Thinking Out Loud

December 19, 2017

Christmas Sunday: The Best Music and the Toughest Theology

Filed under: Christmas, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:56 am

Over the last several months, my wife and I participated in a Christian short story contest. I’ve never actually entered one of these before; it was blind judging so the process by which you remit your entries was rather complex. We each submitted two entries, but apparently the competition was fierce. Over the next two weeks we want to share them with readers here. This story appeared here before in a slightly different form.


by Paul Wilkinson

Doug and Gary were always the last to leave the office and this day was no exception. Doug always turned off the lights as Gary set the alarm and as it was the weekend, he turned down the heat.

“It’s December, Gary,” Doug reminded his co-worker; “It was freezing in here on Monday morning; the company’s not that broke.”

If it was a Friday, Gary always asked Doug if he wanted to join him for church that weekend. Usually the excuse was sports related. In summer, a weekend at the cottage or heading Stateside for some cross-border shopping. In the winter, a child’s hockey practice or cross country skiing with his brother’s friends. So Gary was a little surprised by the response.

“Actually, I’m going to church with my wife on Sunday,” Doug replied.

“Oh right. I forgot. You’re a CEO,” Gary said smiling.

“A CEO?”

“Christmas and Easter only.”

They both laughed, then Gary continued, “You know it’s good that you’re going, but you always pick the two hardest days.”

“I know,” returned Doug, “The parking at that church is miserable at Christmas.”

“No, that’s not what I mean; you always choose what we could call incarnation and atonement Sundays. They’re the toughest ones to grasp.”

“Wait a minute, I thought you wanted me to attend church.”

“I do, but think about it; if you show up for The Good Samaritan, the message is ‘love your neighbor,’ that’s easy! And if you show up for Mother’s Day and the preacher’s text is ‘husbands love your wives,’ well, two minutes in and you’ve got that one. Come with me on Thanksgiving and the message is ‘give thanks.’ But incarnation –“

“Do you mean the flower?”

“No it’s the idea of God becoming man, God becoming one of us. People who study theology have wrestled with that for centuries. How can I describe it? See, God is like those triplicate forms we use to requisition materials from head office. The kind where what you write on the top part goes through to all three. It’s one form, but with three parts. But then God Himself rips out one of the pages — let’s call it the middle one –“

“You know, Gary,” Doug began, “I did go to church when I was younger and I’ve heard people talk about the trinity before, but that triplicate form thing is a first. Did you just make that up?”

Gary was on a roll now and ignored the interruption. “– and then the letter to the Philippians tells us that that part of God took on the role of a servant and entered into the human condition, even to the point of experiencing human death, and a rather excruciating one at that.”

“So you’re talking about Jesus. Incarnation is saying he was 50 percent man and 50 percent human. Like a centaur?”

“No it’s not 50/50, more like 100/100.”

“So that’s gotta hurt. Why would he do that? Why bother? Why go to all that trouble?”

“Well that’s the Easter part, the atonement part; the part that tells us why bother. In another letter, to a young disciple named Timothy, the same writer wrote that ‘Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I’m the worst.'”

“The guy who wrote part of the Bible said he was the worst?”

“We’re all pretty much the worst, when you think of how pure God is. Jesus himself said he ‘came into the world to look for and save people who were lost.’ In another part he said that he came into the world to give his life to pay off a debt for all of us; and in yet another written account of his life we read that he didn’t come to condemn — which is what a lot of people think church is all about lately — but that through him everybody could have life that never ends.”

“Preach it! You really know this stuff. So now you’re talking about going to heaven when you die?”

“Well, actually, eternal life starts now.”

“How come I never heard that at a Christmas service before?”

“You did, but you probably weren’t tuned in to it. You’ve gone to church for so many Christmas services…it’s like…well…did you get a flu shot?”

“Of course I did; you know that.”

“Then tell me this,” Gary asked, “What did you get? What was in the shot?”

“I think it’s an inactive form of the flu strain. The body reacts to it and boosts your immunity.”

“Well, that’s you. You’ve showed up at so many Christmas Eve services that you’re immune. You sang the carols, and you enjoyed the soloists and maybe some years your kids were shepherds or sheep in the play, but you missed the connection between incarnation and atonement, and you can’t have the one without the other. Ultimately, Jesus — the baby in the manger — came to die for the world, for me, for you. The people in your church already know this so they don’t stress the big picture story. They get locked into the micro details to the point where they forget to explain the big story arc for CEOs like you.”

