Thinking Out Loud

October 30, 2017

Setting Your Agenda as You Start the Week

I started the day thinking of the great contrast which exists between the American ideal of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and the words in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

I started thinking how I could frame my week in such a way as to render all the individual tasks and goals flowing out of a desire to glorify God, rather than working for the things that would grant me happiness.

The full phrasing in the Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Twelve years ago, fellow Canadian blogger Tim Challies wrote about the phrase from the Catechism and noted an internal potential conflict for some Christians:

While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created in order to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling…

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. It seems to me that many churches would say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord…

His own doctrinal perspective surfaces when he states, “this belief is based on Arminian assumption” but he does come close — without actually using these words — to the idea that a balance is to be found between the activity of a Martha and the sitting at the feet of Jesus of a Mary.

The notion of life, liberty and happiness avoids both.

Perhaps it’s no accident that Jerry Bridges’ most enduring work is titled The Pursuit of Holiness, not happiness.

So instead of asking myself on Monday morning what will best drive my personal pursuit of happiness, I need to ask myself what will glorify God and cause my mind to dwell in all his attributes and delight in him? At the end of the day, each of us must answer individually for how we’ve used our time, talents and resources.

Footnote: While we have listed some national mottoes below, the provincial motto of Newfoundland in Canada is “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Perhaps that best sums up what should be the goal of the Christian, for then and only then will “all these things” — the necessities of life — “be added on to you.”

Clarification: In fairness, given the appendix which follows, the national motto of the United States is “In God We Trust.”


National mottoes (translated) of selected countries:

Antigua and Barbuda: Each endeavouring, all achieving
Bolivia: Unity is Strength
Brazil: Order and Progress
Denmark: God’s help, the love of the people, Denmark’s strength
Dominica: After God, The Earth
Ecuador: God, homeland and liberty
Fiji: Fear God and honour the Queen
Florentine Republic: Fall, you kingdoms of luxury, for the cities of virtue shall thrive
Gambia: Progress, Peace, Prosperity
Guatemala:Grow Free and Fertile
India: Truth alone triumphs
Iraq: God is the Greatest
Kenya: All pull together
Liberia: The love of liberty brought us here
Mali: One people, one goal, one faith
Panama: For the benefit of the world

…continue reading more at Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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November 26, 2016

Always Something There to Remind Me

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:48 am

reminderEvery Thursday afternoon I get an email from my church reminding me what’s happening at weekend services. It’s somewhat the same every week — I’ve told them a weekly verse of scripture and a graphic people can use on their Instagram and Facebook accounts would help — but it’s definitely appreciated. (Someone even takes the time to make sure things happening between its arrival and Sunday morning are covered for one last time.)

We live in a world where we need to be reminded of things. We’re too busy. We’re too forgetful.

For years in my early 20s I attended a weekly Bible study that was held in a private home and wasn’t associated with a particular church. Each week the leader would phone, remind me, and then ask for a direct commitment; “Will you be there this week?” He was a very busy guy in the commercial banking industry and besides leading the study, he took time to phone the entire list every week. By doing so he had extra contact with us. (I look back now and see it as the equivalent of the traditional ‘pastor at the door’ thing on Sunday mornings.)

This morning I attended a men’s Bible study at another church. I mentioned that it’s too bad they don’t have a phone list, or better yet, an email list. This particular church has leveraged social media well; they have a good person at the helm of this who knows the internet, but her particular strategy has been more Facebook-oriented whereas I still see that as skewing slightly more to a female demographic. I believe traditional email might work well to remind the guys to come for the breakfast.

This church also doesn’t have a church directory which includes email addresses. The church I mentioned first does do this and it allows people to continue the conversations started on Sundays throughout the week; to initiate contact; or to follow up with friends they haven’t seen in awhile.

But back to reminders: I think we need them. We also need the encouragement to join in on various church activities in a general social climate where many find themselves isolated.


Related: Here are three devotionals which deal with our tendency to forget.

Tangentially: Email bulletins reduce the number which need to be printed each week, thereby saving the environment. Phone calls to ministry group members also reduce the need for printed bulletin inserts.

 

August 6, 2015

Best of the Blog

Here are three articles from this time three years ago.

•All Bible Verses are Equal, But Some are More Equal than Others

When it was released in 2011, I expected a bigger reaction to The People’s Bible, a new NIV Bible format that places the verses in a font sized based on the volume of traffic for that verse at BibleGateway.com. After all, we place some verses in red if they were spoken by Jesus; soul-winner Bibles come with “Romans Road” type passages already underlined; Key Word Study Bibles only provide the Strong’s Greek or Hebrew index number for selected words3218 in a sentence; so why not highlight popular verses in bigger type?

