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.

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 7, 2011

Seeing Illness as a Blessing

Yesterday’s and today’s items here don’t have any specific scripture references.  I wrote this three years ago at an obvious low point, and thought it might be applicable to someone reading it today; maybe you are that person.  Readers may want to add a scripture verse in the comments that references one or all of the points here…

  • Illness forces us to slow down, and that forces us to do the things that really matter, and that forces us to decide what really matters
  • Illness forces us to ask God for help on behalf of ourselves, which seems selfish at times, so first we have to apologize for asking
  • Illness causes us to ask other believers to join in prayer for us, which can be rather humbling
  • Illness helps us remember others who are suffering, it helps us to identify and empathize with their situation
  • Illness – while not necessarily caused by sin -brings us to a wonderful season of self examination and determination to aim for greater holiness
  • Illness reminds us of our mortality; our material culture has forced us to cling to everything including life itself, but our lives have an expiry date
  • Illness has a mellowing, sobering effect on us – some things can become potentially more irritating, but some other things no longer matter as much
  • Illness forces us to ask bigger questions; Is God in control? Does He care about the details of my life? Will he intervene in a special way?
  • Illness brings into clarity other times we were ill, and reminds us that God brought us through that time
  • Illness helps us hear Christian songs differently; “I thank God for the mountains, and I thank him for the valleys…” Can I do that right now?

I’m sure there are other things, too. Most of the prayer requests in our churches are for issues people are dealing with in their physical bodies. Pray specifically for one another. If you are the person for whom this was for today, listen for God’s voice in the middle of all you’re going through.

January 28, 2011

Introducing the Ministry of Ann Voskamp

We’re going to take a break today from the regular format to introduce daily devotional and Bible study readers to the ministry of Ann Voskamp, author of the just-published One Thousand Gifts.

First, you might want to get to know Ann’s website, A Holy Experience.  Make sure your speakers are turned on, as music plays underneath.  Or not.  I read one reviewer who valued Ann’s words so much, readers were advised to make sure their speakers were turned off!  I guess we each process things differently.

Second, read Ann’s story.  Some of you have blogs of your own and you’ve had that experience of creating an “about” page where you try to sum up your life journey in a few words for people who you’ve never met.  If not, open a word processing program or open a blank e-mail and take about fifteen minutes to craft your own personal “about” page.  (If you like the result, you can post it here as a comment!)

Finally, watch and listen to an excerpt from the book in this video.  Usually on days like this I embed a Christian worship video, but this time we’re going for a different kind of video that is so suited to Ann’s ministry. I realize not all of you are into poetry, but consider the following:

  1. The Bible devotes five books to wisdom literature, much of which is poetic in form.
  2. In many places that we don’t think of as poetry, the simple repetition of words (i.e. “Holy, Holy, Holy”) is following Hebrew poetic forms familiar to the audience.  There is a beauty to the language of scripture that our language, English, causes us to overlook.
  3. The Bible is filled with Psalms in places other than the book that bears that name.  Mary greets the angel’s news that she is the one chosen to bear the Messiah with the song we know as The Magnificat.  While it is largely a reiteration of various scripture; combined it becomes poetic.  The passage in Philippians about Christ’s humility (“Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus…”) is indented in most modern Bibles because it’s recognized as an early Church hymn.

So watch, listen and enjoy…

June 26, 2010

Fighting to Finish

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:21 pm
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If you read I & II Kings, you see accounts of different kinds of kings who reigned over Israel and Judah. Generally their accounts fall into one of four categories:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

A few years ago while driving, we listened to Gordon MacDonald and Bill Hybels discussing the importance of finishing well. These men, who admit to both good years and bad years, want to be remembered for finishing the race well.

But then, I began to wonder if we ever think in terms of finishing a year, or a month, or a week, or even a day well. A month ago, I made a list of all the personal goals I had been striving for last year. I definitely got some things accomplished. Next to a few, I wrote, ‘not done.’ Next to one I wrote, ‘…total confusion;’ and next to a couple I wrote, ‘disaster.’ There are some things I just didn’t get done this year, and there are some other things that sit on my personal horizon like an accident scene.

Despite this, I still feel that it was in some respects a good year. Each new one will probably contain an equal number of runs, hits and errors. My friend Ray, a symphony orchestra player, once told me, “It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you keep making new mistakes.” I would add, “…and learn from the old ones.”

This is the day, week, month, year… that the Lord has made. So how about you? Take a minute to honestly write up a personal scorecard or report cards, and then give yourself a rating in the areas that matter to you, and with a thought to how God sees our efforts and our motivation. Search me, oh God, and know my anxious thoughts.

Then set some realistic goals and personal vision; and in so doing, dream big.

