Thinking Out Loud

December 31, 2009

2009 — That’s a Wrap

Last Breaking Final News Story of 2009:
James Dobson Back From Retirement
Just ’cause this is on a post with cartoons, doesn’t mean we’re making it up.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson announced that he will host a new daily radio show with his son Ryan in 2010.”   More commentary on this in the new year; in the meantime read the story on The Church Report.

December 30, 2009

Last Link List

…of 2009

  • Trevin Wax at Kingdom People ends the year with The State of the Blogosphere.  I especially like is 5th point on ‘blog congregations’ at the expense of real ‘blog conversations:’  “The people who subscribe to these blogs already know what kind of information they are going to receive. They subscribe because they know and like what this person has to say.
  • Andrew Jones, aka Tall Skinny Kiwi, pronounces the Emerging Church Movement officially dead, but author Tony Jones (no relation) disagrees (again) with TSK’s perspective in this rebuttal.
  • The spiritual autonomy of 1,200 Christian organizations in Canada is under threat as the appeal in the Christian Horizons case continues.   Read this December 29th story in Christian Week for a summary and update.
  • Tullian Tchividjian suggests that The Jesus Storybook Bible, though originally written for children, can help adults understand that “the Bible tells one story and points to one figure: it tells the story of how God rescues a broken world and points to Christ who accomplishes this…” and that the book “…is, in my opinion, one of the best resources available to help both children and adults see the Jesus-centered story line of the Bible.”  Read more at On Earth As It Is Heaven.
  • The link that originally appeared in this space was deleted on January 2nd due to some unforeseen content.
  • The Pew Forum suggests that two-thirds of the world’s population live in countries with some kind of restrictions on religion.
  • Today’s cartoon is a T-shirt available in adult and baby sizes from Zazzle.com
  • Don’t forget that here in North America we can reduce the taxes we pay through deduction of charitable donations.   There are many Christian organizations that can use your help.   As of this blog post, you’ve got 30 hours to make a difference to your bottom line for tax purposes, and make a huge difference to a Christian charity or agency.
  • Looking for more?  Use the search window on this blog’s sidebar and type “links” to see some excellent link lists from previous Wednesdays.

December 29, 2009

A Different Kind of Charity

A couple of days ago I linked to a piece my wife wrote which is clearly worthy of more readers than the number who clicked on it.    So I’m reprinting it here in full.



There’s been some discussion around here (at my house and on the ‘net in general) about the hugely popular “shoebox” giving program.

If you’re not familiar with this, the system is that a charity organization distributes thousands upon thousands of cardboard “shoeboxes” to schools, churches and other groups. Members of those groups fill the boxes with small gifts, selected for a boy or girl in a particular age group. The boxes get collected and shipped to other parts of the world where needs are great, and handed out to children there.

The program is promoted by slick and very moving videos and glossy ads. Some critics point out the difference between “charity giving” and “the pursuit of justice” and question the relative value and importance of each.

I’m not going to get into the whole debate here, but on one of the church based websites engaging the discussion I found this:

It’s an interesting side by side comparison. “Charity” is limited, short-sighted. “Justice” is broad-scoped and forward looking.

And the title is provocative. “Moving from… to…”. Obviously, to the author, one is inferior to the other. One is where we are, the other is where we want to be.

Charity bad, justice good.

But what strikes me about this chart is its incompleteness. Something’s missing. (more…)

December 28, 2009

Post #1001 – Don’t Go To Church

One of the things about Andy Stanley’s church that impresses me is a study that they did using a Fortune 500 company where they conducted interviews with people in their services who had been in attendance for five weeks or less.

Let me pause and say that this speaks huge volumes about their church when they have enough people passing through on a regular basis that it’s worthwhile to employ a company to survey those who have been there only a very, very short time.

What they found was that many of these people were already interested in “discerning next steps.”  They wanted to jump in with both feet and get involved; they wanted to get their hands dirty.   (Okay, technically, that would be jumping in with both hands.)

I was reminded of this in a church yesterday when I looked at their bulletin which runs a recurring promotional paragraph about their men’s ministry, and it talks about a couple of social events their group holds a few times each year.   I couldn’t help but think, “Okay, but what else do you do?”