Do you think this has merit, or is this Bible destined to remain a bit of a fringe product?

•How to Spot Pentecostals and Charismatics

This was printed in 1978 by Jesus Outreach Ministries in Fairmont, West Virginia. I don’t believe any sarcasm was intended, rather they were trying to make the Charismatic environment more user-friendly for visitors. I only deleted the bottom section because the person who gave it to me had written on it.

•Kyle Idleman on Identifying Your True Idols

On July 15, 2012 at Southeast Christian Church, Kyle Idleman asked the congregation a series of questions that are worth considering:

The answer to these questions points to what might be God’s primary competition in our lives:

  1. What are you most disappointed with? or What do you complain about the most?
  2. What do you sacrifice your time and money for?
  3. What do you worry about?
  4. Where do you go when you get hurt; when life is hard? or Where do you go for comfort?
  5. What makes you mad, angry?
  6. What brings you the most joy?
  7. Whose applause do you long for?

February 18, 2014

Out of the Abundance of the Heart the Facebook Page Speaks

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

six legged chicken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 3, 2013

Reblogging: Some Core Values

I can’t think of any parent who doesn’t want to pass on to his/her children their “value system” or, in the case of Christian parents, their faith. There is nothing more important that I am trying to transmit both formally (as in during our nightly Bible study time) and informally (though example). Yesterday I got a note from my oldest son who was invited on a weekend trip that was described in such a way as to suggest there would be some drinking. He passed and I am proud of him for doing so.

But it has occurred to me lately that I haven’t done such a good job of passing on my core values to my blog audience. Sure, there are some heated topics where I weigh in decisively, but there are also others where I tend to take a middle ground position. Who is this guy and what does he stand for? Here are some answers…

Theology – I remember learning to type, and one of the sentences was “We must know and know that we know.” Doctrinal certainty can be risky unless we’re certain that some elements of the Christian faith belong to the realm of mystery.

God – A word that means so many different things to so many people. Better, initially anyway, to talk about Jesus. That tends to narrow things down to a single definition.

Ethics – We should attempt to aim for the very highest standard, and never do anything that could cause anyone else to stumble on our account. This includes business ethics, social ethics, sexual ethics, and any other adjective you want to add.

Salvation – Sinners prayer, no; a ‘before and after’ story, yes. There has to be a point where we know we passed from death into life, even if the date isn’t written somewhere in the front cover of a Bible. But as C. S. Lewis noted, it might not all happen in a single heartbeat; there are also ‘process’ conversions.

Family – In any given situation there can be good choices, but many things in life are a matter of good, better and best. To repeat, a good choice may not be a best choice. This kind of filtering is tested in the decisions we make about our families and within our family units.

Ministry – One does not have to choose vocational ministry to be in the ministry. Yes, God does call some to be ‘set apart’ for a career in Christian service, but to understand holiness is to know that everyone who desires to be a Christ-follower is called to be ‘set apart’ from the broader culture.

Church – Yes, I know this refers to people, but what about the Sunday thing and the building? For all its faults and failures, I think we’re better to go than not to go. We need that short retreat from the world which is too much with us the other 167 hours of the week; we need to pray and be prayed for; we need to worship corporately; we need people to do life with.

Denominations – Not necessarily that bad thing that some would potray. We see different schools of thought on things emerging even during the times of the original disciples. Christianity probably functions better in smaller faith families, and God probably knew this going in and built it into the design.

Mission – We’ve got the hottest news on the rack. Of course we’re going to share it. We need to take the Jesus story to everyone, and they will respond to it if we present it in its purity. When we mix it with western culture or denominational bias, it won’t work.

Charismatic Gifts – We should seek the giver and not the gifts. But I believe that God is continuing to give supernatural gifts to some people. Not necessarily the ones on television, though.

Tithing – Do your best, but don’t go into debt over tithing. God owns it all, so to set formulas and percentages seems to miss the point. See next entry.

Generosity – The hallmark of the church as described in the concluding verses of Acts 2 and Acts 4, and noted by early church historians. Very hard to do today in a western environment that practices cocooning, but very much at the heart of I Cor. 13.

Worship – In any demographically mixed group, worship should be blended; a mixture of various styles brought together in a seamless way so that no one style seems out of place. The reasons can be more theological than musical.

