Thinking Out Loud

February 19, 2019

An Amazing Divine Appointment

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:22 am

This picture was taken in Boca de Sama, one of the villages. It’s possible that some of the resort and tour staff live in places like this, but more likely they live in crowded cities.

Before Ruth and I left for Cuba last week, someone asked me if we were going on a mission trip. I supposed that’s more consistent with our history as a couple, but no, the purpose of the trip was ostensibly pleasure.

However, as with our previous trip there, we did take some Spanish New Testaments and Christian books; about 12 pieces in total. (I greatly regret not having taken about four more.) This is so important when Canadians are travelling to Cuba because Americans can’t go there, and Europeans don’t have access to U.S. Christian resources in Spanish.

There is a tradition of Canadians leaving gifts on the bed each morning for the housekeeping staff — so we include a piece of literature here — but I did give a few directly.

And the we met L., part of the resort’s entertainment staff. He was standing talking to the lifeguards and we got into a one-to-one conversation about family, education, work, faith and life in general.

Do you believe in divine appointments? I have goosebumps just typing this. They happen but you have to be programmed to expect them and then intentional about making them happen.

Either that day or the next I said to him, “Would you like a Bible?” He said he had one but it was borrowed and wanted to give it back to the person who had given it to him. (God was already at work!)

The reason I felt bold enough to come out and ask him if he wanted one — feeling bad that I had to walk it back and say it was only a New Testament — is because of another divine appointment we had with Steve, another guy from Canada who is spending a month at one of the resorts. Steve is a whole other story which I’ll save.

L. never got the Bible the next day. We just didn’t connect. But we did the day after.

And then he said something extraordinary: “Are you going to the buffet? I’d like to join you for lunch.” Just that day I had comment that you never see the hotel staff at the buffet. God was up to something!

For an hour we talked (Ruth was there for 75% of it and made some excellent contributions.) Christianity in Cuba has its beginnings in Roman Catholicism — though Pentecostalism is growing rapidly — and L. struggled with the sacramental view of baptism; that it is the human agency of salvation; that it changes you into a different person. There were many other discussions including about words which are important but not Bible words, such as “trinity” or “incarnation.”

The subject turned back to his family. I told him to be sure to impart his faith to his kids, mentioning them by name. For some reason I started tearing up at that point and so did he. He then told me it had been an hour and he had to get back to work.

Pray for L., his partner (couples tend to live together in Cuba) and his two kids A. and L.  His sister is an Evangelical — they call us Evangelists which is appropriate — so he does have other possibilities for getting his questions answered.

Do you believe in divine appointments? I do. This came at a time of genuine spiritual disappointment, and yet for an hour afterwards, I walked the length of beach in amazement of how God set it up. Pray also for J. who was so happy to get a copy of “In Touch” by Charles Stanley which helped break open a wider conversation. (I think many of the Canadian Christian tourists are very reticent about their faith while on holiday.) Pray also for T., our housekeeper, who was the recipient of about 7 of our pieces of literature.

Pray also for M. who took us on all-day jeep tour including a hike and swim in the mountains. He grew up Quaker — a large Christian group with a strong presence in Cuba — but like many Cubans, can’t get to church because they are always working.

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December 28, 2018

“20 Years Ago A Book Changed My Life”

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

“20 years ago my boss gave me a book which totally changed my life.”

You’ve possibly heard stories which began with this narrative. The person is describing where their life is at presently, but the story’s genesis is that time someone in their life gave them a particular book to read.

The problem with these stories is that we hear them from the perspective of the recipient, but don’t always know about the intentionality of the giver, or the circumstances where the two peoples’ lives intersected which motivated them to make the gift.

I am convinced that more lives would be changed if we all could cultivate that intentionality and follow through on that motivation.

Sadly, many of the gifts given this Christmas are already forgotten, discarded or even broken. I believe there are products which can make an impact beyond this life, and that hearts can be changed by the words in a book, the lyrics of a song, a scene in a Christian film, and of course, by the message of the Bible itself.

But this isn’t a blanket promotion for the Christian giftware or Christian publishing industry. The item given has to be selected based on an informed choice and it must be personal to the situation the recipient is facing and any particular needs they have expressed.

