Thinking Out Loud

October 30, 2017

Setting Your Agenda as You Start the Week

I started the day thinking of the great contrast which exists between the American ideal of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and the words in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

I started thinking how I could frame my week in such a way as to render all the individual tasks and goals flowing out of a desire to glorify God, rather than working for the things that would grant me happiness.

The full phrasing in the Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Twelve years ago, fellow Canadian blogger Tim Challies wrote about the phrase from the Catechism and noted an internal potential conflict for some Christians:

While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created in order to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling…

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. It seems to me that many churches would say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord…

His own doctrinal perspective surfaces when he states, “this belief is based on Arminian assumption” but he does come close — without actually using these words — to the idea that a balance is to be found between the activity of a Martha and the sitting at the feet of Jesus of a Mary.

The notion of life, liberty and happiness avoids both.

Perhaps it’s no accident that Jerry Bridges’ most enduring work is titled The Pursuit of Holiness, not happiness.

So instead of asking myself on Monday morning what will best drive my personal pursuit of happiness, I need to ask myself what will glorify God and cause my mind to dwell in all his attributes and delight in him? At the end of the day, each of us must answer individually for how we’ve used our time, talents and resources.

Footnote: While we have listed some national mottoes below, the provincial motto of Newfoundland in Canada is “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Perhaps that best sums up what should be the goal of the Christian, for then and only then will “all these things” — the necessities of life — “be added on to you.”

Clarification: In fairness, given the appendix which follows, the national motto of the United States is “In God We Trust.”


National mottoes (translated) of selected countries:

Antigua and Barbuda: Each endeavouring, all achieving
Bolivia: Unity is Strength
Brazil: Order and Progress
Denmark: God’s help, the love of the people, Denmark’s strength
Dominica: After God, The Earth
Ecuador: God, homeland and liberty
Fiji: Fear God and honour the Queen
Florentine Republic: Fall, you kingdoms of luxury, for the cities of virtue shall thrive
Gambia: Progress, Peace, Prosperity
Guatemala:Grow Free and Fertile
India: Truth alone triumphs
Iraq: God is the Greatest
Kenya: All pull together
Liberia: The love of liberty brought us here
Mali: One people, one goal, one faith
Panama: For the benefit of the world

…continue reading more at Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 10, 2016

The Thanksgiving Spirit

This is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada. Russell Young is a weekly contributor to Christianity 201, our sister site featuring daily devotionals released each day at 5:30 EST. This is his first time at Thinking Out Loud.

by Russell Young

Thanksgiving is often celebrated as a harvest festival, a time of bringing in the riches of all that the land has provided the labors of man from the season just past. It is a time of rejoicing for God’s provision. In norther climates where leaved trees grace the land, thanksgiving is also a time of exceptional beauty. Autumn leaves reveal their varied colours and brilliance as green leaves are changed into many oranges, browns, reds, and yellows.

The idea and even command to thank God goes back to the beginning of the Bible. The Lord told his people how they were to present thank offerings. However, King David’s prayer of thanksgiving gives some idea of his heart. “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him tell of his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice…” (1 Chr 16:7-10…NIV)

David’s thanksgiving was for and all-sufficient and merciful God. It was not for the bounty of a season but for the character of God and his faithfulness…for his “wonderful acts.” He recognized God’s everlasting covenant promise, for protection against enemy nations, for the splendor of his holiness and for his majesty. David’s praise of thanks was, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

The God of creation is preparing an eternal place in his presence for those who love and obey him. His people should think of this. Is there not more to be celebrated than a bountiful harvest? Is He not more to be celebrated than temporal riches or good times?