Prayer – Necessary to keeping the lines of communication open, and thereby keeping the relationship with God active. God delights even in our long laundry lists of requests because it means we’re talking.

The Bible – Not so much a collection of books as it is one continuous story. The more we read it that way the less of a ‘continuity problem’ we’ll have between the First Covenant and the New Covenant. And read it we should. And commit it to memory. And always be ready to share it.

Prophecy – Great for looking back, but things can get confusing if we try to use it to look ahead. The fulfillment of all things represents a point in what we call the ‘future’ where those of us who exist within the constraints of time are able to look at Him who exists out of time.

Heaven – A place we tell our kids is out there somewhere, and then writers like Randy Alcorn make us realize that New Earth is probably closer to what most of those scripture verses were referring to.

Faith – Not, as the visiting preacher illustrated, the belief a wooden chair can support you, but the belief that an old lawn chair with worn out webbing that’s in my garage can support you. It doesn’t look secure in the least, so will you trust yourself to it? Faith is the concreteness of things that don’t look so solid.

Discipleship – The ultimate commitment to lifelong learning. Just as living things grow, so also should Christ followers grow in both knowledge and the operation of grace.

…I could probably keep going, but that sums up a few important things. I hope now we know each other better!

August 6, 2012

What Idols Do You Worship?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:18 am

For our Sunday sermon binge yesterday we stopped at Southeast Christian Church to hear another message from Kyle Idleman. He asked the congregation a series of questions that are worth considering:

The answer to these questions points to what might be God’s primary competition in our lives:

  1. What are you most disappointed with? or What do you complain about the most?
  2. What do you sacrifice your time and money for?
  3. What do you worry about?
  4. Where do you go when you get hurt; when life is hard? or Where do you go for comfort?
  5. What makes you mad, angry?
  6. What brings you the most joy?
  7. Whose applause do you long for?

Use this link and go to the sermon for 7/15 (week # 2 of the series)

May 20, 2011

Transmitting Your Core Values

I can’t think of any parent who doesn’t want to pass on to his/her children their “value system” or, in the case of Christian parents, their faith.  There is nothing more important that I am trying to transmit both formally (as in during our nightly Bible study time) and informally (though example).   Yesterday I got a note from my oldest son who was invited on a weekend trip that was described in such a way as to suggest there would be some drinking.  He passed and I am proud of him for doing so.

But it has occurred to me lately that I haven’t done such a good job of passing on my core values to my blog audience.  Sure, there are some heated topics where I weigh in decisively, but there are also others where I tend to take a middle ground position.  Who is this guy and what does he stand for?  Here are some answers…

Theology – I remember learning to type, and one of the sentences was “We must know and know that we know.”  Doctrinal certainty can be risky unless we’re certain that some elements of the Christian faith belong to the realm of mystery. 

God – A word that means so many different things to so many people.  Better, initially anyway, to talk about Jesus. That tends to narrow things down to a single definition.

Ethics – We should attempt to aim for the very highest standard, and never do anything that could cause anyone else to stumble on our account.  This includes business ethics, social ethics, sexual ethics, and any other adjective you want to add.

Salvation – Sinners prayer, no; a ‘before and after’ story, yes.  There has to be a point where we know we passed from death into life, even if the date isn’t written somewhere in the front cover of a Bible.  But as C. S. Lewis noted, it might not all happen in a single heartbeat; there are also ‘process’ conversions.

Family – In any given situation there can be good choices, but many things in life are a matter of good, better and best.  To repeat, a good choice may not be a best choice.   This kind of filtering is tested in the decisions we make about our families and within our family units.

Ministry – One does not have to choose vocational ministry to be in the ministry.  Yes, God does call some to be ‘set apart’ for a career in Christian service, but to understand holiness is to know that everyone who desires to be a Christ-follower is called to be ‘set apart’ from the broader culture.

Church – Yes, I know this refers to people, but what about the Sunday thing and the building?  For all its faults and failures, I think we’re better to go than not to go.  We need that short retreat from the world which is too much with us the other 167 hours of the week; we need to pray and be prayed for; we need to worship corporately; we need people to do life with.

Denominations – Not necessarily that bad thing that some would potray. We see different schools of thought on things emerging even during the times of the original disciples.  Christianity probably functions better in smaller faith families, and God probably knew this going in and built it into the design.

Mission – We’ve got the hottest news on the rack.  Of course we’re going to share it.  We need to take the Jesus story to everyone, and they will respond to it if we present it in its purity.  When we mix it with western culture or denominational bias, it won’t work.

