Thinking Out Loud

September 13, 2019

Now That You’re A Christian, You Need to Find Another Church

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:27 am

I spent my formative years in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada at a time when we didn’t have the term “megachurch” but if it had existed, Peoples was the first and only one in Canada during those years. We also didn’t have the term “seeker sensitive,” but Peoples, under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith, defined that completely.

There was always the hint that a person who found Christ in that environment might reach a point where they want to step out either (a) to serve, or (b) to come under deeper teaching in an another church.

Steven Furtick

So I wasn’t totally alarmed when I started to read this profile of Steven Furtick:

Furtick is charismatic in the pulpit, and he is eager to share his desire to reach the lost. But he seems to believe that once the lost are “found” his work is done. “If you know Jesus Christ, I’m sorry to break it to you, this church is not for you,” Furtick says. This applies even if you’ve only known Christ for as little as a week.  “Last week was the last week that Elevation Church existed for you,” Furtick declares.

Furtick forgets that Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” And we know the entire point of a pastor is to shepherd the flock under his care (John 21:17; 1 Peter 5:2-3)…

At least not alarmed at first.

Over the years, I’ve gone through stages of affection and concern for the Elevation pastor. But Furtick is given to hyperbole, and while hyperbole is by definition an excess, his “Last week” statement above could be shattering to a person who has crossed the line of faith and wants to know determine — as another megachurch terms it — “next steps.”

We don’t ask newborns to take the elevator to the lobby and catch a taxi to their next station in life.

In the field that was once called “Personal Evangelism” it was called “Follow Up.” The quotation marks and capital letters are intentional. I’m trying to make a point here, and the point is that if nothing else, the parable of the soils (or seeds, if you prefer) tells us what happens if the seeds are not well-planted; not well-nurtured.

It reminds me of the girl who, on completing her Confirmation, told me “The day I joined the church is the day I left the church;” treating it as if it was some type of graduation ceremony.

Nothing could be further from the truth…

…I’ve used these charts before in various forms, and I apologize for not knowing the source of these particular graphics, but they illustrate that the work of the church continues both before and after. The original black-and-white version I have is from Contemporary Christian Communication: Its Theory and Practice, by James K. Engle (1979)

 

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December 31, 2018

Of Lives and Years; Of Beginnings and Endings

Have you made your New Life’s resolutions?

As I was thinking about how to wrap things up for 2019, it occurred to me that there might be four different possibility for how your year has gone; and those are the same four which can be applied to the longer span of our lives. For some context as to what I mean by this, here’s something I wrote in 2009. A small portion of this is actually appearing for the 4th time; much of it for only the 2nd time, and some is new.

I’m certainly not one of those “Everything happens for a reason” people, but I do believe every book in the Bible is there for many reasons, and with II Kings, the clearest message that I see is that when it comes to their relationship with God, not everybody ends well.

living-bibleIn II Kings we see a succession of leaders, many of whom are relegated to the most minimal of mentions. In the original The Living Bible, Ken Taylor in his most paraphrasial — ya like that word? — moment in the entire work actually lapses into point form in the later chapters. Those chapters could be called the “bullet point translation.” One could think that perhaps Taylor tired of the various Kings simply not getting it. Basically there are four main types of stories told and each King is representative of one of them:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

There are several benefits to reading this. It should make you want to end well, to leave a legacy of faithfulness and devotion to God, His word, and His work. But if you’re not solidly signed up with the eternal security camp, it also means you must end well. It allows the possibility that I can blow this Christ-following thing, with severe consequences.

Of course it helps that God, by His Holy Spirit is constantly nudging us closer to His ways. There are times in our lives however, when we don’t respond to His prompting. In the Revelation given to John, a message to the church in Laos ascribes three possible states of response: hot, cold, or lukewarm. Although the descriptors here apply to the local church as a collective noun, I believe the same terms can also apply to us individually.

heat-sensitive-imageMany of those who are cold or even lukewarm will recommit themselves down the road, but in terms of the here and now, if you were to take a picture of the spiritual temperature of people using a “spiritual heat sensitive” camera, you’d find that not everyone is responding to what the Spirit is suggesting. Or demanding; God’s not big on suggestions! Some just love their sin too much. Others are just spiritually apathetic. Some are just too busy.

