Christianity 201

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

December 26, 2014

Endorsing What You Read Here

Gal 6:11(NIV) See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Apostle Paul lived in a world that had our technology? Would he have a blog? It would definitely get his letters delivered faster to the various spiritual communities to whom he wrote.

Or what if Paul were spreading his message through political advertising. Not all candidates in North America elections run to win, many are just trying to get a position in front of the greatest number of people, and an election campaign is a good way to do that. I can just hear the voice-over announcer finishing his script and then we hear words so common in the U.S. and Canada,

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

Paul’s “large letters” type of comment at the end of Galatians is repeated three other times in the New Testament…

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:17
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Philemon 1:19
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

…but it’s the “large letters” comment that lend to the belief that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his poor eyesight. Were his eyes always bad, or was this a leftover consequence of that moment on the Damascus Road?

However our focus today is the idea of Paul endorsing the message content that precedes his personal sign-off.

If Paul lived in our day and had a blog he wouldn’t simply be re-blogging other people’s content or having the scribe he employed finish off the epistle with ideas that were not Paul’s. No, his signature is not just a sign-off (in the sense of a signature) but he is personally signing off (in the sense of taking responsibility) on everything you’ve read up to that point.

Though, with the technological metaphor still in view, Paul would definitely copy-and-paste parts of previous letters into future ones: We see many parallels in the epistles; two examples are his advice to husbands, wives, children and slaves; or his direction to put off the clothing of sin and clothe yourself (literally ‘put on’) in holiness and righteousness.

But wait a minute! I can hear some of you saying, “Isn’t this very blog one which appropriates the content from other writers?” Yes, that is its very point. But while I probably don’t agree with every doctrinal/theological thing in every site to which this blog links, I do read and respect the quality of Biblical or doctrinal examination that takes place in the posts that are used here.

The problem, moving forward into 2015, is the proliferation of blogs that copy-and-paste material from other blogs because they feel it is expected of them to do so, or that they earn higher standing or greater acceptance with their blogging peers because of their perceived association with bloggers, writers or pastors of greater renown. They want to identify with some ideal they have of the Christian blogging community. Perhaps they get it from pastors who feel they add weight to their sermons by quoting from popular Christian sources.

And that’s just wrong.

And so as I myself move forward into 2015, I want to be more forthright in terms of what I personally believe, while at the same time maintaining a forum here that is a melting pot for divergent doctrinal and theological positions. I want this to be a space that defies categories and classifications. I want this to be a taste of something deeper for those who have never experienced greater depth.

Not every day will hit the mark. And the blog post you feel is weak may be someone else’s personal favorite. But I will stand behind everything that appears here as being worthy of consideration. I’ll take responsibility for it, signing off on it just as the Apostle Paul put his stamp of approval on the communications that bore his name.

March 5, 2013

Preaching to the Trees

It’s said that missionary statesman and Canandian pastor Oswald J. Smith would go out into the woods and preach to the trees. I am sure that some will say this is no different than modern preachers doing a midweek practice run in an empty auditorium, and I am 100% confident the response rate was extremely low.

Still, there are some who would say that many bloggers — especially Christian bloggers — are also preaching, metaphorically speaking, to the trees. Look at the growth of blog posts just at WordPress:

Growth of Blogging

It’s easy to feel lost in such a sea of voices. Or to feel like a ‘voice crying in the wilderness.’

That phrase is from Isaiah 40, and all four gospels affirm this passage as fulfilled in John the Baptist.

  1. Matthew 3:3
    This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  2. Mark 1:3
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  3. Luke 3:4
    As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
  4. John 1:23
    John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

If John was using modern media today, I’m sure his wilderness experience would translate into low stats, or in church-related terms, low attendance. As he continued, the crowds came, but we know that while he preached his message of repentance with great conviction, and his prophetic word that The Messiah, the lamb of God had come into the world; we also know that later on he still had doubts as to the Messiah-identification being fulfilled in Jesus.

Matthew 11:2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

So knowing that John spoke in faith and not certainty, and knowing that his experience was a wilderness experience, we can be sure that John had days where he felt he was preaching to the trees.

But tree preaching is not a bad thing.

