Thinking Out Loud

July 18, 2017

Mingling with the Wealthy

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:01 am

River Cruise ships are quite different from ocean liners. The long rectangular design would fit well with Ken Ham’s vision of Noah’s Ark. This was home for seven nights. We were on the middle level. The weather never started getting rough and the tiny ship was not tossed, in fact it moved seamlessly through the course of the river.

Before I get into some of the previously mentioned titles in a series of posts about our first mega vacation, I want to address the elephant in the room: The price of such a trip.

We were in some respects out of our league here. First of all, most of the people on the trip were veterans at cruising; both in terms of river cruises and ocean-liner cruises. We were complete newbies. Secondly, although the “formal” dress code in effect for the evening meal was not strictly followed by everyone to the letter, clearly my wife and I do not shop in high end establishments.

For one meal, I decided to wear a tie, since I had brought two with me. I certainly remembered how to tie it, but it felt awkward, like Saul’s armor. In our little town, about an hour’s drive east of Toronto, there is a saying that if you see a man in a suit, that’s the Funeral Director. Church is casual. Our pastor and his two sons were leaving for Africa on Sunday and as they commissioned them in prayer, I saw two guys onstage wearing shorts. It is in that type of dress code I am more comfortable. For the last year, I have worked with a dress shirt that is not tucked in. Frankly, it makes more sense for the physical requirements of the average day. I am not at home in a tie, or a belt, or clothing in general. Local bylaws do not favor any expression of the latter condition, however.

The other thing is that I am not fully comfortable in any fine dining situation that runs 2¼ hours long. While I think we both quickly adapted, the wait staff could be quite intimidating if you’re not accustomed to pampering. At least at breakfast and lunch there was a buffet format. Oh, and as an aside, I might not always know which knife to use with the fillet, but I do know if a knife hasn’t been washed properly. But one hates to nitpick.

The other thing that is always awkward in our lives is dealing with the question, “What line of work are you in?” Yikes! I don’t even know the answer to that myself. It was gratifying a couple of times to be able to say in all truthfulness that my wife co-founded a non-profit that works with the economically disadvantaged. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that for decades we’ve been economically disadvantaged ourselves.

A few times I mentioned that we “once owned a chain of bookstores and now are down to a single location.” That’s absolutely true. And I said I was a writer. Also true. But I also mentioned “ministry” and “working with churches” and “Christian publishing” to more than a few people. More on that in a future article.

And then there was the guy the very first day who summed up our situation with, “You’re here on an inheritance.” Well, yes in a way, but we also managed my mom’s finances for 13 years after my father died without receiving any compensation for doing so, nor having access to any of the funds. Some of the investments we picked for her performed well, and I have no qualms about spending some of that interest income. (Full disclosure: My mother paid my wife $200 a year for doing this. 200 Canadian dollars.)

So perhaps everybody knew we were fish out of water, and perhaps we were even the subject of some conversations. I don’t really care. At least we didn’t show up in the dining room in slippers, as one person did; nor were we rude in saying “These seats are saved” when we wanted to sit with someone who, as it turned out, wasn’t saving the seats for anyone. (I avoided the phrase, “What am I? Chopped liver?”) I got the feeling that among some of our fellow-travelers, there was a certain sense of entitlement.

So we mingled with the rich and with those spending an inheritance and with those whose how-they-got-there stories we’ll never know.

We thanked God that we got to have such an experience. Even when there were times I wondered if we really belonged.

Attending a classical music concert is something with which I do in fact have considerable familiarity. This one at the Palais Liechtenstein featured orchestral and operatic music as well as ballet. We were on the front row, which means Ruth came extremely close to being drafted for the waltz demonstration.

 

 

 

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July 23, 2010

Can’t Buy Me Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:44 am

I don’t care too much for money,

Money can’t buy me love

~The Beatles

We spent the last few days looking at the St. Lawrence River from the opposite to our usual side. The place we’re staying in Alexandria Bay, NY overlooks Heart Island, home to Boldt Castle.

Construction on the vast structure was halted when the owner’s wife died unexpectedly. His heart was broken and the castle was never finished.

Living in Toronto, we couldn’t help think of Casa Loma, built again as a man’s gift of love to his wife, and never completed. What’s that saying in the Bible about counting the cost before you build?

Anyway, yesterday we were on a luncheon cruise on the river – it sounds posh but it wasn’t, the chicken was inedible – and learned of a third man who set out to build the perfect summer home on an island for his wife. He gave her a choice of any of the 1,800 islands in the Thousand Islands and she didn’t like any of them, so he built her an island, too.