One of the biggest myths in the Church (capital ‘C’ this time) is to suggest that “It’s all good.” To me, that’s not dissimilar from the Universalist perspective. It’s all good if it all ends well. Right here, right now, in the middle of the story, we don’t see so clearly how it will end. We have absolutely, positively no idea what’s going on in the lives of people at the deepest level, so we can’t begin to assume what God may be doing, or what He may be using to work His purposes, but if II Kings tells us anything it is that even Kings, representing the highest their country has to offer, can refuse to see the need to make God part of their lifelong equation.

lifes-journeyAnother myth is to say “We’re all on a spiritual journey.” The Greeks held that there were four core ‘essences:’ Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Knowing their list didn’t account for everything in the world, they held that there was a fifth essence, ‘quintessence,’ representing ‘spirit.’ Unfortunately many people live lives that are dominated by earth or air or fire or water or whatever modern equivalents represent our modern passions. Their journey can’t be characterized as spiritual at all; or if it contains elements of spiritual life, it appears to be a journey to nowhere.

In Jesus time, we see life represented in the phrase, “heart, soul, mind and strength;” both in terms of Jesus early life in Luke 2:52, but also in how we are to love the Lord with all our being. Some people allow their lives to be dominated by mental or intellectual accomplishments (mind) or physical prowess (strength) or their physical or emotional passions (the eros and philios loves; soul) rather than by a focus on their own spirit and the spiritual side of life.

Of course, it is not for us to know what God is doing in everyone’s lives. We are responsible for the ending to our own story, not that of anyone else.

I want my life to be spirit-focused; to be quintessence-focused. I want the center of that focus to be Jesus Christ. I want to end well. I want those around me to end well, too.

So while we’re caught up in what is really the ‘micro-focus’ of how a particular year began or ended or both, we need to also consider the ‘macro-focus’ on the overall progression of our lives. 

It’s a time for New Year’s resolutions, but also a time for New Life resolutions.

September 9, 2018

Awkward But Perfect Spiritual Formation Metaphor

This summer a local church ran a VBS program which had a mining theme, so I don’t know if the advertising tag line originated with the publisher or with the church, but it’s stuck in my head:

Come like a carbon
Leave like a diamond.

It’s definitely not a Biblical phrase, but it aptly describes God working to form us, shape us, mold us into the image of His Son.

And carbon, at least in the form of charcoal with which we’re more familiar, is messy. You touch it and your hands get dirty. But that’s what we hand God to work with when we ask him to assume Lordship of our lives.

On the other hand, there is nothing like the brilliance of light being reflected and refracted in a diamond. That’s the image of God’s completing His work in us, though we won’t fully see ourselves as perfected this side of eternity. That comes later.  

We all want this. But the crushing pressure of true diamond formation is unimaginable. Really, that is the metaphor. That becoming a diamond is sometimes going to be painful.

But it’s going to be worth it.

Come like a carbon
Leave like a diamond!

 

 

May 22, 2018

Anniversary of a New Start: Are We There Yet?

Yesterday was a holiday Monday in Canada, and by about 9:30 PM, the local kids had used up their supply of fireworks. It was the silence, not the sound of bottle rockets, that reminded me of another May holiday Monday.

This one took place when I was 17. The impact wouldn’t be known until the next day, but on the Monday night, a beautiful young girl on our street was killed on the back of a motorcycle. My father came in my room on Tuesday morning and informed me of what he’d heard on the radio.

It hadn’t been a good weekend for me already. Clearly, my life was on a trajectory that wasn’t good. I had one foot in the church and one foot in the world and the gap between my feet was growing larger.

So I used Mary-Ellen’s death as a defining moment and decided, as the summer holidays came calling, to leave high school a different person and start college with a different focus, a better mindset, an attempt at cleaner living.

Which brings me to last night.

I don’t usually reflect on this on the May long weekend, but it occurred to me to ask — audibly — if I’m where I should be all those years later.

Clearly, my life was heading for a train wreck, and I’m considered a leader in the Christian community, and I’ve raised two fine boys who are serving Jesus, and I have several blogs, and lead worship and speak in churches, and… and… and…

But what about who I am? The inner life that few ever get to see?

Suddenly in the silence caused by the absence of fireworks, I had this sense that I’m not where I’m supposed to be; or at least being all that I could be. That I still have a long way to go. Most people, in a similar situation, would never admit this. But here we are…

…Sorry…it’s just me thinking out loud.

 

December 31, 2017

My Year in Review

Redeem the time - Stewardship of timeThis is certainly the year in review time for many writers. But what about my year or your year? I’m definitely not a KJV guy, but there’s a phrase in it I’ve always particularly liked.

