Thinking Out Loud

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.

 

February 10, 2018

Testing for Christianity

Several years ago my doctor sent me for a particular test. He told me upfront that this test can be inconclusive but added, “Right now, it’s the only test we have.” (Everything turned out okay, in case you’re wondering.)

I was thinking about that this morning in terms of church attendance as a test of Christian faith. This particular test can be inconclusive for a variety of reasons.

I know people whose spirituality runs deep. They pray and meditate on the scriptures, they read Christian books, they give to Christian causes, and their faith graph continues to move up and to the right. But they have no connection at all to a local church. For some of them it’s been 3-4 years, for others 8-10, and yet others much, much longer.

Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.

However…

There are eight things you can’t do when you (or you and your spouse, or you and your entire family) exist as isolated Christians.

  1. Corporate worship
  2. Corporate local/world intercession (and being made aware of these needs)
  3. Corporate liturgy (hearing the word read out loud and speaking it out loud yourself)
  4. Corporate prayer covering (this, for when it’s you that needs prayer, your faith community steps in)
  5. Corporate giving (and being made aware of special needs)
  6. Fellowship (everything from asking, “How’s it going spiritually” to talking about yesterday’s game)
  7. Communion / Lord’s Table / Eucharist
  8. Sitting under a teaching you did not choose (or in a Lectionary church, the pastor him self did not select specifically)

But there is an ninth thing that happens when you are part of a body and that is

  • Identification as a member of the local church

It’s this last thing I was headed toward today specifically with the medical test analogy. It’s the only test we have. Without participation in a local church there is both the perception and the possibility that your doctrine has moved away from orthodoxy. There isn’t a church locally which satisfies your needs, therefore your beliefs must be somehow different. Or worse, that your beliefs have simply migrated to some other faith system, or just plain died.

Listen…I have heard the stories. I know you may have been hurt. I know the preacher on the TV/podcast is such a great speaker. I know the bed never feels more comfortable than it does on Sunday morning. I know there are people in the church who are just taking up space; some who don’t believe any of it. I know the people in your local church are jerks because I am one of them.

But without identification among the numbers of people who publicly identify with the crucified and risen Christ, you’re simply part of the crowd. You may have been part of a church 25 years ago that was committed to reaching “unchurched Harry and unchurched Mary,” but over time, you’ve become unchurched Harry or unchurched Mary.

I’ll leave the last word to The Beatles:

Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged

 

 

May 18, 2015

Praying Like Opposite George

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:57 am

This jumps you into the middle of an article by Benjamin L. Corey at the blog Formerly Fundie, where he takes a fresh look at prayer. If it whets your appetite for more, click the link at the bottom.

Opposite GeorgeTake a season being Opposite George with your prayer life.

My favorite Seinfeld was the Opposite George episode  (which became a chapter in Christian Outsiders) where George started using his opposite instinct to make life choices. I’ve found this “opposite instinct” to actually be helpful for prayer life. Have you been approaching prayer in the same way since your childhood? Try doing the opposite for a season.

If you grew up in a highly structured, liturgical culture, try getting rid of all of the canned prayers you’re used to, and just talk to God from your heart. Or, if you grew up completely unstructured and find that’s not helpful right now, try adding structure to your prayer by trying either of the following: using a prayer book and praying prayers written in the book, or pick a Psalm and pray that particular verse as a personal prayer. If neither of those options ring your bell, you could even write out your own “life prayer” to ritualistically pray each morning. The key here is to try something different.

…continue reading Rediscovering Prayer When Your Prayer Life is Dead

January 31, 2015

Faith Itself is Not a Destination

Bruxy Cavey:

“We treat faith in our culture much like a painting that you hang on the wall. It’s something you go and look at. Look at my faith. Faith is a beautiful thing. But biblically faith is a connecting concept to connect you with something else. It’s not an end point destination that you stare at but it’s something you stare through. In other words, faith is more like a window that you install in a wall, not a painting you hang on a wall. It is something designed to help you see through the wall or whatever barrier is there to see … the outside of your particular world.”


~Bruxy Cavey, author of The End of Religion and Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House, an eightteen-site church in Ontario, Canada from the series Get Over Yourself, part six, December 13, 2009

May 28, 2012

Sometimes, The Christian Life is Just Plain Messy

My life is a mess. After forty-five years of trying to follow Jesus, I keep losing him in the crowded busyness of my life. I know Jesus is there, somewhere, but it’s difficult to make him out in the haze of everyday life. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continuing presence of Jesus.

