Thinking Out Loud

October 23, 2016

Measuring Your Spiritual Impact

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:21 pm

Over the past few days I have found myself telling so many people about this audio clip on YouTube, I decided it made more sense just to post it here. (It was part of Wednesday’s link collection.)

This runs 9 minutes. It’s worth your time. It may seem to get repetitive about two-thirds of the way in, but hang in there until the end.

October 22, 2016

Overcoming the Fear of the Other

This is a re-post from Aaron’s blog, Voice of One Whispering. Click the title below to read at source.

img-102216Attitudes on Race – What You Can Do

Sure, let’s talk about race on the internet. This will end well.

Race has been on my mind recently.

Perhaps tensions are growing or perhaps I’m only now becoming aware of them. As soon as I start to forget about them, there is a new protest or a new shooting. We’ve seen the Black Lives Matter campaign contested with All Lives Matter. The US election is stirring the pot. We’re a bit tense.

Worse yet, there can be no impartial voice in this. Everyone belongs to a race. I am white. I cannot speak for black communities and I can’t even speak for every white person. So what can I say?

I think it’s important that we occasionally hit the reset button on these larger topics and examine how we think about them. We should think about how ideas are formed and how ideas are received. Here’s a golden question: “What will build bridges? What will lead to reconciliation and what do I have to do on my part to make that happen?”

Some don’t want solutions. Some are happy to live a life of prejudice but others among us are looking for solutions. We want to build bridges. The problem is that relations between various races are very complex and difficult to reconcile. It would seem very foolish for someone to claim they had easy answers.

I have easy answers. I have had wonderful friendships with people from lots of different races. We’ve made it work. It’s possible and it’s been done by many besides me. What are my friends and I doing differently? Lots of things, but here are three that are harder.

Humanity Before Race. If we put our race before our humanity, we cannot build bridges. When we do this, we begin with a “us vs them” mentality. Game over. We must start with a common understanding. We are all humanity first. We then acknowledge that we don’t enjoy the suffering of the other. Our common enemy is prejudice and selfishness. When we imagine the other race as the enemy, we are creating conflict, not healing it.

Furthermore, when we put humanity before race we will not be deluded with ridiculous ideas about racial or cultural ‘purity’. Races and cultures evolve. They should. Being white today does not look like being white 500 years ago. There is no ‘purity’ here. Fusion cuisine is awesome. English is a mix of Germanic, Greek, French, and Latin words. Let your culture be molded by another.

Amnesty. This is when my European heritage becomes a problem for some. I did not enslave anyone or steal from anyone. I have not hurt anyone and I am not racist. Agreed? Agreed. The more interesting observation is that among my Caucasian inheritance are things gained unfairly. I live on land that was taken. So how do we address this? Whose is this land? Does it rightfully belong to today’s native peoples? Is it to be taken away from my generation which didn’t hurt anyone?

We cannot erase history. If we want to, we can carry our bitterness indefinitely. There will always be something to retaliate over. If we can’t find reasons, we’ll invent reasons. That is why a wise man once said to “turn the other cheek”. That is the only way to definitively end conflict. Someone has to have the last hit.

Your power to break the cycle lies in your ability to restrain your own hand.

I like to put it like this: “I will not apologize for what I did not do, but my door is open.” I often hear the well-off getting the first part of this right while ignoring the second half. Fortune is not a sin. Neither is success unless it is at the expense of others. Complacency is a sin. Selfishness is. I will accept my responsibility to give to those less fortunate. In turn, I expect to not be resented or portrayed as a villain.

Overcoming Outrage. We cannot work through our prejudices or pain if we only speak out of anger or rage. It’s entirely understandable for a person so be angered and furious over seeing their people hurt but we cannot found reconciliation on outrage. CGP Grey has some relevant thoughts on this.

Revenge will not bring closure. Hatred will not bring healing. There is a time to call for justice but it must be done for the right reasons.

So if this is so simply, why do we still have a problem?

1. We are all born with fear of the other. This fear inevitably tries to manifest itself as hatred. If we don’t do the work, our default state is hatred.

2. The work is hard. We have to put aside a lot of anger and pride in order to do what I’m asking. But we’re adults so that shouldn’t be a problem.

3. It is a problem anyway because some people are just bad. Some people are just evil and cannot be helped. We can stand by their victims but we can’t fix them. Focus on building the bridges that you can, rather than dwelling on the ones that are impossible.

