Thinking Out Loud

September 30, 2011

Book Review: Close Enough To Hear God Breathe

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Greg Paul speak at a conference west of Toronto.  Around the same time, my wife was part of a group that works with destitute and disadvantaged people who got to spend the day with Greg as he explained his ministry organization and answered questions.

Because I was familiar with what that organization, Sanctuary, does in downtown Toronto, I did not read God in the Alley or the Twenty Piece Shuffle, so I was unacquainted with Greg Paul the writer. I was more than pleasantly surprised, and I suppose it’s not too late to catch up on his backlist titles.

In Close Enough to Hear God Breathe (Thomas Nelson), Greg takes his own family story, and stories of the street people he has come to know and uses them as a motif for understanding God’s workings throughout history, and throughout our personal history as well.  Although the book is very autobiographical, I suspect there are elements of his family’s story which overlap on your own. 

The larger story, of which we are all a part, is looked at in four stages: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation and provides a structure for otherwise what might appear as random snapshots.

More than two-thirds of the way through, I began to ask, “Where have I seen this style before, where an author’s personal journey is so embedded in the presentation of a much larger picture?” Then I realized the answer: Philip Yancey.  There are great similarities between the two, and I believe, given my stated affection for the renown writer, that comparison can serve as my highest commendation for this book by Greg Paul.

~Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  Available at your favorite bookseller from Thomas Nelson. 

September 29, 2011

Your Life – Their Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

September 28, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Lynx

Into each blog some links must fall

  • Pat Robertson’s recent comments about marriage and divorce weren’t his only interesting pronouncements recently; he also said that the earthquake-produced crack in the Washington Monument was a sign from God.  
  • Clark Bunch at Master’s Table had a link to a very interesting article at a Southern Baptist blog site, where Dave Miller, in part 15 of an ongoing discussion, looks at the issue of Christian liberty.
  • Actually, I’m really enjoying Dave Miller’s writing and want to recommend another article to you which looks at the issue of “who’s in and who’s out.”  Are they “real” Christians if they believe in open theism, or approve of homosexuality. And what about Catholics?
  • Catch an interview with Rachel Held Evans on NPR (National Public Radio) which looks at her “year of Biblical womanhood” experiment/adventure.
  • Termed Ragamuffin Gospel author Brennoan Manning’s final book, All is Grace is a collection of his personal memoirs. View the book trailer.
  • Pete Wilson tackles the idea of multi-tasking.  Some of us are proud of ourselves for being able to do the mental juggling act, but a report says we actually lose productivity.
  • At C201 this week, a piece about why you should pray out loud; and a piece which deals with the idea that nobody should hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once.  And a varied collection of quotes about grace.
  • Dave Wainscott has an interesting review/promotional item about the book Jesus Freak by Sara Miles, titled, If you want to see God, sit in the smoking section. Not sure on the timing of this, but the January, 2010 release may be about due for a switch from hardcover to paperback.
  • Also in our time travel department, I noticed someone had recently linked to the home page for the Christian rock music documentary Bleed Into One, but the homepage has a 2008 copyright.  I’d never heard of this film, though it looks informative. Did this movie release?
  • I really thought that the news item here about Rob Bell leaving Mars Hill Bible Church would have produced more comments; but perhaps everyone has tired of talking about Rob.
  • Anyway, if you missed Monday’s update, it looked something like this: “So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly.  Hills that is…”  Okay, Rob Bell isn’t going to Beverly Hills, but we do know he’s going to California as per this (ABC affiliate) WZZM channel 13 report from his Sunday sermon.
  • I love author interviews; this one’s a month old, but Meg Moseley has some Q&A with Abingdon Press author Linda Clare, an author bucking the Amish fiction trend with books about Native Americans.
  • Catch a sample of Chrstine Wyrtzen’s series on Hosea; one dealing with God as unchanging; or the one containing this quote: “When Christianity thrives and being associated with a notable church brings public reward, pretense flourishes.”
  • If you want to get into the extreme sport of blog surfing, check out the section with “Links – WordPress…” in the blogroll here. You’ll get the complete range of anything tagged “Christianity” (which seems to completely update the top ten every five minutes), “Jesus,” or “Church.”  Remember, not everything you read is necessarily in favor of Jesus or Christianity, or whatever search term you use.
  • Here’s the top ten Christian songs on Christian radio as reported at Mediabase and published in USAToday. You can follow the action at this site. Click the USAToday .pdf file option.

