Thinking Out Loud

May 29, 2017

An Interactive Devotional Experience

Imagine for a moment that I’ve had a particularly frustrating and upsetting week. A praying close friend, aware of all this takes a moment to send me an email with the curious subject line, “A message through me from God to you.” With a sigh, I click and read:

My child, I know the past few days have been trying. Please be assured of my continued you love for you and know that in these times I have been as close, if not closer, to you than ever.

Not at all thinking it through, I hit ‘reply’ and type:

Really, God? It would have been nice to have a sign of that love. A change in circumstances. A good night’s sleep, even.

I no sooner hit ‘send’ and then it hits me. What have I done? My friend will be upset. Will I damage our friendship by not appreciating their effort in reaching out? Has my response betrayed a total lack of faith? Am I just going to get God mad at me?

Not 60 seconds later a message comes back:

A sign? Okay. How about an encouragement note from a close friend?

I sigh, but this time it’s a different sigh, one of resignation.

Sorry, God.

Book Review • The Listening Day: Meditations on the Way – Volume 1  by Paul J. Pastor (Zeal Books, 2017)

Have you ever wanted to talk back to your devotional book? I imagine myself saying, ‘That’s easy for you to write; you don’t know my situation.’ Perhaps I’ve already done that a few times.

The Listening Day is a collection of 91 page-per-day readings by Oregon’s Paul J. Pastor (yes, real name) who is also the author of The Face of The Deep, which we reviewed here. At first look, the book appears to follow the format of several popular titles in the same genre, where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always.

I am often wary of this format. I would not presume to say, ‘Thus says the Lord’ unless I were certain that I had heard from God in the first place, and so I have what I consider a righteous skepticism toward books which run with this format. I’ve read the criticisms, most of which were directed at a highly successful title by an author who was and still is generally unknown. For many, the format is reminiscent of God Calling by A.J. Russell which is often used in conjunction with the AA program and has been criticized for the process by which it in particular was written, something called ‘automatic writing.’ 

Those situations don’t apply here. The author is well known to readers of Christianity Today, his first book was published by David C. Cook, and I’ve listened to him teach at his home church in Portland, where he is a deacon responsible for spiritual formation.

The book is different. For two reasons.

First, although each page begins with two well-paired key scripture verses for the day, there are many scripture passages alluded to and embedded in most of the daily writings. The book is thoroughly anchored in Biblical texts. I didn’t encounter anything where I thought, ‘God would not have said that.’ Rather, with my discernment radar set to its maximum setting, I felt the plausibility of God saying such things — especially to me personally — was quite high.

Second, there was the interactive factor. This was, in one sense, a dramatic encounter with God. The interjections on the part of the reader — typed out on behalf of you and me — were the things I would say. This book got very personal very quickly. With further honesty, sometimes the interruptions were followed by apparent silence on God’s part. Been there, too.

The introduction came with an admonishment not to try to binge-read the entire book, but rather to take one reading per day. Good advice, but impossible for a reviewer who has to read every word of every page before composing a review. Slowing down to 15 entries per day over 6 days, I asked myself, ‘What if this were the only thing I had time for in the morning as I started my day?’ I think it would be a most appropriate beginning because the dialogue format is a reminder of God’s presence from the moment I awake, and this is critical in a world where many Christians are spiritually defeated between the bed and the breakfast table. 

A note about the “Volume One” in the title: Without giving away too much at this point, I’m assured that there is more to come. Stay tuned.

Climb the tree of life–
the branches are wide and strong enough for all.
Reach from beauty,
stretching to understanding,
pulling up on wisdom
until you come into sight of the place where I hang,
beyond words, above the healing leaves, high above the kingdom.
There you will know me, just as you are known,
at the crown and light of the listening day.


We ran an excerpt of one of the readings a few days ago at Christianity 201.

Zeal Books is a new company from the former owner and President of Multnomah Publishing and includes among it current roster a book by Bruce Wilkinson.

May 8, 2017

Reading and Teaching for Transformation

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:03 am

I have been noticing a recurring theme lately in sermons I have listened to online and books I have been reading. Perhaps it’s personal conviction about this subject.

The idea is very simple: Many of us read the Bible and Christian books, and many of us listen to sermons in order to gain information when God is wanting to see our transformation. Perhaps you even are in a position where you give leadership or mentoring to others, or simply have occasion to speak into the lives of friends, and what you’re imparting is more informative than transformative.

