Thinking Out Loud

April 22, 2011

Delivered from Death

When you’re in your teens or twenties, or even thirties, you may not think much about death.  With the passing of time comes the reality that the death rate is 100%, and with that comes much uncertainty.

Some of the uncertainty is fueled by all the knowledge we have.  Every night I watch ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, sometimes flipping over to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.  There are various health stories on the news to be sure, but it’s the commercials that do me in.  Every week brings a new “condition” — usually described by an acronym — and when you listen to the long disclaimer, the potential side effects of the “cures” seems to make them rather dubious remedies.

In other words, I’m not becoming a hypochondriac — well, maybe I little — but I am becoming too aware of the things in our fearfully and wonderfully made bodies that can break down.

Last week, on one of the blogs, someone wrote about being so medically phobic, he breaks out into a sweat when his wife trims the cat’s nails.  And I think it was one of the Christian bloggers.

Fear and anxiety should not be part of the life of the Christian.  While the communion elements were being passed this morning at the Good Friday service and everyone else was breathing a quick prayer of confession for having downplayed their income on their 2010 tax return, or looking at pornography last night until the wee hours; I was seeking forgiveness for fear and anxiety.

Every year, I write something to the effect that, for those of us who’ve been around for awhile and have had our share of Christmases and Easters, we should look for something new in the Easter story or Christmas story that we didn’t know was there before.  For me, this year, in several of the messages I’ve heard in church or downloaded, it’s been this theme that in Christ’s resurrection we’re not only delivered from death, but delivered from the fear of death.

This quote from yesterday’s post at Christianity 201 — which I encourage you to read — best describes the perspective every Christ follower should have:

…Christ Himself [became] the instrument by which the Father would — for all time — make death not a wall … but a door.

Also recommended: He Took The Nails – at Christianity 201

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October 22, 2010

Evangelicals and Crucifixes — A Rebroadcast (!) of 10.24.09

One of the better posts from one year ago…

When I was in the sixth grade, my friend Jimmy Moss and his family moved to Morristown, New Jersey, where he later decided that his life calling was to enter the priesthood.

I have never seen Jimmy since. I doubt very much he goes by ‘Jimmy’ now. “Father Jimmy?” Okay, it’s possible.

crucifixJimmy’s family were Catholic. I know that because we had several discussions about it. Not so much Jimmy and I. Mostly my parents and I. It was considered necessary that I know a little about this particular take on Christianity should it ever come up.

Later on, I decided to check it out firsthand. Much later on. I think I was in my mid-twenties when I first attended a mass. I was working for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Toronto at the time, and there was another girl in the office who also had never been to a mass, and so we both agreed that on the next weekend we would attend a mass.

I remember several things about that mass. It was the middle of summer and the sermon was short. If there was one at all. If there was, I can tell you the announcements took up more time. It seemed like we were in and out of there in about twenty minutes. In truth, it couldn’t have been much more than twenty-five.

I didn’t know where to turn in the missal to follow the order of service. Someone nearby spotted my confusion and informed me we were in “the sixteenth Sunday of ordinary time,” or something like that. But they were flipping back and forth between different sections of the missal, which didn’t help.

I also remember the guy standing at the back reading a copy of the tabloid Sunday paper. I don’t think he ever looked up from the sports pages. I was later informed that “being there” was paramount. It was important to attend apparently, even if your heart wasn’t in it. Just show up.

Which would explain the guy who was wet. The way I figured it, he must have lived directly across the road from the church. He had jumped out of his backyard pool, donned the minimal amount of clothing, and joined the newspaper reader at the back of the sanctuary. He was the one dripping water droplets on the floor. Really.

I didn’t go forward to “receive the host,” i.e. take communion. But I tried my best to sing the two hymns. And I knew the words to repeat the “Our Father.” And my reflexes were quick enough not to launch into, “For Thine is the kingdom…”

Most evangelicals have never been to a mass. Nearly twenty-five years later, I would attend again. Once every quarter century. I guess that makes me a nominal Catholic.