Charismatic Gifts – We should seek the giver and not the gifts.  But I believe that God is continuing to give supernatural gifts to some people.  Not necessarily the ones on television, though.

Tithing – Do your best, but don’t go into debt over tithing.  God owns it all, so to set formulas and percentages seems to miss the point.  See next entry.

Generosity – The hallmark of the church as described in the concluding verses of Acts 2 and Acts 4, and noted by early church historians.  Very hard to do today in a western environment that practices cocooning, but very much at the heart of I Cor. 13.

Worship – In any demographically mixed group, worship should be blended; a mixture of various styles brought together in a seamless way so that no one style seems out of place. The reasons can be more theological than musical.

Prayer – Necessary to keeping the lines of communication open, and thereby keeping the relationship with God active.  God delights even our long laundry lists of requests because it means we’re talking.

The Bible – Not so much a collection of books as it is one continuous story.  The more we read it that way the less of a ‘continuity problem’ we’ll have between the First Covenant and the New Covenant.  And read it we should.  And commit it to memory.  And always be ready to share it.

Prophecy – Great for looking back, but things can get confusing if we try to use it to look ahead.  The fulfillment of all things represents a point in what we call the ‘future’ where those of us who exist within the constraints of time are able to look at Him who exists out of time.

Heaven – A place we tell our kids is out there somewhere, and then writers like Randy Alcorn make us realize that New Earth is probably closer to what most of those scripture verses were referring to.

Faith – Not, as the visiting preacher illustrated, the belief a wooden chair can support you, but the belief that an old lawn chair with worn out webbing that’s in my garage can support you.  It doesn’t look secure in the least, so will you trust yourself to it?  Faith is the concreteness of things that don’t look so solid.

Discipleship – The ultimate commitment to lifelong learning.  Just as living things grow, so also should Christ followers grow in both knowledge and the operation of grace.

…I could probably keep going, but that sums up a few important things.  I hope now we know each other better!

March 18, 2011

Conversations

Wednesday night we had dinner with a guy who lives, breathes, eats and sleeps hockey.  His sons play and he played professionally overseas for several years.  It’s (almost) all he talks about.  Fortunately, there’s been a hockey story making the evening news this week up here in Canada — involving the serious body check resulting in a head injury to a Montreal NHL player — and I was able to chime in on two occasions, but mostly I just listened.

Yesterday, I had lunch with someone whose position on Wal-Mart is the exact opposite of our own.  (I know it sounds like we eat out a lot, and believe me, we don’t.)   For us, the issues are primarily the whole balance of trade thing, especially as it affects the U.S., and the issue of cheaply made goods simply breaking down.  But she went past the “sweat shops” argument and stated that Wal-Mart suppliers are raising the quality of life for workers overseas, citing one particular place where factory staff who formerly had to walk to work were able to buy bicycles and were saving for mopeds.

I was so impressed by the passion that both these people had for their subjects even though (a) in the former case I knew nothing about hockey and (b) in the second case I still disagree somewhat.

So what are you passionate about?

Usually I don’t repeat material here that isn’t at least a year old, but I want to repeat three questions that I ran here back in April of last year.  Consider:

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning? — In Pat Robertson’s original autobiography, Shout it from the Housetops — before he became a target of both Christians and non-Christians for outrageous statements to the media — he was a local church pastor who had a church board member trying to make the point that Robertson was more obsessed with starting a Christian television network than he was with leading a church congregation.   (He jokingly added, “The first thing I think about is wishing you [the church board member] would get saved…”)    Still, regardless of what you think of Pat  — and I won’t post comments on that subject — it’s still a good question to address. What drives you from the moment your feet hit the floor?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your chance to control the conversation? — I owe a debt to a Christian & Missionary Alliance young adults pastor for this one, but I can’t remember if it was Mike Wilkins or Bill McAlpine.   Analyze yourself and others to see to what people turn their attention when the conversation reaches a “redirect” point.   “Out of the abundance of the heart… “  “Whatever is in your heart determines what you say…”  (NLT version of Matthew 12:34) “It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.”  (Same vs., The Message) It’s your chance to steer the direction of the discussion for the next few moments:  Where are you going to take it?
  3. What do you want your life to be remembered for? —  Everyone of us is writing a story, leaving a legacy.   If you could get a few paragraphs in Wikipedia after you’re gone, how would those sentences read?  If you could script your own funeral, how would you fill that time, talking about yourself in the third person?  (i.e. “He was so very concerned about…  and so totally passionate about…)  Would that be an honest appraisal of what people see on a day-to-day basis?