It also has to have substance. Giving a friend a mug which simply says, “Believe:” may work in a small percentage of situations, but it’s not the same as giving something more substantial; something that has a message beyond a vague platitude.

This may take effort. This may take research. This may take prayerful consideration.

This may also take a willingness to be there for the person involved; a follow-up that is committed to the long term. The potential outcome — a person’s salvation story — has to be in view from before the gift is selected.

Done right, it can lead to stories as expressed in today’s headline. Then it’s a win-win for both giver and recipient.


Today’s key words:

  • intentional
  • motivation
  • informed
  • personal
  • substance
  • follow-up

September 20, 2018

Your Smartphone and Family Gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas

Who are these people?

Why must we spend Thanksgiving with them every year?

Isn’t there a game on right now?

You’re trying to feign interest and laugh in the right places, but with such limited contact you really don’t have much in the way of shared experiences or shared interests with your spouse’s family. The thing that matters to you is your Savior, but past experience has shown that when it comes to religion, this is a tough crowd.

Your wife’s great aunt is sitting at the opposite end of the couch from you. She’s getting less out of this than you are, since English isn’t her first language. What part of Eastern Europe is she from again?

You pull out your smartphone and open YouVersion. Scanning the list of languages in the menu, one stands out. You give it a try. And then you pass her your phone gesturing for her to have a look.

You watch as she smiles as she reads, in her own tongue,

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

And then she does something rather remarkable. She doesn’t give the phone back. Instead, very tentatively, she takes the hand that isn’t holding the phone and places a finger on the screen, scrolling down to read more.

After a few minutes she realizes she’s monopolizing the thing. “Thank you;” she says, passing it back. At least she speaks some English.

You turn to another passage, this time highlighting it; and again she reads in her own language,

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.

As fast as you can navigate the menu — you’re accustomed to just looking things up in English, after all — and as soon as verse references come to mind, you’re passing the phone back and forth. You have no idea where she stands on matters of faith, but something is resonating, to the point where both of you are oblivious to anything else happening in the room.

Weeks later, it’s another Christmas gathering.

This time it’s your side of the family, yet you’re equally bored.

You wonder how the aunt’s getting on, and if you can repeat what you did at Thanksgiving, but everybody here speaks English. And again, it’s a roomful of people who wouldn’t be caught dead with a Bible in their hands at an event like this. That discussion would devolve rather quickly.

But again, at the opposite end of a similarly long couch is your twelve year old nephew. His own smartphone has had a technical issue and he doesn’t get along well with his cousins who are playing the latest game on the big screen downstairs. They consider him too nerdy.
You pull out your phone and hunt down one of the more “cool” versions of John 9 and pass him the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. No comment, you simply pass your phone.

…“Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do…

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!”

But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”…

18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

24 They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an imposter.”

25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

“Did you write this?” he says to me; oblivious to the information at the top of the screen; adding “Why do the sentences have numbers?”

You throw a question back to him, “Did you like the story?”

“The guy that healed the blind man seems to be in trouble for doing it, but the blind man seems to be in trouble, too for getting healed. It’s like something good happened, but everybody’s afraid to admit it.”

He’s got that part right. Then the question of the day: “Did the guy who could heal the blind man do anything else in the story?”

For twenty minutes, your nephew is your captive. You tell him that it’s not just a story. You tell him some of the bigger picture. You tell him about incarnation. You tell him about the cross

He downloads the app…

You might not think about your smartphone’s Bible app when you’re waiting for all the relatives to arrive at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or the family reunion, or the engagement party; so they can get on with serving the dinner.

But it can be a tremendous tool in a moment like this, especially where people who would never read a Bible are seeing pages from the Bible for the first time.

Imagine what could happen.

I just did.

 

September 13, 2018

Should Your Car Wear a Fish?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:35 am

Of all the burning doctrinal and theological issues facing Christians in 2018, one of the most perplexing is: To fish or not to fish? That is the question.

By this plastic symbol on the back of your donkey shall all men know you are my disciples.