I should say that this group does in fact offer some optional missiony things throughout the year — like that word?  I just made it up — but they don’t advertise them much.   I think people are looking for a cause.   I think people who haven’t even crossed the line of faith yet are spiritually savvy enough to realize that Christians, if they are going to bear that name at all, should be about changing the world.

And then, in the evening I came across the Faith In Action site.  This California-based organization partners churches with projects.   Frankly, I’m not so sure that there ought to be any church in any part of the U.S. that has to engage an outside agency to point them in the direction of need.   But what the heck, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt; there are many churches out in the American suburban hinterland that may be a tad isolated from what’s goin’ on down in the ‘hood.   Or even what the church down the block is up to, which is another partnership service Faith in Action offers.

Faith in Action will also provide you with additional promotional materials to support your project.   Banners.  T-Shirts.   Postcards.   Doorhangers.   (Ouch!  I just bit my tongue.)

They’re also promoting a Faith in Action Sunday on 10/10/10.    Nice numeric optics.   But people in the inner city, people in need of jobs, people in need of food on their table,  people in need of housing, people in need of justice, people in need of medical help, people in need of freedom from addictions, people in need of love, etc.; these people all need help NOW.    Not on 10/10/10.    It scares me to think a church could be aware of need but decide to hold back until that Sunday.    I hope instead that 10/10 is actually the day they do THE REALLY BIG PROJECT.

But I do like their T-shirts.    Don’t Go To Church, Be The Church.

Like, a big Amen to that.

December 27, 2009

Post 1,000 – Thinking Out Loud

It is with a mix of gratitude and humility that I realize that anybody should want to read my thoughts and opinions on anything enough to provide the readership base that this blog now enjoys.    Though it’s small in comparison to the “biggies” in the world of Christian blogging, some of you — including some people in the worldwide Christian community whom I greatly respect — have even bothered to subscribe to this particular online voice.

One thing I have tried to do is stay focused on faith issues, religious news and devotional concepts.    I don’t talk about tech, or gear, or blogging itself, and I’ve tried to leave my wife and family out of this, but still give the blog enough ‘personality’ that it represents my heart, and isn’t just an exercise in Christian news journalism.    That said however, there have been a few stories that I thought were significant that other bloggers didn’t pick up, and so I’ve tried to be faithful to importing some things from news pages into these blog pages that people might have otherwise missed.

I’ve also tried not to rant, though that can be difficult.   (I have two other blogs for that very purpose!)    There are times when it’s just too easy to complain about that which isn’t ideal, but I’ve tried to make those comments enlightening and constructive.

In a way, writing — whether it’s correspondence or keeping a journal (or weblog) — is very much what separates us from the animals in general and is rooted in Christian tradition in particular.   “Bring me the scrolls;” the Apostle Paul asks, “and especially the parchments.”    Much earlier, Solomon notes, “There is no end to the writing of books.”   And to think that was before the printing press or any other kind of “mass” distribution of the written word, let alone  print-on-demand which as of now releases more titles than conventional book publishing.

Which means there are so many voices competing for your attention that I am, as I said at the outset, thankful and humbled that you should happen to stop here.

I once wrote the biography for a Christian musician’s press kit.   He described the early part of his life this way, “I had a message, I just couldn’t carry a message.”

It’s easy for me to sit at the keyboard and have a daily message for my readers.   But I have to be the kind of person who is a spiritually viable carrier for the message I want to bring.    I need to be able to carry the message, and like all of us, I am learning as I go.


December 26, 2009

Post # 999 – Missing The Moment

I’m the last person you want to whom you want to give tickets to a sports event.   Seriously.   It’s not that I can’t appreciate baseball, football, basketball or hockey; it’s just that when one team actually scores, I’m usually focused on something else happening on the sidelines, or watching the TV crew, or checking the printed program.

Of course I am fully aware of the aftermath of the home run, touchdown, basket or goal in question, and I cheer along with everyone else, but secretly I wish I was watching the televised game where I could at least catch the replay.

Or worse, I’m one of those people who turns to his friends and asks, “What just happened?”

