Thinking Out Loud

March 25, 2019

Your Future Self Wants You to Read This

Part of the reason I had hoped to review Drew Dyck’s latest book before its publication is that there is so little available in the Christian market dealing with self-control. It’s one of the nine ‘Fruit of the Spirit,’ so why isn’t more being said? I had my only-ever audio-book experience this summer with Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test, which looks at self-control in general and delayed gratification in particular through the lens of a study done on preschool children you may have seen on YouTube. But there was no Christian bookstore equivalent.

Then, mysteriously the book arrived in the mail about ten days ago. Better late than never. In this case, much better. Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (Moody Publishing, 2019, paperback) ranks as one of the best-researched and one of the most-transparent books I have read in a long time. I’ve already looked at parts of it twice.  I’m not saying this because I frequently interact with Drew online. As the disclaimer goes, we’ve never met in person, but I’ll reference him here by his first name, given we have some familiarity.

The book is a mix of spiritual practices and just plain practical advice on how we can bring our lifestyle under both our control and God’s control.

A few days ago, as a precursor to this review, I excerpted a passage from the book dealing with the difference between ‘resumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’ If you missed that, take a minute now to read it. (We’ll wait here for you.) That one really left me thinking. As we assess character, could we be using the wrong metrics?

For the goal of a self-controlled life to become reality, there are certain principles that need to be drilled deep into our hearts. Drew points out that even in the most modern megachurches, “there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers and preaching each Sunday. There’s Sunday school or midweek small group meetings. These rhythms shouldn’t be legalistic duties; at their best, they foster belief and help give individual members much-needed support for the tough task of living the Christian life.”

He then cites Alain de Botton, an atheist who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms… He completely rejects the idea of God and the doctrines of the Christian faith.” however, “he realized that by failing to employ the practices of the religious, secular people were failing to make their ideas take hold.” He quotes de Botton directly: “We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it… Religions go ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the same lesson 10 times a day… Our minds are like sieves.” He also praised the liturgical calendar, “arranging time” so that the faithful “will bump into certain very important ideas.” (p 126)

One of the strengths of Your Future Self… is this most diverse collection of citations; authors culled from a wide variety of disciplines; both Christian and secular. One surprising quotation Drew included came from Philip Yancey who said he once read three books per week. No longer. Yancey blames the internet (as do I for a similar experience). “The internet and social media have trained by brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around… [A]fter a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links… Soon I’m over at CNN… or perhaps checking the weather.” (p 173)

There’s also a great section on self-control as it applies to addictions of various types, and programs used to treat addictions such as LifeChange a residential program operated by Bill Russell in Portland, OR. Drew notes “After a few months in the system the residents feel good about themselves. They’re clean, deepening their spiritual lives and sticking to a new schedule…And that’s when the real test comes.” Russell told him one of the challenges is participants “confuse system-control and self-control.” Any one of us could avoid certain types of temptation in a residential environment like theirs but it’s not the real world. Russell added that “external system-control needs to give way to internal self-control.” Russell uses the analogy of a broken leg; when broken “you need a cast;” however, “eventually you have start moving the leg again.” This then springboards into a discussion on the value of spiritual community. It’s easy to connect the dots: Your church, your small group, etc. can help you keep those new life resolutions.(pp 199-203)

There’s more to the book than just appropriately arranged citations from other works. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Drew goes into teaching mode and shares what follows on the subject of how our part in the self-control challenge is matched by God’s part; something he later cleverly describes as akin to an employers matching contribution to a payroll deduction. (This has much broader application as well.)

We need to guard against passivity and exert effort. On the other hand, we must draw on God’s power to live the Christian life. Fudging on either commitment will stall our spiritual growth. Discounting our role in sanctification leads to license. Ignoring God’s role leads to legalism.

The Bible is crammed with passages showing both the divine and the human role in sanctification.

Consider this passage from Romans: “if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (8:13). Note the dual roles represented in this verse. Who is the active agent here? Well, “you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Does that mean God isn’t involved? Not at all! The passage is equally clear that this crucial act of killing sin only happens “by the Spirit.” We need the Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives.