The  speaking out of anything is a good test of what is in the heart. This can reveal a good heart condition or a bad heart condition. Yesterday, I said something out loud for which I am thankful that not even trees were present. Where did  that come from?  It wasn’t something angry or rash or hate-filled, just something I might not have thought I was capable of thinking.

Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

It’s the same with writing. You reveal yourself to yourself when you write. Sometimes you mentally picture a three-paragraph outline, but end up with eight paragraphs because there were things in your heart and mind which overflowed as you sat at the keyboard.

You ask yourself, Is anyone reading all this?

There are people I’ve never met in person but I read them online each week. I know for a fact that some of them only get 4 or 5 visitors a day. I’m sure they feel they are preaching to the trees. But they have been a great influence in my life. At the blogroll at Thinking Out Loud, I include some of the major Christian influencers as well as people who faithfully post online in relative obscurity.

So we’ll say things like

We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and
God is responsible for the breadth.

which is very true.

But the depth of our ministry is cultivated sometimes in the secret and almost-secret places. What I’m saying here is that you should

  • keep writing even when it seems that no one is listening
  • keep sharing with that spouse, coworker or relative even it seems that nothing is getting through
  • keep teaching that Sunday school class even when the kids are fighting, fooling around and talking
  • keep recommending those books even when nobody buys them or borrows them from the church library
  • keep serving those meals at the soup kitchen even it looks like all you’re doing is freeing up money they can spend on drugs or alcohol
  • keep supporting that missionary even when his/her prayer letters contain frustration over a lack of measurable results
  • keep sending cards and birthday gifts to that wayward person who seems to have gone so distant from you and God

Why? Because of what is forming in you as you remain faithful, even when it seems that your efforts are met by nothing but the wind blowing through the trees.

Phil 2:13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

The Message renders this section as:

12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

October 1, 2012

Living in a Christian World

KJV Ephesians 5:18 …be filled with the Spirit;  19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Phillips  Ephesians 5:18 l…let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God!

NASB Phil. 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Message – Phil 4:8Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

The verses above usually receive a fairly specific application. The first, from Ephesians, has to do with allowing the Word of God (in a parallel Colossians passage) and the Spirit of God to overflow from your heart resulting in worship to God, in this case worship that is specifically musical; with the result that Christianity is essentially “a singing faith.”

The second verse from Philippians is usually used in reference to controlling our thought life; controlling what we allow to control us. Both verses have been referenced here at C201 in their primary contexts.

But today I want to think in terms of the everyday lives we live on Monday morning, after weekend services are over and we’re back to work, or school, or raising children. We spend at the very least an hour on Sunday in the “world of church” or “world of faith.” But many people walk out the door when the service ends and find themselves back in a culture situation that afford no opportunity for “psalms and hymns” and makes it hard to think about things which are “pure, lovely and of good repute.”

Their connection with Christian culture vanishes.

Those of us that blog, or work in vocational ministry at a local church or parachurch organization can be thought to represent one end of a continuum which has, at the other end, people who attend a church, but don’t allow the a Christian “seasoning” to permeate their lives throughout the week.

They possibly don’t read a daily devotional either; in print or online, so we’re not speaking to readers here necessarily.

Now having said that I can anticipate two objections.

The first is that we’re supposed to be “in the world” (though “not of it.”) This means that we’re not to spend our week living in the religious bubble or the Evangelical bubble. We’re expected to be out there getting our hands and feet dirty. Our time at worship before God is a type of retreat from the cares of the world, but then we return to the mission field where God has placed each of us.

The second objection would be that Christian culture, such as it exists, is somewhat flawed. ‘Christian’ is not an adjective that can be layered over music, books, radio, movies, web channels, restaurants, video games, etc. Reading Christian blogs — which I do a lot of — doesn’t make me more spiritual.

And yet, it bothers me that despite these valid objections, there are people who choose to almost abdicate from the world of faith for the other 167 hours of the week. They don’t have a preset for the local Christian radio station, they don’t take advantage of the resources available from online ministries, they don’t read any Christian books in the course of a year. Some don’t read their Bibles all week either; whatever reading is done in the worship service constitutes their only direct contact with the God’s Word throughout the week. (No pressure, pastors; right?)