Most of the moments of my life seem hopelessly tangled in a web of obligations and distractions. I want to be a good person. I don’t want to fail. I want to learn from my mistakes, rid myself of distractions, and run into the arms of Jesus. Most of the time, however, I feel like I am running away from Jesus into the arms of my own clutteredness.I want desperately to know God better. I want to be consistent. Right now the only consistency in my life is my inconsistency. Who I want to be and who I am are not very close together. I am not doing well at the living-a-consistent-life thing. I don’t want to be St. John of the Cross or Billy Graham. I just want to be remembered as a person who loved God, who served others more than he served himself, who was trying to grow in maturity and stability. I want to have more victories than defeats, yet here I am, almost sixty, and I fail on a regular basis. If I were to die today, I would be nervous about what people would say at my funeral. I would be happy if they said things like “He was a nice guy” or “He was occasionally decent” or “Mike wasn’t as bad as a lot of people.” Unfortunately, eulogies are delivered by people who know the deceased. I know what the consensus would be. “Mike was a mess.” 

When I was younger, I believed my inconsistency was due to my youth. I believed that age would teach me all I needed to know and that when I was older I would have learned the lessons of life and discovered the secrets of true spirituality. I am older, a lot older, and the secrets are still secret from me.I often dream that I am tagging along behind Jesus, longing for him to choose me as one of his disciples. Without warning, he turns around, looks straight into my eyes, and says, “Follow me!” My heart races, and I begin to run toward him when he interrupts with, “Oh, not you; the guy behind you. Sorry.”I have been trying to follow Christ most of my life, and the best I can do is a stumbling, bumbling, clumsy kind of following. I wake up mostdays with the humiliating awareness that I have no clue where Jesus is. Even though I am a minister, even though I think about Jesus every day, my following is . . . uh . . . meandering.So I’ve decided to write a book about the spiritual life.

When a decade later people are still raving about a book as though it were published yesterday, it’s a good idea to sit up and take notice. When people whose reading tastes you trust keep talking about that one book that you never got around to reading, it’s a good idea to check it out.

Mike Yaconelli was the co-founder of Youth Specialties, and therefore, by default, it’s magazine, the classic Wittenburg Door, a magazine that was very influential in my spiritually formative years. Sadly, a year after writing his signature book, Messy Spirituality in 2002, Michael was killed in a traffic accident.

I finished reading Messy Spirituality yesterday, and it’s significant to be blogging this fact on a Monday. We’ve all just come from weekend services where we interacted with other members of our  faith family, people who outwardly seem to have it all together. There’s a lot of posturing at church, and you’ll see better acting there on a Sunday morning than at any of the finest shows on Broadway.

But not all of us are perfect. Some of us are misfits. Some of us are tainted by sin. Some of us are broken by circumstances. Some of us are just plain lost and confused.

This is why Jesus came. This is why we needed a Savior.

This brokenness, our messiness, is not something to sweep under the rug or try to cover up with cosmetics; it’s something to celebrate.

Messy Spirituality is a book that reminds not-so-perfect people that we are loved and accepted as we are; we don’t have to clean up first to come to church or to come to him.  Through many anecdotes from Michael’s later career as pastor of a small church, and reminders of Christ’s ministry on earth, Michael weaved a tapestry that brought tears to my eyes several times.

This is a book that will appeal to readers of Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey and Wayne Jacobsen.  This is a book “for the rest of us;” those who find their spiritual life is, at times, simply messy. 

Read another excerpt from the book at C201

Messy Spirituality was published in 2002 in hardcover and released in 2007 in paperback by Zondervan. Unlike some review books here, this one was purchased by myself and is staying a part of my permanent book collection.

February 4, 2012

Culture and Society: Shifting or Imploding?

This is from the blog Pastor Jeff Ramblings. It appeared there as The Cultural Shift

I will turn 52 later on this year. For some of you reading this that makes me very old and for some of you I am still quite young. But my 50+ years have allowed me to see some pretty major changes in the way in which we live. My children still find it hilarious that we only got three TV stations when I was growing up (which went off the air at 11:00pm) along with the palpable sense of excitement we had when we got a fourth station. Those of you my age know exactly what I am talking about. My first computer was an IBM XT8088 with a 10mg hard drive and a 5 1/4 floppy drive which I bought used when I was 28 years old. A friend of mine put a 286 motherboard in it along with a 40mg hard drive and that was all the computer that I was ever going to need.

