to the boys if you’re reading this — Diane’s Nice One, Nana web-page really resonates with me, plus she often finds some great Christian music videos that others have missed.

I was reading this item on my phone on Thursday night and immediately ran down to my desktop to email a request to use it here, which she kindly granted. Clicking the title below will get you there directly.


Thorn, Rose and Bud Exercise

The painting, “Rose of Thorns” by Feyi K. Okwudibonye is available for purchase in multiple media at Fine Art America. Click image to link.

Here’s a wonderful idea.

Recently, my husband and I spent the evening at a friend’s cottage. When dinner was over, my friend announced to everyone at the table, “Time to talk about our thorns and roses. Who wants to go first?” 

And the conversation was fascinating. I had never heard of this mindfulness exercise.

First, the thorn (pain points) – doesn’t have to be anything “bad”. It could be an opportunity you missed taking that day, some mistake you made or an uncomfortable feeling that you experienced. I shared about a big batch of freshly made peanut butter cookies having been burned that morning and I indirectly blamed Chris for it. Someone else shared that he got splashed in the canoe and it wasn’t very comfortable being wet for the remainder of the paddling time.

Second, the rose (bright spots) – doesn’t have to be some huge event. The rose can be the simplest pleasure, a moment of delight, a sense of accomplishment or a kindness given or received. I distinctly remember climbing into the motor boat and heading to the cottage that afternoon. It was such a delightful moment that I spread my arms out wide and yelled out loud, “Yahoo!” Definitely a rose moment. For someone else, it was the delicious dinner made that night.

What a wonderful experience for everyone at that dinner table. The two young boys were as captivated by everyone’s comments as the adults. We all listened well and learned much about each other.

Apparently, there’s another part of this experience that could be used either after the evening meal or after breakfast. Everyone can share their “bud” (potential) – that is, their hope for the day ahead.

What a great way to debrief the day, hear from everyone involved and feel connected as a family or group.

By reflecting on the highlights and low points of the day, you start to realize that:

  • there are always things to be grateful for
  • sometimes, things don’t go according to plan and that’s OK.
  • there are events you can and cannot control. The true wisdom lies in knowing the difference and taking action on those things you CAN control.
  • there is always room for improvement.
  • you can model mindfulness and care for others to younger people who participate so that self reflection becomes more natural.
  • you can practice active listening to and empathy for others’ stories.

Try it!


Diane Lindstrom is the author of Sisters in the Son: Reconnecting Older and Younger Women

February 12, 2015

The Sin of Embellishment

Filed under: Church, ethics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:55 am

Brian Williams NBC Nightly NewsNightly News host Brian Williams was in a war zone traveling in a convoy of airplanes. One came under attack. It was not the plane in which Williams was a passenger. But over time the story morphed into one in which the aircraft he was in sustained mortar fire. Or something like that. The allegation is that the story was therefore falsified by a person of trust, a network news anchor.

He certainly embellished the story. Or fell victim to false memory syndrome. As a result, he’s been suspended, without pay, from hosting the NBC national newscast for six months.

Some say it’s the end of his career.

For readers here, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Williams’ embellishment and Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, though in Driscoll’s case, it may have been but one of many issues that brought down the end of the Washington state megachurch franchise known as Mars Hill.

But when it comes to embellishment, we do this don’t we?

By this I mean both we as individuals, and we as the church.

Individually, we paint an artificial picture of ourselves on social media. We idealize our children’s accomplishments and our recent vacation. We make sure our profile picture minimizes silver hairs or bags under the eyes. We minimize reports of failures and defeats.

Corporately, churches are known for enhancing numbers: Attendance figures, budgets, baptisms, altar call responses, and the number of kids on the Sunday School bus. Whether you call it an ethical lapse or deliberate dishonesty depends on how you interpret what’s been said, where you set the bar, or perhaps recollection of your own failings in this department.

It’s certainly akin to the fishing story; each time around the size of the fish caught gets larger and longer.

We can avoid being guilty of deceit or falsification — those are harsh words after all — by using terms like “approximately” or “as I remember” or even the euphemistic “evangelically speaking;” but the fact remains we tend to recollect the data in an upwards, not downwards direction.

So we need the Brians and the Marks; they serve to remind us that being ‘lax with the facts’ can catch up to us, that sometimes we have to pay the price for not being people whose accounts of things are reliable and dependable. We have to face the consequences of what scripture might describe as not ‘letting our yes be yes and our no be no.’

August 20, 2013

Guest Post: Why We Love Our Hollywood Heroes

My guest blogger today writes anonymously under the name Flagrant Regard. There are some reasons for this, which may or may not involve the Witness Protection Program. Or maybe it’s another one of those deals where somebody famous like J. K. Rowling pens some material under an alternative byline. Or perhaps it’s a lot less interesting than either of those possibilities…  You can catch his writing at — wait for it — Flagrant Regard.

