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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March 7, 2019

No Secrets in a Marriage?

Filed under: Christianity, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:00 am

Before I met her, my wife worked as a magician’s assistant. That’s not the set-up for a story, it’s really true.

Shortly after we were married, I asked her about the routine and she mentioned one particular illusion, and I asked her how they did it.

David & Kylie Knight are Christian magicians who would never sue me for using this photo image. Learn more about them here.

She wouldn’t tell me.

The ability to maintain a confidence is a great character trait to possess, but we were married, right? There’s no secrets in a marriage, right? Surely she could tell me, couldn’t she?

But she flatly refused. The more I kept grilling her, the more she stated that she had promised not to reveal the secret to anyone, and it was a promise she intended to keep.

And this was before the internet.

I was angry. I got up and went for a walk in the ravine. (Our apartment overlooked a beautiful river valley, but there was trouble in paradise that day!)

Fast forward 30 years…

…We were talking about magic acts somehow last night, and I asked her if the trick in question was one she would perform back in the day. It was.

So then I asked her how it’s done.

You guessed it; 30 years later we were having the same conversation and she still refused to tell me how the illusion is performed.

“You know that Penn and Teller probably have a video on this?” I reminded her.

But her loyalty to her promise, made back in the 1980s still held for her, and she wasn’t about to break that promise last night.

…I realize there are pastors who are told things in confidence that are told to them in the church office which cannot be shared. But I would think that a good percentage of these pastors use their spouse as a sounding board to either get an additional perspective or decompress from an intense counselling session. I would also equally recognize that it’s more in the DNA of some pastors to simply not burden their spouse with the information that would come with sharing.

I’ve been told things, and on occasion, before the words are out of the person’s mouth, I will say, “I will keep the confidence, but can I share it with my wife?” Most, some of whom know her, will say yes.

And as it turns out they don’t need to worry about information leaks from her, since apparently a secret with her is safe. For life. With everyone.

I still want to know how they do the trick, but more than that, I wish she would just tell me.

Magicians, eh?

I hear we’re having rabbit stew for dinner.

January 17, 2019

Our Summer Church-Visit Holidays: The Pattern

We wanted to hear Rob Bell in person. The first time we travelled to Grand Rapids he was away, but we went back again to have the complete experience. Not long after, Rob was gone from Mars Hill Bible Church over his view of hell, among other things.

I had some history visiting Willow Creek to hear Bill Hybels, but my wife had not. We went several times to South Barrington to hear him. Last year, in the wake of #MeToo, Hybels was no longer at Willow nor were the people he had chosen as successors.

I had been captivated listening to James MacDonald’s preaching on radio while driving to work every morning. The first time we drove there we didn’t know that Elgin was just a new Harvest Bible Chapel campus so James wasn’t there. The second time we drove to Rolling Meadows and he was at Elgin. So technically, I’ve never heard him in person. This week he took — or was placed on — an indefinite leave of absence over issues involving money and control.

The moral of the story is we need to stop visiting churches…

…Actually, the moral of the story is something my father taught me several decades ago: Don’t invest your confidence or admiration in an individual preacher; they will invariably let you down at some point. The megachurches are always the biggest blips on our radar and many of them got there due to the charisma of a key personality.

Many of these Bible teachers are great communicators with a style that local church pastors may try to emulate though not always successfully. Often however, the character strength by which they are able to get up and speak to thousands of people each weekend also masks a character weakness in terms of how they handle that power and responsibility…

…There are a couple of churches I would still like to visit to hear the lead pastors speak in person, instead of on a small window of my computer screen. In the wake of all that’s transpired, I’m thinking it might be best not to. 


Sidebar: Both Hybels and MacDonald ministered in the area of greater Chicagoland called the ‘Nortwest Suburbs.’ I wonder what the impact is there on both Christians and non-Christians alike in the wake of watching the fallout from leadership crises at two of the largest churches in the area. I can imagine doubters and skeptics saying, ‘See; I told you it was all a sham.’

While these two churches will continue to serve their congregations, no doubt some disillusioned people will take a step away from church, at least for a season. It may also be the case the smaller, local churches are left to pick up former members at Harvest and Willow who want to escape the megachurch environment.

The people — and pastors — in this part of Chicago really need our prayers.

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 23, 2017

Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins

I came across this list earlier this week, though I had probably been aware of it before. I have to assume the use of the terms social is to distinguish this list from the Seven Deadly Sins reproduced here lower down the page. The list is sometimes seen as the ‘Seven Blunders of the World,’ to distinguish it from the Seven Wonders of the World.

According to Wikipedia, Gandhi “published in his weekly newspaper Young India on October 22, 1925. Later he gave this same list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi, written on a piece of paper on their final day together shortly before his assassination.”

Take some time to read the list slowly and consider the consequences of each:

  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Commerce without morality.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Religion without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principle.

His grandson, who has traveled around as a speaker “added an eighth blunder, ‘rights without responsibilities'”.

You only has to check your news feed or newspaper to see that examples of each of these abound today, perhaps even more so than when Gandhi wrote them.


