Thinking Out Loud

June 7, 2013

Never Give Up, Never Surrender Praying

With apologies for borrowing the Galaxy Quest title, this is actually a rather serious article which appeared here a year ago under the title When Faith Meets Finality.

I have to be honest. I am the type of person who doesn’t radiate a lot optimism when it comes to my own personal prayer requests, but when it comes to your prayer concerns, I believe in the limitless power of God to do anything — absolutely anything — even when the doctors, business consultants and marriage counselors have said there is no room for hope.

I’ve also encouraged my kids to pray and to ever be trying to enlarge our prayer circle beyond our own immediate family needs, which frequently means they are praying for people they have never met, or as is the case today, a person who I had never met.

She was the wife of a sales rep of a guy who calls on our store representing a large Christian publishing company. When we first met seven years ago, she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. So we prayed in a parking lot that day, and have been praying for her healing ever since. She fought long and hard and at one point seemed to triumph over the disease, but then it returned. And then it spread.

However, this did not temper the language with which I interceded. Like I said, I believe in the limitless possibilities of what can happen when people pray.

Until the day my wife phoned me to say an email had arrived announcing she had passed away.

For several minutes I was silent.

Faith met finality. Her battle with cancer was over.

Still, without trying to spin the outcome we had not longed for, I believe I can say that in some measure the prayers of myself and others were answered, for although some would argue that our wrestling with God simply dragged on the process, in those seven years her two children — now in their early teens — got to spend more time with her, to receive her values, to have a more solid memory of the sound of her voice, to be held, and to be loved.

Do these outcomes shatter my faith? Hardly. It’s still there. God could raise her from the dead if He chose to, and I have heard stories where people prayed just that. Were they in denial? I don’t think so; I think there are other ways to manifest denial than by proclaiming the possibilities of miracles.

I believe we should just keep praying, right up to the last possible moment. If anything, this just increases my faith for the next need that is brought to our attention.

As to my recurrent weakness in coming boldly to God’s throne for my own needs, I simply offer this today: You pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.

March 1, 2013

March Madness, Blog Style

I don’t do repeats here until the piece is a year old.  So a new month always offers new items from the previous year that you may have missed… (Apologies to email subscribers…this is long!)


A Letter to the Nominating Committee

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,


This Song Should Be the Anthem of Churches Everywhere

I was scrolling through the CCLI top 200 worship songs, and it occurred to me there is a song that really needs to be there; in fact it really needs to be part of the repertoire of every church using modern worship.

Eddie Kirkland is a worship leader at Atlanta’s North Point Community Church, where, just to warn ya, the worship set may seem to some of you more like a rock concert than a Sunday service. But I hope you’ll see past that and enjoy the song.

We want to be a church where freedom reigns
We want to be a people full of grace
We want to be a shelter where the broken find their place
We want to be refuge for the weak
We want to be a light for the world to see
We want to be a love the breaks the walls and fill the streets…

All are welcome here
As we are, as we are
For our God is near every heart

If those sentiments are not the goal of where you attend on Sundays, frankly, I think you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s another version of the song that was used as part of North Point’s Be Rich campaign, where each year, instead of reinventing the charity wheel, NPCC members flood secular social service organizations with money and volunteer hours.

Watch the song a few times, and then forward the link to today’s blog post — http://wp.me/pfdhA-3en — to the worship leader at your church.

If a church of any size desires to live up to what this song expresses, there’s nothing stopping that church from changing the world.


Qualifying “It Gets Better”

One of the Church’s biggest failures of the past decade has been our reaction, and over-reaction to the LGBT community, especially to those who — absent the treatment they see their peers receiving — hold on to a faith in the Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, there are the usual conservative voices who insist that any gay sympathies constitute an automatic ticket to hell. Frankly, I am curious to see who shows up to picket at their funerals.

On the other hand, there are among the more progressive progressives, certain Christian bloggers who in their compassion have thrown out a lot of the core of the Bible’s ideal for family, procreation and partnership.

And now, to add to our confusion, we discover that Psalm 139, the scripture used as a major element in the argument against abortion, is used as a rallying cry for gay and lesbian Christians. Regardless of which translation is employed.

Anyway, I’ve already blogged my personal place of balance on this issue, but in thinking about it this week, I’ve realized that my particular choice of words has a bearing on another commonly heard phrase particularly among teenagers who either come out of the closet by choice or who are outed by their classmates.

The phrase is, “It gets better.”

For the bullied, the confused and the lonely, I certainly hope it does. Soon.

But I have to say this, and maybe this can be your response as well, “It gets better, but it doesn’t necessarily get best.”