It is easy to let discouragement destroy our joy and our hope when the world seems to have turned against us. Many lose their faith when trials come. They expect to live in the blessings that they imagine God should supply them. All people go through difficult times. God did not promise to relieve us of all our challenges and to satisfy our wants. In fact, his Word says that his children will suffer persecution and trials and that he disciplines and punishes those he loves. The challenges of life are to prepare us for the real hope of a place in his coming kingdom and they are to be considered blessings. Paul taught: “[G]ive thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you.” (1 Thes 5:18 NIV)

In spite of challenges, many people can celebrate that they live in the presence of peace and safety. They don’t have to seek shelter from blazing guns or falling bombs as believers must in Iraq or Syria. They are not wantonly tortured as they are in many African countries. Not many have to fear suicide bombers. Many will have something to eat tonight. Their children are not starving and have access to adequate healthcare.

give-thanks-to-the-lord King David remembered who God was. He proclaimed, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Ps 107:1 NIV) His love and mercy extends to all who are contrite in heart and who will humble themselves before him. The prophet Isaiah revealed God’s words: “This is the one I will esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isa 66:2 NIV)

King David had taken another man’s wife and even had him killed. His penance brought redemption and forgiveness. God was truly merciful to him. All of the redeemed can appreciate the sins that cost the life of God’s one and only begotten Son? David did not just thank God for a bountiful harvest and a full stomach. He thanked God for his awesomeness and mercy.

God is not only near the righteous but he lives within them as Holy Spirit. Without him victory over the world, the evil one or the sin loving flesh could not be gained. Temptations would command the believer’s attention and as Paul has reported, the weakness of the flesh would result in defeat and death. He called the flesh, “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

God placed Adam and Eve in an ideal setting, the Garden of Eden, and yet they sinned. He started the human race again with righteous Noah following the Great Flood, and they sinned. He chose a special people, Israel, and offered them many promises of blessings for obedience, and they rebelled. He redeemed them from Egypt and led them in the wilderness; even then they continued to sin. He gave them the law and the prophets and the tabernacle system of worship. He made his requirements clear and recorded them on stone…and his people sinned. Finally, he gave the life of his Son as a payment for sin, and the Spirit of Christ, his Son, to live in the repentant. Just as Christ had lived a sinless life in the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, he has made provision for victory for all who live under his lordship through obedience. This is the believer’s great hope and the ultimate expression of God’s love for a helpless sinner. Christ in you.

What are you giving thanks for? Is it a meal? A comfortable bed, close friends? Or, is it for the faithfulness of a loving and all-sufficient God and creator. What is your celebration about? Be thankful for God and his mercy. Celebrate his love and the hope he offers. Celebrate him, not just what he has done.

Like King David be prepared to say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

May 3, 2016

Car Repairs, Hats, and Propriety in Weekend Worship

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

So about three years ago, I was speaking with a couple who operate their own automotive repair business. They were telling me how their primary purpose in attending church is to worship God, but people like to use Sunday morning to discuss car problems or even book an appointment to get some work done.

Okay. In a way I totally get that. Most of the ‘fellowship’ that happens in the lobby before or after church isn’t true spiritual fellowship. It consists of talk about the hometown sports team; how the kids are doing in school, piano and soccer; and the weird weather we’ve been having this year. Not so much of, “So what’s God been showing you this week?” Or, “I gotta share this verse with you I was reading yesterday.” Or, “Anything I can pray with you about over the next few days?”

That doesn’t happen so much. Maybe more in the U.S. than in my home country of Canada. But not a whole lot.

Talking in ChurchBut what really got to me about this couple’s story is that people were requesting consultation and wanting to book appointments during the offering (okay it’s like the seventh inning stretch in baseball at some churches), during worship choruses (well, in some places it is more like a rock concert than a worship opportunity) and even during a prayer (ouch!). Remember, they weren’t standing in the aisle passing out business cards, people were coming to them.

Now, I love that worship services in western Europe and North America are slightly more casual. That necktie was choking me all those years and those shoes just plain hurt. But have we gotten too casual? Is a whole generation of church-goers emerging that has no sense of propriety; no sense of what it is supposed to mean to come into the presence of a holy God?

We got a comment on a old blog post here about guys who keep their hats on in church. Normally when I comment on a post that old, it’s spam and I’m all set to delete it. But this time…

Yes, now it is my turn. We can debate whether it is a matter of “custom” or a matter of scripture; I affirm the later. For 1900 years, the matter was clear: Women are to be veiled in church, men must not cover their heads. This is based on 1Co 11:2-16 and was understood this way – as I said – UNANIMOUSLY in ALL churches of Christ for two millennium! Now, in the WEST women took off the veil and became pastors – which is a severe discontinuation of Apostolic practice UNIQUE to the Western churches, esp. Protestants. And it is in THIS setting, that men became increasingly indifferent as well and started wearing their baseball hats to church a only couple of years ago. Also: Shorts are worn to church, and shirts are no longer tucked in – the body language became totally disconnected from the spiritual language we utter with our lips. Watch out: That’s contemporary Gnosticism! Where are these brave leaders who address misbehavior like this and put an end to it?