Appendix A: The Seven Deadly Sins (held in contrast to the Seven Virtues)

  1. pride
  2. greed
  3. lust
  4. envy
  5. gluttony
  6. wrath
  7. sloth

Biblical precedent for The Seven Deadly Sins is found in Proverbs 6: 16-19. KJV is below link is to The Voice Bible.

  1. A proud (vain) look
  2. A lying tongue.
  3. Hands that shed innocent blood
  4. A heart that deviseth wicked acts
  5. Feet that be swift in running to mischief
  6. A false witness that speaketh lies
  7. He that soweth discord among brethren

Appendix B – The Seven Christian Virtues (derived as the inverse of the sins)

  1. Chastity
  2. Temperance
  3. Charity / Generosity
  4. Diligence
  5. Patience
  6. Gratitude
  7. Humility

 

March 18, 2014

Your Critics are Your Friends

celebrity-jeopardy Driscoll Noble Furtick

The above picture is taken from an article by Matthew Marino at the blog, The Gospel Side, titled Celebrity Jeopardy, Pastors Edition. In it he said one thing that for me really nailed it:

Last summer, in a post entitled “When did evangelicals get popes?” I pointed out the ironic similarities between celebrity video-venue preachers and the papacy that Protestantism rose in protest against. Extending the irony has been Pope Francis’ humility this year in contrast to the growing list of celebrity pastor abuses…

I encourage you to read all of it.

Like Matthew, I got comments — by email, Twitter and on the blog — that my emphasis on this topic and of Driscoll in particular was skewing too negative. But I think that there’s a time and a place to raise awareness of issues and thereby hold leaders accountable.

And if Warren Throckmorton’s blog post yesterday is accurate, maybe now is the time to back off:

…As it turns out, the publisher, Harper Collins Christian, has now corrected the section in question by quoting and footnoting the section of Ryken’s book I identified. Nearly all of the problems I identified have been addressed…

More to the point, there’s been an indication of true repentance as posted at Christianity Today yesterday in an article titled Mark Driscoll Retracts Bestseller Status, Resets Life.

…In the lengthy letter via Mars Hill’s online network, The City, Driscoll reflects on what he has gotten right and wrong over the past 17 years, which have seen the church he founded grow beyond his expectations to an estimated 13,000 people worshiping weekly in 15 locations in five states. Many praised the statement on Twitter for its humility, while many others said it still left their concerns unresolved…

[The full letter was leaked on Reddit.]

In Proverbs 27 we read,

Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.  (ESV)

If I am critical of the prominent writers and pastors who have been the subject of recent brought-on-by-themselves controversies, I am doing so as an insider, as someone who wants to see the scandals off the front page of the Christian websites and blogs. So we bring things into the open hopefully for a short season in order to see a turnaround and as a preventative that things don’t get worse.

Several years ago I wrote a paraphrase of II Tim 3:16, the verse that talks about scripture being useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. While I am NOT drawing a parallel between a blog and God’s holy word, in the paraphrase I noted that scripture:

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

Now mapping that back to the verse in Proverbs; this is the kind of thing I hope that we would do for and with one another. “As iron sharpens iron…”  The goal should be that we would raise the standard of integrity, point out when and where we leave that path, find the way to get back on track, and put safeguards in to place that stop us from wandering.

Furthermore, I would want someone to do that for me.

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?

June 23, 2013

Backstage

Filed under: character, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:11 am

Awhile ago, my oldest son wrote a piece that continues to be one of this blog’s top ten posts for traffic; so it seemed only fair to have you meet my youngest son…

the part nobody sees

Backstage

by Aaron Wilkinson

Every now and then I have a dream that changes the way I see myself. It’s like when I fall asleep and stop trying to overthink the world my subconscious mind gets a chance to offer a new interpretation or understanding of something I’ve been entirely blind to. Recently, there has been one in particular that I keep remembering.

I’m on stage. In a play. The audience is every friend, every acquaintance, every person I have ever met or interacted with at all. Being my egotistical self, I was playing the main character. The audience ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed and gasped and laughed as I recited my lines and went through the motions with precision and artistry. The performance ended. Standing ovation. Myself and the other faceless actor’s bowed. After the curtain closed I stepped through the curtain and invited my friends backstage.

Suddenly the expressions of awe and admiration were replaced with confusion and disappointment. Some went backstage. Others just left. The ones that did inspected the scene and the props. They spoke with the other actors. Then I approached a group of them that were my closest friends. They introduced themselves. They had no idea who I was and no interest in finding out. Then I woke up in tears.

I think the moral of the story if fairly obvious. I don’t actually believe that no one knows who I really am but I believe that I often make that knowledge hard to achieve. I get scared of what people will think of me when I’m not ‘performing’. When there’s no objective, no expectation, and no script what’s left of me? How much of what people know of me is a character I play or an imposter I’m unaware of?

How often do I invite people backstage? How often do you? The tagline for this blog is ‘a library of unfinished works’. Some of my friends will know that I love the idea of what I call ‘thoughts without conclusions’. Just bouncing ideas and asking questions for the purpose of figuring out what we don’t know. Seeing what we still need to see. Recognizing what is still unfamiliar. With that in mind I’m still trying to figure out the answer to the questions: what is backstage and how can I let people in there more often.

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?

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