Thinking Out Loud

September 5, 2019

When Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy Collide

Filed under: Christianity, culture, doctrine, ethics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:54 am

Orthodoxy = Right belief.
Orthopraxy = Right practice.

I mentioned on Twitter that I would love to write an article with this title. I’m not sure this is the one. It seems to me that this is a topic that deserves a much fuller treatment.

Today, I simply want to document the observation that sometimes, even though we are dogmatic about what the Bible says on particular issues, and we’ve got our doctrine absolutely certain, advancing that is not always the best approach where real people are involved.

I think the popular phrase is, “Welcoming but not affirming.”

When you know real people, especially in your family, workplace, church community, or neighborhood, it’s hard to trumpet the judgment of God when the person involved is sitting right there in front of you.

Our approach is going to vary. Jesus didn’t always minister to people in similar situations in exactly the same way.

One of my regular C201 contributors shared this:

I like to think of God as Heavenly Father. My experience of fatherhood is that what is best can vary according to situation and the maturity of the children etc. I also have an expression: What is right is not always what is best.

I used the illustration in a sermon that it was completely fair how my brother and I took turns on the Atari 2600 depending on how long your guy lasted. It seemed that my brother played for hours while I played for minutes.

What is right is not always what is best.

It would be difficult for some Christians to wrap their minds around that. We’re supposed to be champions for truth, right? 

Some of you will sense that I had something else in mind when I first considered this, but Paul’s message in Romans 14 is certainly applicable:

13 In light of this, we must resolve never to judge others and never to place an obstacle or impediment in their paths that could cause them to trip and fall. 14 Personally I have been completely convinced that in Jesus, our Lord, no object in and of itself is unclean; but if my fellow believers are convinced that something is unclean, then it is unclean to them. (The Voice Bible)

Choosing a graphic image for these articles often adds an extra dimension. Today’s image (from MGM Ministries) reminds us that our words and actions can point people in one of two very different directions. 

The graphic below (from Christian Paradoxes) is a reminder that there is actually a trio of factors, but to delve deeper, I encourage you to use a search engine, as this topic is well covered online.

August 16, 2019

What it Means to be Human

Lately, I’ve been encountering the phrase, “What it means to be human.” Since I almost exclusively read from Christian sources, this wasn’t some self-help, or human-potential phrase being utilized, but rather Christian writers encouraging us that with with God at the center of our lives we can be all that we were made for.

But for the last 96 hours, I’ve been thinking about “What it means to be sub-human.”

Our next door neighbors came back from their annual two months away.

The man walks up and down the property which divides our houses growling a long list of expletives. No additional nouns, articles or prepositions in-between. It’s directed at us, and we know this. He doesn’t like us, and he doesn’t like our trees. He tore down every tree on his property, diminishing its resale value in the process.

My wife, who is not given to pronouncements of this nature, said yesterday, “I think he might be demon possessed.”

These are the people whom I once compared to another neighbor when we lived in Toronto:

We had a rather strange chain-smoking neighbor when we lived in our apartment in Toronto. I recently asked God why we were forced to spend the last 25 years living next door to bad neighbors after already dealing with this in Toronto and I very distinctly heard God say, “Because anybody else would have killed them by now.” I laughed when God said that, and I think I saw Him smile.

I just checked the date on that post, and it’s been almost exactly five years, so I guess this is a twice-a-decade rant, since it doesn’t look like they’re moving anytime soon, and we can’t.

We were made for more. We were made to serve God and love Him forever.

But sometimes, you’re only reminded of this when you see someone who almost seems to have been made for lesser things; who seem less than human; who almost strike out against the notion that we were all made in the image of God.

And that’s unfortunate, because the power of God in a life is transformative. And yes, it’s difficult, but we do pray for that miracle, though admittedly not often enough.

No graphic with this. What graphic image would you have used to illustrate this article?

January 3, 2019

Worlds Colliding

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:43 am

There’s a classic Seinfeld episode where the character of George, played by Jason Alexander, is concerned that people he knows from one context are invading an entirely separate context. “Worlds Are Colliding!” he announces to anyone who might care.

Seinfeld was a big hit, but was produced at a time when our social media was unknown. Today, I wonder the degree to which George would obtain separate accounts for his “worlds.”

You can imagine my surprise when Leonard, a cousin I hadn’t seen in nearly six years showed up at my workplace. When I say “at my workplace,” I literally mean at my desk. He told the receptionist that I was expecting him and without stopping, pointed down a hallway and said, “His office is this way, right?” to which she could do no more than nod.