In 2 Peter 1:3 we see the same pattern: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” At first blush, it appears we are mere passengers on the train to holiness. After all, God has provided the power…what’s left for us to do? A lot, apparently. The passage goes on to command us, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control.” Did you catch that? We’re commanded to “make every effort” because “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.” For Peter, divine empowerment and human effort aren’t enemies. They’re allies. God has given us His power. That’s why we strive.

In Philippians 2:12 we’re commanded to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That language clearly shows the requirement of human effort. But the very next verse reminds us of who is really effecting the change: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13).

Perhaps the clearest example of the divine and human roles operating in tandem comes from Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he [Jesus] powerfully works within me” (ESV, emphasis mine). Here there’s no doubt that Paul is expending effort. Another translation reads, “I strenuously contend.” At the same time, it is equally clear that it is “he” (Jesus) who is working within him. And it’s Jesus’ internal working that motivates Paul’s effort: “For this I toil…” These passages (and scores of others) show that divine empowerment and human effort are not only compatible, they’re complementary. We may be tempted to pit them against each other, but it appears that the writers of Scripture envisioned them working together. (pp 146-148)

Finally, Drew gets very transparent. There’s a danger in writing a book like this which both humorous and conversational that the entire treatment becomes subjective. The author is sharing his own journey on the road to self-control and at the end of the day, you’re left with his story, rather than practical help.

There are some personal family stories represented here, however this book solves the greater dilemma, by confining Drew’s own self-control story into nine concise diary entries he calls, “Self-Control Training.” Think of it as defining, albeit anecdotally, how all this plays out in real life; where the rubber meets the road. Drew isn’t perfect — neither are you and I — but as you compare his initial miserable lack of progress with your own, or my own; it becomes clear that it takes many different spiritual disciplines working together to bring about change.

To that end, I believe this is one of a much smaller subset of books on my shelves with the potential to genuinely change the direction of a person’s life. Their future selves will thank them for having read it earlier on.


Drew Dyck, holding an early print edition of Your Future Self Will Thank You seen here looking for a very large stapler.


■ Listen to Drew Dyck talk more about the book in a recent Church Leaders podcast.

■ Connect with Drew’s website and sign up for his newsletter at DrewDyck.com or read more at his blog.

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March 19, 2018

Cultural Shifts: The End of “Going Shopping”

The Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, OH is an example of a once-bustling center of activity that now sits completely abandoned. (YouTube: Chris Condon)

The impending shutdown of Toys-R-Us announced last week serves as another reminder of how the way we acquire consumer goods has shifted in the internet age. In the process however, I feel something is being lost. Here are a few benefits of loading up the family in the car or van on a shopping excursion.

Exercise – Getting some fresh air, and walking the aisles of the mall or department stores is always to be preferred to just sitting on the couch watching Netflix. I found it also interesting that large homes are now being constructed to fill their respective building lots to the point where there are no backyards. The assumption is that you’re going to do everything indoors. This can’t be healthy.

Delayed Gratification – We raised our kids to expect that a trip to certain stores might result in us leaving empty-handed; carrying neither bags nor boxes. We had little money to spend, but it cost little to look. Sometimes the seeds of desire would be planted that would result in birthday or Christmas gifts, but there was never the sense that we were going to load up shopping carts with everything in sight.

Interactive Purchasing – We could ask questions as the salesperson qualified our needs. Are the extra features used by customers? Are many of these units returned? Is this compatible with another product we already own? Do we really need the extended warranty? (Some sales people were biased on that last one.) It was a process of give-and-take conversation that resulted in a better fit with little need for returns or exchanges.

Supporting Local Business – We knew that at least some of our money stayed in our city. Even with a chain store, if it’s franchised, you’re still supporting the local franchise owner. If it’s completely corporately owned, you’re at least providing local jobs, meaning wages for your immediate neighbors.

Exposure to Wider Range of Products – To get our youngest the set of pencil crayons the teacher had requested we had to walk past the fabric softener, and the set of socket wrenches, and the dog chow, and the snow tires. For the kids, every one of these was a lesson — even if nothing was spoken — in the bigger world and how it works.