The fish symbol has been the object of parody over the past several decades, but if nothing else, this shows the widespread acceptance of the auto-emblem version of the icon, at least in North America.

The ickthus — ΙΧΘΥΣ — (pronounced ‘ickthoos’) a 2nd – 4th Century symbol of the early church is both a play on the Greek word for fish, and is also an acronym or if you prefer, an acrostic.

► Iota “Ι” is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for “Jesus”.
► Chi “Χ” is the first letter of Christos (Χριστός), Greek for “anointed” (of the Lord).
► Theta “Θ” is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), Greek for “God’s”, the genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, Greek for “God”.
► Upsilon “Υ” is the first letter of (h)yios (Yἱός), Greek for “Son”.
► Sigma “Σ” is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for “Saviour”.

The symbols are available plain or with the Greek letters, but if you choose the latter, you need to make sure it’s pointing the right way. But the right way will vary depending on how they designed it. In terms of the blank ones, sadly many a church has split over the correct direction of the piscine creature.

There are many videos online (including some from the many detractors who insist it’s a Satanic symbol) concerning the Ickthus and its many parody versions, but for a simple, straightforward understanding, watch this Anglican priest’s 2-minute explanation.

Oh…and as to our opening question, if your car or truck or SUV should wear a fish, I think a lot of that answer depends on how you drive. ‘Nuff said.

 

with files from Wikipedia

June 26, 2018

Who Says a Parable Can’t Contain a Commandment?

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:34 am

While most of the articles here are original, the ones at Christianity 201 come from “beg, borrow or steal” sources. I do however try to write one myself at least once a week. That was the case yesterday, prompted by a comment on a forum. (Apologies to those of you who subscribe to both blogs.)

Compelling People to Become Christians: Can a Parable Contain a Commandment?

NIV Luke 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses…

…21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

In a very, very short comment on a Religion Forum, a writer opened not one, but two different cans of worms. First let’s read what they wrote:

Luke 14:23 reads: The master said: “go out to the highways and country lanes and force people to come in, to make sure my house is full”. This verse is not a command of Jesus, but, rather is at the end of the parable

“A man once gave a feast”. In the parable a man gave a feast and invited many guests. At the time for the feast he sent the servants out to tell those he had invited to come because everything was ready. None of those people came, they all had other things to do. The man sent the servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Then the servants came to him and said there is still some room left in the banquet room. The man said go out and find people and force them to come so my house will be full.

This verse was used centuries ago by Catholics and Protestants in Europe to support forcing people to go to the one officially approved church in a nation. Today Christians generally don’t favor forcing people to go to church, so what do Christians do with this verse now? I can’t think of any way to get around it except to ignore it. How do Christians soft pedal this verse today?

Parables exist to either compare or contrast. When “foolish virgins” run out of oil for their midnight lamps, the message is a warning to be prepared. In other words, don’t do what you see happening in the story.

In this story, there’s room at the table. There are still empty seats. The host of the party desires a full house. In other words, you’re supposed to do what you see playing out in the story.

We’re expected to go out

  • i.e. “Go into all the world”
  • i.e. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria;” etc.
  • i.e. Search for the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son; etc.

and invite people to the great banquet God is preparing.

In a devotional we posted in March 2017, we noted:

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.”

The banquet in Luke 23 could be either the dinner party or the wedding reception. It’s pointing us to something for which God is preparing us.

But the writer of our opening comment correctly notes that this verse has been used to create forced conversions. Even J. B. Phillips, in his translation, says, “make them come.” The Message says, “drag them in.” “Compel” and “Constrain” are frequently used.

Other translations however offer, “Urge them,” “Persuade them,” etc. (This is considered more consistent with the original Greek, as a later response in the same article points out.) A respondent to the comment says, “This in Luke is, to me, the same as the wedding story in Matthew 22. There it states to “bid” them to come which is no more than to ask or invite them.”

So: Which is it?

The comment writer is correct in noting that this is a parable, and some aspects of the story may be very similar while the story is slightly different. Not everything in a parable has a perfect 1:1 mapping. This is because the major point is that God’s desire is for the banquet to be filled. “God is not willing that any should perish.” (John 3:17a.) In some schools of doctrine, this may grate a little since those who are chosen shouldn’t need to be ‘dragged in’ because of the irresistible grace presenting itself. (This is part of the larger question, ‘If unconditional election is a given, why evangelize?’)