The answers are easy. Humility, forgiveness, generosity, and selflessness. Living those out is harder. It will mean letting go of some things that are yours and it will mean making compromises. Every relationship does. But don’t be a doormat – find people who will be self-sacrificial in kind. Strengthen those relationships and let those people pour into your life as you pour into theirs. Defend others and value their welfare above your own. Hold on to what you have lightly and give generously out of your time, heart, and wallet.

We can’t heal the whole world but we can make a difference. We can strike a blow against prejudice when we put others first.

October 21, 2016

Emotional Adulting


Despite a rather hectic last couple of weeks, I managed to finish reading a book I have long been curious about. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero has a long subtitle but it sums up the book really well: It’s Impossible to be Spiritually Mature while Remaining Emotionally Immature.  (Zondervan, paperback.)

My curiosity was fueled somewhat by the fact the book is part of a brand which includes other Emotionally Healthy… titles, all of which have done well; and also a number of courses. Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in New York City, a racially diverse congregation that he has served for nearly 30 years.

The book touches on a number of practical areas where we can blend emotional and spiritual maturity; some from the author’s personal experiences, from the lives of others, and some borrowing from a broad range of spiritual disciplines forged throughout church history.

If you assess books, as I do, in terms of value, then there are insights on every page. This is a book you will want to read with pen in hand, as you will want to underline it throughout. I think it’s also a book you will want to read, at least parts of it anyway, more than once. Like the book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend, this blends the best of the Christian Living type of books with the self-help genre, and hopefully will be around for a long time.

I had a number of pages flagged as potential excerpts, but going back decided on this one for today, where he talks about a la St. Benedict about the “elements of a Rule of Life.”

emotionally-healthy-spiritualityDevout Jews today have numerous customs related to their Friday Shabbat meal as a family. They maintain various traditions, from the lighting of candles to the reading of psalms to the blessing of children to the eating of the meal to the giving of thanks to God. Each is designed to keep God at the center of their Sabbath.

There are an amazing variety of Sabbath possibilities before you. It is vitally important you keep in mind your unique life situation as you work out these four principles of Sabbath keeping into your life. Experiment. Make a plan. Follow it for one to two months. Then reflect back on what changes you would like to make. There is no one right way that works for every person.

Sabbath is like receiving the gift of a heavy snow day every week. Stores are closed. Roads are impassible. Suddenly you have the gift of a day to do whatever you want. You don’t have any obligations, pressures or responsibilities. You have permission to play, be with friends, take a nap, read a good book. Few of us would give ourselves a “no obligation day” very often.

God gives you one – every seventh day.

Think about it. He gives you over seven weeks (fifty-two days in all) of snow days every year! And if you begin to practice stopping, resting, delighting and contemplating for one twenty-four-hour period each week, you will soon find your other six days becoming infused with those same qualities. I suspect that has always been God’s plan.

October 20, 2016

When the Saved Need Saving

Earlier this summer I was given an advance copy of Saving the Saved by Bryan Loritts. First of all, the bright cover (i.e. The End of Me by Kyle Idleman or The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist by Andy Bannister) set it apart from other review books in the stack, but more importantly, I recognized the author’s last name; he is the son of Crawford Lorritts who I believe was connected to some national rallies James MacDonald (Walk in the Word) hosted.

saving-the-savedThe subtitle of Saving the Saved is long, but sums up the book well: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love. I am continually amazed at the number of Christians — even among Evangelicals — who believe their ticket into heaven is something they’ve done. (We’ve written about that here.)

So the author puts a Christian spin on the often government-related noun meritocracy, and certainly the church is complicit in this, giving a higher place or value to certain people “chosen not because of birth or wealth, but for their superior talents or intellect.” (See the 2nd definition here.)

Because I read the book earlier, but wanted to post the review closer to the release date (it’s now available) I relied on a some other reviewers to refresh my memory. One noted some key themes:

1.  Jesus did not try to prove Himself and gain acceptance from others.
2.  How we view eternity affects how we live in the present.
3.  The futility of works-based acceptance.
4.  Moving from performing for approval to abiding in Christ.
5.  Letting peace have the priority over worry.