I was in a conversation with Jake, who manages our marketing about why our East Coast sales are down and Leonard, without even introducing himself, proceeded to tell Jake that all our marketing in New England is being placed in the wrong media. Jake extended his hand and said, “And you are???” but Leonard just kept talking. Embarrassment doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling…

…That evening, Brian, who plays bass guitar on our church worship team unexpectedly walked into our condo tenants’ association meeting and sat next to me with a big grin. The meeting isn’t restricted to voting members so Brian was wearing a name tag that simply said “Visitor.”

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

He said that I had posted online that I was off to a residents’ meeting in our building and since I had told the world what I was doing, I seemed to be asking for company. He even told the association’s Vice President at the door that I had invited him. I like Brian and I would be willing to go for coffee at a moment’s notice, but I didn’t see what he was going to get out of our 45-minute discussion to change two of our bylaws and discuss parking problems. When we reached the latter, his hand suddenly shot up and he started describing the parking problems at his building on the other side of town.

Like Seinfeld‘s George, I was succeeding in keeping my worlds separate. But suddenly the walls were crumbling. In the case of Leonard, I had to use some tough love. My workplace isn’t a family reunion. In the case of Brian, I tackled the problem at the opposite end and got our condo Vice President to be a little more restrictive when random visitors show up at meetings.

For my part, I tried to analyze how much of my life I was sharing with whom. Should my cousins know where I work? Certainly. Why not? Should they know we have marketing issues along the Atlantic seaboard? No. Not at all. Should my worship team members know I’m the Treasurer of our condo board? Hopefully it sets an example of how we should be involved in our communities; how we need to be salt and light. Should they show up at business meetings? No. That’s ridiculous.

Fortunately some of my social media interactions take place on closed pages. But I also believe in transparency. I don’t want to have to block certain people from certain parts of my world. I don’t want to be perceived as having secrets.

But Leonard, I swear if you ever start giving marketing advice to my boss again, I will give him my blessing to call security. And Brian, next time you want to drop over, let’s make it my living room instead of the common area meeting room, okay?

► So how about you? Has social media meant that worlds that might have previously had a buffer zone of separation are now open-access to everyone? Do you have trouble keeping your life compartmentalized? Or is this not necessarily a priority objective?


August 14, 2014

Oh Crappy Day

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River  in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

You may remember this tree from the review of Mark Hall’s Thrive book we did a few months ago. Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. Not compared to some things people we know are dealing with. Perspective.

But still, it was not a great day. I was going to call this short post, “I Live Next Door to the Devil.” It’s true. He was away for several months, but last night he returned home from holidays.

Today after lunch, he started yelling at me across the fence. He doesn’t like our trees overhanging his property. Actually he doesn’t like trees at all. Any trees. Over the past few years, he’s cut down all the trees on his property. A nice silver birch. A beautiful blue spruce. Several smaller ones. Even small shrubs.

He told me, “If you want to live in the country go live in the country.”

He hates nature.

The owner of a local tree service, before he passed away told me that a mature tree can add at least $1,000 per tree to your property values. But that was almost two decades ago. I’m guessing that $3,000 to $5,000 might even be realistic. They bring birds, and squirrels which bring music and entertainment.

I told him that we did, in fact thin out the foliage while he was away. But this is not the type of person you reason with.

He told me that he was going to take his chainsaw to them. I said, “Fine; cut down anything that’s over the property line.”

But then I had a change of heart. I rounded up the troops and all four of us descended on his side yard and back yard and did major surgery on the trees ourselves. We had a hedge-clipper going, two saws and were raking up everything as we went.

All this of course, looking over my shoulder the whole time. The guy is so mentally unstable I figured any minute he might decide we were trespassing.

This guy is a major case of anger management issues. We live in a constant tension of never knowing where he’s going to strike next.

We have no backyard. The side yard on our corner lot needs a bit of privacy. The trees provide that for us, something another neighbor affirmed when I spoke with him later in the afternoon.

We love trees. He hates trees. He really hates trees.

What an insane thing to argue over. 

Or perhaps he just hates us.

Pray for us.


Postscript: We had a rather strange chain-smoking neighbor when we lived in our apartment in Toronto. I recently asked God why we were forced to spend the last 25 years living next door to bad neighbors after already dealing with this in Toronto and I very distinctly heard God say, “Because anybody else would have killed them by now.” I laughed when God said that, and I think I saw Him smile.