    1  Steven Curtis Chapman  – Do Everything   1,141
    2  MercyMe – Move   1,123
    3  Matthew West – Strong Enough   1,040
    4  Jamie Grace featuring tobyMac  – Hold Me   1,025
    5  Jeremy Camp – The Way   1,013
    6 Aaron Shust – My Hope Is In You   1,009
    7  Chris Tomlin – I Lift My Hands   943
    8 Afters – Lift Me Up   886
    9 Matt Maher – Turn Around   882
    10  Laura Story – Blessings   868
  • And lastly, this item which I deliver to you without comment for your own consideration…

September 27, 2011

Faith Under Pressure

Filed under: Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:30 am

I’m going through a period of intense personal pressure and finding myself wondering about the condition and authenticity of my faith in light of the anxiety I am experiencing. There, I said it.  Scratch my name off your list of Christian superstars. Whaddya mean it wasn’t there?

My mother often quoted Jeremiah 12:5 to me at times like this:

5If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

In the NIV it reads,

 5 “If you have raced with men on foot
   and they have worn you out,
   how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
   how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

In other words, if you panic and are stressed by a little pressure, what are you going to do when something serious happens?  Except things these days are more serious. “The swelling of the Jordan,” so to speak.

I say all this to say that it is so easy to espouse certain positional truths in scripture, but it is another matter entirely to live out those things practically when circumstances require a response.

In other words, we generally have all the answers — for someone else.  It’s easy to straighten out someone else’s life; it’s hard to accept God’s instructions when we are the ones under pressure.

Mind you, I can’t imagine not having God to turn to. 

September 26, 2011

Do “Apologetics” and “Protest” Belong in the same Breath?

I am a person captivated by the study of Christian apologetics.  I’m not saying I’m very good at it, but my personal library, and the collection at the bookstore I manage are somewhat saturated with apologetics titles.  Of course, when you hear that, some think Norman Geisler, some will assume Ravi Zacharias, some think I mean Hank Hanegraaff, others will be reminded of Josh McDowell, while some will automatically think Ray Comfort.  I don’t care.  I think they all have something to offer, though I prefer some approaches over others.

The reason I like apologetics is that I believe there are a number of questions seekers have that we should have answers to, rather than looking clueless like the proverbial deer caught in the proverbial headlights.  I’ve always thought that, “Because our pastor said so;” was a bit weak when dealing with people who are needing to overcome serious barriers to faith.

But I think that part of the “Always be ready to give an account,” concept has to been seen in the context of someone  who is asking us a question.  It doesn’t mean that we get out in the streets and start picketing people we disagree with.  Especially picketing other members of the body, which, if the “body” analogy is taken correctly, means we’re picketing ourselves.   It’s a defense of the faith, which is implied; a defensive posture not an offensive posture; and shouldn’t be confused with evangelism.  So I was particular distressed to read this report at Chad Estes’ blog:

President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, Matt Slick, spent the evening protesting W. Paul Young’s (the author of The Shack) speech at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

He missed an incredible night of stories of God’s intimate and loving involvement in our lives while standing on the street corner letting people [know] they shouldn’t be attending what he thought would be a heretical discussion.

He tried to get into a discussion with me about universalism when I went out to take his picture. He asked me if I thought everybody was forgiven. I told him I thought that was Jesus’ point on the cross – “Forgive them, Papa, they are clueless what they are doing.” I thought it was a slick answer but Slick didn’t seem to think so.

Now again, remember, I have a link to CARM on this blog.  I support people doing apologetics. Real apologetics.  I’m not so strong on in your face discernment ministry. Especially in a public forum.  Most especially in a public forum. I may question the doctrine at my local Roman Catholic Church, but I’m not going to stand outside and picket the place; especially if it may represent a small first step on a journey to faith for someone who is truly seeking after God. 