Social Contact – In the late 1960s it was accepted that the shopping mall had become the new town square. It was the place to see and be seen; to run into neighbors and friends and coworkers and fellow-students. In a large city, this included people from a more distant past who, without the benefit of computers in that era, you had completely lost contact with. This was often followed with an agreement to get together soon for more social connection. As a Christian, I found this provided contexts where I could share my faith. (See also the update below*)

The Quest – Granted this is similar to the first point, but sometimes you simply need a destination; a place to go in search of a desired object. To this extent, life is like a movie. You had the need. You drove to the mall. You found a parking spot. You located the store. They had the item in stock. You made the purchase. You couldn’t remember where you had parked! There was story; on a small quest the hero had gone on a mission and returned triumphant.

I know I’ve left some things out, but as shopping becomes something we do sitting at screens and shopping carts become virtual instead of physical I just think we’ve lost something. In the process, we’re directing the profits to nameless, faceless corporations — one in particular comes to mind — but we’re also robbing ourselves of the personal profit that comes with interacting in the wider reality.


Did I leave anything out? Anything else you feel has been lost in the switch to online shopping?

*Update: This was left as a comment by Mark from England shortly after the blog published, but I don’t want any of you to miss it:

People who live alone might not see or speak to anyone for days on end. Visiting the local shops might be the only chance they have to interact with people. Not just people they know who they might meet but a friendly word from a sales assistant, a smile even, might relieve the crippling loneliness that they feel. And hey, who knows, they might make a new friend who might visit them from time to time. Isolation is not our natural state.

Good point, Mark. Where do those people find a replacement for those interactions?

November 9, 2017

The Essential Art of Concision

I debated between calling this “The Lost art of Concision” versus “The Developing Art of Concision.” First, a definition is in order:

Therefore, when I speak of the concision as a developing art, I mean the necessity of being able to put ideas across in a short-and-to-the-point manner; something you need in a world of soundbites. Last year I wrote,

It was Noam Chomsky who introduced me to the idea of concision. I’ve taught it as, “You’re selling your car through a media which is charging you $1.50 per word. How do you describe your vehicle persuasively, but keep the cost down?”

But when I speak of it as a dying art, I’m thinking specifically of the migration of many bloggers from what I’m doing now — typing/writing words — to podcasting; and to Twitter’s decision to gift everyone with 140 additional characters on Tuesday evening.

Twitter is obsessed with the number 140. (Originally videos were limited to 2 minutes and 20 seconds, which is 140 seconds.)  The new length, 280 characters, doubles this even though 160 would have been a nice gift in itself. Or 180 or 200. 280 seems long, it seems to rob Twitter of it’s basic character, heretofore. But I didn’t always feel that way. When I joined, I wrote:

I can’t say what I have to say in 140 characters.

In case you missed it, I tend to write long.

But the word concision has come up on this blog somewhat frequently. Earlier this year I wrote,

I have for a long time questioned how much time sermon has left.  With all due respect to those of you currently honing your homiletic craft at either the undergraduate or graduate level, I really think that this particular form is destined to go the way of the CD or the land line phone. I’m not saying there aren’t some great preachers out there; I spend my evening hours listening to sermon after sermon online. But that’s me. For others there are a host of reasons why sermon doesn’t work. ADD or ADHD comes to mind. Some sermons are simply too long. Some say it’s just not how they learn. Some claim that high profile Christian pastors have simply set the bar too high and average pastors can’t achieve the quality that is now widely available online. Others would argue that we’ve become accustomed to media bursts, sound bites, and increased concision.

The Bible itself is amazingly concise. Readers are often fascinated to learn how narratives they had heard about — Creation, Jonah, The Prodigal Son — when they actually got around to reading them, were expressed in a very limited fashion. In an article about Christ’s ascension the subject was raised (pun intended):

A reader wrote, “We’re told… at his ascension that he will come again in like manner as they have seen him go.” But what do we know about that manner? How long were the disciples staring as he rose into the sky? Was there a low cloud ceiling that day? The Bible’s tendency to brevity and concision makes me think that perhaps God didn’t just beam Jesus up, but his ascension may have have been more prolonged; a vertical processional to heaven.