In the end, she left him.

The marina outside our window is full of yachts and powerboats that are also momuments to vast amount of personal wealth that exists in the United States. But pause and listen to conversations and the people who own them are not happy. Their lives seem filled with tension and angst.

Yesterday, one woman suddenly took off in her SUV, and her husband walked out of their cottage surprised to see her gone. He got on his cell to her and whatever discussion precipitated their argument continued phone to phone.

People like us often look at the boats and the cabins and the “good life” at a distance and forget the fundamental happiness and underlying joy just aren’t in the picture for these people.

And so I end this with words normally spoken in the “fellowship time” in many of our churches…

…The peace of Christ be with you.

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.

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

December 2, 2009

Best of this Week’s Links

Before we get into this week’s lynx links, I want to refer back to something on this blog a few days ago.

When I wrote a post a few days ago questioning some aspects of the Samaritans Purse Christmas shoebox project, I was simply giving voice to some things that were rumbling in the back of my mind.   I was hesitant to formulate much more than a few random thoughts because I really thought I was alone in criticizing a program that is so widely subscribed to by local churches.

I was wrong.   When Sarah’s comment came, I realized I had only begun to scratch the surface of issues raised by the program.   Here’s a reprint of her comment, but I want to strongly recommend you visit the link, which documents why in one Canadian province, a large denomination isn’t encouraging support of the program.   It takes you to a 16-page (.pdf file) report of which pages 4 to 11 are most important and will only take you a couple of minutes.

Thanks for this article–I think all your questions and concerns are excellent. If you’re interested in more, with a powerful eyewitness story about shoebox problems, see http://ucskco.sasktelwebhosting.com/TheGiftMattersSchoolkit.pdf

It shouldn’t be about followup for the giver at all; that’s a form of strings-attached giving.

Additional questions:

Does this encourage children to value Western cultures more than their own?

Do “shoebox” gifts become better than something simpler made lovingly by a family member?

Are they introducing commercial gift-giving into a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas in that way?

Do they respect people of other faiths who don’t celebrate Christmas at all?

Do they portray one race/culture as being better or more successful than others?

Most importantly, how do they work to bring about real change, in places where the needs are for justice, peace, and access to the necessities of life?

~ Comment by Sarah Shepherd

Your responses to this can go here or in the comment section of the original post.    If anyone has seen other good pieces online where the program has been critiqued, feel free to put the link in a comment as well.

Other links this week:

  • Bill Kinnon looks at youth culture ministry and points out that, “What we win them with, is what we win them to. Win them with entertainment, and you’ve created customers – who expect to be continually entertained.”
  • Here’s a book that’s got me curious.   Trevin Wax reviews Chris Armstrong’s book Patron Saints for Postmoderns. “Chris focuses on ten ‘saints’ from Christian history and offers insights from their lives that can be learned and applied today.”
  • Some of the Christian cartoons I use here are a lot of fun.  This one digs a little deeper, and could only be written by someone with an intimate understanding of life in the Charismatic or Pentecostal environment.  So some of you are going to really, really connect with this, and others maybe not so much.   But if you’ve been in those circles, you won’t want to miss this.   Check out World of Dod’s blog.
  • Speaking of all things Charismatic, over a week ago Christianity Today did a really good article on that community’s voice of reason, Charisma magazine editor J. Lee Grady.   I also recommend subscribing to Lee’s weekly e-mail, although it’s bundled with other things from Strang Communications, so it’s an all or nothing subscription.
  • Our iKettle still needs the support of our Canadian readers.   Money given to the Salvation Army stays in the donor’s community.   Click here.
  • Jessica at the general-interest blog, Indexed accurately sums up why people feel the way they do about their wealth.    It’s all relative.    Ain’t that the truth!
  • Paul Stoecklein, author of the general market humor book You Had Me At Idiot, has a very irreverent post about surviving the Thanksgiving holiday in a ‘religious’ family.  Sample:  “Protestants are different. With them, saying grace is like really bad performance art. I swear, I think these people believe that saying grace should have been one of the categories on Star Search… Read — if you dare — the whole piece here. [HT: Shallow Frozen Water blog]

  • Christian apologist Josh McDowell and coauthor David Sterrett discuss why they wrote a book, titled ‘O’ God, about Oprah Winfrey and why they don’t think Christians are equipped to respond to Oprah’s ‘teaching.’  This link takes you a four minute video on YouTube.
  • Speaking of Christian Apologists, New York Magazine profiles Timothy Keller and his Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the Big Apple.  “Although relatively few secular New Yorkers know about it—Keller prefers to keep Redeemer mostly under the media radar… —an Evangelical Christian megachurch is growing in the heart of Manhattan.”
  • Carlos Whitaker invites readers at his blog, Ragamuffin Soul, to leave their favorite quotation.   So far, over 80 responses, but plenty of room for you to add yours.