…Anyway, I was often invited into Jimmy’s home. I remember several things about it all these years later. The first was that if I stayed for supper, Jimmy and his two brothers had to wash their hands before and after meals. That was new to me, then, but it’s a practice I’ve adopted recently since discovering the world of sauces and salad dressings. A good meal is one where I leave with sticky fingers that require a rinse.

crucifix2The second was the presence of crucifixes. I think they were spread throughout the house; but the memory may be of general religious icons; there may have only been the one at the front door.

This was a Catholic home. That was communicated to every guest, every salesman, every one of the kid’s friends. I couldn’t avert my eyes. Jesus was there on the cross, and he didn’t look happy.

We didn’t have a crucifix in our home. Crosses in my evangelical world were distinctly sans corpus, a phrase I just made up mixing French and Latin. As kids in Sunday School we were told that Catholics have crucifixes and Protestants don’t. I wonder sometimes if it would have been good if we had one.

One Christmas, the Gregg Gift Company brought out some kind of ornament for the front hall that says, “This Home Believes.” I don’t think one’s expression of belief should be reduced to a sign, or that a sign should be expected to carry the burden of verbal witness, but I often wonder if we should have something at our front door that alerts guests, salesmen and friends that “This is a Christian home;” preferably something that contains in its iconography the unmistakable message of the core of Christianity.

Something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a crucifix.

# # #

And while we’re reblogging things from a year ago, here’s the ending to another Catholic-related post containing an analogy I’ve used several times about the migration that often occurs between Canadian Roman Catholics and Canadian Anglicans

###

Ottawa Gatineau

…For my Canadian readers, here is an analogy I’ve always found helpful. The conversion of an Anglican to, for example, Pentecostalism, might be compared to someone living in Ottawa who decides to move to Windsor. It’s all the same province, they keep their driver’s license and their health cards, but it’s a major move — around 800 km — and a complete change of both climate and culture.

The conversion of an Anglican to Catholicism could be compared to the that same person in Ottawa deciding to move to Gatineau. The moving van might only have a ten-minute drive across the river, but it’s a new province, requiring a new driver’s license and even a new way of looking at common law. Compared to moving to Windsor, it’s a cakewalk, but at a deeper level it is a much more radical change of address. Which one is the bigger move?

# # #

COMMENTS: If you see your ministry as flitting from blog to blog leaving remarks which attack or tear down another denomination — i.e. anti-Catholic rhetoric — please note those comments will not be posted here.

October 3, 2010

The Cross of Christ: Our Central Theme

“I must die or get somebody to die for me. If the Bible doesn’t teach that it doesn’t teach anything.” ~ Dwight L. Moody
“The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden he carries it also.” ~ Charles Spurgeon
“Jesus now has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His cross.” ~ Thomas a Kempis
“In many respects I find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes him dangerous. Because of Easter, I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere.” ~ Philip Yancey
“God proved his love on the cross. When Christ hung, bled and died it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.'” ~ Billy Graham

August 6, 2010

Let’s Look at the Amish

Somewhere near the end of our vacation, we were in a town where suddenly a horse and buggy appeared in the opposite traffic lane. Not knowing if my wife had noticed, I simply said; “Amish;” to which she replied; “Oooh! Let’s look at them.”

The strange remark — which I got right away, but you may not have — is a dry reference to people we know who say they are going to go to Pennsylvania to “look at the Amish.” Not shop in their stores and buy jams, jellies or crafts from them. Not spend a week helping out on one of their farms — the way one might volunteer on an Israeli kibbutz — as much of an adventure as that would be. Not attending one of their worship services.

No… just “looking at the Amish;” the way we might visit a town if everybody there had two heads.

But maybe, just maybe, we should take a minute to ‘look at’ (in the sense of ‘consider’) the Amish.

While everybody else in Christendom has suffered the fate of slowly being dominated and shaped by the spirit and culture of the world, these people have managed to truly understand what it means to be “set apart;” what it means to not ‘give in’ to the dominant culture and its ways of seeing the world.