“Well…” Doug paused for a few seconds and then added, “Thanks for explaining that.”

By now a light snow was falling and it was time for both guys to get in their cars. “Don’t get me wrong;” Gary concluded, “The details are amazing, but our churches tend to forget to connect the dots in the macro story for those on the outside. Once you’ve got the big picture, it’s a story that you can’t ignore; it begs some type of response.”

While they’d been talking, a light snow had started and some flakes were sticking on the parking lot. Doug was thoughtfully mulling over all his friend had said. He opened his car door, but Gary had one more thing to add; “I think I can also help you with the Christmas church parking problem.”

“How’s that?” Doug asked.

“All you need to do;” Gary smirked, “Is show up at church ten minutes earlier.”

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October 9, 2016

The Gospel According to Paul

Filed under: Christianity, doctrine, Jesus — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

king-jesus-gospelI’m currently reading The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight*, in which he notes that one chapter of I Corinthians forms the basis of much of The Nicene Creed. I thought it would be different to reproduce it here from The Voice Bible**, but instead of presenting the full chapter, we’ll focus just on the verses McKnight highlights as comprising three sections: verses 1 and 2, 3 to 5, and 20 to 28.

Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I preached to you when we first met. It’s the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on; and through this gospel, you are liberated—unless, of course, your faith has come to nothing.

3-4 For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God’s covenant story. Afterward He appeared alive to Cephas[a] (you may know him as Simon Peter), then to the rest of the twelve.

the-voice-bible20 But the Anointed One was raised from death’s slumber and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. 21 For since death entered this world by a man, it took another man to make the resurrection of the dead our new reality. 22 Look at it this way: through Adam all of us die, but through the Anointed One all of us can live again. 23 But this is how it will happen: the Anointed’s awakening is the firstfruits. It will be followed by the resurrection of all those who belong to Him at His coming, 24 and then the end will come. After He has conquered His enemies and shut down every rule and authority vying for power, He will hand over the Kingdom to God, the Father of all that is. 25 And He must reign as King until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last hostile power to be destroyed is death itself. 27 All this will happen to fulfill the Scripture that says, “You placed everything on earth beneath His feet.”[f] (Although it says “everything,” it is clear that this does not also pertain to God, who created everything and made it all subject to Him.) 28 Then, when all creation has taken its rightful place beneath God’s sovereign reign, the Son will follow, subject to the Father who exalted Him over all created things; then God will be God over all.

Footnotes:
a Luke 24:34
Psalm 8:6


*Newly released in a revised edition in paperback from Zondervan.

**McKnight does not use The Voice Bible in his work. Sections in italics in The Voice Bible are supplemental and not found in original documents; this translations adds significantly to create flow of the narrative. The use of italics for this type of addition originated with the KJV.

December 20, 2015

New Bible Edition Highlights O.T. Christological Passages in Blue

Filed under: bible, books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am
Page sample of NLT Jesus Centered Bible. Print bleed through from previous page is at no extra charge.

Page sample of NLT Jesus Centered Bible. Print bleed through from previous page is at no extra charge.

With The Jesus Storybook Bible providing children with insights as to how the Old Testament narratives point toward the coming of Jesus — so popular it necessitated the recently released adult version, The Story of God’s Love For You — it was inevitable that someone would pursue this at a deeper level looking at the entirety of the O.T. text, not just selected stories.

While I don’t have a relationship with Group Publishing that I do with other publishers — they did not supply a review copy — I had a rather cursory look at this edition of the New Living Translation on the weekend, and was reminded of this again watching the preview video which pastor Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House in Greater Toronto included in the middle of a Sunday sermon two weeks ago. (Link is to full sermon, click the video below to source.)

The printing of key texts in blue letters — highlighting more than 600 passages in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus — is mentioned in the video almost as an afterthought, and I thought they could have done a better job of showing page samples, but for what it’s worth, here’s the trailer.

Learn more at this link to Group Publishing.


Published: September, 2015 1410 pages
Translation: NLT
Hardcover 978147073404 $24.99 US
Turquoise Imit. 9781470722159 $34.99 US
Slate Imit. 9781470726881 $34.99 US
Related youth ministry resources also available; though the Bible itself is not, strictly speaking, a youth-only product.

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