Now, you might just dismiss this a comment from an ultra-conservative reader, but I don’t. Not completely. That sentence, “…the body language became totally disconnected from the spiritual language we utter with our lips;” is the part that haunts me.

There’s a trend emerging, but where is that trend taking us? Some say to just relax because in a few years, the men at the bank and the real estate office will be back to suits and ties. (In our town presently, the only person who wears a suit is the funeral director.) But is a whole generation that’s known nothing but casual Sunday likely to go formal? (And don’t even get me started on parents who let their children treat communion as snack time.)

Typically, I find that people in blue collar jobs tend to dress up for church, while people in white collar jobs tend to dress down; at the same time as everybody tends to be very casual in their approach to weekend worship. Even the concept of weekend worship is a compromise which allows those who choose to have their entire Sunday free to play golf, picnic, visit family or head to the beach.

…In the meantime, I feel for this couple who owns the auto shop. When this happens to me, I feign memory loss and tell them, “I can’t remember business stuff that happens on Sunday morning, but if you write it on a piece of paper, I’ll put it in my shirt pocket and deal with it on Monday.” And I actually do try to hold back some stuff to the next day. Furthermore, my job could justify getting them the answers they want because I could argue it’s kingdom business.

The auto repair couple are trying to live their lives by a higher standard and are no doubt unimpressed by those who choose to violate their time of worship. If you were they, how would you respond to a mid-service request for brakes, steering or transmission advice or a service appointment?

June 29, 2015

Changing Views on Gay Marriage

SCOTUS - NYT

This weekend we ran a series of the all time most-read articles on this blog, so this is the first opportunity I’ve had to respond to the events of Friday. There is no doubt the United States begins the week having entered a whole new era. Something that was once illegal (and still is in many places) and was considered an abberation (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM) is now the law of the land, mandated by a constitutional ruling by the Supreme Court.

Now, I don’t wish to discuss the particular issue here, but rather, I simply want to note that we’ve seen over the last few years leading to this decision has been a huge shift in values — even among some Christian people — and I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I know that among my readers are those who have different feelings on not only the issue of the day, but on many different areas where the sphere of spiritual concerns overlaps the sphere of civic or legal issues. Some are truly rejoicing in the events of yesterday, for many different reasons. I think it’s great if you can see an up-side to all this. My point is simply that through one Supreme Court decision we have witnessed a tectonic shift of huge proportions.

Interestingly, while looking up the above scripture verse when I prepared this originally for Chritianity 201, BibleHub posted a link to Habakkuk 1:14 (NLT)

The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

There are some who would argue that the only thing that changed yesterday is that another court, the court of popular opinion, grew vocal enough to tip the scales of justice.

Unfortunately, there are also a few who have a misunderstanding that if something is legal it is no longer sin. It is important to recognize that there is not a one-to-one correlation between the two. Many things that are legal are still sinful, and many things that the law says are illegal have little to do with the spiritual condition of the heart.

For example, if we take a simple Ten Commandments approach, the 1:1 correspondence will hold more often, since many of our laws derive from Judeo-Christian teaching. But society accepts many other things which would go against Bible teaching. To the contrary, if where you live it is against the law to make a left turn at the corner of Central Blvd. and Main St. during the evening rush hour, that does not derive from scripture. Still we should note that in the second case, the left turn, it can also be argued that the principles of Romans 13 apply:

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

The problem is trying to read this in the reverse, and saying that what the law permits, God also is okay with; the logic of that does not hold. The “governing authorities” of verse one are not the ones to whom we hold ultimate accountability.

It’s more to the point to refine our understanding of what sin is and isn’t. The word means ‘missing the mark.’ It connotes an archery image of firing our arrows but not quite hitting the bulls-eye, or worse, not even hitting the target sheet at all.