Col 4: 5 KJV Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 5:16 KJV Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

and in the Voice as

make the most of every moment and every encounter

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

Again, The Voice has

Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2017?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?

While some writers emphasize the importance of rest — including it among the spiritual disciplines — others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for rest — Be still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2017?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2018?

How is your year in review?

Nobody said this was easy…

…To my Thinking Out Loud online community, I wish you God’s best in the New Year.

December 16, 2017

Crossword Puzzles and Sermons

I’m told that doing crosswords keeps the mind sharp. That’s certainly a valid goal. I try to do a couple of smaller ones (where I know I can finish) each week, but will also help my wife as she wrestles through the  New York Times level of difficulty.

When we first married, I would criticize her for this indulgence, as I saw them as a bit of a time-waster. “You’re not actually learning anything;” was the thrust of my argument. And it’s true. Unless you doing research to get the answers, or something reveals itself by interpolation with the letters you’ve already written, there is not much in the way of new information.

You’re using your brain to be sure. It beats watching a 2-hour marathon of The Simpsons. You’re bringing to mind things you’ve heard before and then buried deep in the recesses of your memory waiting for this particular moment to unearth them. In those terms, it’s a nice refresher. But again, it’s only when you’ve completed all the across letters in a down clue that you might say, ‘Okay, apparently the seven-letter word meaning _______ is _______.’ Or, ‘So that’s the author who wrote _______.’

Sermons are like this in many churches.

We are often reviewing and being re-presented with information with which we are already quite familiar. Maybe it’s being said in a fresh way and we can then take that particular tact when explaining something to a friend. Perhaps it’s something that needs reinforcing because we do live at the intersection of this world and the world to come and there is a constant inner war raging between our human nature and the nature that was made for higher things.

Generally, this is a good thing. The Eucharist itself is the best example of this. It doesn’t change much from week to week. But we eat, we drink, we remember, we leave differently than we entered. The hymns or worship choruses are not necessarily new; we have sung them on other occasions.

However, there is something to be said for a sermon which imparts new information. One that informs us of things we simply did not know before. Where we say, ‘I’ve never heard that explained;’ or ‘I never knew the context of that particular story;’ or my favorite, ‘How did I grow up in church and never hear that taught?’

Second best are those who help you fill in the blanks. Like the crossword puzzle where you’ve filled in all the letters but didn’t know the word before, the speaker leads you to the moment of, ‘Okay…so if all these things are true then from that we realize that…’  I would rank sermons that contain deduction a close runner up to those providing fresh information.

Personally I gravitate to teachers giving me more background (context, word study, related passages) than I had when I arrived. It doesn’t matter if the sermon is exegetical (expository) or topical, as long as there is some depth and something I can learn that helps me better understand the ways and mind of God, and then apply this to everyday life.

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.

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.

July 5, 2015

If It’s Not Working, Check the Connections

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

June 20, 2014

Gauging the Spirituality of Others by Superficialities

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you read The Message, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
  (I Timothy 4:12, somewhat altered)

Good News bibleYesterday I had a conversation with an elderly woman who told me quite plainly that her Christian friends look down on her because she reads and memorizes verses in the Good News Bible (aka Today’s English Version).

This should raise all kinds of red flags.

First of all, it denigrates the translation itself. As BibleGateway.com‘s writeup states, “The GNT is a highly trusted version.” The American Bible Society continues to support the translation with fresh printings and formats.

But more important, it concerns me that her “friends” feel the need to implement correction in terms of her Bible reading choice. In other words, there is an attitude of superiority here, either in terms of their knowledge of what is the best Bible for her, or in terms of their own personal piety or spiritual maturity.  In Romans 14 we read:

4Who are you to judge the servants of someone else? It is their own Master who will decide whether they succeed or fail. And they will succeed, because the Lord is able to make them succeed.

(Quoted, just for good measure, from the Good News Translation.)

There are so many things one’s choice of translation doesn’t tell us about the person. How often to they read it? How much time do they spend in the Word in each reading? How are they allowing the seed of God’s Word to take root in their life?

Good News for Modern ManWhy do we judge?

Why do we sometimes seem to want to judge?

Honestly, we don’t know the heart of another. Even our closest friends. I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7b…I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

But God is concerned with the heart.

I got the impression that her “friends” wanted to present a caring attitude, but were perhaps looking for a vulnerability or a weakness because they possibly see her as more spiritual than they are, and by knocking her down a peg or two, they were elevating themselves.

Still, in a “NIV versus ESV” Evangelical environment, it was nice to see someone voting for the Good News Bible.

 

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