In other words; I’m there for you.

I understand.

I’m not someone looking at this from the detachment of an outsider; I’ve read your blogs, I’ve looked in to your online discussions. I do get it.

But with all the love in my heart, I just think that ultimately, God has something else in mind which, because He made it, is perfect.

So yes, it gets better, thought it doesn’t necessarily get best.


A Powerful Story Echoes Three Decades Later

This was recorded nearly 30 years ago at a Christian music festival somewhere in Canada. Nancyjo Mann was lead singer in the band Barnabas. I always knew that I had this in my possession — on VHS, no less — and have always felt that more people need to see it. For those of you who knew me back in the days of the Searchlight Video Roadshow, you’ll remember that I often closed each night with this particular testimony.

January 2, 2013

Wednesday Link List

II Cor 10_13--15  Online Translation

And you thought I would take the day off, didn’t you? Well, the link list crew worked all New Year’s Day to bring this to you.

  • Russell D. Moore has a unique observation post from which to consider the decision by the Russian government to suspend adoptions of Russian children by Americans. I think his two Russian born children would agree with his summary.
  • Hi readers. Meet Matt Rawlings. Matt read 134 books last year. How did you do? 
  • And here’s another Matt. Matt Appling has put together an amazing essay on why the concept of shame is ripe for a comeback.
  • David Murrow has an interesting idea in which popular TV pastors are a brand that is a type of new denomination. He also has other ideas about what the church will look like in 50 years. (Or read the Todd Rhoades summary.)
  • Some readers here also blog, and if that’s you, perhaps you do the “top posts” thing. (I don’t.) But if you had a post-of-the-year, I can almost guarantee it weren’t nothin’ like this must-read one.
  • “This is the most egregious violation of religious liberty that I have ever seen.” Denny Burk on what is largely a U.S.-based story, but with justice issues anyone can appreciate: The case of Hobby Lobby.
  • Can some of you see yourself in this story? “It’s really hard for me to read God’s word without dissecting it. I like to have commentaries and cross references. I like to take notes. I like to circle, underline, rewrite. And then my time with God turns into another homework assignment.” I can. More at Reflect blog.
  • This one may be sobering for a few of you. David Fitch offers three signs that you are not a leader, at least where the Kingdom of God is concerned.
  • “We put people into leadership roles too early, on purpose. We operate under the assumption that adults learn on a need-to-know basis. The sooner they discover what they don’t know, the sooner they will be interested in learning what they need to know…At times, it creates problems. We like those kinds of problems…” Read a sample of Andy Stanley’s new book, Deep and Wide, at Catalyst blog.
  • So for some of you, 2013 represents getting back on the horse again, even though you feel you failed so many times last year. Jon Acuff seems to understand what you’re going through.
  • Dan Gilgoff leaves the editor’s desk at CNN Belief Blog after three years and notes five things he learned in the process.
  • More detail on the Westboro petition(s) at the blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars; along with our get well wishes to blog proprietor Ed Brayton, recovering from open heart surgery.
  • Rachel Held Evans mentioned this one yesterday: The How To Talk Evangelical Project.  Sample: “If Christianese was a language, evangelical was our own special dialect. A cadence. A rhythm…” Click the banner at the top for recent posts.
  • Not sure how long this has been available, but for all you Bible study types,  here’s the ultimate list for academically-inclined people who want to own the best Bible commentary for each Bible book. (And support your local bookstore if you still have one!)
  • Bob Kauflin salutes the average worship leader, working with the average team at the average church. Which despite what you see online is mostly people like us.
  • Flashback all the way to September for this one: Gary Molander notes that the primary work of a pastor is somewhat in direct conflict with the calling they feel they are to pursue. He calls it, Why is it So Stinkin’ Hard to Work for a Church?
  • Nearly three years ago, we linked to this one and it’s still running: CreationSwap.com where media shared for videos, photos, logos, church bulletins, is sold or given away by thousands of Christian artists.

Christian books I hope you never see

November 13, 2012

The Shack’s Paul Young Returns with Cross Roads

The original distribution target for The Shack was about 15 copies. So it’s not surprising that million-copy-selling author Paul Young refers to Cross Roads as the first novel he intentionally wrote.

While The Shack took Paul Young into some places that other Christian novels would never reach and started all manner of conversations, the fact remains that the response from some Evangelicals and the Reformed community in particular was less than enthusiastic. I would like to say that Cross Roads clears up all the misconceptions and establishes that Young is definitely not a heretic in their eyes, but much of the doctrinal language of The Shack continues in Cross Roads, though I phrase it that way because this is often a war of words, not theology.