I know I’m a guilty of this. Do you ever track your spiritual progress by the month, or by the year? Each day I have more knowledge and a better understanding of the ways of God and the history of his dealings with his people. But am I a different person than I was last month or last year? To ask the question bluntly, what good is all this information doing for me? What good is all that Bible knowledge and understanding of systematic theology doing for you?

Spiritual formation is not simply about building up the mind’s knowledge base. It’s about forming the character of the heart. It leads to different speech, different choices, a different mindset, and different actions.

God, help us all in this information age when we have so many Biblical resources so easily accessible; help us that we don’t track our progress simply in terms of knowledge gained but in terms of a heart changed. Amen.


I don’t usually include prayer requests here, but in my waking hours in the middle of the night I felt compelled that this space today should include something for the pray-ers out there. If intercession is part of your calling, please remember two people in my part of the world who need a special healing touch from God, Michael K. and Roslyn S.

April 17, 2017

Willow Creek Continues to Rewrite the Playbook for Weekend Services

Two weeks ago Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs had an “Authors Weekend.” Teaching pastor Steve Carter interviewed Anne Lamott and then went into an another exchange with Lee Strobel, the latter having been a former Willow staff member. (Later in the week Josh McDowell visited on Wednesday night.) You can watch those interviews at this link.

Doing an interview in a church service can be a hit or miss proposition. Especially if it is replacing a traditional teaching segment aka sermon. Furthermore, the reaction to any particular guest is going to be subjective. Just a week or two earlier, Willow hosted Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas. That one didn’t resonate with me so much.

But watching Carter talk with Lamott and later Strobel, I realized what they are doing has some broader implications.

First, 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.

Second, I have for a long time advocated teaching modules rather than a single focus half hour. A few of us are old enough to remember when NBC introduced the show Real People. Hailed as the first magazine format program — though I’m not sure it predated 60 Minutes — this variety-meets-information type of programming is now widely used. I always thought that the ideal solution in church would be to break up the 30 minutes into three 10 minute segments, separated by music, announcements, or scripture readings. One module might be topical. One might be exegetical. Or if you prefer, one might be light while one might go deeper. One might deal with family life. One might delve into an obscure Old Testament character. (If that last one sounds boring, remember, we’re talking ten minutes here. You don’t have time to lose people!)

What Willow and Carter did that Sunday met these objectives in the ways that follow, but I also want to add one extra point.

The interview was a nice alternative to a sermon. Key here was the fact that the two authors really had something to say. The aforementioned sports star was a good testimony, and she’s probably a role model for a lot of young girls — and they did have a sermon that week as well — but Strobel and Lamott brought a lot of substance to the table. There was also spontaneity, including an opportunity to text in questions. (I wasn’t there in person, but watching the Saturday night service live, I could have easily participated in this.)

The interviews would appeal to different people. Strobel’s was also a testimony, but also tied into an upcoming movie. A number key points in Christian apologetics were covered. Another aspect to this story is what happens in a marriage when one partner has crossed the line of faith and the other is hostile toward Christianity. I hadn’t read anything by Lamott but her personal, unaffected demeanor probably connected with people early in their Christian journey, with seniors, and also with women. In other words, a wide swath demographically.

The interviewer had done his homework. This was the thing that really impressed me. Steve Carter wasn’t just ‘winging it.’ He had spent some time studying both the literature and the biographies of his two guests. Willow had a point to all this, they were doing it for well considered reasons; otherwise they wouldn’t have done it at all. But if they were going to do it, they were going to do it well. (Their commitment to excellence shone through their Good Friday and Easter services this past weekend, also available online.)

Finally, a confession.

I’m a sermon guy. Yes, I just said it’s a dying art form, but I enjoy them. So it would be quite easy for me to feel disappointed I wasn’t going to get one from Willow that week. Truth is, I tuned in especially to see what Strobel would say, and because his connection as a former Willow Creek staffer made it especially interesting. Plus I’ve seen Carter and Bill Hybels do this sort of thing many times before and they aren’t exactly novices.

Can your church snag top name guests? You probably don’t have the budget, nor do they have a lot of availability. But there are probably some stories that Christian people in your community can tell better on a two-chair set than can be related from behind a podium. There are probably topics that can be presented with two members of the pastoral staff taking a tag team approach. There is probably preaching content that can be modified to suit a Q & A format, even if it’s not as spontaneous as you would like it to be. Finally, there’s possibly someone in your church who might, on a one-off Sunday, have something vital to share but would need the help of a more seasoned speaker to rein them in when they go off topic or off focus, or to simply keep the message moving.