I believe that knowing God’s best exists means we can’t settle for anything less; we can’t be content with the good or the better knowing there is a best.

When we fail to be concerned with aiming for the best we grieve Father, Son and Spirit.

The ultimate question of the day therefore is the question that should guide the everyday actions of all believers: Can God be trusted?

Do we think that maybe, just perhaps he has his reasons for suggesting we organize our family units in a certain manner and live in a particular way. Is it just, as some suggest, that some laws were given were given to provide Israel with a distinct identity from its neighbors, or is there, to put it one way, a method behind the madness?

I believe God’s best is so not because it’s best for him, but because he knows what’s best for us

We must keep this in mind, especially when the tide of public opinion changes, and the law of the land shifts accordingly.

November 13, 2014

When Church Gets Too Informal

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:20 am

What’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?

I had noticed her for many weeks. A very animated conversationalist. Frizzy hair that swung back and forth as she made various points to her conversational companion. I spotted this taking place for several weeks in a row. Talking up a storm. In church. During the service.

I never understood why the ushers didn’t address the problem. This was a very conservative church and there was no missing her hair and head bobbing back and forth. Surely the leadership here would DO something.

Then came the week that we ended up sitting directly behind her. She talked through the call to worship. She talked through the opening prayer. She talked through the first half of the opening scripture reading. Okay, this was scripture, the Word, right? It was then that with a voice that was reined in so it wouldn’t travel too far, but with a voice that was distinct, clear and firm, I said, “W-i-l-l  y-o-u  p-l-e-a-s-e  b-e  q-u-i-e-t.”

She got the message. I hoped she would think about whatever might have motivated me to do that. (Gee, I dunno know; maybe wanting to hear the service? Maybe something about having respect for the reading of the Word of God?) Instead, the service ended, and her son-in-law, who was sitting two seats over, stood up, turned around slowly towards me in all his massive 260 lb. frame, and informed me that if I ever did something like that again he would take care of me out in the parking lot. Or something like that.

We left that church shortly after. Not because of her, or him, but because the ushers, deacons and other leaders were gutless to deal with her. It took me to do it.

text_message_girlFlash forward several years. My youngest son returned home from church — a different church — with the news that a girl whom he named in the youth group who was sitting a row behind him was text messaging throughout the entire sermon. I happen to know this girl’s family and they are infected with the same germ as the woman with the bobbing hair. I’ve seen them conversing in a manner so animated that it was distracting to me on the farthest part of the other side of a very wide auditorium. Texting uses no audio, but in a church service, it’s amazing how the little taps can carry.

Interesting how you can be in a room with 300 other people but it only takes one person to spoil the experience. If the person was making a lot of noise, it would be dealt with, but sometimes these things sit on the borderline between requiring action or determining that confronting the situation might make a greater (and more memorable) distraction.

I like that we can dress casually for church. I like that we sing contemporary songs. I like that we show cuts from popular movies. I like that we laugh and are transparent about our lives. But…

I miss reverence. I miss solemnity. I miss the awe with which should approach that part of our week where we enter into the transcendency of bringing our worship before a holy God. I miss the holy hush I experienced in some meetings I attended in my early twenties.  I miss people treating that part of the week as something special.

If I had been sitting anywhere near this girl, I don’t know exactly what I might have done, but it wouldn’t have been pleasant. I might have gone for “P-u-t  t-h-a-t  t-h-i-n-g  a-w-a-y  n-o-w.” But remember, he was sitting in front of in this case and would have had to turn around to do this.

Then again, I might have simply stepped out of the service for a few minutes.

To make a whip out of cords. 

So… what’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?

May 13, 2013

When People Forget Why They Went to Church

Filed under: Church, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:09 am

So earlier this week I was speaking with a couple who operate their own automotive repair business. They were telling me how their primary purpose in attending church is to worship God, but people like to use Sunday morning to discuss car problems or even book an appointment to get some work done.

Okay. In a way I totally get that. Most of the ‘fellowship’ that happens in the lobby before or after church isn’t true spiritual fellowship. It consists of talk about the hometown sports team; how the kids are doing in school, piano and soccer; and the weird weather we’ve been having this year. Not so much of, “So what’s God been showing you this week?” Or, “I gotta share this verse with you I was reading yesterday.” Or, “Anything I can pray with you about over the next few days?”

