Thinking Out Loud

February 11, 2019

Recipe for a Joyless Christianity

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am

One of the best ways to experience a completely joyless salvation is to believe you were never ultimately lost in the first place.

One of the best ways to remain smug about your standing with God in Christ is to feel you were entitled to it all along.

One of the best ways to not be gracious is to remain firm that any grace you have received — amazing or otherwise — is something you deserved. 

One of the best ways to be unloving is to never fully consider the love that has been poured out on you.

All four gospels record the story of the woman with the alabaster jar. But Luke adds this detail:

7.41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

November 3, 2016

Cubs World Series Win Satisfies our Sense of Justice

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:56 am
For younger readers, we've included both the original and the movie versions

Chicago Cubs as underdogs in last night’s game: For younger readers, we’ve included both the original and the more recent movie version

“It’s not fair.”

That’s what I can hear fans of the Chicago Cubs baseball team saying year after year after year. For 108 years.

Until last night.

I’m trying to figure out why so many of us root for the team that seems to have little odds of winning. As a Christian, I keep coming back to a well-known verse in Amos (6:8) which I learned close to the NKJV which follows:

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly*, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?

*often quoted by people as “to do justice” as found in NASB, NRSV, ESV and about 10 others

Perhaps last night’s win satisfies my sense of justice. They deserved this, right? But after waiting since 1908, it also meets the criteria for mercy. [add rim shot]

underdog-definition

I don’t know that it’s right to call Chicago the underdog last night, because statistically, they were long overdue for the win. They were certainly the favorite, though, especially among nominal fans and people like me who don’t follow Major League Baseball much at all. (Ask yourself, when have you ever seen a sports-themed article here?)

But then there was Cleveland, whose nearly 70 years since a World Series win isn’t as long, but is certainly significant. Writing this morning at Daily Encouragement, Stephen Weber shares:

One of the great sports scenes I’ve enjoyed since my childhood is that of a winning team gathering on the field to celebrate after winning a championship game, expressing the thrill of victory. Of course it’s all the more meaningful if it’s “my” team but I can even get into the sensation of the moment when it’s not. Watching the joyous celebration last night after the Chicago Cubs win I also experienced the thrill of victory, although due to the very late hour I didn’t watch very much of it!!!

But last night I also noted the profound disappointment and even despair of the players and fans of the Cleveland Indians expressing the agony of defeat. That’s the nature of sports, there are winners and there are losers. However having no specific loyalties last night my focus was on the thrill of victory.

We are now in the midst of a great spiritual contest and sometimes with our eyes what we see sure doesn’t look much like victory. But the Bible informs us (those who follow and obey Christ) that we are on the winning side…

…I’m sure glad to be on God’s team today. Yes, there are setbacks for every believer and even apparent losses in this great spiritual contest. But God turns our losses into gains, our failures into His victory, our conflict into His peace, and our weakness into His strength. The all-surpassing power from God is seen through the endurance of the believer in the midst of life’s ups and downs.

Paul encourages us not to lose heart as he describes the challenging turmoil believers suffer and their  triumphant outcome: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9). But Paul continues with this spiritual diamond of inestimable value, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

 

October 21, 2013

Which Comes First? Conforming to Spiritual Requirements or Receiving Grace?

From the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law. The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21). This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe. The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18). This is what he is like. His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy. At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.” The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here. I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

Keeping the commands to earn God's favor

 

…and many church people force people to conform to this pattern.

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God. The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God. While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc. That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation. So it looks like:

Keeping the commands in gratitude for grace received

…that’s mercy; that’s grace.

When we have been the recipients of such love, we will of course want to respond; we will want to offer something back to please the One who gave Himself to redeem us.  If we understand that, we understand the good news of the Gospel.

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God. In either model people will strive to make God happy through various means relating to that second group of commands and will forget that what makes God happiest is when we put Him first, honor Him with with our worship, honor His name, and honor His day.

 

August 7, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Darwin - Cats

Is it Wednesday already? Time for another list of links of interest to people like you from blogs and websites great and small. But wait! None of the links below actually work; you need to click through to the Wednesday Link List’s new home at Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Journal.