And isn’t that

…continue reading here…

Photo is from Daily Encouragement by Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

June 22, 2010

Radical: It Truly Is

On April 30th I responded here to the sample chapter of David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream, all the while not expecting to be given a copy of the complete book.   On Friday that changed.   I started reading around 3:00 PM Sunday and by 11:00 Monday morning had finished all 216 pages.

Radical truly is.

In the meantime, I thought I had included another mention of David Platt in the link list, but I see instead I e-mailed it to several pastor friends:

At an average of 55 minutes, David Platt’s Sunday morning sermons at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, are already far longer than those of most pastors. But to Platt, they seem awfully short. He has been struck in his travels by underground Asian house churches that study the Bible together, under the threat of persecution, for as long as 12 hours in one sitting.

He has imported this practice into a biennial event that Brook Hills calls Secret Church. Starting at 6 p.m., Platt preaches for six hours on a single topic, such as a survey of the Old Testament. About 1,000 people, mostly college students and young singles, turned out for the first Secret Church. Since then, other Secret Church topics have included the Atonement and spiritual warfare. It is now so popular the church requires tickets.

“It’s one of my favorite sights as a pastor to look out at 12:30 a.m. and see a room full of 2,500 people, their Bibles open, soaking it in,” Platt says.

Platt believes churches have lowered the bar for biblical and theological literacy by treating it as something for professionals. Equating serious biblical engagement with seminaries rather than the local church has impoverished both institutions, he says. So Brook Hills has launched its own training center for lay leaders and is preparing a one-year training program for church planters, with separate tracks for full-time pastors and bi-vocational ministers. Platt recognizes that smaller churches lack the human and financial resources to offer these programs, but he thinks the principles transfer to churches with only 50 members.

continue reading at Christianity Today

Radical is a book about the state of the American church.    But while it comes close, it isn’t too American to miss out on a larger audience.   Radical is a book about missions.   But it is engaging enough to eclipse the negative stereotypes which cause books of that genre to escape our interest.   Platt keeps it pertinent by including examples of people in his church who have allowed their lives to intersect with the lives of people in the much broader world.  Examples of people not too different from people like us.

Mostly, Radical is about you and me and all that we could be doing that we’re not doing.   He ends with a one-year challenge called “The Radical Experiment.”   Not content to simply write a book review, I decided to check out the sermon where he introduced the experiment in his home church, The Church at Brook Hills, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Platt has a quiet, gentle preaching style and a laid-back southern accent that belies the degree of challenge he is presenting to his hearers. The website Baptist 21 says, “He is a phenomenal preacher of God’s Word, we would probably label him as one of the best and certainly one of the young up and coming preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention. God is blessing his ministry as Brook Hills is growing and sees weekly attendance of over 4,000 people.”

Reading the book however, it is very clear that Platt is not entirely comfortable being the pastor of a ‘megachurch’ of 4,000 people and all its attendant accoutrements.  His frequent and intensive visits overseas mean that he is somewhat of a ‘fish out of water’ in the affluence of his home church.  I am sure there are Sundays where his heart is in another place.   Consequently, he is a liaison between the affluent North American Church, and the persecuted church overseas.

…Every few months, a book is released with a message and significance “for such a time as this.”   Books like this capture the spiritual imagination and present us with new possibilities.   Radical is that book for the summer of 2010.

I want to end this with an endorsement the book received from Russell D. Moore, whose blog is often linked here:

“Sometimes people will commend a book by saying, ‘You won’t want to put it down.’ I can’t say that about this book. You’ll want to put it down, many times. If you’re like me, as you read David Platt’s Radical, you’ll find yourself uncomfortably targeted by the Holy Spirit. You’ll see just how acclimated you are to the American dream. But you’ll find here another Way, one you know to be true, because you’ve heard it before in the words of the Lord Jesus, perhaps most forcefully in the simple call ‘Follow me.’

Read this book. Put it away for a time, if you need to, while your conscience is invaded by the Spirit driving you to repentance. And then pick it up again. After you’re done reading, I think you’ll know better how to pick up your cross and follow Christ for the advancement of the kingdom and the destruction of false dreams.”