March 30, 2009

Mashpost Monday

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:30 pm
From Musician Shaun Groves

On your first day on the other side of the grave, do you think you’ll look back on this life and be flooded with gratitude for hours spent watching episodes of American Idol and Lost?

Will you wish you’d done more of that? Do you think you’ll look back fondly on the effort and money spent remodeling the kitchen?  Will you wish you’d had a nicer home?

Do you think you’ll be glad you were up-to-date on the juicy details of celebrity lives?  Will you wish you’d read more magazines?

Will you regret not spending more time at the office?  Will you wish you’d logged just a few more hours every week at work?

Will you miss your blog or Facebook?  WIll you wish you’d just had a couple hundred more readers, just a few more “friends?”

Me neither.

~ posted at Shlog Blog
(HT Zach Nielsen)

Why I Don’t Link To Your Blog

Thanks for the link on yours to mine, but here’s why I am presently not returning the favor:

  • doctrinal discussions are fine, but militant denominationalism doesn’t interest me
  • you haven’t posted anything since 2008
  • I gave up on your last post after the 27th paragraph
  • I like edginess and don’t mind critical commentary, but remember that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her
  • you think Twitter is cool, but I really don’t want to read all the minutae of your life, I’ve got my own minutae and you don’t want to read it  (BTW, Dan is over his problem with irregularity and Carla’s got blonde streaks in her hair now)
  • I can respect your view that the “other-ness” of the gospel is best expressed by using King James era English, but if that’s what you believe to be the case, I’m going to have to insist you write your blog that way
  • I’ve already got a dozen links that share your viewpoint and decided that was sufficient
  • I wanna blog about Jesus, the Bible, the Church, faith; not the latest gadgets from Apple, alternative operating systems and social networking sites
  • there’s a reason why newspapers have photo editors, I tried text-only blogging and its boring, plus you discover new ideas when searching for pix
  • I’m not sure that the Bible itself should ever be the object of a joke
  • if you don’t mind my saying, I think you’re really full of yourself
  • I’m not sure my average reader would get your distinction between the church’s need to embrace homosexuals versus the idea of personally embracing or endorsing the lifestyle
  • is it really about the blog, or are you just trying to sell more copies of your books?
  • I enjoy reading what you write to other pastors, but I’m not sure that the average reader of this blog would relate to it
  • I think your cynicism and skepticism is potentially contagious and thereby potentially dangerous
  • the thirty-five YouTube embeds currently on your first page mean that the page takes forever to load, even with high speed
  • here’s a thought, if you didn’t “get” what The Shack was all about and who it was written for, perhaps the problem is you not them  (comments re. this entry will not be posted)
  • we didn’t want to offend our Baptist readers
  • for all the depth of your deep theological explorations, I’m not sure that any of it really matters to anyone besides yourself
  • last time I checked, the Christian world extended beyond the United States’ borders
  • many of the bloggers I link to are people I would really, really like to meet
  • a house is known by the company it keeps

I currently read about 140 blogs per week, there’s about half that many listed here.   The ones that are listed are ones I endorse, and many of them are deleted if they wander from what they were when I started, and of those, about half find their way back later on.

Reaching Out To The Wealthy by David Hayward at the Blog Naked Pastor

wealth

For My Ontario (Canada) Readers

This year, for the first time in Ontario history, some students will be going back to school the week prior to Labour Day.   (Yes, that’s Labour with a “u,” in Canada!)   The decisions by each school board are just being announced now, and not every board is making the change.   Needless to say, this is throwing the tourism industry in general into a bit of a tailspin, but it also greatly impacts Christian camps, many of whom had their materials printed and suppliers under contract since last summer.   Christian camping is a ministry sector important to me, and my wife and I met at a Christian camp.    This is a surprise they simply didn’t need.   To read more about this, with a response from three Christian camps affected, you can link to a separate article here.

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