It also came up in a piece on diminishing attention spans:

You see this in the way books and articles in periodicals are written now; in fact you’re seeing it in the piece you’re presently reading. Pick up an older book — say 60 years or more old — and you might find an entire page consisting of a single paragraph. You might even find several consecutive pages consisting of a single paragraph. (I’m told that some chapters of Paul’s epistles were often a single sentence in the original Greek, no doubt a weaving of dominant and subordinate clauses that the reader of that time would follow easily.)

Today we use paragraph breaks to keep the content flowing; to keep the eyes moving on the page; to force us writers to adopt a greater degree of concision. Our writing is also broken up by more numbered or alphanumeric lists, by bullet points, by sub-headers and by pull quotes. (We use them often at Christianity 201, where the devotions are by definition somewhat longer, and we want to make what would otherwise be an entire page of text more interesting.)

The trend towards podcasting is actually surprising, given the push toward brevity in a bullet-point world. Have you ever thought of what a full transcript of your favorite podcast would look like printed out? It would run for pages and pages. A blog post on a similar topic would be less than 2,000 words, and easily digested in under 7 minutes. (Or spoken in 15 minutes. Compare word length to spoken time at this speech minutes converter.)  We wrote about podcasts on an article on the trend from literacy to orality:

Inherent in podcasting is the right to ramble. Listeners get the nuance that’s missing in a traditional blog post (and this is one of the great liabilities of email) but they have to take the time to wade through the host(s) stream-of-consciousness narration. There’s no concision, a quality that decades ago Noam Chomsky had predicted would be, moving forward, a key asset in communications. A great concept that’s probably a seven or eight paragraph blog post instead becomes a 53 minute podcast.  Andy Warhol’s comment that “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes;” might be modified to, “In the 21st century, everyone will have their own talk show or be the host of their own radio station.” 

As Christian communicators however, we have to be careful when we try to reduce to mystery or complexity of the gospel to a concise motto, slogan, tag line or formula. In an article titled What is the Gospel, I wrote,

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?  Concision is great, but maybe it doesn’t work here.

Anyway Twitter, thanks for the extra characters; but I earnestly hope I have the wisdom to not overuse them. Readers, it’s a busy world out there; keep it short!


Yes, today I basically quoted myself throughout this article. To further embellish Chomsky’s teaching on concision would have made the article…well…not so concise.

For those mystified by the final graphic image, TL/DR stands for Too long, didn’t read.

For further reference in thinking about the difference between podcasting and blogging, this article is less than 1,100 words; you can halve the minutes in the above example.

 

January 20, 2017

A Theology of Non-Anger

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:20 am

For some time now, I’ve ended the day unwinding with a 20-minute podcast compiled from excerpts of The Brant Hansen Show. Brant‘s a long-time Christian radio guy who has served with Air-1 and WAY-FM. He’s joined daily by producer Sherri Lynn to whom God has apparently given the gift of laughter.

On the sidebar of Brant’s website I kept noticing a reference to Brant’s book, but I figured it to be some self-published project, after all, these days everybody has a book. Only a few days ago did I realize it had been released through Thomas Nelson, and decided it warranted further investigation.

unoffendableUnoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better was actually released in the spring of 2015, so we’re coming up to two years. (You’ll notice my blog hasn’t been reviewing new releases lately; I just share what I’m enjoying.) If you think that the people in Christian radio are somewhat shallow, you’re going to be pleasant surprised — perhaps amazed — at the substance in this book.

Basically, Unoffendable is a study of instances in scripture (and real life) where anger is a factor. You could call the book a treatise on the theology of anger, though I prefer to take a positive spin and emphasize non-anger. We can be so quick to assume, to lash out, and to hurt. Our knee-jerk reactions aren’t good for the people in our line of fire, and they’re not good for us.