I’m not advocating this for everyone; I’m just saying it deserves consideration.


 

 

March 28, 2017

When You’re Unfit to Serve at Your Church

Today’s post is a continuation of my wife’s guest post yesterday. I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively. So this post is a continuation of that; you really need to read it first.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Many years ago, Andy Stanley hired a Fortune 500 survey company to interview people at their church and found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement. On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year! Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.” Where’s the balance? Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before. One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough ‘capital ‘ in years of service to be trusted…” Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected. For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” was simply equestrian feces. Which brings us to…

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other. But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know. (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.) Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age. There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator. Which brings us to…

4. Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Typically, in many churches today board members are people who are successful at their vocation. Is your insurance business or car dealership doing well? Expect to be asked. Ditto teachers. But some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons. (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.) Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it. Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members. Again, another comment received in response to the first article; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’ It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike and run the show.” Which brings us to…

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had seven years ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs. (I’m being polite.) They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week. (See also the footnote to yesterday’s article; turns out they brought in a guest less than a month later.) My wife was baptized there. Our children were dedicated there. Her husband served on paid staff there for four years. And nobody would know her? Maybe what this is all about is really…

6. Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that. In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction. “Run, Forrest, run!” Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office. And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service. And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge the carefully developed status quo. People like that are, simply put, a threat. This is not where powerful, fruitful, organic ministry is taking place. Which bring us to…

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt. Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their jurisdiction. Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace. Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely. People are flawed. They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife. Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there. (As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”) It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. What my wife was subjected to in that hour was simply not of God. So the obvious question is…

9. Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns simply don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church. The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve; all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go. (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on hiatus for other reasons.) Besides, this church is our HOME. Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry really have only four or five years left themselves. And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them. (‘What goes around…’) But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts. So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I’m watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better. Things can only improve. Of course I’ve said that before…

Related post: April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post: May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”


March 17, 2017

Currently Reading: Preparing for Easter by C. S. Lewis

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:17 am

There’s a lot going on in this collection and my intention is to offer a full review after I’ve finished reading. But I couldn’t go any further without sharing this interesting analogy of the incarnation of Christ:

Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life? Well suppose you could really have brought them to life. Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man. It would involve turning the tin to flesh. And suppose the in soldier did not like it. He is not interested in flesh: all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt. He thinks you are killing him. He will do everything he can to prevent you.  He will not be made into a man if he can help it.

What you would have done about that tin soldier I do not know. But what God did about us was this. The Second person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man – a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. 

The result of this was that you now had one man who really was what all men were intended to be: one man in whom the created life, derived from His Mother, allowed itself to be completely and perfectly turned into the begotten life.  The natural human creature in Him was taken up fully into the divine Son.  Thus in one instance humanity had, so to speak, arrived: had passed into the life of Christ. And because the whole difficulty for us is that the natural life has to be, in a sense, ‘killed’, he chose an earthly career which involved the killing of His human desires at every turn – poverty, misunderstanding from His own family, betrayal by one of His intimate friends, being jeered at and manhandled by the Police, and execution by torture. And then, after being thus killed – killed every day in a sense – the human creature in Him, because it was united to the divine Son, came to life again. The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier – real tin, just like the rest – had come fully and splendidly alive.

You can imagine that I was surprised to learn this excerpt is from Mere Christianity. How did I miss this before? He doesn’t just leave it as an analogy for incarnation, but rather overlays that with the idea of the transformation that must take place in the child of God. Brilliant!

Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis; HarperOne, 2017, hardcover. More information at this link.

March 14, 2017

Salvation is Instantaneous, Spiritual Formation Takes Time

img 032915I am frequently reminded that people new to the journey of following Christ often need time in various outward areas. Their inward growth may be great: A love for Jesus, a desire to tell others, and a cultivation of personal discipline in Bible study and devotions. But becoming a follower of Christ isn’t about outward conformity, and some things may need more time, such as:

  • Language – If you are directly involved in mentoring the person, then it’s appropriate for you to try to help them shape their speech along higher standards. But if you’re not the one doing discipleship with them, you have to let this go, most times. You’ll be surprised how more is caught than taught on this one.
  • Spending Priorities – A person may have begun a process of percentage giving to their local church, but still has spending patterns about which you may not approve. This may just be a matter of time and spiritual maturity. On this, I keep thinking about the little diagram in the Four Spiritual Laws booklet, wherein the various aspects of life have come under Christ’s control. (See second of two images below.)
  • Dress – This is usually a discussion about women, though it doesn’t have to be limited to them. In a church setting, sometimes someone needs to be pulled aside on this one, but it has to be done very lovingly so as to not drive the person away. Admittedly, in many of our local churches, this one is awkward.
  • Addictions – The Twelve Step Program meetings, in various forms under various names, are proof that once addicted, battling this can be a lifelong fight. One program which confronts this from a Christian perspective is Celebrate Recovery. Some things however, like smoking, should be considered superficial.
  • Attitudes – Everything from racial prejudice to arrogance could get tossed into this basket. Remember, they’ve not arrived yet, and neither have you. Rather than have an agenda here, it’s far more beneficial to you to watch the Holy Spirit work in their lives.

Did I leave some out?

None of us started this walk fully formed, fully arrived; but solid 1:1 discipleship, the influence of a small group, sermons which deal with the lifestyle application of various scriptures, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit will make a difference in what people see.

With people who manifest outward traits that you or others find problematic, remember that God looks on the heart.

 

February 9, 2017

Books Which Influenced Me

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:24 am

bookshelf-backgroundIn more spiritually formative years — and spiritual formation should be ongoing — there were several books I was encouraged to read which had a lasting effect. Many of these are now out of print, but I’ve included here things published in the last 40-50 years only. I have read some classics as well, especially Andrew Murray and A. W. Tozer. Glancing at my bookshelf, here’s what I came up with:

Less recently published

The Mind Changers – Emory Griffin  – Compared the evangelism process to candle-making with three stages: Melt, mold, make hard. Was recommended at a conference.

Contemporary Christian Communication – James Engle – Central to this was a chart showing the spiritual formation process from pre-conversion to decision to post-decision.

The Translation Debate – Clark Glassman – From the perspective of a Bible translator this looks at the challenges faced on the mission field. Wish IVP could find a way to revise and update this.

Shout it From the Housetops – Pat Robertson – Not exactly a popular name with some people today, but this early bio challenged me as Pat and his wife Dede sacrificed a posh lifestyle to buy a rundown TV station.

Destined for the Throne – Paul Billheimer – This was the first doctrinal book I was encouraged to purchase in the two years I was attending a charismatic congregation. It was recently repackaged.

Flirting with the World – John White – Showed that it’s the inner life that matters, not the externals by which people might be judged.

The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges – A wonderful companion read to the above title, this proved to be Bridges’ signature work.

Your God Is To Small – J. B. Phillips – Especially the first half, dealing with the false ideas people have about God. Should be required reading.

The Liberator and The Word on the StreetRob Lacey – Written for street youth in Manchester, England this was the most extreme paraphrase I’d ever encountered.

The Jesus I Never Knew – Philip Yancey – Based on some well-made and badly-made films on the life of Christ, a look at shaping an accurate picture of Jesus.

Theology for Non-Theologians – James Cantelon – One of the first of many I would read in the theodicy genre.

More recently published

Radical – David Platt – A challenge to be aware of and consider giving time to the cause of third world missions.

Irresistible Revolution – Shane Claiborne – What happens when a young man takes the teaching in an Eastern College course seriously.

Mark and Luke – Michael Card – There are actually four gospels in the series, I read these two and on each page Card brings the narratives to life in a fresh way.

Jim and Caspar Go to Church – Jim Henderson – Our modern church scene through the eyes of an atheist.

The Shack – Wm. Paul Young – Love it or hate it you have to admit this started a ton of conversations about the nature of God and the place of Christian fiction.

Days of Elijah – R. T. Kendall – For an Old Testament study, Kendall brought a lot of Christ to the table in this look at key Bible figure.

Not a Fan – Kyle Idleman – A great “first book” for a new Christian; it is a good representation of the Christian Living genre previously typified by Lucado and Swindoll.

If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat – John Ortberg – Maybe it was because I read this concurrent with the video series; a great faith-builder. 

There’s also the writers who brought significant elements to the discussion table; alternative thinkers like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren; church planters like Michael Frost and intellectuals like Greg Boyd.

I’m sure I could have listed this many again and I’ve left out somethings I would have wanted to include. The reviews on the blog are also books I recommend.

I’ll be away the day this publishes, so if you leave a comment and it gets caught in moderation, I’ll catch up to it eventually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 12, 2017

Building a Bible Reference Library

The chart that follows was produced many years ago by Thomas Nelson. It may exist online now, but when I tried to track it down about a year ago I couldn’t locate it; so I was quite pleased to find it yesterday in a pile of papers.