We can laugh about some of these changes. There are other changes that feel almost cataclysmic in nature and ones that many of us do not see as changes for the better. Ravi Zacharias speaks to some of these in the opening pages of his new book Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality.

“Spirituality is writ large in the West as gurus come and go. Perhaps a primary reason for this spread of alternative spirituality and a key to unlocking much of this puzzle for us is our means of communication today. Cultural shifts do not happen in one giant step.

  • How is it that a culture that once frowned upon certain sexual practices now frowns upon those who frown upon them?
  • How is it that from the normal use of language in public broadcasting and in public discourse, so well tempered that even mild deviations were viewed as serious infractions, we now experience on a daily basis entertainment that has moved from the genius of humor to the crassness of shock and vulgarity?
  • Why is it that the more perverse the story, the greater the audience it draws on television or at the theater?
  • Why do people create false scenarios in order to have their own ‘reality’ shows?
  • Who are these icons created by the media of the visual whose belief in some form of spirituality seems real, even if they are made-up for the sell?

Has all this happened because our taboos were wrong or is it that, in a very real sense, we have pushed the Replay button on the saga of Eden and can now look, touch, and taste anything we wish to because we have become gods, determining for ourselves what is right and what is wrong?” (pp. XIII-XIV)

 

December 27, 2011

So How Would You Respond?

First, someone who subscribes to some faith-focused view of things decided that this was an appropriate response to atheism:

But then, as often happens in these situations, someone subscribing to atheism decided to fire back across the bow with this:

At this, the majority of Christ-following blog readers here are expected to be offended.  However, for some reason, I’m not.  I rather like the rather quaint way of putting the story because it highlights that this is indeed a story of “foolish things that confound the wise.”

Cosmic?  Yes, in the sense of ‘out of this world.’  In fact, I would think it very important to begin the story with the premise that the intersection of God and mankind is very much the intersection of different dimensions.

Jewish?  Yes.  Christianity is birthed out of and is very much the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham, even the promise given to Adam.

Zombie?  Well, that’s a little extreme, but it fits.  Personally, I always viewed Zombie-ism as a kinda a lifestyle thing, so for me it could describe both Jesus and John the Baptist in their respective wilderness days.

Live forever?  Indeed!  Eternal life starts now.

Eat his flesh?  No self-respecting Christian I know has ever denied that this is a “Top 5” entry in the category, “Hard Sayings of the Gospel.”   But non-Catholics would say the language is figurative inasmuch as we partake of his sufferings on the cross; Catholics would claim a more literal experience of actually eating his flesh.

Telepathically tell him you accept him?  I’d say the person who wrote this has a better understanding of the gospel than the average church-attender, because at least he/she grasps that the centrality of crossing the line of faith has more to do with an act of believing faith than it does with trying to earn acceptance on the basis of helping little old ladies across the street.  Apologies to elderly females reading this.

…As your master?  Again, bullseye!  There are references in the New Testament to Jesus as Savior, but they outnumbered by references to Jesus as Lord by a ratio of 215:1.  Besides, if you’ve bought in to this point — if you’ve gotten past flesh-eating and zombies and telepathy — you probably feel you’re on to something that you’re going to dedicate yourself to, right?  In for a penny, in for a pound.

So he can remove an evil force?  Sorta.  The Apostle Paul acknowledged the ongoing presence of sin and temptation in the life of the Christ-follower.  I’d refine that one to read, “So he can give you the power to conquer an evil force” on the basis of the conviction that he already conquered it.

A rib woman was convinced by a talking snake…?  God created beings with totally free will including the ability to both reject his authority and to reject his love and desire for community with mankind.  But that had to both be tested out, and also be demonstrated for the man and woman to see for themselves.  There might be dozens of ways to do this, but if you’re looking for a good story, you really can’t make this stuff up. In the first chapter of The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey quotes Walter Wink as saying, “If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.”  That’s how I feel about this.

Makes perfect sense?  Depends to whom you’re speaking.  “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” II Cor. 4:4 (NIV) On the other hand, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. ”  John 1:12 (NLT)

Thanks for reading today.  If you’ll excuse me now, I’ve got to spend some time in telepathic communication, and then me and the rib-woman are gonna have some breakfast.