A copy of Radical was provided by Augsburg-Fortress Canada, the Canadian distributor for Waterbrook/Multnomah. (Thanks, Norm!) The related booklet, The Radical Question is available for giveaway purposes in packages of ten.

May 2, 2010

Jesus’ Answer Knocks Them Off Their Feet

Reblogging an interesting subject from two years ago…

“…they drew back and fell to the ground.”  ~John 18:6

The quotation above is from John’s account of Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of soldiers and Pharisees to a grove of olives and Jesus steps out from his group and asks who they are seeking. They said, “Jesus of Nazareth;” and he answered, “I am he.” And then John tells us that at the words, ‘I am he;’ they fell to the ground. I’ve quoted the NIV (or ESV) above; The Message version adds a different dimension, “He said, “That’s me.” The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, his betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.”

This detail about the soldiers is singular to John’s gospel. (He doesn’t mention the betrayal with a kiss at all.) I’ve often wondered what caused this particular reaction.

  • The Life Application Bible suggests that they were startled by the boldness of his question
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary suggests he unnerved his captors, some of whom may have been the ones previously unable to lay hands on him (John 7:43-46);
  • Though the Pharisees had seen Jesus teaching in the temple, it’s possible the soldiers had never seen him up close and personal. As they came into proximity with him he was either not what they expected, or they sensed something “wholly other” about him. (Matthew Henry adds that the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was used derisively, and that Jesus could have simply answered “No” for technically he was ‘Jesus of Bethlehem.’)
  • The Life App. and various other commentaries tell us that his “I am he” answer used the “I AM” form of God’s name; it indicated his claim of divinity. There are many pivotal turning points in John’s text, but this is one where we often miss the full impact;
  • The above, combined with what they where about to do; they suddenly felt the impact of their own actions. Were they arresting an innocent man? Were they arresting God?
  • If the full force of his answer registered at all; Matthew Henry points out they would realize that he could simply strike them dead at that point. Was there any limit to his potential response?

Without taking away from any of these explanations, I want to introduce a new dimension to the narrative that had never struck me before in this context. I picked this up reading Michael Card writing in an older issue of the Our Journey devotional booklet.

“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…” ~ Michael Card (Italics added)

What do you do if you are the soldiers, sent to arrest someone, who looks more like a victim than a criminal? What do you do if the plan calls for flogging or torture and the person seems to be already spent? Could that be part of what caused them to draw back and fall to the ground?

~Paul

April 27, 2010

Kingdoms in Conflict

Filed under: bible, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

The world says ‘seeing is believing.’

Jesus teaches ‘believing is seeing.’

The world says attain wisdom

The Bible teaches we should be willing to become a fool

The world says ‘be a survivor’

Jesus taught we should be willing to lose our lives

The world says ‘go for the gold,’ achieve greatness

Jesus taught us to be willing to be the last, the least

The world exalts leaders

Jesus said we should make ourselves servants

The world exalts human potential and greatness

Jesus said we should humble ourselves

The world says ‘look out for number one’

The Bible teaches we should look out for the interests of others and count others better than ourselves

The world says ‘get all you can’

Jesus says ‘give all you can’

The world says we should make our good deeds known

Jesus taught we should keep our good deeds secret

The world says love is a feeling, it’s conditional and it will grow old

The Bible teaches the love is a lasting, unconditional commitment; love never fails

The world says we should hate our enemies

Jesus taught us to love our enemies

The world says ‘get even,’ retaliate

Jesus taught forgiveness

The world puts spin on events to cover up mistakes

Proverbs teaches us to confess our mistakes

The world emphasizes the great things human can accomplish

The prophets taught things happen ‘not by might, nor by power,’ but by God’s Spirit

The world says ‘drown your sorrows’

The Bible contrasts that with ‘be filled with the Spirit

The world operates on cynicism and skepticism

Jesus taught that all things are possible to those who believe

The world says you should consult your horoscope

Jesus talked about searching the scriptures

The world says the Bible was written by human agency only

The Bible itself claims that all Scripture is God breathed

The world says the Bible is old-fashioned and out-of-date

Jesus said that heaven and earth will pass away, but not his truths

The world thinks Jesus was a good man

The early church confession was that Jesus is Lord

The world says Jesus is not coming back

Jesus promised ‘I will come and receive you to myself’

The world concludes, ‘I’ll never worship Jesus Christ’

The Bible says that someday every knee will bow and every voice will admit that Jesus Christ is Lord.