Personally, I could survive a month on a deserted island with just my Bible, but in general, I need help. I am a better person in terms of my interactions with the world at large if I can approach those interactions with the flavor of faith. I need books to keep me thinking on things that are “true… honorable… right…” and I need music to keep me “singing and making melody to the Lord.”

I’m not trying to justify an industry, or several industries, or those industries’ excesses, but I’m saying that I do believe that at their genesis, there was a noble purpose of fanning the flames of faith; fanning the flames of what the Holy Spirit is already doing in our lives and wants to do.

And I’m concerned for people who are missing out on programs, resources, and opportunities that could greatly enhance their relationship with Jesus and their knowledge of God’s ways.

 

 

April 25, 2012

The Man I Don’t Want To Be

Many times at Thinking Out Loud, I pick up on news stories that are making the rounds and try to offer some fresh exposure or a fresh take on what is happening. I enjoy playing journalist, and I think it is significant that here at WordPress, when you’ve finished writing something, you click a button that says “publish.” It certainly gives me a sense of self-importance.

But I really haven’t come that far from when, 30 years ago, I was writing for CCM, a Christian music magazine based at the time south of Los Angeles.  My final column gave my reason for quitting, “While it’s one thing to write the news, it’s a far better thing to make the news.”

Today, I would have qualified that sentence a little better!

The Christian internet is full of people with ideas to share, but I’m reminded of this verse in James:

NLT James 1:22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

The context is sin and obedience and the transformative power of God’s Word, but the application is still valid: We’re to be evaluated not on the basis of intention, doctrinal conviction or knowledge, but on what we actually do.

I just bought my wife an old Dilbert book titled, This is the Part Where You Pretend to Add Value.  Sometimes in my blogs I tell readers I want comments where they are truly adding value to the discussion, not just saying, “Thanks, I really enjoyed that.” (Though some days I really need that encouragement, too.)

But ultimately, we don’t add value to God’s kingdom by just blogging, or just preaching, or just getting doctoral degrees in theology or divinity. We contribute more with our hands and our feet than with our mouths or our computer keyboards.

Here in North America, we face an economic crisis because nobody makes anything anymore. We ship out our raw resources, but our consumer and industrial products tend to come from somewhere else, often involving other countries shipping those same resources back to us. Our gross domestic product consists of trading and exporting knowledge and technological expertise, when the greatest needs in the world continue to be food, clothing and shelter.  (And medicine, transportation and security.)

I have to ask myself,

  • What am I adding to God’s Kingdom?  Am I producing fruit?

Note: They were a decidedly non-industrial community when the Bible was written, so fruit may not the metaphor of choice today, but the problem is I can’t think of a better one.

Another thing that occurs to me reading the Christian blogosphere for the past five or six years is that there isn’t a lot of the love of God evident. There are breakthrough days to be sure, like the day Jon Acuff’s blog, Stuff Christian Like raised $60,000 in 24-hours to build two kindergarten classrooms inVietnam. Why is what Jon did so rare?

Also, there are times an interaction in the comments section really touches your heart.  But mostly there just a lot of opinion flying back and forth, some of it quite heated.  If our key pastors and leaders were to be evaluated on the basis of their blogs by people outside the faith, what type of character could they infer from our discussions?

MSG I Cor 13:1If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

I’m not saying that Christian writers and bloggers aren’t loving people. I just don’t see a lot of context online to demonstrate the love of God and the outworking of grace. Our web-surfing should take us to places where what we read brings tears as we read it. The stories should stir us. The information should mobilize us.

I have to ask myself:

  • Do people see in my writing a reflection of the God’s grace and love?

Finally, all this writing online has produced some superstars, though some are just known for writing.  We all like to read our stats, and there’s even a Top 200 list that’s crammed full of more stats than you knew were being tabulated.  There’s a human cry to be recognized, to be known, to be honored; and though we try to deny it, we all want just a tiny bit more attention than we’re currently getting.

CEB: Phil. 2:3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.

I’ve quoted this before: “There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.” 

I have to ask myself:

  • When someone says they want my help with some ministry project, do I envision myself serving at the front of the room or at the back of the room?