July 3, 2010

When Scripture Becomes Conversation

Filed under: apologetics, cults — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 am

About ten days ago I walked in a conversation one of my staff members was having with a member of the LDS or Mormon church.   We were quite busy and so I started dealing with her, leaving my staff member to deal with other customers.

She was hoping to find some LDS material from their in-house printing company, Deseret Publishing, and I gently explained why it is that you don’t see those materials in a Christian bookstore.

But once I’d drawn a few lines in the sand, she was comfortable staying as I was comfortable continuing the conversation.

The thing that impressed me was how — without citing chapter or verse — the scriptures of her faith flowed out of her conversationally.   I could tell when she quoting something versus when it was just her talking, though she didn’t make a big deal out of it.   Of course, I don’t know if she was quoting Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price, or The Book of Mormon; while conversely, she was impressed that I could name those books off the top of my head.

I don’t know how many quotations our conversation contained.   I was able to spot two or three but there may have been more.    It was natural, effortless.   Biblical quotations flow from me just as easily — either quoted or instantly paraphrased — though I wasn’t trying to match her line for line, as it wasn’t that type of discussion.  But maybe that’s why I recognized what was going on at her end.

She remained convinced that I would be won over if I would simply sit down and read The Book of Mormon, though she failed several times to truly hear me when I said that I do, in fact, actually own one and have read large sections of it.

I’m reminded again of two quotations:

Of all the major religions in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.

And this one:

A faith community that does not impart its sacred writings to its young people is one generation away from extinction.

Sorry, I don’t have the sources on those at hand.  But obviously, either my LDS friend, or whoever has been mentoring her, gets it.

June 30, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Check your calendar:  The year is half over.   Just eighteen months left until the world ends in 2012.    Here’s where we were this week:

  • Without question my number one link this week is Francis Chan’s children’s book trailer — that’s right, a kids book — for The Big Red Tractor releasing in September from David C. Cook.
  • Pete Wilson pays tribute to a retiring staff member who he hired seven years ago to bring some experience and wisdom to an otherwise younger team; sharing some valuable lessons he learned from Tom Tyndall.  Here’s a sample:

    Great sermons will get you pats on the back. Savvy leadership skills will win you admiration from your colleagues. Hard work will catch peoples eyes as you separate from the pack. But if you don’t love you’re nothing more than a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal. If you don’t love the people God has placed in your life nothing else really matters.

  • Andy LePeau at InterVarsity has a surefire way to increase the earning potential of your children and it’s not (directly, at least) education.   Check it out.
  • I really enjoyed Rick Apperson’s Blogapalooza throughout the entire month of June at Just a Thought, but especially this guest piece by Clay Crosse.  (Check out the other posts, too.)
  • Mark Wilson has a hilarious hypothetical conversation between God and St. Francis on the subject of lawn maintenance.

    GOD : They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?
    ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
    GOD:  They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

  • Know somebody who is giving your pastor a hard time?  Probably not anything like this story.   This guy was a terrorist.  This is a book trailer for an upcoming non-fiction book, The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Alonzo; releasing August 1st.
  • A 2006 iMonk column by Michael Spencer showed considerable insight in trying to bring balance to the young-earth/old-earth tensions in science vs. creationism.  He felt the Bible was a book about God and Jesus, not a book about science.
  • Here’s something you don’t see every day; a book about the ascension of Jesus and why it matters.   Check out Jeff Loach’s review of He Ascended Into Heaven.
  • First it was the hymn people versus the chorus people.  But recently there’s been more visible unrest within the modern worship community itself.   Michael Krahn comments,  in a blog post inspired by one by Canadian Chris Vacher.
  • New Blog of the Week:  Contrast by Terry Foote in Florida.   No particular post, though you might read a father’s perspective on the loss of a child.
  • Atheists have put the “under God” part of “One Nation Under God” back on the agenda with a billboard campaign .
  • There are parts of the Christian internet I’m sure some of you (us) never get to see. Not sure what to make of this one: The blog Enoch Route introduces us to “Billy” who offers some signs you might be in a cult.
  • Can you handle one more Drew Marshall Show link?   When the new archived interviews (from last week’s show) go up on Friday, it’s Drew’s first “Gay Day” with Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network, Wendy Gritter from New Direction Ministries, and singer-songwriter Derek Webb, just back from a tour with Jennifer Knapp.  Click here after 7.2.10 and select the show from 6.26
  • Ruth Graham observes that the themes in Christian young adult fiction are creeping into the mainstream book market.  (Some critics felt it was the other way around.) Check out her article at Slate.
  • Some people have all the answers until you start asking spiritual questions.   Check out this Soul Chat promo.   More Soul Chat video content here.
  • If you’ve read the last chapter of the book version of Stuff Christians Like (as opposed to the website) you know the (somewhat) serious side of Jon Acuff (pictured at right). CNN’s Belief blog had him back again, this time to tell everyone why some Christians act like jerks online.
  • Late breaking item:  With too many contradictions in his Muslim-turned-Christian story, when Ergun Caner’s current term as dean of Liberty University Theological Seminary expires today (6/30) the job won’t be renewed, though he gets to stay on staff.   The Washington Post tells the story, additional background is at World Magazine.
  • Our cartoon today is a classic — in internet terms, it’s actually only from 2008 — Hi and Lois by Brian and Greg Walker.