The critics are waiting in the wings for enough information about the book to leak out so they might launch their attack without actually buying a copy, particulars I’m not going to oblige them with here. Frankly, I’m drawn to Young’s picture of a loving God — regardless of the size, shape, age or gender in which he prefers to clothe any member of The Trinity — and would have no problem approving him to teach Sunday School at my church, a proposition that no doubt causes his detractors to shudder.

At the end of the day Cross Roads is a work of fiction, with a very contrived premise or two, but no more extreme than James Rubart’s Soul’s Gate which we reviewed here a few days back. It is well-written, technically accurate, and resolves plot loose ends.  It’s a book about life, and how some people live it, and what is left when life suddenly ends. It contains various aspects of the gospel, and isn’t afraid to wade into doctrinal issues that concern us as ‘church people.’

Nonetheless, I would say about this book what I said about Shack, and that is its greatest value is in giving the book to spiritual outsiders for the purpose of starting conversations; it’s not the last word on systematic theology.

The medical element of the book does not weigh it down; in fact the book is very lighthearted in a couple of places, including one scene that can only be described as comedic. The lead character is delineated vividly in the opening chapters; you cannot help but have opinions about Anthony Spencer. The author isn’t afraid to introduce new subplots or complications in the last quarter. Some Biblical passages are alluded to, at other points you get chapter and verse. The work validates that Young is a good writer and certainly deserving of the success which changed his life so dramatically a few years ago.

If you’re one of the eighteen million people who purchased The Shack you don’t need to think twice about also getting a copy of Cross Roads.

Cross Roads is in release worldwide in hardcover ($24.99 US) on the FaithWords imprint of Hachette Book Group. A copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud through Speakeasy, an awesome social media book promotion agency. The term “Sunday School” used above isn’t literal — we don’t have one — I’m referring to leading a Children’s ministry small group.

Learn more: The author discusses the book in this YouTube video.

July 27, 2012

Truly Healed

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:39 am

“Tony Campolo tells a story about being in a church in Oregon where he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer.

Campolo prayed boldly for the man’s healing.

That next week he got a telephone call from the man’s wife. She said, “You prayed for my husband. He had cancer.” Campolo thought when he heard her use the past tense verb that his cancer had been eradicated! But before he could think much about it she said, “He died.”

Campolo felt terrible.

But she continued, “Don’t feel bad. When he came into that church that Sunday he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to be dead in a short period of time, and he hated God.

He was 58 years old, and he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this all-powerful God didn’t take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew towards God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him.

It was an awful thing to be in his presence.

But the lady told Campolo, “After you prayed for him, a peace had come over him and a joy had come into him. Tony, the last three days have been the best days of our lives. We’ve sung. We’ve laughed. We’ve read Scripture. We prayed. Oh, they’ve been wonderful days. And I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing.”

And then she said something incredibly profound. She said, “He wasn’t cured, but he was healed.”

June 14, 2012

When Faith Meets Finality

I have to be honest. I am the type of person who doesn’t radiate a lot optimism when it comes to my own personal prayer requests, but when it comes to your prayer concerns, I believe in the limitless power of God to do anything — absolutely anything — even when the doctors, business consultants and marriage counselors have said there is no room for hope.

I’ve also encouraged my kids to pray and to ever be trying to enlarge our prayer circle beyond our own immediate family needs, which frequently means they are praying for people they have never met, or as is the case today, a person who I had never met.

She was the wife of a sales rep of a guy who calls on our store representing a large Christian publishing company. When we first met seven years ago, she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. So we prayed in a parking lot that day, and have been praying for her healing ever since. She fought long and hard and at one point seemed to triumph over the disease, but then it returned. And then it spread.

However, this did not temper the language with which I interceded. Like I said, I believe in the limitless possibilities of what can happen when people pray.

On Tuesday my wife phoned me to say an email had arrived announcing she had passed away. For several minutes I was silent. Faith met finality. Her battle with cancer was over.

Still, without trying to spin the outcome we had not longed for, I believe I can say that in some measure the prayers of myself and others were answered, for although some would argue that our wrestling with God simply dragged on the process, in those seven years her two children — now in their early teens — got to spend more time with her, to receive her values, to have a more solid memory of the sound of her voice, to be held, and to be loved.

Do these outcomes shatter my faith? Hardly. It’s still there. God could raise her from the dead if He chose to, and I have heard stories where people prayed just that. Were they in denial? I don’t think so; I think there are other ways to manifest denial than by proclaiming the possibilities of miracles.