  • How about a 19-second video to kick things off? (Apologies to those who clicked!)
  • Frank Viola offers a completely different take on the spiritual life of John Lennon.
  • What did the Pope really say in that in-flight news conference? One writer thinks it’s not exactly what was reported.
  • You thought there were fewer this year and you were right. Stats on why not as many churches are doing VBS.
  • Got the standard 2.3 kids? John Wesley would not approve. I suppose you could call this an article about being procreative.
  • A UK church organist, 68, was walking to a midnight Christmas Eve service as he had done for 40 years when two men, both 22, beat him to death in a motiveless attack. Now, his widow offers a message of forgiveness.
  • Essay of the Month for June (but you may not like it): The atheist daughter of a noted Christian apologist shares her story so far.
  • Related: An Atheism, Theism, Agnosticism, Gnosticism infographic.
  • Essay of the Week: Ten things church worship leaders want the rest of us to understand.
  • Related: What if we looked at our church’s corporate worship time as a spiritual discipline?
  • The year isn’t even over and already we have a winner for the worst reporting of a religious story in 2013.
  • I’ll let Michael Frost Tweet this intro: “The conservative journal Christianity Today makes the case for welcoming same-sex couples to church.”
  • A blog to know about: Jesus I Will Follow You is a tumblr that answers questions from young readers on tough subjects.
  • From my own blog this week: A blog summary on the Presbyterian Church USA’s “In Christ Alone” hymnbook controversy and a look at same sex marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada.
  • It’s easy to deal with what’s appropriate beachwear for women when you’re on a Christian radio show. It’s harder when it’s your own 13-year old daughter.
  • Rob Bell is offering two more of his 2-day conferences in September and October that are already renowned for their lunch break to go surfing.
  • Music to brighten your day: Shine Bright Baby’s song from their new album Dreamers; enjoy Beautiful Love.
  • A link that takes you to more links: An Arizona pastors offers a 6-part blog series on the sins pastors commit including letting their wives manage everything on the homefront.
  • Here’s a March post which is a link to ten articles at the blog “Canon Fodder” by the author of The Question of Canon on — wait for it — ten things you should know about the New Testament canon.
  • In searching through blogs I had bookmarked months earlier, I landed on this very succinct post which I offer for your prayer consideration.
  • Before you hit the FWD button next time, here’s four reasons that Christians need to stop forwarding hoax emails.
  • A historic Roman Catholic Church that is already a shrine to a saint whose legacy is devotion to animals plans to set aside a memorial space for Fido and Fluffy.
  • Your assignment: Write a modern worship chorus utilizing the titles of television soap operas. [Warning: Consumes 4.5 valuable minutes]
  • Finally, a reminder for the end of the week, end of the month, end of the summer, or anytime you need a reminder.

I have no idea where the first graphic — the premise of which I’m not sure I agree with — originated; but the comic books below are purported to be real.  For additional wit and wisdom, follow me (please!) on Twitter. And one last time, here’s the link to today’s Wednesday Link List without the Linkectomy.

the-pat-robertson-and-friends-coloring-book-9781891053955Christian Conservative Coloring Book

January 20, 2012

God, Make it Go Away

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:01 am

This is a re-blog from three years ago this month. Ever had days where your prayer is, “God, just make it go away.” ?


I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I wake up and then have way too much on my mind. Last night I woke up at 2:30 and all I could think of was an accident that had taken place on Tuesday night, which I had just heard about on Wednesday night, where two local elementary school teachers had been killed in a collision with a transport truck. They both left young families behind.

I figured my best response to those thoughts was to pray, but pray for what? We’d already prayed for the peace and comfort of God to reach into those families, but it was 2:30 AM and I wasn’t thinking clearly.

So I prayed, “God, this is too hard. Turn back the hands of time to Tuesday and make it so it never happened.”

Of course, you can see a number of problems in that prayer. First, if anything, it’s probably inspired by the Superman movie where he sets the earth spinning backwards to reverse time. Secondly, of course, it’s just not a prayer that can be answered. Nobody can criticize my lack of faith for a request so big, but it’s very misplaced.