Why We Love our Hollywood HeroesHow many times have you seen this in a Hollywood flick:

Man falls in love with woman, woman appears to have her sights on or a commitment to someone else.

The smitten man – always the story’s protagonist – does his best to win the woman’s affections and to become her ‘one and only’.  But, as the plot goes, the woman’s potential suitor finds himself in a losing battle with the other man in her life, or so it appears. And then of course, there comes this powerful moment in the story where he relinquishes his pursuit of the woman he’s in love with and, burying his hurt, stoically tells her something like, “I love you so much, I can’t afford to see you unhappy.  I want you to be with the man you truly love, and if it ain’t me babe, then at least I know you’re content.”

In some movies the protagonist gets another kick at love’s can as the woman in the story realizes what a truly unselfish man she’s throwing away and, forsaking the safe and familiar, falls hard and passionately for the new guy.  At other times (but is less rarely seen in modern American films) the pursuing male wanders off dejected and alone as he sadly accepts his destiny –  not being with the woman he’s in love with.

In either outcome, we value the protagonist as a true, unwavering and selfless hero who wants the best for the one he loves even at the cost of his own happiness.  Now that’s a Hollywood hero!

We cherish our silver screen heroic archetypes, especially in stories like the above, because of the selflessness involved; the sacrifice that springs from genuine love.  As we watch the drama unfold, we find ourselves wanting to believe in that noble kind of love because we know it’s the right kind to fully embrace and which also ‘sets the bar’ for ourselves.

But what of our heroism with respect to our following Jesus?  How much more should we be ready to sacrifice our selfish wants and desires – no matter how painful it is – in order to make sure the God we claim to love is pleased?  Are we willing to give up all or, like the rich young ruler that Jesus encountered who was not willing to give up that which he held most dear to him, we too walk away without God’s blessing or true fulfillment in our lives?

My wife and I heard these wonderful words of Martin Luther from a preacher just the other day:

“A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

In order to gain Christ, we are told it will mean us losing our very lives and sometimes walking away from the things we value most.  Will we walk away from a relationship that God’s word states is not right or will we blithely dismiss the clear instructions of the Scriptures in order to suit our desires or ideals?  Will we say in our prayers, “I want You to be pleased with everything I think, say and do, even if it means my sacrificing the things and/or beliefs I hold on to (which I think matter most).”?

Loving God often means struggle and persecution, but it is ALWAYS about forsaking all in order to gain Christ’s blessing, once we’ve been saved by His grace.  If you view the Gospel in any other light, you are not yet a beneficiary of the truth.  Yes, God is all about love, but he’s also about holy living, exemplary behaviour as befitting His people and He expects TRUE REPENTANCE:  an about face in our hearts toward God and a resetting of our minds that enables us to seek out what God’s will is for every aspect of  our life.

Do you want to be a hero?  Do you want to have the audience of angels and saints in heaven – and your heavenly Father himself – cheering for you?  Then be holy (sacred, morally upright, set apart), be seeking God’s will and be ready at all times to give your all no matter what the cost is to yourself.  This is how we win in this life and in the next.

© Flagrant Regard, 2012

“On His journey vast crowds attended Him, towards whom He turned and said, “If any one is coming to me who does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be a disciple of mine. No one who does not carry his own cross and come after me can be a disciple of mine. “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not sit down first and calculate the cost, asking if he has the means to finish it? — lest perhaps, when he has laid the foundation and is unable to finish, all who see it shall begin to jeer at him, saying, ‘This man began to build, but could not finish.’ Or what king, marching to encounter another king in war, does not first sit down and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand men to meet the one who is advancing against him with twenty thousand? If not, while the other is still a long way off, he sends messengers and sues for peace. Just as no one of you who does not detach himself from all that belongs to him can be a disciple of mine.”
(Luk 14:25-33)

“Therefore, surrounded as we are by such a vast cloud of witnesses, let us fling aside every encumbrance and the sin that so readily entangles our feet. And let us run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, simply fixing our gaze upon Jesus, our Prince Leader in the faith, who will also award us the prize. He, for the sake of the joy which lay before Him, patiently endured the cross, looking with contempt upon its shame, and afterwards seated Himself– where He still sits–at the right hand of the throne of God. Therefore, if you would escape becoming weary and faint-hearted, compare your own sufferings with those of Him who endured such hostility directed against Him by sinners.”
(Heb 12:1-3)