And I’m not writing this out of a loyalty to The Shack.  The book is flawed. But the book is good. And it’s done a lot of good.

Sorry; I gotta repeat Chad’s second paragraph here with some added emphasis:

He missed an incredible night of stories of God’s intimate and loving involvement in our lives while standing [outside] on the street corner letting people [know] they shouldn’t be attending what he thought would be a heretical discussion.

There is so much of this that goes on within Kingdom borders, and it is so very sad.

Cartoon Snapshot of American Life?

Filed under: cartoons, Church — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

They go to church on Sunday.  Wait, delete that.  They dress up and go to church on Sunday.  Mom. Dad. Four kids. Including Chip whose gotta be in his teens and is wearing a tie.

And mom sings in the choir. And the choir sings “Hallelujah.” Wow! Thanks, Brian Walker, Greg Walker and Chance Browne for this panel from September 18th. (Not the first time either, check the bottom of this link list from last June.)

September 25, 2011

Lord of My Possessions, Friendships, Comforts, Reputation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:02 pm

Last week Trevin Wax posted a poem/prayer by A. W. Tozer.  The name may be unfamiliar to you, but Tozer was a major figure in the Christian  & Missionary Alliance movement and church denomination.  (Like the Salvation Army, the C&MA was/is both a mission and a church.) Gospel Light Publishing has recently released a series, “Never Before Published,” containing some of Tozer’s commentary/study on books of the Bible that several people I know have begun reading.

Here’s a Tozer quotation from my Christianity 201 blog, followed by the poem, followed by another quotation…


Satan’s first attack on the human race was his sly effort to destroy Eve’s confidence in the kindness of God. Unfortunately for her and for us, he succeeded too well. From that day, men have had a false conception of God, and it is exactly this that has cut from under them the ground of righteousness and driven them to reckless and destructive living…

…The God of the Pharisee was not a God easy to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless…

…The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service on of unspeakable pleausre…

…How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is…

from the The Best of Tozer, Baker 1978 edition, pp. 120-122


O God, be Thou exalted over my possessions.
Nothing of earth’s treasures shall seem dear unto me
if only Thou art glorified in my life.

Be Thou exalted over my friendships.
I am determined that Thou shalt be above all,
though I must stand deserted and alone in the midst of the earth.

Be Thou exalted above my comforts.
Though it mean the loss of bodily comforts and the carrying of heavy crosses
I shall keep my vow made this day before Thee.

Be Thou exalted over my reputation.
Make me ambitious to please Thee
even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream.

Rise, O Lord, into Thy proper place of honor,
above my ambitions,
above my likes and dislikes,
above my family,
my health and even my life itself.

Let me decrease that Thou mayest increase,
let me sink that Thou mayest rise above.

- A.W. Tozer


Found this at the blog The Narrow Path where it appeared under the title, Our Life in Christ.

Certainly not all of the mystery of the Godhead can be known by man–but just as certainly, all that men can know of God in this life is revealed in Jesus Christ! When the Apostle Paul said with yearning, “That I may know Him,” he was not speaking of intellectual knowledge. Paul was speaking of the reality of an experience of knowing God personally and consciously, spirit touching spirit and heart touching heart. We know that people spend a lot of time talking about a deeper Christian life–but few seem to want to know and love God for Himself. The precious fact is that God is the deeper life! Jesus Christ Himself is the deeper life. And as I plunge on into the knowledge of the triune God, my heart moves on into the blessedness of His fellowship. This means that there is less of me and more of God–thus my spiritual life deepens and I am strengthened in the knowledge of His will.

–A.W. Tozer

September 24, 2011

Pumped Up Kicks: Celebrating Violence

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:04 pm

"...you'd better run, better run; outrun my gun..."

About a month ago I was watching the NBC Nightly News and heard Brian Williams say that each summer there is a song that somehow defines that summer, and that this year, that song was Pumped Up Kicks by the band Foster The People. With 22.7 million hits on this music video, Williams may have been partially right, though a search of “top songs of summer 2011″ will produce a variety of results.