I think the other can of worms is where the comment writer misses out.

The end of the parable is indeed a commandment; one that is consistent with the Great Commission, and all of (a), (b), and (c) above.

The parable represents the heart of God.

It’s a call to “come to the table” that in its broader context is being said in the home of a Pharisee and not strictly about who gets in but who is honored and given a place of prominence.

Make it your goal to invite others to the table.

PW

Come to the table
Come join the sinners
You have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table.

May 24, 2018

Review: Christianity in an Age of Skepticism

Filed under: books, Christianity, Faith, reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

In the past few days I’ve shared excerpts from Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan (Zondervan) but I feel this book is important enough to merit a formal review.

Someone long forgotten told me that this was a must-read book for 2018, but although I can’t place who it was, I know it was someone I respected so I decided to investigate further. I know the word Evangelism scares many of you, but this is how-to book on a whole other level. Whereas Mark Clark’s The Problem of God is concerned with the particular arguments people will use against the existence of God or the deity of Christ, Sam Chan is concerned with how we craft our various types of presentations, be they a one-on-one story of God’s presence in our lives, or a one-to-many presentation in the style of a sermon.

The latter type of information might be helpful for those starting down the road of becoming preachers. I can see this book easily fitting into a first year Homiletics class in a Bible college. There are also online resource links which take the reader to the academic section of the Zondervan website. But in terms of its overall intent, its pricing, and the fact it doesn’t appear under the Zondervan Academic imprint, this is a book for everyone who wants to be better at our calling to be the life and witness of Christ in this world.

I have some favorite chapters. Chapter two deals with introducing Jesus into casual conversation with our friends and the different approaches we can take.

…our community has a powerful role in forming our beliefs. Different communities with some of the same experiences will interpret them in different ways. Different communities with the same facts, evidence and data will interpret them in different ways.  ~p43

Chapter three deals with assembling a response to the needs of people around us, and looks at the various metaphors in the Gospel narratives in a way that this reader had never seen them presented. I’m a huge believer in using charts and diagrams and this book is generous with both.


~p71

Those unfamiliar with the challenge of using traditional means to try to reach Postmoderns will find the situation well-defined in the fourth chapter.

…the gospel will remain unbelievable as long as our non-Christian friends don’t have many Christian friends, because we tend to adopt the plausibility structures of those we know and trust. ~p117

For those who haven’t studied the challenges of world missions, the fifth chapter deals with contextualization.

To the crowd, John told them to share food and clothing. To the tax collectors, John told them to stop cheating. to the soldiers, John told them to stop extorting money and to stop accusing people falsely ~p135

I don’t agree with Sam Chan on everything. (This is the probably the only book in my collection that says, “Foreword by D.A. Carson.) There were some early chapters where I thought I better subtitle might be, The Evangelism Methodology of Timothy Keller, since Chan gushes about Keller’s writing repeatedly. (Doing this with the audio book would make a great drinking game.)

The chapters on preaching topical and exegetical sermons would probably be of greater interest to… well, preachers. Though I must add that I did appreciate the idea that it’s not a case of either topical or exegetical. Both approaches borrow from the other, even if some won’t admit that. 

That Sam Chan is of Asian descent would give this book appeal to anyone who is part of a minority where Christianity also has minority status. That, plus his Australian origins play into the book many times where he argues that the Bible is not interpreted the same all over the world. (A great example is the inclusion of Don Richardson’s account that in presenting the gospel to a particular tribe, they were cheering Judas because treachery is honored in that tribe.) Because I live just an hour east of Toronto, which has a very high Asian population those stories really resonated.

Again, I view this as part of a limited collection of must-read books for this year. Everyone from the zealous, new convert who wants to reach out to his work, neighborhood or social network; or the seasoned, veteran believer who wants to reminded of the evangelism fundamentals will find this beneficial and will, like me find themselves returning to re-examine several key chapters.