~adapted from Straightforward by Larry Tomczak, a classic book from the Jesus movement of the late 1970s; references for any italicized lines available on request

April 21, 2010

Wednesday Think Links

Here’s the list for Wednesday the 21st: That means spring is one-third gone already!   (Or autumn for all our mates down under.)

  • Gotta love the new style of church names, right?   Okay, maybe not all of them. The blog Out of Ur has put them all in this collection.
  • What’s the worst thing a Methodist preacher can do?   Re-baptize someone, according to this piece by Talbot Davis at The Heart of the Matter.   Mind you, I can think of worse things!
  • Cornerstone Church without Francis Chan?  Tell me he’s just testing his congregation again.  Here’s the 11-minute video at Resurgence.  Or listen to the message on 4/18 here.
  • David Kenney went to church on Good Friday and Easter, only Jesus never died at the one, and never rose again at the other.   In this piece, he suggests that it’s all about life.
  • Tom Datema sets the bar low enough on church “purpose statements” that any local church can attain, in this piece at Brain Twitch.
  • Can you handle one more Jennifer Knapp post.  “…Let’s assume that it is a sin.  Then my question is: Can a sinful person love Jesus?  Oh! We’ve got to be so careful how we answer that question.  To me, the answer is an obvious “yes”.  It is obvious to me because my own life testifies to it.  In every season of my life, I have struggled with different sins. But in all of those seasons I have still loved Jesus.”  Read in full at Upwrite.
  • All those progressive Christian radio stations can keep playing Owl City, now that Adam Young has hit the online pages of Christianity Today.
  • Colin at the blog simply titled Words has an analogy on the subject of “constructive reconstruction” of faith with the piece, My Brother the Bike Mechanic.
  • Jon Acuff from Stuff Christians Like finally gets around to doing a book promo video, but you might draw more from this CNN clip of a piece he appeared in.  (Canadian readers:  Does John Roberts hint at the end that he attends North Point?)
  • Allen Flemming, who claims an intimate knowledge of the family says that Canadian David DiSabatino’s DVD documentary on Larry Norman has got it all wrong, setting up a website refuting Fallen Angel called Failed Angle.
  • Pastor Craig Groeschel of Lifechurch.tv re-establishes his church’s purposes in The Code, a series of 13 statements spread out over three blog posts at Swerve.   You’ll have to click here and then head for April 14, 15 and 16 posts; but they’re good reading.  (Or see them all in the comments section here.)
  • Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi, has a balanced look at discernment ministries in 10 Ways to Keep Watchdogs from Barking.
  • Jason Wert is thankful for Anne Jackson drawing attention to the issue of human trafficking in Moldova, but suggests this event has been going on for a long while, even in the United States.
  • Adrienne at the blog, Contemplative Life, has a short post here introducing a piece by Ann Voskamp about Ann’s daughter’s baptism.   Start here, and then click the link to Ann’s piece.
  • Bill at the blog, A New Language for Christians, puts a more modern spin on the story of the good Samaritan.
  • This week’s cartoon is from Thom Tapp at Baptist Press:

April 4, 2010

Thoughts for Easter Sunday

A potpourri of thoughts from www.dailychristianquote.com Don’t rush through these, pause over them to grasp what the writers were discovering…


Good Friday is the mirror held up by Jesus so that we can see ourselves in all our stark reality, and then it turns us to that cross and to his eyes and we hear these words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” That’s us! And so we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. We see in that cross a love so amazing so divine that it loves us even when we turn away from it, or spurn it, or crucify it. There is no faith in Jesus without understanding that on the cross we see into the heart of God and find it filled with mercy for the sinner whoever he or she may be.