The timing on this is significant as commentators are constantly reminding us that the hallmark of social media in particular and the internet in general seems to be our ability to be easily offended. At everything. We are an offended generation.

The book isn’t necessary a self-help title. You won’t find, for example, six steps to avoid getting angry. Rather, through personal anecdotes and lessons from scripture, proceeding through the book’s chapters instills a climate of non-offense as you read. There’s a sense in which the book has a calming effect.

In many respects, the book is an extension of and consistent with the radio show. There are sections where Brant quotes letters he received from listeners and in my head, I was hearing those as the phone calls he takes on air. Our ability with today’s technology to access spoken word content by authors means you can really allow your imagination to hear the author as you read. We found a station that streams the whole show — not the podcast — daily and listened in just to get the feel.

I encourage to get your hands on this. Read it for yourself, not just to give to so-and-so who gets mad so quickly. I think there is a sense in which we can all see ourselves within its pages; because we all have times where we’ve over-reacted.


Order Unoffendable through your favorite Christian bookseller; or get more info at Thomas Nelson.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for the review copy.

November 10, 2016

Diminishing Attention Spans

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:01 am

 

war-and-peace

When I was in high school, some of my cohorts weren’t interested in reading an entire novel or Shakespeare play and would purchase the Cliff Notes (sold in Canada as Coles Notes) instead. It was cheating to be sure, and sometimes English teachers would arrange test questions in a manner that only those who had read the text in full could answer properly.

save-time-summaryMore recently, when Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath was released, I discovered that similar products were alive and well, sold as Save Time Summaries, New Books in Brief, Instaread Summaries, and others. Seriously, why consume vast amounts reading the book when you can outsource that to someone else?

These attempts at gaining the knowledge of what a particular book contains are in some ways noble when compared to the prevailing attitude of “I didn’t bother” expressed by the acronym TL/DR — Too long, didn’t read. It turns up in a variety of settings.

Person A sends Person B an lengthy email, or a link to an article of substance and simply gets, TL/DR as a reply. Writers will sometimes include their own TL/DR summary in the first (or last) paragraph. (See below.) Reasons might include:

  • Our activities keep us so busy (or too distracted) that we don’t have time for a particular item if it’s over a certain length; or,
  • Exposure to different types of input/stimuli have left us with attention spans so diminished we can’t follow the argument/thread of a longer piece.

You see this in the way books and articles in periodicals are written now; in fact you’re seeing it in the piece you’re presently reading. Pick up an older book — say 60 years or more old — and you might find an entire page consisting of a single paragraph. You might even find several consecutive pages consisting of a single paragraph. (I’m told that some chapters of Paul’s epistles were often a single sentence in the original Greek, no doubt a weaving of dominant and subordinate clauses that the reader of that time would follow easily.)

pull-quoteToday we use paragraph breaks to keep the content flowing; to keep the eyes moving on the page; to force us writers to adopt a greater degree of concision. Our writing is also broken up by more numbered or alphanumeric lists, by bullet points, by sub-headers and by pull quotes. (We use them often at Christianity 201, where the devotions are by definition somewhat longer, and we want to make what would otherwise be an entire page of text more interesting.)

The use of varying rich text elements (changing fonts, bold face, italics, arrows, different types of headers and sub-heads) would probably surprise even an early 20th Century reader, let alone someone from the 18th or 19th Centuries. If the subject matter is cerebral enough, they might wonder why you’ve decorated as though it were written for children.

Again, in a visual-media saturated world, such things are necessary to keep the interest of readers, but if the piece is deemed too long, readers will pass. A coincidence we have three graphic images today? Maybe not.

TL/DR: The writer laments the increasing incidence of readers passing on material deemed too lengthy.