Excerpts appearing here previously:

May 15, 2018

What if the Most Seeker-Friendly Thing is Having a Regular Service?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:58 am

I’ve mentioned before that the problem in the North American capital-C Church is not that some churches are seeker-sensitive, but rather that some churches are seeker-hostile.

Still, as we switch to a greater postmodern context, is it possible that some of our best efforts to be welcoming are no longer necessary?

I’m currently reading Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan. This book is literally overflowing with practical application for both churches and individuals. I thought I’d share this very short excerpt with you today (emphasis added).

At our church, we designate February as Friends Month. This is the month we design the church service to be especially accessible to our non-Christian friends. But what does a service like this look like? When we used to evangelize moderns, the strategy was to simplify the service and remove awkward moments from the service — the offering, the prayers and the announcements. The idea was to get to the Bible talk as soon as possible. The idea was also that the Bible talk would be what moves our non-Christian friends to a point of conversion. They would hear the truth of the gospel clearly presented, and they would understand that they had a simple choice: accept or reject the truth claims of the gospel.

But with postmoderns, we look at the whole service — not just the Bible talk — as evangelistic, because the whole service shows how Christianity works. When they see us take up an offering, they will see that we are generous with our money because Jesus himself generously gave himself up for us. They will see that we are content with our money because we trust God to provide. And they will see that the gospel has freed us from the hold that money has on us because God is our security. When they hear us pray, they will hear what a personal relationship with God sounds like. They will see that we have a God who is powerful enough to answer prayers but also personal enough to care about our little needs. They will hear that we love each other so much that we pray for each other in our churches. They will hear our cries for justice for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. And when they hear our announcements, they will hear that we take food to the sick, new mothers, orphans and people who have moved into our suburbs. They will hear that both young and old meet together in small groups. All the parts of the service show that we have a community of believers who are transformed by Christ and who restore our world by bringing Jesus’ love, mercy and justice.

p126

May 11, 2018

Dissecting the Evangelism Process

Filed under: books, Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

They say the problem with trying to dissect a cat and learn how it works is that once you make the first cut, you’ve killed the cat.

Trying to over-analyze the various elements of faith can have the same effect, but as I’ve started reading Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan (Zondervan, 2018), I’m finding the opposite: Something about this approach really brings the gospel to life.

One of the things which impressed me is the use of charts and diagrams, as in the excerpt below:


1 Thessalonians 1:4–10 reveals six crucial parts that persons play in the symphony of evangelism, which Chan outlines below:

  1. God’s role is to choose people for salvation (v.4). God has a sovereign role in salvation. This is the theological idea of calling, election, and predestination.
  2. Jesus’ role is to save people from wrath (v.10). He is responsible for dying for people and their sins, rising from the dead, and one day coming back to judge people. Jesus’ other role is that the gospel story is about him (v. 8). The gospel is a message about who Jesus is and what he’s done to save people from their sins.
  3. Paul’s role is to communicate the gospel (v. 5). He did this both with words and actions, not just what he said but also how he lived. Paul gives more details about his model life in 1 Thessalonians 2:6–12.
  4. The Holy Spirit’s role is to empower the person who is communicating the gospel (v. 5). Perhaps this means that the Spirit gives the person the gift of effective communication or the words to say. And the Spirit also illuminates the person hearing the gospel by convicting them (v. 5) and opening their heart to receive the gospel with joy (v. 6).
  5. The Thessalonians hear the gospel and welcome it with joy (v. 6b). They respond with faith (v. 8b) by turning from their idols to God (vv. 8b–9). Now they imitate Paul (v. 6a) and are models for other believers (v. 7) while they wait for Jesus to return (v. 10).
  6. The gospel is a message about Jesus (v. 8). It is the means by which the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sins (v. 5) and enables them to welcome God’s salvation with joy (v. 6). (20–21)

This chart further describes these evangelism roles by mapping them along six theological categories:

Like Paul’s role in 1 Thessalonians, “Our role is to communicate the gospel both in words and actions. But our role is not God’s: we are not sovereignly choosing who gets saved. Our role is not Jesus’: we are not saving people from their sins. Our role is not the Holy Spirit’s: we cannot force people to believe. Instead we must stay focused on our role as the evangelist and do it well.”