I did it again last week, only I probably will never in this lifetime get a chance to catch what I missed.

The 2010 Winter Olympics are being held in Canada this year, and so the Olympic torch relay is now in progress, making its way from one end of this very large country to the other;  and, as it turned out, passing right by my workplace on a day I was working and free to venture outside to watch.

I stood there with a guy who works in our building.   He was to my left.   The runner was approaching in the distance and then ran in front.    He passed by the guy to my left, and then passed by me on the right.    I watched for a few seconds more, and then turned to the guy on my left and started a conversation.

I can’t help it.  I’m a people person.   I like to talk.

By now, I would expect that the runner was a considerable distance down the block, but my building neighbor was continuing to point is camera to my right, and at one point got rather animated about something — like, oh, I don’t know, some idiot gabbing away about nothing in particular — and I turned back to see that the runner had only advanced a few more inches since I’d looked away, and had just passed the torch to another runner just a few steps from where I was standing.

And I’d missed it.

That’s why they call it a relay.  Seeing the Olympic flame pass from runner to runner is a big deal    It’s history.   And I missed it.  (And I think I kinda wrecked his video of the whole thing…)

I wonder sometimes if we are guilty of ‘missing the moment’ in our spiritual journey?   You can be ‘right there’ and it can be happening ‘close by’ but you don’t catch it because you’re distracted with other concerns.

You can be a member of your church’s board, or a worship leader, or maybe you even have a Christian blog; but God is busy making history right nearby and you’re not seeing what he is doing.    Maybe because you’re looking at — or  doing — something else.

Matt left a comment on a Francis Chan book review here which linked his site where he blogs through the book and poses this question on a December 26th post:

If you read your own biography or heard a speech at your funeral, how much of it would be about what you’ve accomplished as opposed to what God’s accomplished in and through you?

We can be so busy — even busy doing “the Lord’s work,” but we can miss some fantastic moments where God is working out something far better than the deal we have cooking.   Something where we could be the one making history.

I grew up in a family that celebrated the milestone moments when car odometers roll over to a significant number.    Two summers ago, we had a couple of cars roll over to the 100,000 (km) mark, but while I knew both were coming up, I got distracted both times and missed the moment.   (Tomorrow’s roll over to blog post 1,000 reminded me of this, but alas, there’s no odometer equivalent.)

I think that distraction is the enemy of spiritual awareness.   And busy-ness is just another form of distraction.   (If the devil can’t get you to watch pornography online, then he might get you addicted to blogging!)

Don’t be so busy that you ‘miss the moment’ spiritually speaking.

Don’t be so distracted by the TV crew, or the program, or the sidelines that you miss the game play.

While there are other days and other games, some things, like the Olympic runner passing right by your front door, only happen once in a lifetime.

God is working.   Lives are being changed.  You can have a part in a great adventure.

Don’t miss out.

December 25, 2009

The President’s Not So Politically Correct Christmas Message

…No, not that President; Ronald Regan in 1981.   The blog One Man’s Thoughts reminds us what life was like 28 years ago.  Though you still have to go a long way to match Charles Schulz scripting the speech Linus gives in the first Peanuts Christmas special.

The scary thing about the woman who attacked the Pope on Christmas Eve isn’t that she tried the same thing the year before, but that she was wearing the same outfit.  Especially when you think she could have been doing something creative, like the Bowen Beer Bottle Band did.  Then again, when it comes to Christmas and beer bottles, it would be hard to beat this Chinese project.

A more nobler project however, is the kind Nashville pastor Pete Wilson heard about while watching the news last week, only to discover the people showing kindness were from his own church!

But when it comes to doing good, it’s easy to not see the big picture, have wrong motives, or misplaced priorities.   Jumping into the Shoebox debate with what I believe is one of her best blog posts ever, Ruth Wilkinson (who may be related) discusses charity vs. justice and introduces a third possibility — presence — into the mix.

Sadly though, sometimes those who give themselves to the service of others pay the ultimate price.  Pray for the family of Little Rock, Arkansas Salvation Army Major Philip Wise who was shot and killed — in front of his three young children — in a Christmas Eve robbery.