I listed to the song a few times. It’s a likeable tune with an infectious chorus and a danceable rhythm. But something about the song didn’t make sense. That’s because Pumped Up Kids is a happy upbeat song about a guy who finds a gun in his father’s closet and goes on a shooting spree.

However, I couldn’t help but have a musical or lyrical deja vu when listening.  An upbeat song that seems to glorify or celebrate violence.  Where had I heard that before?  Then it occurred to me.

The U.S. National Anthem.

Maybe I’ve been hanging around with too many Anabaptists, but I believe to other non-Americans, the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner stand out — and not necessarily in a good way — among the national songs of the world. 

Which means that realistically, while other scenarios are not impossible, generally speaking only America could have produced a song like Pumped Up Kicks.  Great song.  Sad lyrics.

Rob Bell to Leave Mars Hill Grand Rapids

It’s hard to imagine “the shed” — the large area occupied by the former shopping mall’s former anchor department store in Grandville, Michigan — without Rob Bell and his assortment of props and interactive sermon elements at center stage; but starting in January, 2012, that may become reality with Thursday’s announcement that Bell is leaving the church he founded a dozen years ago.

As things now stand, the majority of Sunday teaching responsibilities would pass to Shane Hipps who came to the church two years ago after pastoring Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Hipps is the author of the Zondervan book, Flickering Pixels, a book about how technology shapes society.

Here is the announcement from the church website:

September 22, 2011

To our community of attendees, listeners, and supporters:

The infamous quote “change is the only constant” certainly holds true at Mars Hill. We have experienced ongoing changes that have improved and transformed—as well as at times unintentionally created tension or heartache within our community. And now, we have another significant change to hold together.

Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience.

It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob’s voice and the message of God’s tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years. And we are happy and hopeful that as Rob and Kristen venture ahead, they will find increasing opportunity to extend the heartbeat of that message to our world in new and creative ways.

Rob and Kristen started Mars Hill and helped create a church that removes the barriers to meeting Jesus. And while we recognize that no one person defines a community, we acknowledge the impact of Rob’s leadership, creativity, and biblical insights on our lives, and face a deep sadness at the loss of their presence in our community.

Rob will be addressing our community in both Gatherings on Sunday, September 25, to describe his journey and call to pursue a new venture. For the remainder of this year, he will be teaching our Acts Series several times with his last teaching being in December.

As we plan for the future, Shane Hipps will continue to teach our community and we will be inviting other familiar voices to teach on Sundays during the spring of 2012.

We continue to be amazed by the grace and trust of the community we serve. Your voice and heart will be important elements of how we move forward together as a community of believers. We invite you to continue on this journey with us and ask that you would join us in prayer while we carefully discern what lies ahead for the Mars Hill community.

Grace and Peace,
The Elder Team, Ministry Leadership Team, and staff of Mars Hill

The September 25 podcast will be available for download on Tuesday, September 27.

Meanwhile, at RobBell.com, the author/speaker/pastor has announced another road tour for November, “The Fit To Smash Ice Tour” with initial dates in the northeast United States and Toronto.

Have I ever told you the story about the smoke machine at the wedding? Or the time I hit my head and had to be told who I was? Or the one about Eleazar and the elephant?

I didn’t think so. Which means it’s time for a tour. Over the next year or so I’ll be out on the Fit to Smash Ice Tour with the good chance I’ll be somewhere near where you live. As usual it’s several hours of entirely new content I haven’t given before, exploring all the exhilarating ways we stumble and fumble and fail and bleed and limp along and just how good and sacred and thrilling it all is.

I’m hoping to break some new ground on this tour, going places we haven’t gone before. I want you to be inspired, provoked, challenged and moved in all kinds of new ways throughout the evening so that you leave Fit to Smash Ice.

But a caution comes from this voice, quoted at USAToday’s religion online page:

It’s not uncommon for megachurch pastor-authors to consider leaving church leadership, according to Rick Christian, president of Alive Communications, a Colorado Springs, Colo., literary agency that represents megachurch pastors. At a certain point, some feel more like a CEO than a shepherd, Christian said, and can be tempted to leave the headaches behind — especially when they’re making good money from royalties.