I’ll definitely have more to say about this book, probably later next week. It’s a great resource for both churches and individuals.  Learn more at this page.

Book excerpt sourced at Zondervan Academic

December 3, 2017

Short Takes (7): Flying Elephants

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

As a younger person, I frequently traveled to those large summer outdoor youth festivals which, for some reason, all seemed to take place in Pennsylvania. I remember one of the speakers talking about II Cor. 5:17

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (NASB)

What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! (NLT)

The speaker said that most people think of “becoming a new creature” as referring to something like the proverbial caterpillar who becomes a butterfly; but it’s not talking about that kind of metamorphosis.

Rather, he said, the Greek means that “anyone in Christ” is actually “a species of being that never existed before;” adding “More like a winged elephant than a winged butterfly.”

I’ve never seen a winged elephant, though in the early days of Microsoft, I saw some flying toasters.

The thing about a flying elephant is this: It gets peoples’ attention. If anyone is in Christ, the world is going to notice the change from what we once were, but also the uniqueness of what we have become. We’re going to stand out like a city on a hill that no one can hide; like the light of the world.

There’s a song we sang at camp a lot of years ago:

Little by little, every day
Little by little in every way
My Jesus is changing me

Since I made a turnabout face
I’ve been growing in His grace
My Jesus is changing me

He’s changing me, my precious Jesus
I’m not the same person that I used to be

Sometimes it’s slow going
But there’s a knowing
That someday, perfect I will be

If someone walks up to you and says, “Hey, you haven’t changed a bit;” and you’re a Christian and they’re not talking about physical appearance like your hair color or your weight; then something is seriously wrong.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (New Living Translation):
17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Breaking it down by subjects, as on a child’s report card, it might look like this, with two subjects:

2 Peter 3:18 (New Living Translation):
18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I gotta be honest; some days I do well in the knowledge department and not so well in the grace department. But there are days where the reverse is true as well.

Need a more complex report card with more than just two subjects? Here’s the next level version:

Colossians 1:9-12 (New Living Translation)
9 … We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. 11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father…

Here’s to change; personal change that you know inwardly and others see outwardly.

 

September 21, 2017

Hope for Beachgoers

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:31 am

We worked our way down the trail to the local beach. It was September already, but high water levels earlier in the year meant that we changed our routines a little, and this would be our first trip.

“Isn’t there a bench somewhere here?” I wondered aloud. I remember sitting on it in the late afternoons soaking up the sun.

“There it is;” my wife advised. Only when we got to it we discovered it had been mildly re-purposed. Someone had left a set of gel markers — I guess they don’t dry up in the sun as quickly — and a collection of small rocks and stones, one of which was inscribed with an invitation to write something to share with everyone. I guess they see this as a way of making a difference.

Ruth bought in immediately, choosing a stone and a marker while I continued to make my way down to the water where she joined me two minutes later.

“Did you write ‘Jesus loves you’?” I asked.

“No;” she replied, I wrote, ‘Don’t give up.'” 

“Are you ashamed of your Lord?”

Okay, I didn’t say that last one.

She said she wanted something that would be relatable for most people. She felt ‘Jesus loves you’ would make for a lot of eye rolling. It may be true, but it’s trite. Furthermore, I’m sure that message, ‘Don’t give up,’ is exactly what some broken people need to hear.

Would I have written ‘Jesus loves you?’ Honestly, probably yes. I would have seen this as a ministry opportunity. I would have seized on the time and place to be salt and light. I would have set down the marker and walked away proud of having ‘done my bit’ for the Kingdom of God that day.

And yet… perhaps someone would have picked up that particular stone and tossed it down the hill into the lake. This is Canada after all. We don’t have Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby and K-LOVE and the Republican party. We make no pretense to be a Christian nation. 

So isn’t that all the more reason to proclaim Christ’s name? Yes and no.

See, I agree with her, and I agree with me.

It’s complicated…

Just because you can use something as a ministry opportunity doesn’t mean you should.

…Don’t give up.

“I tell you,” [Jesus] replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” – Luke 19:40 NIV

 

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