June 9, 2016

“We Never Close”

img 060916A

I remember as a teenager walking down Toronto’s Yonge (pronounced young) Street and seeing a movie theater advertising “24 hour continuous showings.” Mornings, afternoons, evenings and middle-of-the-night, there was always a movie playing because there were always customers paying.

we_never_closeAs a twenty-something returning to Canada from California, my fellow-traveler and I stopped at Las Vegas. That is probably best looked at as the subject of another blog post entirely, but one feature of the casino we visited — which I believe is common to all — is that there are no windows and no clocks. There are no visual indications as to whether it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon or 2 o’clock in the morning. No wonder that people keep gambling. Back home, months later, in a flashback to that visit, I realized that while I was nice and cozy under the covers, the casino simply kept humming; not open one day and then the next, but simply opened once and operating as one long continuous day.

In 1974, the band Emerson, Lake and Palmer described it best with the lyric, “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside.” I was captivated by the concept of a place that never shuts down; not the idea of the radio station on which I first heard the song, but the idea of somehow being inside the radio, of having physical interaction with something that simply is with no hours of operation posted on the door.

My relationship to the “wee hours of the morning” continued when a friend got a job doing commercial carpet cleaning. Law offices, advertising agencies, and the halls of corporate power in the banking sector all were subject to our rotary shampoo machines. (We looked disdainfully at steam cleaning.) While the offices were as ghost towns after midnight, it amazed me the number of people working those hours, a kind of midnight infrastructure necessary to make the places function in the daylight hours.

Open All NightMore than one stand-up comedian has asked, “If 7-11 is open 24 hours a day, why are there locks on the door?” Okay, there are reasons, but once the stores are opened, again, it’s one ongoing day, with many locations not even pausing for Christmas.

Years later, working alongside people in the magazine industry, I proposed something called Night Owls, for free distribution to the people in Toronto who make up the all night workforce, an industry category onto itself. (In those days however, advertisers preferred to place their money with controlled circulation publications, so my periodical never launched.) I still think there’s a common thread that binds all these people and they would enjoy hearing of fellow travelers, not to mention who has the best burgers at 3:00 AM…

Today, I see advantages to the order of things that I believe is God-prescribed and clearly indicated by the way daylight and evening function; but I will admit that our present world requires people to be employed on the overnight shift, even though we know that continued ignoring of natural body rhythms can reduce lifespan…

Which brings us to…

…The internet.

I was thinking last night about the wonder that is the world wide web. Like the casino district in Vegas, its motto could easily be We Never Close. As you lie in bed snoring at night, people are still looking at your Instagram and Snapchat pages. Twitter followers are coming and going. People are friending and unfriending you on Facebook. If it’s 2 o’clock in the morning where you live, it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon somewhere else. People are filling in contact forms, signing up for newsletters, checking their bank balance, and following a rabbit trail network of hyperlinks. Elsewhere online, people are making purchases from retail enterprises that would never dream (contextual pun intended) of having sales associates working those hours in a physical store. The gamers have lost track of the time, as have the people watching cat antics on YouTube, and like the theater in my teenage stroll down Toronto’s main street, there is Netflix which not only offers continuous showings, but allows you to pick your own start time. Strangers are talking to each other across chat rooms and forums; and trolls and marketers are busy leaving comments on blogs.

Open 24 HoursWelcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.

There are no breaks for national holidays, religious sabbaths or even natural disasters. Internet service interruptions do happen depending on where you live, but they cause people to experience withdrawal symptoms. Some people’s greatest nightmares have them landing in a part of the world without wi-fi.

Somewhere back in time, we plugged in the internet and it remains on. Close your eyes and sleep if you will, but not too far from you is a billion-lane highway moving megabytes around the world at the speed of light.

And the show never stops running.

 

 

 

June 12, 2015

The Disconnect Created by Fashion Jewelry

From Java, a beaded wood cross necklace from Gifts With A Cause.

From Java, a beaded wood cross necklace from Gifts With A Cause.

You’ve seen it, I’m sure.

The tabloid by the checkout lands an interview with a well-known porn star and her picture is on the cover, wearing a cross.

“Wait, what?” you ask out loud, causing the shopper ahead and the cashier to look at you strangely.

Whether it’s an actor known for his very dark, very Godless roles or a marcher being interviewed at the Gay Pride parade, the cross around the neck almost always surprises any person of faith. It certainly raises a number of possibilities.