Summary conclusions:

  • Less talk, more genuine actions
  • Fewer opinions, more love
  • Reduced self-promotion, more humility

~PW

Read more on this topic at Chasing After Words

NLT = New Living, MSG = The Message, CEB = Common English Bible

February 20, 2012

Open Source Christianity

Did God give me what I’m writing right now or am I making it up on my own strength?

That’s a question it’s fair to ask in all areas of Christian endeavor.  Am I doing this ‘on my own’ or under God’s power? What about the idea that ‘all things come from God?’ Do I really ‘own’ the concepts and insights shown here.

As we closed in on having 700 posts here last week, for the first time we had a writer who objected to having his content used here. While blog etiquette dictates that you link back to writers’ original pages, statistics bear out the idea that people read the teaser paragraph but don’t click to continue reading. So this blog was created as a showcase — and a bit of a potpourri — of devotional and Bible study writing; much of it from obscure blogs that nobody has heard of, whose writers are thrilled to have an additional audience for their thoughts.

For several months, a music and book distributor for whom I was I was doing contract work assigned me to help out in royalty administration and distribution. I appreciate that those who have given themselves full-time to writing for major publishers derive their income from sales. I would never dream of photocopying an author’s work and I have strong views about churches which project song lyrics on a screen at weekend services for which they haven’t paid the appropriate license fees.

But a blog? Seriously?

When the attribution is clear, and the readers are given two separate opportunities — and sometimes additional inducements — to click to the original source page, I feel there is a legitimization of one-time use; though a few writers have been featured here on two or three different occasions.

(Cartoonists however, seem to be another subject entirely. Despite having the largest treasure trove of Christian cartoons online, one denominational website had so many copyright warnings we decided they could just keep their comics to themselves, and stopped using them at Thinking out Loud.)

The article in question had no copyright indicia, and no page dealing with reprints and permissions.

I would like to think that when God gives us an idea, he gives it to us not only to share, but to see disseminated as widely as possible.  Someone once said,

There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.

Attribution’s greatest value is that the people can go back to the same source for more insights.  If I enjoy what “X” has to say today on this topic, then I may want to read what “X” has to say tomorrow about some other subject.  In fact, I’ve had a handful of off-the-blog comments from people who are now regular readers of writers they heard about here at C201 and at Thinking out Loud.

In giving instructions to his disciples, Jesus said,

“And as you go,  preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven  is at hand.’ “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.  (Matt 10:7-8 NASB)

I’ve had content used (and misused) on other blogs, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter much. What does matter is how I respond to the “borrowings” at other websites. Do I say, “It’s all good;” or do I fight for increasing my personal empire here at this website?

The writer in question also accused me of changing his content. I could see how that would be serious. But in fact, I had removed links to an online bookseller which left him, in one sentence, referring to “this book” with no remaining hint as to what that book might be; so I took the time to insert the title where the words “this book” had been.

I think it was with the objection to that change that the author really betrayed their true motives. Referrer fees from online sales can be fairly significant for a blogger at the end of the month; and I believe it can really cloud a writer’s motives.

I simply won’t do that here. I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m not making money from this, and in fact I don’t draw a salary from my “day job,” so I have a different attitude toward the need to see everything I do as a line on a profit-and-loss balance sheet.

I wonder what the early church would think of what we’ve come to; a world where royalty administrators and agents hash out mechanical royalties and performance royalties and you buy a license in order to share the words to the latest worship songs. I wonder if the Apostle Paul were alive today if he would put a little copyright symbol at the end of each epistle? Would Matthew be expecting dividends from the sales of the Visual Bible DVD that bears his name?

Freely we have received. Freely we give.

All that we have and are is a gift from God.

And we should keep it open source.

~Paul Wilkinson

January 23, 2012

Putting Potential Sources in a Box

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

A devotional blog post will follow momentarily, but I wanted to share something first.

Occasionally I get sent links, or discover new blogs on the blogroll of blogs I’m already reading.  Or I find something through a keyword search on Google on WordPress. 

And immediately, I start digging to see what I can find out about the author.  Where are they coming from?  Can I trust them enough to recommend them to my readers, who may click around to other articles?

I found myself doing this today for a different reason while reading old emails.  WordPress has changed the manner in which they notify me of new subscribers.  Often these readers have blogs of their own and the notification will recommend recently posted items.