That doesn’t happen so much. Maybe more in the U.S. than in my home country of Canada. But not a whole lot.

Talking in ChurchBut what really got to me about this couple’s story is that people were requesting consultation and wanting to book appointments during the offering (okay it’s like the seventh inning stretch in baseball at some churches), during worship choruses (well, in some places it is more like a rock concert than a worship opportunity) and even during a prayer (ouch!). Remember, they weren’t standing in the aisle passing out business cards, people were coming to them.

Now, I love that worship services in western Europe and North America are slightly more casual. That necktie was choking me all those years and those shoes just plain hurt. But have we gotten too casual? Is a whole generation of church-goers emerging that has no sense of propriety; no sense of what it is supposed to mean to come into the presence of a holy God?

We got a comment this week on a old blog post here about guys who keep their hats on in church. Normally when I comment on a post that old, it’s spam and I’m all set to delete it. But this time…

Yes, now it is my turn. We can debate whether it is a matter of “custom” or a matter of scripture; I affirm the later. For 1900 years, the matter was clear: Women are to be veiled in church, men must not cover their heads. This is based on 1Co 11:2-16 and was understood this way – as I said – UNANIMOUSLY in ALL churches of Christ for two millennium! Now, in the WEST women took off the veil and became pastors – which is a severe discontinuation of Apostolic practice UNIQUE to the Western churches, esp. Protestants. And it is in THIS setting, that men became increasingly indifferent as well and started wearing their baseball hats to church a only couple of years ago. Also: Shorts are worn to church, and shirts are no longer tucked in – the body language became totally disconnected from the spiritual language we utter with our lips. Watch out: That’s contemporary Gnosticism! Where are these brave leaders who address misbehavior like this and put an end to it?

Now, you might just dismiss this a comment from an ultra-conservative reader, but I don’t. Not completely. That sentence, “…the body language became totally disconnect from the spiritual language we utter with our lips;” is the part that haunts me.

There’s a trend emerging, but where is that trend taking us? Some say to just relax because in a few years, the men at the bank and the real estate office will be back to suits and ties. (In our town presently, the only person who wears a suit is the funeral director.) But is a whole generation that’s known nothing but casual Sunday likely to go formal?

Typically, I find that people in blue collar jobs tend to dress up for church, while people in white collar jobs tend to dress down; at the same time as everybody tends to be very casual in their approach to weekend worship. Even the concept of weekend worship is a compromise which allows those who choose to have their entire Sunday free to play golf, picnic, visit family or head to the beach.

…In the meantime, I feel for this couple who owns the auto shop. They are trying to live their lives by a higher standard and are no doubt unimpressed by those who choose to violate their time of worship. If you were they, how would you respond to a mid-service request for auto service?

February 28, 2012

Why Some Things Matter More Than Others

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

I really wrestled with what to run in this space today, but I decided to simply borrow the piece from Christianity 201, celebrating that blog’s 700th post yesterday, because I think it tells you a little more about who I am and what I believe to be important.


A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

Then the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. (NLT)

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 700 posts at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3:12-15 —

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. (NLT)

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian blogosphere, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while my Christian life and yours is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all in response to what Christ has done for us, we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only touches readers, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

“…Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart…”


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September 18, 2011

Sunday Isn’t Another Saturday

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:29 am

If we would stop treating Sunday as a second Saturday, one more day to run to Home Depot, one more day for the kids’ soccer games, another day for getting ready for Monday, if we would rediscover Sunday as The Lord’s Day, focusing on him for just one day each week, what would be the immediate impact between today and one year from today?

By one year from today, we will have spent 52 whole days given over to Jesus.  Seven and a half weeks of paid vacation with Jesus.

He’s a good King.  Maybe we should put him first in our weekly schedules.  Not fit him into the margins of our busy weekends, but build our whole weekly routine around him.

Just a thought.

~Ray Ortlund

April 26, 2011

Reader Survey: Am I Too Conservative?