  • The contrast is intended to shock.
  • The person doesn’t really know or understand the significance of the cross.
  • They believe that they are a Christian.
  • The cross-wearing somehow cancels out the wrong in that person’s life.
  • They take a different, pre-Christian meaning to the symbol.
  • It represents what they’d never admit verbally; that God has blessed their life with good things.
  • They are somehow appealing to a religious demographic, hoping that in spite of what they’re saying or doing, those people will like them.
  • The cross was a gift from someone, and by wearing it once in awhile they can say…that they’re wearing it.

Are there other reasons I’m missing?

The point is that there is a disconnect between the symbol and the person’s reputation or lifestyle or even activity at the moment the photo is taken or the video is recorded.

It’s a symbol that should be dear to the devout believer; the sincere Christ-follower. And so some get incensed that it’s being misused or misapplied or even mocked.

When I see these pictures on an online news feed, or in a magazine at the grocery store, I try to find the redemption in the moment, and I gotta admit, I’m not seeing it…


Tangentially: For those in the know, what do think of the trend in the last few years of wearing sideways crosses on necklaces and bracelets?

 

 

April 9, 2015

Spiritual Recidivism: Returning to the Old Haunts, Old Friends, Old Ways

I remember the first time I heard the term recidivism, it was in the context of American federal prisons, as the word can be used to describe the situation where, after serving time, prisoners re-offend and are re-incarcerated. It’s a term I would image Chuck Colson‘s Prison Fellowship ministry discusses frequently.

Not being an expert, I can only guess at a few sample reasons why people might follow their previous paths and end up back in jail:

  • Crime is the only life they know; they haven’t been placed in a new direction or given enough new life skills, and they simply return to what they know.
  • They actually “learn” crime in prison from listening to other inmates; or they idolize other prisoners and see their exploits as something worth trying.
  • They fall back among former friends — people who didn’t do hard time — and get caught up in their lifestyle of illegal activities.
  • They either consciously or subconsciously miss the security and routine of prison life and/or feel “lost” in the outside world and are simply either expecting or hoping to get caught again.

Those are just some sample ideas, I’m sure there are more.

But I am equally guilty of recidivism.

I sin, and then I sense God dealing with me about it, and I repent and I abstain from that sin for a season, but then that temptation might call out to me. I’m not thinking of anything recent here, but it’s a pattern that most Christ-followers — including the Apostle Paul — are familiar with. I’m told that some sects — particularly the Catholic church’s earliest concepts of confession, and certain aspects of Mormon doctrine — teach that once confessed, you really shouldn’t sin the same sin twice.

So why do we?

Let’s see if we can follow the pattern above and get some insights:

  • A lifestyle of sin is deeply ingrained. This is where Charismatics and Pentecostals (among others) would say there is a need for something that goes beyond confession: Deliverance.
  • We actually ‘learn’ sin from hanging around with other Christians who, instead of lifting us up, bring us down. Or, freed from one area of temptation, we don’t realize that without God filling the emotional or spiritual voids that exist, we are leaving ourselves open for other types of sin or distraction.
  • We go back to the people we knew before we determined to live a life of intentional spiritual formation. This includes people in the church who are simply not committed. It can also include media influences.
  • If we get deeply enough entrenched in a sinful lifestyle, we can become numbed to guilt, and our sin feels comfortable and enjoyable. Momentarily, the pleasures of sin outweigh the joy and satisfaction found in letting God direct our paths.

Here’s the full text from Paul I alluded to earlier:

NIV Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

To amend George Santayana’s well known quotation: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of their personal history are doomed to repeat them.

Do you find yourself running down the same sin rabbit trails? Just as spring is bringing new life to the northern hemisphere, allow God to help you break free and enjoy spiritual new life.

…If a search engine brought you to this post, maybe God is trying to tell you something. Click here to watch a brief presentation on giving Him control of your life.

February 18, 2014

Out of the Abundance of the Heart the Facebook Page Speaks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

six legged chicken

I remember once hearing a preacher say, “Nowhere in the Bible does it say to close your eyes while praying, but there are over a hundred references to gluttony.”