So I go through the same process, wanting to assure myself of their spiritual pedigree.  Oh, how we humans like to put other humans in boxes.  I guess we do it to organize future retrieval.  If your box is on my shelf without a label on it, I might forget it’s there.

So the process begins:

  • Do they have an “about me” page?  That’s a big help.
  • Are they in ministry or a lay person?
  • What kind of church; denomination?
  • What Bible translation do they seem to be quoting most?
  • What other bloggers do they link to?

And on and on it goes.  Really, the “about” page is usually suitable, but human nature propels me further into my analysis of their doctrine or spirituality based on a cursory reading of two or three screens’ worth of articles.

The point is, God might have something really unique to say through an online source that I might not otherwise support.  Furthermore, most of my readers may have just enough discernment to know when article “A” is right on the money, but article “B” is wandering off down a wrong path. 

And sometimes, my so-called doctrinal preferences are simply no-adjective preferences.  Do I like this person?  Would I invite them into my home or out for lunch?  Then why should I let them on my computer screen?

They say everybody should find out what is the thing that they’re good at; and some days, I worry that I’m most good at being judgmental.  

So…I wonder what the labels say on the boxes I’ve been put in?

December 21, 2011

Endorsing the Message

Gal 6:11(NIV)  See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Apostle Paul lived in a world that had our technology?  Would he have a blog?  It would definitely get his letters delivered faster to the various spiritual communities to whom he wrote.

Or what if Paul were spreading his message through political advertising.  Not all candidates in North America elections run to win, many are just trying to get a position in front of the greatest number of people, and an election campaign is a good way to do that.  I can just hear the voice-over announcer finishing his script and then we hear words so common in the U.S. and Canada,

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

Paul’s “large letters” type of comment at the end of Galatians is repeated three other times in the New Testament…

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:17
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Philemon 1:19
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

…but it’s the “large letters” comment that lend to the belief that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his poor eyesight.  Were his eyes always bad, or was this a leftover consequence of that moment on the Damascus Road?

However our focus today is the idea of Paul endorsing the message content that precedes his personal sign-off. 

If Paul lived in our day and had a blog he wouldn’t simply be re-blogging other people’s content or having the scribe he employed finish off the epistle with ideas that were not Paul’s.  No, his signature is not just a sign-off (in the sense of a signature) but he is personally signing off (in the sense of taking responsibility) on everything you’ve read up to that point. 

Though, with the technological metaphor still in view, Paul would definitely copy-and-paste parts of previous letters into future ones: We see many parallels in the epistles; two examples are his advice to husbands, wives, children and slaves; or his direction to put off the clothing of sin and clothe yourself (literally ‘put on’) in holiness and righteousness.

But wait a minute!  I can hear some of you saying, “Isn’t this very blog one which appropriates the content from other writers?”  Yes, that is its very point. But while I probably don’t agree with every doctrinal/theological thing in every site to which this blog links, I do read and respect the quality of Biblical or doctrinal examination that takes place in the posts that are used here.

The problem, moving forward into 2012, is the proliferation of blogs that copy-and-paste material from other blogs because they feel it is expected of them to do so, or that they earn higher standing or greater acceptance with their blogging peers because of their perceived association with bloggers, writers or pastors of greater renown.  They want to identify with some ideal they have of the Christian blogging community. Perhaps they get it from pastors who feel they add weight to their sermons by quoting from popular Christian sources.

And that’s just wrong. 

And so as I myself move forward into 2012, I want to be more forthright in terms of what I personally believe, while at the same time maintaining a forum here that is a melting pot for divergent doctrinal and theological positions. I want this to be a space that defies categories and classifications. I want this to be a taste of something deeper for those who have never experienced greater depth.

Not every day will hit the mark. And the blog post you feel is weak may be someone else’s personal favorite.  But I will stand behind everything that appears here as being worthy of consideration. I’ll take responsibility for it, signing off on it just as the Apostle Paul put his stamp of approval on the communications that bore his name.

June 2, 2011

Going Deep, Staying Real

Today, a reprint from June of last year…

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

March 31, 2011

On Christian Growth, Devotion, and the Deeper Life

The title of this piece sounds like it would be written by one of the giants of the faith, but I’m afraid you’re just stuck with me today.