And while you’re praying remember blogger Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, and proprietor of Boars Head Tavern –two of the most popular Christian blogs — as he faces some uncertain health challenges;  blogger and pastor Matt Chandler facing a battle with cancer; Canadian blogger and former sports chaplain David Fisher; and Stephen Weber, writer of the Daily Encouragement devotional site recovering from hernia surgery.

See ya back here in 24 hours, Lord willing.




December 24, 2009

May God Bless You As We Consider How He Already Has

Filed under: Christmas — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:12 pm

Christmas play for the thousandth time
A store bought doll lying in the straw
Bed-sheeted shepherds walk down the main aisle
Following a cardboard star

But just when we think we’ve seen it all
Our callous hearts are caught be surprised
We look all around for people have found
The expectation in the children’s eyes…

Another family get-together
Shortbread, pudding, Christmas cake
Sleigh rides, parties, singing carols
Shopping done before it’s too late

The fireplace glow, the people we know
And those who just each year are seen
The babies, the old, the stories are told
While snow reflects the lights of red and green…

The stockings are hung, the “Twelve Days” are sung
The Christmas cards were mailed last week
The presents are wrapped, our energy’s sapped
The turkey’s served, we’ll pray and then we’ll eat…

The preacher reads the words from the gospel
Then Isaiah, chapter nine
The baby will become a King
And reign until the end of time

The manger, the desert, the temple, the cross
Five thousand fed, calmed angry seas
Wonderful counselor, mighty God
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace!

~Paul Wilkinson

December 23, 2009

Link Letter

Art Linkletter was famous for doing something on TV, but I can't remember what

You’ll never know unless you click on these links, right Art?

  • I never thought the day would come when I’d link to John MacArthur’s blog, but he does a good job of separating out the nuances between “Word-Faith” doctrine and “Prosperity Gospel;” perhaps as only a non-Pentecostal can do.   All this follows the passing last week of Oral Roberts, and is a rebuttal to a (linked) Christianity Today article by Ted Olsen.   Check it out at Grace to You.
  • Speaking of Prosperity Gospel, and how it raises lifestyle expectations, The Atlantic magazine asks the question in a lengthy, in-depth article, “Did Christianity Cause The Crash?”

    Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities—the exurban middle class and the urban poor. Many newer prosperity churches popped up around fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s,…precisely the kinds of neighborhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures… Zooming out a bit,…most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona—all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis. … “financial empowerment” seminars that are common at prosperity churches…pay lip service to “sound financial practices,” but overall they would send the opposite message: posters advertising the seminars featured big houses in the background, and the parking spots closest to the church were reserved for luxury cars.

    Read the whole article here.

  • New Blog of the week:  Redeem the Time by David Mercier.
  • Rob Bell item of the week:  “Christians Shouldn’t Fear Controversy Over Doctrine” by Drew Nichter at Associated Baptist Press.
  • Quote of the week: “Good preaching is like a belly button, every person has their own idea of just what it should look like.”  – One of several observations by Clint Cozier, who marks the occasion of the end of his Presbyterian pastorate in Grand Rapids by starting a blog.
  • YouTube video of the week:  “O Come All Ye Faithful” by the online sensation, Pomplamoose Music.   The music’s great; the video itself is excellent.    If you like it, which you will, you can check out “Always in the Season” at this link which is a combo music video and World Vision fundraiser.  (It means “grapefruit” in French.)
  • Speaking of Christmas, why are the genealogies of Jesus in Luke and Matthew so different?   Grant Osborne answers that one in “Who Was Jesus’ Grandfather?” at Christianity Today.
  • Wanna see if you could make the cut for your church’s handbell choir?   Handbell Hero is the liturgical version of Guitar Hero.  Okay, look at the first four keys of center row of your keyboard:  A, S, D, F.   Those are your bells.   Ready?  Click here.
  • YouTube runner up:  The Amazing Grace House. The display has 50,000 lights and is computer controlled by 180 channels.  (I think this was done last year, too; but this is a new video.)
  • Congratulations to Stephy at the blog, Stuff Christian Culture Likes which is now part of Beliefnet.
  • By the way, just to update you — especially our Canadian readers — our iKettle got a couple of direct donations yesterday that bypassed the site, and were picked up by the Salvation Army yesterday.  They totaled $250, which brings us to $380, but still $620 short of our $1,000 goal.   You can still donate (securely) here.
  • Some of the blogs with larger readership are ‘monetized,’ that is to say, they make money because they accept advertising.    The key to this has been the Beacon Ad Network, and your organization or business can reach 450,000 blog readers (guaranteed!) by clicking here.