If you were listed in the blogroll here at Thinking Out Loud, and your blog name begins with “The,” don’t panic, you’re still here.  Look for your blog’s title without the “the.”  (Requests to have it reinstated will be considered by a bureaucratic committee that meets in Switzerland twice a year.)

Last week’s link list got bumped from its home page position by another post, check it out here.

June 19, 2010

Life As We Are Given It

Today’s post is from Jim Thornber, who I linked to here once before, many months ago.  Our blogs actually share the same name.   The post is from June 14th, but if you want to know more, read Jim’s bio page.

This Was NOT In My Plans

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it…Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility…They were to be trained…to enter the king’s service (Daniel 1:1, 3, 5)

About the time I think my life isn’t going like I planned, I think of Daniel and his three friends. They were well-educated young men who came from successful Israeli families, nobility even, and were handsome and smart. They were the cream of the Jewish crop whose parents carefully planned their careers before they were born. They were well on their way to living the American, no, Israeli dream: Nice job, good home in a decent neighborhood, a quiver of respectable children and a well-tended 401k.

Then King Nebby shows up and ruins their plans. He destroys their town, carries off the golden articles from the Temple, makes eunuchs of the Daniel and the boys (2 Kings 20:18; Isa. 39:7) and carries them to Babylon where they will serve the king until they die, never to see Israel again. And I think, “Well, I may not have everything I ever wanted, but at least I’m not a eunuch in Iraq.”

That was my thoughts a few days ago when I was walking around the hardware store where I work. Here it is, year 2010, and I’m a forty-nine year old bi-vocational pastor of a tiny congregation in a small Midwestern town, working part-time helping people with their plumbing needs. I don’t own a home, my newest car is seven years old and it scares me to think about the size of my savings account. When I was in Bible college, this is not how I saw myself living when I approached the (assumed) halfway point of life.

Do I wish I had more? You bet. I think about some of my friends who have successful careers, lived in the same town for years, have their family close by and don’t worry about money when they retire. They’re close to paying off their house; they can give to their church and to charity, volunteer at the school or hospital and enjoy grilling in the backyard on weekends. My life didn’t go that way. But then, God never promised our life would follow the well considered path of the American dream.

In fact, I think it would really frustrate me to be a Christian living in America if I really bought into the American Dream. But I don’t. I’ve read the book of Ecclesiastes and I believe what the wisest king on earth wrote. After twelve chapters of meaninglessness, Solomon gives us three words of useful advice: Find a good job, find a good spouse, remember God. In other words, live a meaningful existence, share it with someone and keep God in the center. I’ll add one more to the list: Life is not about me.

We can look at Daniel and his buddies and think, “What a waste of such good potential.” Heck, for all I know a few people have said that about me. But this is only true if the life I live is only about me. Daniel’s generation was instrumental in setting up the next generation to return to the land that would eventually produce the true King of Kings. Likewise, my life is instrumental in producing Kingdom people in the next generation, for every knee will bow to God, not Jim, so nothing is really about me. It is all about Him.

No, this is not how I planned it. But if at the evening of my life I can look back and honestly say that I acted justly, loved mercy and walked humbly with my God, I know I will hear Him say, “Well Done.” And that IS the way I planned it.

~Jim Thornber

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