Today marks the end of twelve months of Christianity 201.  The tag line for this blog, “Digging a Little Deeper,” doesn’t actually show on the screen for some reason.  (I’ve tried to fix it twice.)  There are days when this has been more of a devotional reading blog, and days when I have tried to truly dig a little deeper into scriptures.

Each day has been an adventure.

I started this with the goal of posting my thoughts later in the day; usually around 6:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time.  I mention that only because most devotional bloggers put things up in the morning, which is considered the “more spiritual” time of day to do Bible study or meditation.  But there are always people browsing search engines later in the day — and also at WordPress — and I wanted to offer some tagged posts that might catch their attention when things are less busy in the Christian blogosphere.

I’ll admit some days the posts have been rather random.

The adventure has consisted in the discovery of the wealth of good reading online.  By using search terms like “holiness,” “discipleship,” or even words like “temptation;” I’ve discovered bloggers who have enriched my own spiritual growth.

Of course, in the discovery, I’ve also had to check their previous writings to make sure I wasn’t directing those I considered my readers to something that might be doctrinally questionable. It is a responsibility.

So the process can be exhausting.

I started Christianity 201 because my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, was achieving great success numerically, but often got bogged down in the news of the day.  Its top posts have concerned disgraced televangelists, controversial authors, Christian musicians, or the goings on in a big glass church on the west coast.  Informative and insightful, but probably more “wood, hay and stubble” in the greater scheme of things.

Christianity 201 was created to be more “gold, silver and precious stones.”  More timeless.  More lasting.  (A good place to pause and ask yourself, “Which type of material characterizes my own spiritual output?”)

Of course, people would rather read the funny stuff, or go searching for the interesting pictures.  So T. O. L. has days where it reaches 1,000 readers — not bad for a Christian blog from Canada — and my book trade blog reaches around 120 daily; while C201’s peak days are usually around 40.

That keeps me humble.

I need that.

The adventure has often been exhausting.   I’m not sure that I will try in the second year to force myself to have something fresh every single day.  But submissions and suggestions are always gratefully received.

So keep reading.

Keep digging a little deeper.

You’ll never exhaust the depth and riches of God’s Word.

~Paul Wilkinson.

December 11, 2010

Things That Matter

I’m going to flesh this out a bit more later in the week at Thinking Out Loud, but I wanted to sketch it out here first.

If you click the link (at right) for Alltop, and read the things that people write about on some of the top Christian blogs, it’s easy to get really confused.  Yes, confused.   It’s easy to think, ‘Okay, these guys are the top Christian bloggers, and if these are the issues they write about, then these things must be really important.’

In other words, to make the mistake of thinking that their issues should also be your issues.   To get sucked into the wrong idea that the things pastors and Christian leaders are blogging about are key to Christian faith, growth and understanding.

To my fellow bloggers — especially those of you just getting started — don’t be so deceived.   Write about the things that matter to you; the things that you think are important.   Pour out your heart.   Be transparent.   Write about what you know and confess relative ignorance of things you don’t.   Don’t feel the need to respond or “have a take” on the so-called “issues of the day.”

Write about the things that you are passionate about.   Write about things that begin in your story, how you came to friendship with Jesus Christ, and what He’s been doing in your life lately, and what you’ve been learning as you’ve read His book.

Today’s sidebar

…Last Sunday, I walked up to a guy I hadn’t seen in a few months.   I asked how the family was, and then asked how his business is going.  And then… “and how are things going spiritually?”

He said something back like, “Wow!  That’s the question.”   It turned out things are going pretty good, actually, but he was still a little surprised by my asking the question.

How much of the time we spend “fellowshiping” in church is actually spiritual fellowship?   Make a difference in someone’s life by asking the right questions, by steering the conversation to things that matter.

November 6, 2010

We Interrupt This Devotional —

I wish I had time to write original material everyday; but the process of discovering other Bible study and devotional bloggers is an adventure in itself.   Zach — today’s writer — pastors Concordia Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.   This post appeared last week under the title:  Being Interrupted: A Lesson from Augustine.

I am most definitely a “Type A” personality.  I like to plan, organize, and execute – preferably in a deliberate, linear, and flawless manner.  Yet, as anyone who has walked this earth for more than a second knows, life does not always proceed in a deliberate and linear manner.  And it certainly does not proceed flawlessly!  Interruptions, accidents, and personal catastrophes make life an adventure in which you never know what the next chapter will bring.