HT: Pomplamoose at Zach’s.

Today’s cartoon is another from Jon Birch at ASBO Jesus.  Click the image to link the site.

Regrets? I Have a Few

I never thought Frank Sinatra lyrics were cool until a youth ministry friend of ours decided to open each session of a retreat weekend with “Regrets?  I have a few.”     I can’t remember how he related this to the topic, but as 2009 draws to a close, I know that I have regrets, and it would be nice to live regret-free in 2010.   How about you?   Anything from this year you’d like to be able to do over?   Rewind the tape and play out a particular scene differently?

I don’t spend a lot of time in the self-help section of bookstores.   (I can just hear my acquaintances saying, “Ah! That explains it…”)    I haven’t read Boundaries and my bookmark is still firmly set somewhere in the middle of Purpose Driven Life.   But I was drawn to the title of Stephen Arterburn’s Regret Free Living.

My only previous experience with Arterburn’s writing was a very cursory reading of Every Man’s Battle, which was — typical of books in the broader psychology genre — very much based on anecdotal accounts.  Regret Free uses stories as well, but I felt that these were used as a springboard for a larger discussion, and I can’t think of a better word than ‘discussion’ to describe the nature and tone of this book.

While we all struggle in different areas of relational dynamics — some of us more than others — the book’s forté has to do with the interpersonal dynamics of marriage and family life.   I’m not sure however that a single person would find as much benefit, or someone thinking the book might deal with the relational dynamics in the workplace, or even regrets caused by poor decision making.

The more I read, the more I realized how foreign this type of Christian prose is to my reading experience.    Still there were some things that really stood out.    Here’s a snapshot:

When you’re thinking about regrets, just remember:  You’re guilty and not guilty.  Guilty for making whatever bad decision you did, not guilty for the factors that influenced you to make that bad decision.

And never forget that, in the final analysis, you don’t have to feel guilty at all.   None of us ever does, once we’ve been completely forgiven — and Jesus Christ offers full forgiveness to any and all who come to him with a truly repentant heart.   (p. 175)

As this passage suggests, the book is solidly aimed at the Christian market or those who are investigating the Christian faith.    Each chapter contains relevant scripture citations that could make this easily the basis for a 13-week small group study.   Small group questions are not provided however, nor are there any footnotes or bibliographic notes; copyright info on any quotations are embedded right in the text.  I think that’s an attempt to make the book less intimidating.

Some of the ideas that stuck with me from the later chapters included the idea of having a “Life Check” which would work like “Spell Check” on your computer.    (Sounds good.  Where do I sign up for that?)   Or introducing  the different aspects to what we call “time;”  chronos and kairos.  (You know the first one every time you check the time in the corner of the computer you’re reading this on.   You want to get to know the second better; the experience of being in the moment.)

However, I’ve got to say that at times I felt like the book was a little slow in moving on to the next point.   Like maybe someone handed in a 40,000 word essay but the professor demanded 10,000 words more, so they filled it out.      I think part of that may be my fault, because I wasn’t reading the book out of direct need, but merely as a book to review.   For someone going through the pain of regret, some of the counsel of this book may be just what the doctor ordered.

Regrets?  I have a few.   I read books like this one and always remember that there will always be someone for whom this will be the first Christian book they have ever read. I then try to assess the book on that basis, and in this case, the joining of recognizable  stories,  logical analysis, solid advice and related scriptures passes that first book test with flying colors.

The full title is Regret Free Living:  Hope for Past Mistakes and Freedom from Unhealthy Patterns by Stephen Arterburn with John Shore.  (Bethany House Publishers, 2009; 231 pages, hardcover $17.99 US) Also available on Oasis Audio CDs read by the author ($25.99 US).

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