So what’s with the vast number of people who seem to feel that Facebook exists largely for broadcasting to the world the details of our latest meal? My wife and I know people — who shall remain nameless — who seem to feel that social media exists for this very purpose. Yes, they do post a few pictures of the kids, but they get lost in the vast galleries of food pics.

When we go to the supper table, I always make sure someone has remembered the ice cubes for drinks and a couple of salad dressings. But the camera? With the exception of a six-legged chicken, I don’t believe the camera and dinner have ever coincided.

Don’t get me wrong, Mrs. W. is an awesome cook. She buys things at the Asian grocery store and then goes online to try to figure out what they are and what to do with them. Last night’s meal was a middle-Eastern treat. We enjoy food from around the world because she’s willing to take on a challenge one night and then take on another one the next.

What I’m saying here is, if anybody has the right to post food pictures on Facebook it’s her. But we don’t. It would be boasting. It would be glorifying or idolizing food consumption. It would be trying to make our rather mundane lives look more exciting than they are. It would be a slap in the face to people who dine on Hamburger Helper and mashed potatoes night after night, much like dogs prefer a steady diet of Kibble.

Facebook is about sharing your life, and nightly food pictures suggest to me that instead of sharing your life, you need to get one.

If a person’s worth does not consist in the abundance of their possessions, neither does one’s value consist of the meal they had the day before.

April 15, 2011

Spiritual Recidivism

I remember the first time I heard the term recidivism, it was in the context of American federal prisons, as the word can be used to describe the situation where, after serving time, prisoners re-offend and are re-incarcerated. It’s a term I would image Chuck Colson‘s Prison Fellowship ministry discusses frequently.

Not being an expert, I can only guess at a few sample reasons why people might follow their previous paths and end up back in jail:

  • Crime is the only life they know; they haven’t been placed in a new direction or given enough new life skills, and they simply return to what they know.
  • They actually “learn” crime in prison from listening to other inmates; or they idolize other prisoners and see their exploits as something worth trying.
  • They fall back among former friends — people who didn’t do hard time — and get caught up in their lifestyle of illegal activities.
  • They either consciously or subconsciously miss the security and routine of prison life and/or feel “lost” in the outside world and are simply either expecting or hoping to get caught again.

Those are just some sample ideas, I’m sure there are more.

But I am equally guilty of recidivism.

I sin, and then I sense God dealing with me about it, and I repent and I abstain from that sin for a season, but then that temptation might call out to me. I’m not thinking of anything recent here, but it’s a pattern that most Christ-followers — including the Apostle Paul — are familiar with.  I’m told that some sects — particularly the Catholic church’s earliest concepts of confession, and certain aspects of Mormon doctrine — teach that once confessed, you really shouldn’t sin the same sin twice.

So why do we?

Let’s see if we can follow the pattern above and get some insights:

  • A lifestyle of sin is deeply ingrained.  This is where Charismatics and Pentecostals (among others) would say there is a need for something that goes beyond confession: Deliverance.
  • We actually “learn” sin from hanging around with other Christians who, instead of lifting us up, bring us down.  Or, freed from one area of temptation, we don’t realize that without God filling the emotional or spiritual voids that exist, we are leaving ourselves open for other types of sin or distraction.
  • We go back to the people we knew before we determined to live a life of intentional spiritual formation.  This includes people in the church who are simply not committed.  It can also include media influences.
  • If we get deeply enough entrenched in a sinful lifestyle, we can become numbed to guilt, and our sin feels comfortable and enjoyable. Momentarily, the pleasures of sin outweigh the joy and satisfaction found in letting God direct our paths.

Here’s the full text from Paul I alluded to earlier:

NIV Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

To amend George Santayana’s well known quotation:  “Those who fail to learn the lessons of their personal history are doomed to repeat them. “

Do you find yourself running down the same sin rabbit trails?   Just as spring is bringing new life to the northern hemisphere, allow God to help you break free and enjoy spiritual new life.

…If a search engine brought you to this post, maybe God is trying to tell you somethingClick here to watch a brief presentation on giving Him control of your life.

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