~ Robert G. Trache


Christ died. He left a will in which He gave His soul to His Father, His body to Joseph of Arimathea, His clothes to the soldiers, and His mother to John. But to His disciples, who had left all to follow Him, He left not silver or gold, but something far better – His PEACE!

~ Matthew Henry


God led Jesus to a cross, not a crown, and yet that cross ultimately proved to be the gateway to freedom and forgiveness for every sinner in the world. God also asks us as Jesus’ followers to carry a cross. Paradoxically, in carrying that cross, we find liberty and joy and fulfillment.

~ Bill Hybels


Christ is the Son of God. He died to atone for men’s sin, and after three days rose again. This is the most important fact in the universe. I die believing in Christ. –

~ Watchman Nee (Note found under his pillow, in prison, at his death)


As out of Jesus’ affliction came a new sense of God’s love and a new basis for love between men, so out of our affliction we may grasp the splendor of God’s love and how to love one another. Thus the consummation of the two commandments was on Golgotha; and the Cross is, at once, their image and their fulfillment.

~ Malcolm Muggeridge


The Christian community is a community of the cross, for it has been brought into being by the cross, and the focus of its worship is the Lamb once slain, now glorified. So the community of the cross is a community of celebration, a eucharistic community, ceaselessly offering to God through Christ the sacrifice of our praise and thanksgiving. The Christian life is an unending festival. And the festival we keep, now that our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us, is a joyful celebration of his sacrifice, together with a spiritual feasting upon it.

~ John R. W. Stott


This Word played life against death and death against life in tournament on the wood of the most holy cross, so that by his death he destroyed our death, and to give us life he spent his own bodily life. With love, then, he has so drawn us and with his kindness so conquered our malice that every heart should be won over.

~ Catherine of Siena



March 9, 2010

The Evangelical Lent Experience

My first communication after joining the Tyndale Blogger Network — you’d think they would have avoided the TBN acronym — wasn’t so much a book to critique as an offer to help them clear out inventory of a $2.99(US) booklet, Devotions for Lent, which they provided to stores in 10-packs, and offered to ship out to reviewers in the same configuration for giveaway purposes rather than review.

I took them up on this because the thought of the very-Evangelical Tyndale House engaging the very-Mainline Protestant concept of Lent piqued my curiosity.    I expected them to use the opportunity to introduce what a few Evangelicals might have to speak to this period leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and also to infuse readings from their popular NLT (New Living Translation) with which non-Evangelicals would be less familiar.

“This is a win-win;” I said to myself, “And I want to see what it looks like.”

It turned out not to be daily readings, which is what I have been accustomed to seeing in a Lent devotional.    Rather, there was a collection of material for each of the six weeks of Lent, consisting of an introduction, a scripture reading, a classical devotional thought, and a contemporary thought taken from Mosaic edition of the NLT.   (Check out HolyBibleMosaic.com)  This version is also available as an iPhone app.    The scripture readings, referenced only in the weekly collection, are reiterated in a full text presentation in the second half of the 80-page booklet.

There is plenty of material here and I don’t want to minimize it by suggesting that these are only weekly readings; there is enough to break up the material and suggested scriptures over a number of days, perhaps Monday thru Thursday, for example.

But my problem in digging in deeper — aside from the fact that the season of Lent is now one-third passed — was the tiny type size used in the production of this resource.  Even with my seldom-used reading glasses it was a strain.   I had to ask myself if perhaps this was why these booklets were being so freely given away at this point.   Worse was the italicized typeface with the distracting flourishes on certain letters.   The writing of John Cassian — a writer with whom I was not familiar — had the word “Egypt” written next to his name, and I wondered if perhaps this was a clue that the reading was typeset in hieroglyphics.

I don’t mean to be over-critical, but sometimes it’s “the little foxes that spoil the vines” and the small details which can undermine a great resource concept. I hope Tyndale takes another run at this in the period leading up to Easter 2011.

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