June 22, 2010

Radical: It Truly Is

On April 30th I responded here to the sample chapter of David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream, all the while not expecting to be given a copy of the complete book.   On Friday that changed.   I started reading around 3:00 PM Sunday and by 11:00 Monday morning had finished all 216 pages.

Radical truly is.

In the meantime, I thought I had included another mention of David Platt in the link list, but I see instead I e-mailed it to several pastor friends:

At an average of 55 minutes, David Platt’s Sunday morning sermons at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, are already far longer than those of most pastors. But to Platt, they seem awfully short. He has been struck in his travels by underground Asian house churches that study the Bible together, under the threat of persecution, for as long as 12 hours in one sitting.

He has imported this practice into a biennial event that Brook Hills calls Secret Church. Starting at 6 p.m., Platt preaches for six hours on a single topic, such as a survey of the Old Testament. About 1,000 people, mostly college students and young singles, turned out for the first Secret Church. Since then, other Secret Church topics have included the Atonement and spiritual warfare. It is now so popular the church requires tickets.

“It’s one of my favorite sights as a pastor to look out at 12:30 a.m. and see a room full of 2,500 people, their Bibles open, soaking it in,” Platt says.

Platt believes churches have lowered the bar for biblical and theological literacy by treating it as something for professionals. Equating serious biblical engagement with seminaries rather than the local church has impoverished both institutions, he says. So Brook Hills has launched its own training center for lay leaders and is preparing a one-year training program for church planters, with separate tracks for full-time pastors and bi-vocational ministers. Platt recognizes that smaller churches lack the human and financial resources to offer these programs, but he thinks the principles transfer to churches with only 50 members.

continue reading at Christianity Today

Radical is a book about the state of the American church.    But while it comes close, it isn’t too American to miss out on a larger audience.   Radical is a book about missions.   But it is engaging enough to eclipse the negative stereotypes which cause books of that genre to escape our interest.   Platt keeps it pertinent by including examples of people in his church who have allowed their lives to intersect with the lives of people in the much broader world.  Examples of people not too different from people like us.

Mostly, Radical is about you and me and all that we could be doing that we’re not doing.   He ends with a one-year challenge called “The Radical Experiment.”   Not content to simply write a book review, I decided to check out the sermon where he introduced the experiment in his home church, The Church at Brook Hills, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Platt has a quiet, gentle preaching style and a laid-back southern accent that belies the degree of challenge he is presenting to his hearers. The website Baptist 21 says, “He is a phenomenal preacher of God’s Word, we would probably label him as one of the best and certainly one of the young up and coming preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention. God is blessing his ministry as Brook Hills is growing and sees weekly attendance of over 4,000 people.”

Reading the book however, it is very clear that Platt is not entirely comfortable being the pastor of a ‘megachurch’ of 4,000 people and all its attendant accoutrements.  His frequent and intensive visits overseas mean that he is somewhat of a ‘fish out of water’ in the affluence of his home church.  I am sure there are Sundays where his heart is in another place.   Consequently, he is a liaison between the affluent North American Church, and the persecuted church overseas.

…Every few months, a book is released with a message and significance “for such a time as this.”   Books like this capture the spiritual imagination and present us with new possibilities.   Radical is that book for the summer of 2010.

I want to end this with an endorsement the book received from Russell D. Moore, whose blog is often linked here:

“Sometimes people will commend a book by saying, ‘You won’t want to put it down.’ I can’t say that about this book. You’ll want to put it down, many times. If you’re like me, as you read David Platt’s Radical, you’ll find yourself uncomfortably targeted by the Holy Spirit. You’ll see just how acclimated you are to the American dream. But you’ll find here another Way, one you know to be true, because you’ve heard it before in the words of the Lord Jesus, perhaps most forcefully in the simple call ‘Follow me.’

Read this book. Put it away for a time, if you need to, while your conscience is invaded by the Spirit driving you to repentance. And then pick it up again. After you’re done reading, I think you’ll know better how to pick up your cross and follow Christ for the advancement of the kingdom and the destruction of false dreams.”

A copy of Radical was provided by Augsburg-Fortress Canada, the Canadian distributor for Waterbrook/Multnomah. (Thanks, Norm!) The related booklet, The Radical Question is available for giveaway purposes in packages of ten.

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