While another reader broke the book into three sections:

After introducing with a call to arms against a supposed meritocracy of works-based morality, the first part of the book looks at what goodness isn’t–reflecting on soul songs and the longing for the good life, pointing out the universal need for grace, reminding the reader that man-made goodness doesn’t cut it, criticizing the human tendency for pride, and looking at the transformation that results from independence as we reflect on our higher and lower natures, in five chapters.  The second part of the book looks at authentic goodness by changing the focus from performing to abiding, reminding us that our failure is never final, and pointing our attention to the resurrection and its implications for us in three chapters. The third and final part of the book looks at how we practice performance-free love in our own lives by setting a difficult and painful example of forgiveness towards others, practice generosity, practice peace over worry, practice graciousness in marriage, and see genuine love as being a way of being saved from ourselves and our own bent towards inhumanity towards others in the book’s last five chapters, before a thoughtful acknowledgments section that provides some context on where the author was when he was writing this book.

I spent my Labor Day reading Saving the Saved; I rarely binge read like this, but like the cliché says, I couldn’t put it down. While the core subject is countering the belief in performance-based faith, I think many of the reviewers missed the underlying scrpiture text, the book also serves as an insightful commentary on Matthew’s gospel.

It also occurred to me that this title falls into a select category of books which would be a great first Christian living book for someone to read, though it is also applicable to the rest of us who’ve been on this journey awhile. A good mix of personal stories and material from other sources. 

Finally, while perhaps this is more reflective of the fact I’m based in Canada, I could not help but not how few books I get to read from the black community. Their voice is often heard in other media, but not so much in print, and the black pastors and televangelists most people see are usually decidedly Charismatic; which does not describe Bryan.  Therefore, where the book gets autobiographical, it reflects a unique perspective.

A copy of Saving the Saved was provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada.

October 19, 2016

Wednesday Link List

Economy Edition

As most readers here know, it’s been a tough week for us. So forgive me for a shorter list today. Also many U.S. sites and writers are completely sidetracked by the election, which means many other subjects just aren’t getting covered.

This picture desperately needs a caption:


October 18, 2016

Post Bereavement Recovery

Filed under: Christianity, family — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:48 pm

It’s amazing to think how long we’ve been running on adrenaline. I don’t recommend it.

Between all the stress leading up to my mother’s departure from this world to eternity, and then having to move her out of the long-term care facility within 24 hours (and taking an hour to help our son move the next day), and then planning her funeral (and having to attend another funeral out of town) today is the first day I’ve been able to slow down.

Even so, getting there hasn’t been easy. We drove back from the funeral in a horrendous rain storm. I realized that I needed to let Ruth drive. It wasn’t that my eyelids were getting droopy, it was more a case of I thought I might just instantly go to sleep. The dark, dark clouds were just adding to the stress of the drive.

So we stopped on an off-ramp and switched drivers. Several times I asked her if we should stop. “Not as long as I can see the line at the side of the road;” was her answer.

Then today began with a rather ominous sounding and unexpected email concerning my mom’s legal affairs. Our tension level ratcheted up another notch until we were able to get some clarification an hour later.

A few other personal observations:

  • If anxiety, stress, tension, etc., has messed up your sleep schedule, you’re not going to get a normal sleep pattern back right away.
  • It’s one thing to attend a funeral as family; it’s another thing to agree to “be the pastor” and “do” or “take” the funeral, including setting the program, coordinating the tributes, choosing the music (and playing for two songs) and doing all the speaking.
  • If it’s your mother/father/sister/brother who has passed away, that doesn’t mean your spouse is not bearing a lot of the stress and responsibility alongside of you. (Ruth, the slide show and memory book were amazing!)
  • There are always going to be details that fall through the cracks; things that didn’t get said, people you forgot to notify, guests you meant to spend more time with.
  • Grief may come later, much later, or at strange times in strange ways.

Does anyone have any other observations from their own journey?


October 17, 2016

A Life Well Lived

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:15 pm

I’m sorry there was no blog post here earlier today.

The funeral went well. It was interesting to see the people my mother touched at various stages of her life hearing each other’s stories and meeting for the first time. What a legacy. Each one is a story unto themselves, but she was a common element in each journey. I hope I can measure up; spiritually speaking these are huge shoes to fill.

A funeral service is always stressful and emotional. Especially when you are officiating your own mother’s, doing the music and overseeing the details. When it was over, we were hoping to relax, but instead we drove home in some of the worst weather I can remember. It feels really good to be home today.

We’ll try to get back up to speed here in a few days, but nobody is paying me to do this, so it might be short posts like this one.