I ask the question fully aware that “conservative” is not a label generally applied to me. But I have an online friend who sends me e-mail forwards that are always a little edgy. Which is fine. Laughter is by definition a variant on the emotion of surprise. It’s gotta catch you off guard a little. If you see the punchline coming ahead of time, it’s not necessarily working. But many of his e-mails tend to deal with issues of gender or sexuality, and as often as that’s the case, I see the punchline coming.

Let’s start with this recent one, which followed an exchange with him about the nature of the forwards in question, and where I thought I’d made my wishes clear:

Arrival in Heaven!

All arrivals in heaven have to go through a bureaucratic examination to determine whether admission will be granted. One room has a clerk who inputs computerized records of what each applicant did on his or her last day of life.

The first applicant of the day explains that his last day was not a good one. “I came home early and found my wife lying naked in bed. She claimed she had just gotten out of the shower. Well, her hair was dry and I checked the shower and it was completely dry too. I knew she was into some hanky-panky and I began to look for her lover. I went onto the balcony of our 9th floor apartment and found the SOB clinging to the rail by his finger tips. I was so angry that I began bashing his fingers with a flower pot. He let go and fell, but his fall was broken by some awnings and bushes. On seeing he was still alive I found super human strength to drag our antique cedar chest to the balcony and throw it over. It hit the man and killed him. At this point the stress got to me and I suffered a massive heart attack and died.”

The clerk thanked him and sent him on to the next office.

The second applicant said that his last day was his worst. “I was on the roof of an apartment building working on the AC equipment. I stumbled over my tools and toppled off the building. I managed to grab onto the balcony rail of a 9th floor apartment but some idiot came rushing out on the balcony and bashed my hands with a flower pot. I fell but hit some awnings and bushes and survived, but as I looked up I saw a huge chest falling toward me. I tried to crawl out of the way but failed and was hit and killed by the chest.” The clerk couldn’t help but chuckle as he directs the man to the next room.

He is still giggling when his third customer of the day enters. He apologizes and says “I doubt that your last day was as interesting as the fellow in here just before you.”

“I don’t know” replies the man, “picture this, I’m buck naked hiding in this cedar chest…..”

…Still with me here?  Would Jesus laugh at it?  Maybe.  But that’s not the issue for me today.  So I write this short note back, reminding him of our earlier changed that the e-mail clock verifies took place just ten minutes earlier:

You seem to have sent this one just ten minutes after our other exchange.  Hey [name],  I’m starting to worry about you!

This one has nudity, adultery and language (SOB) issues.   There are some other things online that are worth celebrating and sharing, but this isn’t one of them.  Yes it is funny, but it’s funny in the way that U.S. network half-hour sitcoms have to put the humor on the lowest shelf to get a laugh.   I think this one would fall into what the Bible calls the “coarse talk, foolish jesting” category, and not the “whatsoever things are pure…lovely…of good report” category.

Again, I’m no Baptist, but I really feel that any attempt at personal holiness demands that we aim somewhat higher than the world.

Did I overreact?  Here’s his reply:

But like I said at the beginning of that joke, my MUM sent it to me. and she IS a Baptist, mother to a Baptist minister, sister to a United Missionary pastor. Which is why I sent it; to demonstrate that humor of the “Blue” persuasion is universal. I thought that particular joke cute, in a suggestive sense while not being explicit.
 
Paul, I get that you think that all humor pertaining to man’s basic instinct is “coarse talk, foolish jesting,” but if you think about it, ALL humor is at the expense of someone else. Newfie  jokes, Polish jokes, Red-neck jokes, blonde jokes, Baptist jokes, Catholic jokes,… even when they are clean, they are in a very real sense debasing someone else. 

Maybe we shouldn’t even laugh at the guy slipping on a banana peel, or at me for for falling asleep with a mouth full of coffee and drooling it all over my lap, because joking about it points out our foolishness, and is ” foolish jesting?” Maybe we should all just return to the strict Puritan standard of being so serious about everything we don’t crack a smile at anything at all?

Okay, so my sense of humor offends your sensibilities. Obviously I don’t and can’t live up to your standards.

Am I really Puritanical?  Is it possible to share a story that is genuinely funny that is not at someone’s expense?  Could the joke above still work without the suggestion of adultery?

Feel free to use the comments section including examples of something you think I would, pardon the redundancy, enjoy enjoying.

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