I believe we should just keep praying, right up to the last possible moment. If anything, this just increases my faith for the next need that is brought to our attention.

As to my recurrent weakness in coming boldly to God’s throne for my own needs, I simply offer this today: You pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.

March 20, 2012

Powerful Testimony: Nancyjo Mann from Barnabas

This was recorded nearly 30 years ago at a Christian music festival somewhere in Canada. Nancyjo Mann was lead singer in the band Barnabas. I always knew that I had this in my possession, but for the last few days I’ve had this very strong leading that more people need to see this. For those of you who knew me back in the days of the Searchlight Video Roadshow, you’ll remember that I often closed each night with this particular testimony.

 

July 18, 2010

Miracles Should Be Remembered

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:39 pm

The other day I was challenged with the question, “Have you ever seen a dramatic healing in response to prayer?”  I paused to try to think of one. I needn’t have paused, however.

Over a year ago our family exercised our faith in prayer for someone in need of healing, but it’s lamentable that now, twelve months later, it’s so easy to forget God’s intervention.   Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge the Israelites in the Old Testament.   Here’s the blog post as it appeared here on 7.14.09 (or as we say in Canada, 14.07.09)…

prayer requests

Because of the nature of my work, I have the opportunity to hear from a number of people in the course of a year who express their desire to see God meet a specific need in a special way.

“I’ll pray for you;” I tell them. I explain that we pray together as a family at about 9:00 PM every night, which readers of this blog will remember me discussing a few weeks ago here.

After we read the Bible or devotional book selection for that night, I’ll say, “There’s someone who came in the store today; I know you don’t know them, but I’d like you to pray for ________.”

But every once in awhile, I’ll say, “There was someone I promised to pray for tonight, and now I can’t remember who it was.”

That’s what happened in the case of A.  I forgot.   He had been going through a rough time with a digestive tract disorder, a situation we’re not unfamiliar with. For six years. He had mentioned more recently that it was hitting particularly hard.

Later, I remember his situation, my memory kicking in, and we started praying for him about six weeks ago. Once on our “prayer list” my kids rarely let go of a name, even when they forget the details. But they did remember that A. was one of two situations where we were asking God to something really, really special.

So we prayed.

I should also explain that A. has a really big sense of humor, and sends me e-mail forwards at least every three days. Some of them are little edgy; you’d never know this guy has a brother who is a pastor in a conservative Baptist denomination. But I do open them all. At least, I thought I did.

It turns out I missed the one where he either described going to a Toronto hospital, or facing surgery. But we kept praying.

Then, on the road in Boston and doing my best to get e-mails despite the fact that in hotels, “Free Wireless” is a meaningless phrase, I read something about him “recovering well” and expecting to “go home from the hospital.”

Did I miss something? I e-mailed to ask if he had some kind of procedure; and told him the boys and I had been praying. He e-mailed back to advise that he had a tumor removed, was recovering well, and was being released a day early. There’s even some question as to whether he even had the digestive disorder that he felt he had all these years. Wow!

To jump to the obvious high point in the story: We started praying in earnest at the same time A. needed it most; not knowing specifically of the current need. And it took a couple of e-mails afterward to convince him (and myself!) that our praying and his need had definitely converged at the same time.

Despite having what I consider to be a decent measure of faith, I’m also marveling about this. The boys and I weren’t just saying a name on a list; we were really asking God to do something ‘outside the box’ for A.

And I believe that He certainly did.

June 13, 2010

The “Apparent Age” of the Earth

Filed under: Faith, issues — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:13 pm

*  Today I’m also guest-blogging as part of a month-long “blogapalooza” over at Rick Apperson’s blog, “Just a Thought.”  To read that post, click here.

Today’s post is a repeat of one from June, 2008. It’s meant to get your brain going; but in the end, faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ doesn’t rest on tangential discussions of Bible & Science issues.

One of the most difficult aspects of the various debates in creationism has to do with the young earth / old earth issue. Some believe that God took his time to make the earth, that the “days” of Genesis 1 are really “ages” and by this reasoning, “theistic evolution” is possible; the idea that God used evolution.

This means that when we look at the garden of Eden we see a tree and the tree is mature. It looks like it might be at least 20 years old. (Though counting the rings would be interesting!) Underneath the tree is a rock. The rock appears to be 20,000 years old. Adam himself becomes more problematic. He’s clearly a man, not an infant. Today, Jewish boys become a man at 13; in North America we use 18; it used to be 21; Jesus began his ministry at 30. Any one of those ages denotes the idea of “man” and not “boy.” From the earliest times, our earth seems to have either aged considerably or has some age built into it.