October 16, 2016

Intentional Evangelism

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:38 am

If you see the notes on my mom’s life of Christian service I prepared for her funeral, there are entries for various churches and parachurch organizations through which she served. But there’s also a line that says, “Valu Mart.”

She viewed the grocery store around the corner and down the street — or any other place she happened to be — as a mission field brimming with opportunities. No doubt she prayed that God would lead her to strike up a conversation with someone who would happen to be there.

And it did happen. She would relate names to me of people with whom she shared, one or two of which would end up in the kitchen having coffee, or she in theirs. Or people she had witnessed to who would just happen to be shopping for groceries the next time she was there.

For her, the produce aisle, or the dairy aisle or the meat aisle were places to connect with people. She was prepared. I have no doubt she was low-key in her witness, but also fully aware that people are hungry for God, time is limited and “the fields are white unto harvest.”

The question for the rest of us is, How many such opportunities to we miss? Put another way, How many people does God place in our past but we miss hearing his voice, or being obedient to his voice asking us to speak with them.

Evangelism that takes place in grocery stores like Valu Mart is intentional. It no doubt began with prayer before she left the house, and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit once she got her shopping cart and began looking not for bargains, but for people.

October 15, 2016

Remembering Uncle Ted

I won’t purport that this in any way is a full tribute to my wife’s Uncle Ted who passed away several days ago. (In addition to being her uncle, she lived with their family for six months.)  Rather, what follows was presented previously on the blog in two different articles.

tedWe first heard about Partners International when Ted was doing a number of missions trips to Nigeria with an adjunct project named, appropriately, Alongside. You know how everybody is always raising money to build wells in the third world? Well (no pun intended) sometimes the pumps break down very quickly, and nobody is actually committed to repairing them. There’s no glamour in that. It’s hard to raise funds for that. It’s easier to drill a new well because then you can brag on the number of wells your organization is building and then raise the appropriate costs.

You cannot deny however that repairing them is a better use of resources. So Ted’s project involved working closely with the people already on the ground. You can’t always partner with every indigenous organization that needs help, so Partners International is especially focused on seven categories: Children at Risk, Education, Christian Witness, Entrepreneurship, Health & Wellness, Justice Issues, and Women’s Issues.  (You can learn more at

But here’s the thing: Just as there’s more glamor in drilling new wells, so also do the people who are simply fixing them not always get the same level of attention and funding. We tend to want to fund big buildings. Massive outreaches.  It’s probably much easier to raise $60,000,000 than it is to raise $60,000. People gravitate to projects that sparkle. 

And then there is another thing: Colonialism. The pros from the U.S. arrive to make everything perfect because it seems more straightforward to simply stick the drill in the ground and create another well, rather than honor the sacrifice and service of the previously group which dug the first well in the first place. ‘We know what you need and we can fix it.’ Maybe some of the motives are right, but in balance, it’s filled with impracticalities; not unlike the summer missions teams which went to Central America and kept repainting the same school which had been repainted two weeks earlier by another missions team.  Yes, that’s a true story. And despite the greater fundraising potential, it’s lousy stewardship.

The people on the ground know better. The indigenous Christian leaders know better. I’m told they are planning a memorial service for Uncle Ted in Africa sometime in the spring. Because heroes don’t always look like we think they do. Sometimes they are simply people serving in straightforward, practical ways.


October 14, 2016

Today, Lawyers Would Nix This Book

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:24 am

I really don’t know how this book came into our home. I was looking for something else and suddenly there it was, published by Zondervan in the year MCMXLVI.*


The book is part of Christian Education resource genre referred to as “Object Lessons,” and these may have been more prevalent in early days than they are presently. The book naturally fell open to the following page:


Reaching the list of necessary chemicals at the bottom I realized that this book would never be published today.

First of all, your church’s insurance policy would probably be all over quashing the idea of someone showing up for church with turpentine, ammonia and kerosene. I know that when I show up for church with those things, the greeter at the door always takes me aside.

Second, Zondervan’s lawyers would have the same concerns and not want to be in a position of liability encouraging people to do this little trick. A page later, we’re warned, “Care should be taken not to spill any of the ingredients or the completed solution.” I guess so. I would be uncomfortable with the idea of doing this with adults, let alone teens or children. Things are simply too litigious these days than to risk presenting this in a church basement.


*70 years ago in 1946

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