May 10, 2010


Filed under: character, Faith, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:41 pm

(Quick age/culture test:  Did the title of this post remind you of the movie Napoleon Dynamite?  That’s the inflection I was going for…)

Matthew 5: 22

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (ESV)

But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (NLT)

I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. (The Message)

But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire. (Amplified Bible)

Four translations. Four clear messages. Varying interpretations. Why am I thinking about this verse today?

We live on a corner property that is only attached to two other houses. One is a bit of a distance away. Nice family: Husband, wife, two daughters. The other is much closer. What passes for a backyard is practically touching their kitchen window.  Many other stresses.

The bigger problem is, I have no respect for these people. For twenty years I’ve wrestled with different aspects of what it means to be salt and light in this community, as well as the particular aspect of the question that bears on why God would have us live next door to these people.

So far, as hard as I’ve tried to listen to His voice and His promptings, I’ve been unsuccessful, or to put it more spiritually, I haven’t seen anything fruitful take place.

For the past few years I have found it rather sad that they have removed all the mature trees from their backyard. (My dream would be to have a house with a ravine lot. Maybe in the “new earth” I’ll get that opportunity.)

To review, trees are good because:

  • They provide shade on a summer’s day
  • They protect the house from wind
  • They create a noise barrier
  • They provide an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere
  • They attract migratory birds
  • They help oxygenate the planet
  • They provide privacy
  • Each mature tree adds a minimum of $1,000 to your house’s value at resale; perhaps much more.

So I was equally distressed a few weeks ago when they cut down a nice silver birch tree on their front lawn for no apparent reason.

Then yesterday, after enjoying an exceptionally relaxed Mother’s Day with my wife and sons, the chain saw came out around 5:30 PM and within half an hour, a beautiful, 24-foot spruce tree that was about 30 years old was felled.   Again, no reason.   It wasn’t diseased.   It wasn’t threatening the house or the road or overhead wires.   Its roots weren’t close enough to the house to be a problem.   It required no maintenance.   The track record shows no other tree will replace it.

My neighbor is an idiot. (According to some interpretations, I can say this to you here, as long as I don’t say it directly to him.)

That was the only conclusion I could come up with.

Our longtime acquaintance Lorne, who programs the Christian music channel on Canada’s national satellite service, once said to me, “You don’t suffer fools.”   Maybe.   But doesn’t Matthew 5:22 tell me that I must?

The man next door works for the nuclear power company.   Ironically, so does the man across the street who has also cut down a number of mature trees– but nothing so grand as the one yesterday — over the past few years.   Maybe it’s an environmental perspective one gains with years of handling nuclear raw materials.

I just can’t imagine waking this morning and looking out at that big empty lawn and thinking I accomplished something vital and good the day before.

All I could think of this morning was this story:

A man made an appointment for marriage counseling with his pastor.

“I just don’t love her anymore;” was all he could say.

The pastor said, “We’re commanded to love our wives.   In Ephesians 5:25 it says, ‘Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the Church…’   Do you think you can love your wife on that basis?”

The man said; “No, I can’t love her like that.”

The pastor smiled and said; “That’s okay.  There’s a second level of love available to you.  In Matthew 22:39 scripture says to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Do you think at least you can love your wife as a person would love their neighbor?”

“No;” the man replied; “I can’t even love her like a neighbor.”

“Don’t worry;” the pastor continued, “There’s a third level of love.   In Luke 6:27 the Bible says, ‘Love your enemies.'”

Insert rim shot here.  Believe it or not, that’s the punchline.   Told well orally, it’s one of those preacher stories that gets a good laugh.   In the context of a marriage sermon however, I’m not sure how useful a story it is.

But nonetheless, I am commanded to love my enemies as well as my neighbor.    Even when the words I want to say are; “You moron; you stupid, stupid idiot.”   Even when I want to say those words with great passion, a la Napoleon Dynamite.

[Old Testament readers can interject here that as with Jonah, it wasn’t my tree to weep over; better to weep over the spiritual — unsaved — state of my neighbor’s soul.   You’re right.   Interjection taken.   We included him in last night’s prayer time.  It’s done now, anyway.]

So what about you? Got neighbors, relatives, co-workers, fellow-students, or even people at your church who are hard to love?    Do you ever find your command to love at odds with the reality of being in proximity who seem to define the term ‘unlovable?’

Tell ya what:  You pray for me and I’ll pray for you.   And I’ll pray for myself, also.  As George Washington (quoting Thomas Paine) might have said if he lived in suburbia:  These are the neighbors that try men’s souls.

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