Many of the suggested Bible reference tools listed below are now available online, to the point where it’s possible to need a particular nugget of information, and not necessarily classify it as to the type of information required. The internet probably blurs the distinctions below.

Look at the graphic and then scroll down for my comments on each element. Click the image to view full size.

bible-reference-library

Tier One The Bible itself is foundational and there’s no point building a library about it without actually owning several good ones.

Tier TwoConcordances — listing occurrences of particular words in particular translations — are somewhat obsolete with what our desktop computers and phones can do. Still, a dictionary of Bible terms is helpful, but you need to be careful you’re not using a theological or religious dictionary. For example, the term trinity isn’t found in scripture, so a Bible dictionary won’t necessarily contain it. However, that may be the very thing you wish to examine, so then you’d want to additionally own a theological dictionary, or find a Bible encyclopedia that combines both.

Tier Three – I think that every Christian should have some familiarity with an in-depth commentary; the type that focuses on a single book, or the one-volume kind. Again, if you’re doing this online instead, you need to know it’s commentary you’re looking for. I would also argue that a Bible handbook, providing summaries of each book, should be moved up a tier. It’s something that new Christians often find most helpful. Word Study is a challenging field referring the etymology (origin) of key words in the original (Greek and Hebrew) languages and not everybody is ready for it. Still it’s good to have experience seeing how these books are constructed, or online, knowing it’s word study you’re looking for.

Tier Four – Right now books on life in Bible times are very much in demand as people seek to better understand the context and culture which brings passages to life. The second suggested resource, a study guide is probably what you already use in your home church group during the week and I expect the suggestion here is that you would be collecting many of these as you work through particular books. Bible maps are something I never placed great importance in, but I’m now seeing the value of them more than I did in my early Christian experience. Topical Bibles are helpful; even if you’re doing a verse-by-verse look at scripture it’s good to pause and consider the themes the passage presents in greater detail. 

Omitted – The chart makes no reference to the devotional genre, which I believe is necessary to make the Bible personal; otherwise all these books are just about hoarding information. I would also contend that in building a library like the one envisioned here, a foundational book on apologetics would be good to own. Others might argue that a prayer guide, such as Operation World are fundamental to the realization that the Church of Jesus Christ extends far beyond our local congregation, our region or even our nation. For those who have pursued a formal Christian education, the lack of a book on systematic theology is probably the most glaring omission. There are some books which simplify this and help new believers see the various pieces of the puzzle.

January 5, 2017

A Call for More Heterogeneity in the Local Church

Filed under: Christianity, Church, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:22 am

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
-Galatians 3:28 nlt

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
-Colossians 3:11 nlt

scot-mcknight-a-fellowship-of-differentsAbout ten weeks ago I looked at King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight and mentioned that we would come back to A Fellowship of Differents; both titles having recently been issued for the first time in paperback. Because of a number of circumstances which derailed much of my reading at the end of last year, I found myself forced to read this title more devotionally the first time, which was well suited to its 22 chapters; but later started at the beginning and re-read it in broader sweeps.

As the two scripture verses I chose to open this review clearly telegraph, this is a book about diversity in the (capital C) Church, but on a more practical level, in the local assembly you and I attend and the congregation which makes up that body. For McKnight, this is a factor central to the teaching of Jesus and (especially) the apostle Paul.

So what does this look like and how do we assure its reality? McKnight reveals his game-plan on page 24 where he notes his intention to track six aspects of Bible teaching:

  1. Grace
  2. Love
  3. Table
  4. Holiness
  5. Newness
  6. Flourishing

The chapters on Table — perhaps more of a shared meal and less of the once-per-month-service-postscript — could easily be a book in itself (and has been with many authors.) While love, grace and holiness are often taught, this one aspect of local church life is so terribly central to the fellowship McKnight envisions, and left me thinking perhaps many of us are missing something.

In the section on Holiness, there is a chapter devoted to one of the clearest descriptions I’ve seen of the decadence which surrounded the early Christians to whom Paul wrote his various letters. While the occasional reader might find this chapter too explicit, it provides us a necessary contrast between how certain terminology applied in Paul’s day to how we might (mis)understand those same words and phrases today.