July 9, 2013

Everybody’s Not Doing It

Because we’re inundated with media that tells us that everybody is doing it, the other side should probably have equal time. If you’re on the fringes of the whole God scene, or maybe not even that close, here’s what I think some people I know would tell you…

Materialism

  • many of us are not going to a vacation resort this year
  • what you think is our ‘new’ car actually came off a three-year lease
  • I really don’t want a bigger house, in fact I’d like to downsize
  • those new appliances we ‘bought’ were free with credit card points
  • we think all those electronic gadgets are a waste of money

Boasting

  • yes, we paid off the bank loan, but then we took out another
  • many of us have kids that did not get straight A’s on their report card
  • Harry’s new job was a departmental move, not a promotion
  • the ten pounds I lost wasn’t exercise, they closed the local Krispy Kreme
  • the little league team we coach made the finals only because another team had to forfeit

Ethics

  • there are many people who do not embellish their resumé
  • no, actually I don’t cheat on my income tax
  • since you asked, not everybody looks at porn online
  • sorry, you’re wrong; not everybody tells lies to get ahead
  • if you look carefully, most of us really do drive the speed limit

Sexuality

  • the kids in my core youth group at church actually aren’t sexually active
  • the truth is, I haven’t thought about having an affair with the receptionist
  • I’m not that insecure that I need to flirt to prove I’ve still “got it.”
  • a lot of us women are not interested in reading the fantasy bestseller
  • there are many people who think inward qualities matter more than outward appeal

Anything you’d like to add?

July 3, 2013

Wednesday Link List

lynx 3Today we kick off a new chapter; the link list moves to its new home at Leadership Journal’s Out of Ur website, a ministry of Christianity Today. I’ve been reading Out of Ur since long before I started blogging, so this is a real honor. Here’s a link direct to today’s Wednesday Link List. Please be sure to click through. (They didn’t take the List Lynx pictured at right however, at least not so far…) Also remember it’s just the Wednesday list that’s moving; we’ll be back here tomorrow with the content you’ve come to loathe love here at Thinking Out Loud!

UPDATE: In November, 2013, we updated the July WLL posts here to restore the links. (The first month never had them at all here in any form.) I might periodically go back and update older ones just so we have a record here of the original sources.

July 10, 2012

Equal Time

Filed under: character, ethics — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:34 am

Because we’re inundated with media that tells us that everybody is doing it, the other side should probably have equal time.  Here’s what I think some people would tell you…

Materialism

  • many of us are not going to a vacation resort this year
  • what you think is our ‘new’ car actually came off a three-year lease
  • I really don’t want a bigger house, in fact I’d like to downsize
  • those new appliances we ‘bought’ were free with credit card points
  • we think all those electronic gadgets are a waste of money

Boasting

  • yes, we paid off the bank loan, but then we took out another
  • many of us have kids that did not get straight A’s on their report card
  • Harry’s new job was a departmental move, not a promotion
  • the ten pounds I lost wasn’t exercise, they closed the local Krispy Kreme
  • the little league team we coach made the finals only because another team had to forfeit

Ethics

  • there are many people who do not embellish their resumé
  • no, actually I don’t cheat on my income tax
  • since you asked, not everybody looks at porn online
  • sorry, you’re wrong; not everybody tells lies to get ahead
  • if you look carefully, most of us really do drive the speed limit

Sexuality

  • the kids in my core youth group at church actually aren’t sexually active
  • the truth is, I haven’t thought about having an affair with the receptionist
  • I’m not that insecure that I need to flirt to prove I’ve still “got it.”
  • a lot of us women are not interested in reading the fantasy bestseller
  • there are many people who think inward qualities matter more than outward appeal

Anything you’d like to add?

January 20, 2012

Are You Authentic?

If you’re a recent arrival to the Christian blogosphere you might wonder how some of your favorite blogs got their names.  Pete Wilson had an explanation on his blog header as to how he came up with “Without Wax.”  But when he changed his blog design the explanation got lost.  I emailed him and asked him to send it to us, but Pete’s a busy guy.  Then I discovered an old screenshot of the blog.  So here’s the story:

The word sincere comes from the Latin phrase sine cera,which means without wax.  The phrase comes from a practice where people would hide the cracks in cheap pottery with wax in order to pass the pottery off as being worth more than it actually was.  Quality products were often stamped with the words sine cera to show that it had not been doctored, that it was in fact authentic.

I can’t think of a better name for a blog that is, above all, authentic and transparent.  If Pete’s not in your blog reading routine, check out the pastor of Nashville’s Cross Point Church by clicking the image below; but the site you open has changed greatly since this image was saved!

Using something to hide your faults? Maybe it’s time to be sincere. I believe transparency is contagious. Reading writers like Pete Wilson compels the rest of us to set the bar higher for honesty in our own lives.

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