~Paul Wilkinson, December, 2007

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.”

June 22, 2010

Emotional Taffy Pulling

A family in our town had their emotions pulled in different directions all in the space of a few hours.   At about 8:30 Saturday morning our friend Don received a call that his mother had died.   But at 2:00 in the afternoon he would be giving his daughter away in marriage.    Not only that, but the following day, his mother and father were to have a reception honoring 60 years of marriage.

Stretched.  Riding the emotional roller coaster.

We had a day today that wasn’t as severe, but still diverse.   We drove back to the town where my son’s university is to see about renting a loft apartment instead of living in residence.   I was ready to sign the lease right then and there on his behalf, but then we walked out to the car to “talk it over” and he announced that he wasn’t sure he even wanted to go back for his sophomore year of engineering.   Yikes.

My response was something approaching, “Oh yes you will;” while my wife tempered mine with something a little more compassionate.   We ended up driving home — one hour on the freeway in a pounding rainstorm for what normally takes about 25 minutes — and when we pulled in the driveway, he said, “You know, Dad; maybe you’re right.”

Timing.

I keep thinking about Romans 8:28, “In all things God is working for the good of those who love Him…”

Maybe there’s a better place for our son to live this fall and it took this to stop us from making a very expensive commitment.

But as this was happening, I started thinking about other parents who have had bombs drop on them.     Your daughter announces she is pregnant.   Your son announces he is gay.    Your husband tells you he invested the biggest portion of your savings in a business that is insolvent.   Your wife tells you she wrecked the car.

I don’t know what it is in your case.

I just know that you have to cling to to a number of basics at a time like that:

  • God is still on the throne of heaven
  • Nothing takes place on earth out of his line of vision
  • In the middle of everything, he is working for our good
  • Each day has its trials and its ‘graces.’  Tomorrow will be different again.

Some days rip you apart, though; don’t they?

June 21, 2010

Recognizing My True Priorities

I thought about these questions as I’ve been reading Radical by David Platt, and figured I’d have to dig deep in my other blog to find this; only to discover I’d posted it less than 90 days ago.   It really belongs here as well.

…Occasionally I am asked to do the Sunday morning sermon in a variety of churches. One of these was the kind of church where they like to have the congregation follow along with a fill-in-the-blanks outline page.

While going through a drawer a few weeks ago I discovered a stack of outline blanks for one particular message, and decided to see if I could guess what the missing words were.

It wasn’t rocket science. But there at the end of the outline was my message conclusion; it said “Three Questions.”

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .


Hmmm. What were those three questions?  I started to think back to a different stage in my spiritual pilgrimage and the things that would have been uppermost in my mind at that time. What are the three questions I would have my audience of that day — or my Christianity 201 readers today — ask themselves?

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning? — I got this from Pat Robertson’s original autobiography, Shout it from the Housetops. He was a local church pastor, but one of his church board members was trying to make the point that Robertson was more obsessed with starting a Christian television network than he was with leading a church congregation. (He joking added, “The first thing I think about is wishing you [the church board member] would get saved…”) Still, regardless of what you think of Pat Robertson — and I won’t post comments on that subject — it’s still a good question to address.  What are the “first fruits” of our thoughts?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your chance to control the conversation? — I owe a debt to a Christian & Missionary Alliance young adults pastor for this one. Analyze yourself and others to see to what people turn their attention when the conversation reaches a “redirect” point. “Out of the abundance of the heart… ” “Whatever is in your heart determines what you say…” (NLT version of Matthew 12:34) “It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.” (Same vs., The Message)  You are basically, “that guy [/girl] who always talks about __________.”
  3. What do you want your life to be remembered for? — Years ago I wrote a song a year earlier with the same theme. (It had seven — count ’em, seven verses! You think some of my blog posts are long?) Everyone of us is writing a story, leaving a legacy. If you could get a page with a few paragraphs in Wikipedia after you’re gone, how would those sentences read?

I think it’s good stuff to consider.

June 7, 2010

Will You Be Remembered?

Christian music was very influencial in my spiritual formation.   Some of those early “Jesus Music” recordings were the gateway through which I learned many elements of doctrine and theology, and it was significant in my appreciation of reading Christian literature.

The last few days have brought the passing of two veterans of that music, Dana Key (of DeGarmo & Key) and Kevin Thomson (of Sweet Comfort Band) so this devotional from Daily Encouragement — originally written for the U.S. Memorial Day — seemed most appropriate:

“A righteous man will be remembered forever” (Psalm 112:6).

Memorial Day was initially set aside to remember those who died at war but it has been extended as a time to remember all deceased loved ones. Many visit the graves of family members as an expression of lasting remembrance as they visibly show their honor and affection.