This morning I started thinking about Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine. Wine needs fermentation and fermentation takes time. A batch of homemade brew would need at least six months, I think; aging only improves the quality, and they did say at the time that the host of the wedding had “saved the best wine until last.” Did Jesus press a “pause” button, and everyone froze in place for a year while the batch brewed, or did he simply do a creative miracle in an instant?

The former suggestion is something I just made up; I’ve never heard it suggested. If you believe in this miracle at all; it’s the latter you believe in. If that’s the case, it’s interesting that Jesus’ first recorded creative act in the New Testament; and God’s first recorded creative act in the Old Testament should involve things that have apparent age; things that seem to have been created outside the constraints of time as we know it.

And if the earth is as young as some believe, then we are still witnessing the miracle of something created with apparent age, for each time the light of a star is seen at night, we know that scientifically, the light of stars that Adam, and Abraham, and Moses saw left those distant suns thousands of years before the earth was created. Which I know doesn’t make sense to many people. But next time you’re wrestling with this issue, either personally or in discussion or with someone else, step outside Genesis for a minute and consider the water-into-wine miracle of the New Testament. Fermentation takes time. The wine definitely had an apparent age. Could this principle extend back into Genesis?

~ Paul Wilkinson


June 2, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Our link list artist this week is David Hayward, better known as Naked Pastor.   He actually gave away the original water color of this  last week, so with blog giveaways like that, you might just want to become a regular reader.

Off to the links we go…

  • Rick Apperson reviews basketball fundraiser Austin Gutwein’s Take Your Best Shot, at the blog Just a Thought, while the whole genre — including some video clips of Austin — is examined at Christian Book Shop Talk.   Like Zach Hunter, Austin, pictured at right, got into the whole international relief thing at a very, very young age.  If I were still in youth ministry, I think I would build a whole evening around the videos describing what Zach and Austin are doing.
  • The whole Charismatic thing got started in the 1970s, right?   Not exactly.   If you’ve got some time to invest, Brazillian-born Leo Di Siqueira links to a lengthy article that blows apart the “cessationist” view that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit died off with the first apostles.  Writer Nigel Scotland documents examples of the “miracle” gifts occurring in the first five centures of the church.   The link is approximately a 15-page .pdf file.
  • Garrison Keillor explains the book publishing industry for all the children in the audience who are too young to remember what a book is on the pages of The New York Times.    (Here’s a related piece I wrote at my book industry blog.)
  • John Freeman at Ligoner Ministries suggests a balanced approach to dealing with the issue of homosexuality specifically and sexual sins in general; meanwhile…
  • …”When Ray Boltz and Azariah Southworth perform in concert at Covenant of the Cross in Nashville on June 17, 2010, they will kick off a national tour as well as an affirmation of their status as openly gay Christian music artists.”   Continue reading that story in Out and About a gay community blog.    But wait, there’s more…
  • …At the blog Monday Morning Insight, Todd Rhoades posts a piece about Boltz’ new album and some sample song lyrics which invite the broader Christian community to embrace greater tolerance.
  • For the time being, Raymond Hosier can wear his rosary beads to school, as reports the Washington Post.  Now the school in question faces a lawsuit.
  • Once-disgraced Colorado Pastor Ted Haggard announced today he is starting a new church and “will be happy if only a few people join.”  Read about St. James Church at NBC’s Denver affiliate.
  • They sold their house and named their RV after the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan.  This is actually an October, 2009 YouTube clip from Good Morning America, but someone sent it to me, and it is inspiring.
  • By their CD collection you shall know them:  Brett McCracken thinks true “hipsters” would be nostalgic for these contemporary Christian music classics.
  • Many a college or university began life with solid Christian roots which they would sooner forget in the secularized 21st Century; but sometimes, as Mark Roberts points out, the architecture of their older buildings betrays this history.  (My own alma matter, once proudly part of the now liberal United Church of Canada, is emblazoned with, “The Truth Shall Set You Free.”)
  • Trevin Wax had two great links last week:  First, when the Westboro gang decide to picket your church, if you’re in the deep south you serve them food!  Second, a link to Head Heart Hand, which suggests that bloggers are usually either Creators or Curators.
  • Relatively new blog:  Faith and the Law chronicles those times where Christians run afoul of the law in both the U.S. and around the world.
  • Our cartoon this week are from Doug Michael (upper) and Dennis Daniel (lower) at Baptist Press (we’re going to have to put these guys on the payroll…)  What’s with all the first-name last-names at BP?



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