A Fellowship of Differents is as much about Paul the apostle as it is about the church. In one section, McKnight asks, “Have you ever wondered what the apostle Paul looked like?” Quoting one source, “…a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged of noble [manner] with eyebrows meeting, rather hook-nosed, full of grace.” He then adds his own description, “Paul was a sick man, a poor man, and a foolish man… By the time he died that body of his must have been scarred all over. There is something morbidly fascinating about this beaten, bruised, broken-boned and bloody man…”

In many ways this discussion is a bonus; a wandering perhaps from the intention of earlier chapters, but a clear picture of the type of inclusion needed in a true heterogeneous church.

This isn’t a quick-fix guide to improving your church culture. I found the reward here to be far more personal; after all change begins with me, right? To repeat, you can read this in a few sittings, or choose, as I did initially, to take a month to read the 22 chapters as part of your personal devotional time.


A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together was released in paperback by Zondervan in 2016. More information is available at this publisher link. Long after the normal review parameters, a copy of the original hardcover was graciously provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

July 9, 2016

Media to Fill Your Home

It’s been awhile, but this is the third time for this article here, this time with revisions…

I’ve previously written here about how we’re big fans of sermon audio when we travel, and as someone who works in a Christian bookstore environment, it’s a given that I’m a huge booster of Christian books and music.

But today I want to approach this from a slightly different perspective. Many times I’ve written about the battle that goes on for our thought life, and how this takes place on a moment by moment basis. Back in June, I posted a great analysis of the types of thoughts, that are going on in our heads at any given point in time.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting, but I am increasingly aware of the contrast that exists between the mental processes that take place when I omit to turn on the radio — which is mostly presets for Christian stations — and drive in silence, versus the times I have worship songs playing. This is a giant contrast in my thoughts and attitude, not a mild difference.

Listening to Bible Teaching

I frequently listen to sermons from Willow Creek, The Meeting House, Woodland Hills and North Point, in addition to live sermons at church, and the occasional streaming of conferences.

Life was not always so.

I can remember asking my parents why they had to constantly listen to more preacher programs. Their media of choice was WDCX, an FM station in Buffalo, and WHLD, a Buffalo AM outlet. Of course, my choice would have been Top 40 rock station 1050 CHUM in Toronto. I think that was the real issue.

But today, although I hunger to learn and grow and discover more about Christ through what others have learned, I also am acutely aware of what happens in the absence of Christian media in the home.

Bible teaching can come in other forms besides radio and television. There are the aforementioned sermons-on-demand and live-streaming church services on the internet, plus many pastors often do a separate podcast. But there are still audio CDs of sermons kicking around, and of course books.

Reading Christian Books

One of my latest rants is that, in the average 21st Century family, I’m not sure the kids have ever seen dad sitting in a chair reading, and here I’m speaking of reading anything, a newspaper or magazine would suffice. How much more is it important to take time out and immerse yourself in the Bible, devotional material and study resources. If you missed it, I encourage you to read an article we did on Bill Hybels’ “Chair Time” concept.

Listening to Christian Music

For some Christ-followers, the dominant form of uplifting, inspirational and wholesome media is Christian music; which may consist of hymns, mass choirs, southern gospel, adult contemporary, Christian rock in all its various genres, and the current favorite, modern worship.

Again, these can be accessed in various forms. Some choose mp3 files which can be played back in the car and in the home. Many people are still buying music CDs. Christian music song videos abound on video sharing sites like YouTube. There is an abundance of Christian radio available online, and here in North America, most people live within range of a broadcast station that plays music, teaching or a mix of both.

But I have to say that as a worship leader, nothing compares to the songs what you experience in a worship environment with your faith family. Even today, I hear a song and I’ll remember which church I was in when I heard it and who was leading worship that day. Or I’ll be reading a scripture and I’ll recognize the verse as a line from a worship lyric. If you happen to be blessed with a gift that allows you to play in the worship band, a particular song can get stuck in your head for hours, and in a good way.

For a listing of some of my favorite songs with video, visit the sidebar in the right margin at Christianity 201.

Christian Movies

Our family was never a movie-culture family. We’ve been to the cineplex less than a dozen times, ever. But the production of Christian cinema has exploded over the last few years, and if you’re the type who enjoys gathering everyone around the home theater there are now some really decent films from which to choose, plus you’re supporting a genre that has tremendous outreach potential. You can purchase DVDs — great for loaning out after you’re done — or stream movies live.

Listening to God

These varied media I find to be a positive alternative to anything else, and in fact fulfill a direct instruction from scripture:

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

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