Yet for many, perhaps most, there will be little remembrance, but merely another long weekend and the unofficial start of summer. Plenty of picnics, swimming, partying, drinking and driving! So many live their lives only for the present, giving little thought to the past or their future.

We need to hear what the Apostle James says, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Nearly 2,000 years have passed since Jesus said, “I will build my church.” Our life will only comprise a small fraction of that period of time (about 4% of it). That’s pretty humbling isn’t it? And if you go all the way back to creation it’s an even smaller percentage.

But Psalm 112 gives a broader and more lasting perspective of this fleeting life. It extols the blessings of the man who “fears the Lord and finds great delight in His commands” (verse 1). Oh, that our hearts would yearn for the lasting value that comes from implementing God’s commands more than seeking after the temporal value of worldly goods or the glitz of fame, power or glamour. The Psalmist also wrote, “I love Your commands more than gold, more than pure gold…Your statutes are wonderful, therefore I will obey them” (Psalm 119:127,129).

Our text today is, “A righteous man will be remembered forever.” Read that again slowly. How do we become righteous? Certainly it is not attainable within ourselves, for we know all too well our natural inclination to sin. But following our salvation experience we choose to follow God’s commands.  It is then that we see the effectiveness and fruitful outflow of His principles and guidance in our lives and it develops a righteous heart within us. It is Jesus’ righteousness imputed in us that makes the difference. We no longer feel that we “have to” follow His commands but we “want to”. Our heart’s desires align our will with His and we seek to be like Jesus.

The vast majority of human beings who lived in 1850 are long forgotten. But there are various reasons people are remembered long after their death such as:

• Evil lives
• Significant inventions
• Literary works
• National leadership

But the highest form of remembrance that all of us can have is our devotion to God and our service for Him. Even though only a small portion of Christ’s followers are remembered on this side, generations will follow their example and leave similar legacies of righteous living.

Today we challenge you to be remembered for:
• The spiritual, Christ focused impact you are making presently.
• The godly, eternal legacy you will leave behind.

I want to be remembered today for what matters most. I want to follow Jesus Christ and seek to live as a righteous man according to His plan. “A righteous man will be remembered forever.” This is a promise I want to live by!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

May 7, 2010

Christ in the Shoe Department

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:17 pm
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This is from a Catholic-oriented blog, Franciscan Quote of the Day.  The actual title is “In The Shoe Department of the East Brunswick Kohls.”   (Kohl’s is an American department store, similar to The Bay in Canada or maybe Marks & Sparks in the UK.)

I encourage you take some time and browse some of the entries on this site.  You may find something that resonates uniquely with where you’re at today.

And then I thought: I’ve been getting this all wrong. Christ is not just in the comfortable, familiar places, like my hometown and among my neighbors. He is here, too, amid the roads clogged with traffic, the miles of strip shopping malls and clearance racks. God knows we have to live in a material world. He knows we need to clothe and care for our children. Christ has found a way to show Himself to me, in this present moment, in the shoe department of the East Brunswick Kohl’s.

~Allison Salerno, “Because Christ is Everywhere—Even in the Shoe Department” (on the blog Why I Am Catholic)

May 4, 2010

More From Plan B by Pete Wilson

I wish I’d had this nearby to answer someone last week.

[Louie] Giglio pointed out that there are really two parts to John 16:33.  First, Jesus clearly says that we’re going to have trouble in this world.  Then he tells us to be brave because he has defeated the world.   Two statements — and if you separate them you have two bad theologies.

For instance, if you just focus on Jesus’ first statement, “in this world you will have trouble,” you could develop a mental framework of “this world stinks.”  Stuff happens, and you can’t do a thing about it.  You live and then you die.

…But what if you only focus on the second half of this verse, where Jesus says, “I have overcome the world”?  If you take just this statement as a mental framework, you start to think there will never be any trouble — or at least no serious trouble.  “Nothing bad is going to happen to me as long as I’m following Jesus.”  If you cling only to this statement, you force yourself to live in a false reality.   Despite all evidence to the contrary, you just pretend everything is great and all the charts of your life are going to keep moving up and to the right.  In the process, you’re probably setting yourself up for a fall because your false reality will eventually be shattered.

But if you take the two statements in this verse and put them together, then you have what Jesus was talking about.  You have a more complete theology.

You are not exempt from trouble, even serious trouble.  You are not exempt from Plan Bs.  But at the same time, you can have confidence that Jesus will win out over trouble.   In that there is hope.

pp. 147-148;  Pete Wilson, Plan B:  What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Shop Up The Way You Thought He Would? (Thomas Nelson, 2010)