I guess what I was really praying at that hour was, “Make it go away.” Not just the hurt of those two families, but the hurt everywhere; the broken marriages, the people in the U.S. and U.K. getting hit the hardest in the economic slowdown and losing their homes, the hungry and thirsty in the arid parts of Africa, the people dodging the rockets in the middle east.

I refined my prayer to ask that God, in His mercy, would intervene and give protection to those who travel on icy roads this winter; and give a heightened sense of diligence to those who maintain those roads. And peace to the families dealing with such sudden loss.  “In Jesus name, Amen.”

October 21, 2010

Anne Jackson Redfines “Earning The Right To Be Heard”

I thought the service where we were guest worship leaders had gone rather well.   I had mixed some pieces this congregation knew with some extra verses that would be new to them, and had arranged the 20 minute worship set so that the songs would really flow from one to the other.   Frankly, I was looking to relocate to be able to continue leading worship in a church like this, where I felt the musical assistance would be truly needed.

Afterward, the pastor invited us out for lunch, but it seemed like an hour before we were finally eating a restaurant that seemed unnecessarily distant.   My oldest started wandering back and forth into the lobby which had chocolate bars and other confectionery items to tempt him.   I told him firmly, “no;” but my wife didn’t hear that and minutes later he came back enjoying a large sugar treat.   Furthermore, we were wanting to press on in our journey to visit my father, who was in hospital recovering from a heart attack.

So, it’s no surprise that we didn’t make a good impression.   A week later, our honorarium arrived with a multi-page letter, written in southern U.S. drawl, informing us, “Y’all shouldn’t be doing ministry; y’all are needing ministry.”

…I took several weeks to prayerfully consider everything he said in that letter, and finally I wrote back to say that life is not perfect and we’re not perfect; we’re a young couple with a couple of really young kids who were under a great deal of stress on the day we met; but that we felt the worship service had gone extremely well, and felt that once it ended, with just him and us in the restaurant, we could be completely transparent.   We felt at that point we were no longer “on the clock” in terms of public ministry.

# # #

There are going to be people who read Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely and say, “Anne, y’all shouldn’t be doing ministry; y’all should be getting ministry.”     There are ways in which they’d be right, but absent a book like this, the world would be a poorer place.   In fact, to make such a suggestion would be to miss the point of the book entirely.

This is a book about honestly and transparency and being willing to stick your neck out and say the things that nobody is willing to say in church.   It’s about being the one person in the small group who breaks the endless silence and is willing to be the first one to be totally vulnerable and thereby, in Anne’s words, give everyone else “permission to be second.”

After getting a very early copy of Anne’s first book, Mad Church Disease (Zondervan), I got a review copy of Permission to Speak Freely (Thomas Nelson) after most bloggers had finished covering this title.   In a way that’s rather appropriate, because this is a book that we need to be reminded of from time to time, that is going to be part of the help and healing of many who are broken.

I think it’s significant that Anne has found her writing to be a redemptive work for the things in her past.   It’s significant that she has been able to get two books (so far) out of those experiences.   It’s significant that two of our industry’s largest publishers have been willing to take a chance on her brutal honesty and openness.

Here’s what I mean (italics added):

I find it interesting that in our current culture we identify the church as a safe place for broken people to find refuge.  Church is a place for us to claim the right of a modern day sanctuary where we can name our sins and ask our questions and be protected and sheltered while we search for grace, forgiveness and answers.

Yet as history shows us, for hundreds of years churches have been sacrificing the beauty of confession and brokenness for religious trappings and the malady of perfectionism. In some cases if we don’t measure up to a man-made cocktail of moral codes and checklists — if we aren’t “good enough” — we no longer feel welcomed in a church or around other Christians.

The full title is: Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace (Thomas Nelson, paperback $16.99 U.S)   This isn’t about someone living an exemplary life and thereby earning the right to write a book about it.   It’s very much the opposite.

It’s a very messy story, which we so very desperately need to hear.