Perhaps it is my penchant for planning that makes me appreciate so much this quote from Augustine:

But I am annoyed because of the demands that are thrust on me…arriving unannounced, from here, there, and everywhere.  They interrupt and hold up all other things that we have so neatly lined up in order.  They never seem to stop. (Peter Robert Lamont Brown, Augustine of Hippo:  A Biography, 468)

I can honestly say that I know how Augustine feels.  For when I get things “neatly lined up in order” and am then “interrupted,” I get “annoyed.”

But should I get annoyed?  I suppose a little bit of a human annoyance is inevitable.  And yet, I can’t help but remember the attitude of my Lord when He got interrupted:

Then Jesus took His disciples with Him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed Him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. (Luke 9:10-11)

Jesus desires to withdraw His disciples to get a little bit of rest and relaxation with His disciples.  But then, He gets interrupted.  Crowds, eager to hear Him teach and have their ills healed, follow Him so that He cannot get a moment’s rest.  They arrive “unannounced from here, there, and everywhere.”  They interrupt Him.

How does Jesus respond to this crowd’s insensitive interruption?  He welcomes them (cf. verse 11).  The Greek word for “welcomed” is apadechomai, meaning, “to accept,” or “to receive.”  Interestingly, this word is sometimes used to describe the forgiveness of sins (e.g. Genesis 50:17 LXX).  Thus, Jesus welcomes the crowd, and in His welcome, there is forgiveness.  And this too is our hope:  That in Christ, we are welcomed in spite of sin because we are forgiven of our sin.

Augustine pens his candid admission of being annoyed by interruptions as he is trying to write his greatest work, The City of God. And so it is understandable that, while working on such a weighty tome, he would be annoyed by the delays.  After all, his task is vital!  But so are his interruptions.  For a man named Vincentius Victor is interrupting Augustine, questioning him on his view of man’s soul.  And a man’s soul is a big deal – not only as the subject of theological debate, but in the eyes of God.  And so, Augustine takes a break from his work on The City of God to answer Victor.

Like Jesus, do we welcome those who interrupt us?  Yes, what we are working on at the time may be important, but the interruption may be just as important.  Moreover, how do we respond to interruptions?  With annoyance in our hearts or with the welcoming spirit of our Lord?  Although interruptions are bound to annoy us, especially if you’re a “Type A” personality like me, it is worth it to see some interruptions not simply as glitches in your plans, but as divine appointments for your soul.  So welcome an interruption today!  After all, the interruption may just be the most important – and even the best – part of your day.

August 7, 2010

A Personal Note from the Author

Most people reading this are familiar with the term “minister” as a verb, describing the way we can aid and encourage others, as in “ministering health” and “ministering wholeness” to people.    Of course, to qualify, it is God who brings healing and wholeness; and it is also is requisite that you have the spiritual gifts necessary to “minister” to others.

In the last six months, my other blog has fallen victim to a guy who, for lack of a better term, sees his mission to “minister discouragement” to me and try to “minister dissension.”   I base the choice of terminology on the strong evidence that this is his “chosen ministry” for the time being.   His particular strategy is to attack that blog where any blog is at its most vulnerable; that is, where the author is describing, subjectively, his or her own story.   His revisionist version is one which basically takes away any credit for anything I ever did in the years 1975-1990, a formative era in my life that I refer to somewhat frequently.

Needless to say I simply delete the comments.

The discouragement is so severe that I frequently meet the comments with the thought, “Maybe I should just discontinue writing each day.”

That is exactly what the enemy of our souls would have us do.  Bloggers who are not making an impact — and I’m not trying to exalt myself in this — probably don’t have detractors.   Bloggers who are making a truly significant spiritual impact (far more than I) probably have dozens of them.

If asked, this person would probably tell you in rather self-righteous tones that what they are doing is just and noble and truthful.    This individual would probably maintain that knocking me down a peg or two is simply trying to set the record straight.   But in fact, this person knows nothing of my story, because he was too busy at the time building his own personal empire which, as it turned out, was a house of cards.