But he encourages them to go slow and remember that “there’s something inherently great about the accountability that comes with” leading a congregation. Authors who leave that world incur new risks, he said.

“You can have somebody who leaves for the wrong reasons and becomes a lone ranger,” Christian said. “They’re just running and gunning for the Lord on planes, in hotels, zipping around at 30,000 feet. You can lose touch very quickly.”

Others agree parish life keeps communicators grounded. Elaine Heath, associate professor of evangelism at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, noted a long history of leaving the parish for wider outreach opportunities — even Methodism founder John Wesley gave up a settled pulpit to be an itinerant preacher.

But in today’s world, she said, book tours and online virtual relationships are not enough to sustain a pastor’s moral authority.


Update – September 26 — “So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly.  Hills that is…”  Okay, R. B. isn’t going to Beverly Hills, but we do know he’s going to California as per this (ABC affiliate) WZZM channel 13 report from his Sunday sermon.

September 23, 2011

The God Pocket: Intentional Generosity

I had watched this video a couple of times; but wasn’t sure I get where Bruce Wilkinson — no relation — was going with The God Pocket.  Was there some ancillary item called a “God Pocket” we would see in a bookstore display next to the book itself, or was he speaking figuratively?  The video had me confused and I didn’t get a review copy of the book, so I checked the publisher marketing:

God wants to put a face on giving – and the face he has in mind is not yours, but his. What if you could take something out of your pocket today that would make God wonderfully personal and absolutely real to someone who, only minutes earlier, had been secretly calling out to God for help, for an answer, for any shred of evidence that He cares?

Discover the incredible resource that’s small enough to fit in your wallet or purse, yet big enough to change someone’s life – starting with yours. In “The God Pocket,” Bruce Wilkinson tells you what that little something is, explains how to deliver God’s provision to someone in need, and shares how God is ready to reveal Himself through you.

The God Pocket Prayer
Dear God,
Today I ask to be sent to show Your love and deliver Your funds to the person You choose. I carry Your provision in my God Pocket, and I am ready and willing. I am Your servant, Lord. Whenever You nudge me, I will respond! Here am I – please send me!

So I realized he was talking about giving, and the God Pocket had to be some kind of ‘wrapper’ for a money gift which is a token of financial encouragement, which I suppose you could design or create yourself; but in the giving process, there would have been some advance preparation and prayer.

But at that point, I was still guessing.  There were no consumer reviews online for the hardcover from Multnomah with the full title: The God Pocket: He Owns It. You Carry It. Suddenly Everything Changes.

So it was time for some serious research, i.e. Google. One blogger mentioned that the concept of “the God pocket” is introduced in You Were Born for This:

One concept that was very inspiring was the God Pocket.  He encourages Christians to set aside an amount of money (maybe $20) that they always keep tucked away in the billfold or pocketbook.  That money is to be used in the lives of others as needs present themselves.  He told the story of feeling led to leave all $20 as a tip for a waitress.  She came to him before he left in tears explaining that she was a single parent and had prayed God would provide the money she needed for medicine for her ill child.

Another wrote about You Were Born…:

A buzzword he coined “God Pocket” blessed my socks off.  I have a tendency to be what is kindest to call “thoughtlessly generous”– generous without giving thought to if it is how the Lord would want me to give.  I’m a need meeter.  If I see a need, I have the funds/ability, I try to meet it.  I love to try to help meet needs.  However, just because there is a need, and just because I can meet it, doesn’t mean that I am the best one for it and it’s hard to know when/where/how.  His idea of  the “God Pocket” really encouraged me to become deliberate in preparing to meet needs rather than reacting to the needs in front of me.  I think it is what I’ll take from the book and use/value the longest.

So my guess wasn’t too far off.  My next step is to place a bill in a special part of my wallet so that I am prepared to do what Uncle Bruce — we might be related, Prayer of Jabez made a lot of money after all — recommends in terms of planned or intentional generosity. 

Or I could simply read the book and see how one might craft a short note that would accompany the gift.  I think it’s publishing mid October.

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.