Related at this blog:   Here’s an early reference I made to the book last month in connection with a breaking news story.

Related elsewhere:   Here’s the link to Donald Miller’s blog, which is stop number one on a seven stop blog tour containing chapters from Anne’s book.   Each essay concludes with a link to the next sample chapter.

Here’s the link to Anne’s blog and also the link to the special Facebook page set up in connection of the book. (Must be logged in to Facebook; on arrival select “slideshows.”)

January 8, 2009

“You Are My King” – additional lyrics – reblog of 7/24/08

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, music, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:38 pm

This week we revisited the church where I first heard the worship song, “You Are My King;” and the same young girl was leading worship as when I first heard this song.   I decided to repost this item from the summer. “Amazing love, how can it be?” None of us deserve the mercies of God, and yet, they are new every morning.  Lord, help me to remember this truth when I’m filled with fear and worry.

=====================================

Nearly 20 years ago, the #1 worship song was “Majesty” by Jack Hayford. I always felt that the song needed more, so I wrote two additional verses to it. Someone suggested I sent a “courtesy copy” to Jack, and he was kind enough to write back a short note of encouragement, which I have always treasured. (Perhaps treasured too greatly, as I have now lost track as to where it was placed!) He also indicated that I was not the first person to do this; but that none of the various editions had been ‘officially’ adopted at Church on the Way in Van Nuys, CA The congregation at our Alliance Church was willing to try them, and we used them at several other churches as well.

Last week I participated in an online discussion about adding verses to classic hymns, and today I discovered this second verse I wrote several years ago to the popular “You Are My King.” I actually wrote a third verse, too; but didn’t feel that it carried the style and quality of the other two, so I discarded it. Anyway, here it is. I also want to thank Sarah Barry who was leading worship at Carruther’s Creek Church in Ajax, Ontario the first time I heard the original version of this chorus. Though we’ve never met — I know her parents — the quality and passion of her worship leading is among the best in this part of the world.

I’m forgiven because you were forsaken
I’m accepted; you were condemned
I’m alive and well, your Spirit is within me
Because you died and rose again

Amazing love, how can it be?
That you, my King, would die for me?
Amazing love, I know it’s true
And it’s my joy to honour you
In all I do, I honour you

I am justified because of your atonement
I am guiltless; you took my place
I am free and clear because of grace and mercy
Because you died and rose again

Amazing love, how can it be?…

~ First verse, chorus and tune by Billy James Foote; additional vs. by Paul Wilkinson(…in Canada and the UK we spell honor with a ‘u’)

November 29, 2008

Further Considering the Prodigal Son (and the Prodigal God)

Filed under: bible, Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:45 pm

greg-boyd1prodigal-god-tim-keller1

Like many others, I have been quite taken with Timothy Keller’s new book The Prodigal God, which I considered briefly here a few weeks ago.   I am ever impressed at the ability of this story to challenge us in so many different ways.

So it was only fitting that we downloaded two of Greg Boyd’s sermons from Woodland Hills preached earlier in November which deal with the same topic.   As Greg points out, if the father in the story had simply pursued justice, no one would remember this story today.   (I would have added that no gospel writer would have included it then either.)

One thing I like about Greg’s preaching is that he doesn’t tell you all he knows.   This is a guy with such intellectual depth that I recently gave up trying to follow a particular discussion at his Christus Victor Ministries blog.   To adapt a term from television production, he leaves enough “intellectual headroom” that you know he’s done his homework, but doesn’t lose the common touch.   (The second part of the series includes a hilarious summer job story from Greg’s student days that is such a perfect fit to the parable under discussion.)

Anyway, all this to say, read Timothy’s book, and listen to Greg’s sermon.  To do the latter go to the Woodland Hills download page, and select the sermons for November 9 and November 16, 2008.  You can either listen to on streaming audio (allow 40 minutes of uninterrupted listening per sermon) or copy it to a disc as we did for those long car trips. You’re bound to read or hear things about this so-familiar Bible passage that you haven’t heard or read before.

Pictures: left: Greg Boyd; right: Timothy Keller book

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