I know that a lot of people who read C201 have blogs of their own, and I want to encourage you:  Keep telling your story.    If you write about something that is doctrinally or theologically controversial, expect the usual disagreement or debate.   But if you are telling your own story — unless you are suffering from amnesia or false-memory syndrome — and it is the veracity of that story that is being challenged, remember that Satan appears as an angel of light, and is bent on “ministering” confusion and discouragement and even destruction. He will attack where you are most likely to be knocked off balance.  His attacks will be relentless, trying to get to you with each passing jab.

The servants of the devil can take away your house or your car or whatever else may seem valuable, but don’t let them take away your story; don’t let them take away your name.

June 23, 2010

Redefining “Deep”

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth.   A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.   A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.   An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”  An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.   A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth?   What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?”   Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so.   Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals.   That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate.   People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.”   In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth.   I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace.    I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible.   Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered.  Or phone calls you never returned.   Or a bill you’ve never yet paid.   I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission.     “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.”   They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors.   They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned.   “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”  (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are.   Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online.   But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such.  They are aware of the shortcomings.   Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé.  But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today.  Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission.   Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best.  Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving.   Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press.   When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

May 28, 2010

If a Tree Falls in the Forest and there is No One there to Hear it…

I got some rather flukey traffic this week on my regular blog, Thinking Out Loud, which drove the stats to a record high.

Then there is this one, which I do mostly for myself.   It has readers, but nothing close to the other.   I enjoy blogging at the other, but I enjoy searching my own heart to come up with things to post to this one.

The contrasting stats reminds me of something that happened last summer, which my wife blogged as part of a longer piece:

…Boston was one of our most recent expeditions. Really interesting city (American history machine aside). Cool architecture, good subway, Chinatown, really easy to get lost, terrible maps, good food. Perfect. Some historic churches. Mostly for “freedom” reasons, of one kind or another.

We chanced upon one that really struck me. Not as old as some of the others, probably. No “Paul Revere slept through the sermon here” plaques. But a lovely red brick building, tucked away in one of the more serpentine neighborhoods. We climbed a few steps to a back door and found it unlocked, so we went in. Found ourselves in a foyer of sorts, creaky floored and unlit. There was another door in front of us, so we pulled that one open. Creak. Stepped to the threshold. Creak. Peeked through the door. Creak.

It was beautiful inside. Warm and hushed and soaring. Stained glass windows, old dark pews, draperies and candles. It smelled of polished wood and wax and flame and time and prayer. But we didn’t go in any further. We closed the door and left. Creaking all the way…

…You see, the reason why we left without really going in is that when we opened that inner door, we heard something.

Someone speaking. One voice.

One voice echoing through the room, over the pews, off the windows. The pews that were completely empty, the windows that were telling their stories to no one.

One voice, chanting in what might have been Latin. Reciting a text that no one would hear. Except the speaker and God himself. Because they were the only ones in the room.

As we left, we looked at the sign on the fence outside. “5:00 pm. Mass”. It was 5 pm. So the Mass was being said. Whether anyone was there to hear it or not. It had to be said.

Why? I have no clue. But it had to be said. If only to the antique pews and the priceless glass and the glowing candles and absolutely not a living soul. Haunted and driven by tradition. Disregarded by life and humanity.

…Church with a sermon and no congregation.

You can read her article which, in context, has a whole other set of meanings, with the most inescapable being what you get from the second last paragraph: Tradition; irrelevance; religiosity.

This is different, however.   This is blogging in the original “web-log” sense of journal-keeping.   This remains available for future discovery; readers driven perhaps by items here I have yet to write.

(Have you ever noticed how close “stats” sounds to “status?”  So stats-seeking is really status-seeking.)

And all of this of course is being read by some people already.  I’d probably do this even if there weren’t any readers.  Having tasted both the highs and lows of statistics, I’m not sure that one is better than the other.   It’s somewhat similar to what I wrote about the contrasts between the large church we attended two weeks ago, and the much smaller one we attended last week.

Still, I don’t know how that Boston cleric could do it.   Something unseen drives him to go through the forms of the mass even though no other humans are present…

…Although, I wonder if later that day, he suddenly remembered hearing the door creaking and sensed that an individual; no, a couple came in, listened for a minute, and then left?