Thinking Out Loud

August 3, 2015

J. Warner Wallace: Another Cold Case Solved

Two years ago here I reviewed the book Cold Case Detective by J. Warner Wallace, in which the principles by which this police investigator has operated in his vocation are applied to fleshing out the reliability of the Bible’s gospel narratives. At the time I wrote,

Every decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience.

I enjoyed the book, and in the time that has passed since I wrote that review, have enjoyed recommending it to a variety of readers, though at times, I also feel it is Christian apologetics’ best kept secret.

God's Crime SceneA few weeks ago, Wallace returned with God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe (David C. Cook) in which he applies the same skills to the idea of God being behind what we might call creation. But we need to watch using the word creation in describing this book, since creation science is concerned with origins and answering the “How did we get here?” type of questions. Rather, this is more about intelligent design and bypassing the How? and When? questions to look more at What?; or more specifically the complexity that exists in the world pointing to a master designer; a designer who exists outside the realms we can observe or quantify.

The last distinction is important to Wallace’s argument; he compares it to cases where detectives would have to determine if the killer was in the room or came from outside the room. The analogy is very fitting, but the proof isn’t contained in one chapter or another, but in the aggregate of a case built on a foundation consisting of an amalgam of evidence and syllogistic logic.

The evidence “inside the room” points to a very specific “suspect.” He’s not a malicious intruder. Although I’ve titled this book God’s Crime Scene (in an effort to illustrate an evidential approach to the investigation of the universe), God hasn’t committed any crime here. In addition, God is not an unconcerned intruder; He isn’t dispassionate about His creation. (p. 201)

God’s Crime Scene is intended therefore to make the argument for the existence of God accessible to the average reader through the comparisons to anecdotal cold-case detective work, and the use of cartoon-like illustrations. But make no mistake, this is not light reading.

This time around, I found myself gladly absorbing the chapters that were more philosophical and epistemological in nature, but totally over my depth in the sections that relied more on biology and physics. I could only marvel that the author was able to present such a wide swath of material which was so multi-disciplinary.

Still there were elements of the argument that were not lost on me. Even a child could see the resemblance of a machine-like mechanism in the human body and a man-made machine that forms a similar function, the latter being something we know was intelligently designed. Or the logic that if we agree that the brain is distinct from the mind, then it’s not a huge leap to the idea that a soul exists.

This is a textbook-quality product that will appeal to a variety of readers with an assortment of interests in this topic and offers the additional payoff of further insights into detectives’ investigative processes. You don’t have to understand every nuance of every issue to both appreciate and learn from Wallace’s writing; and it is in the cumulative assembly of all the various subjects raised here that Wallace is able to mark the case closed.

I give this a very high recommendation both for Christian readers and those who doubt God’s existence. I’d be interested in seeing links to articles where non-believers have interacted with its various chapters, as I believe Wallace has been very thorough in his documentation and his logic.


At 340 pages in an oversize paperback, this book with ‘crime’ in the title is a steal at only $17.99 U.S.

August 2, 2015

What if Orange Was a Swear Word?

Filed under: guest writer, music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:59 am

A Guest Post by Lorne Anderson

Being subjected to a fair amount of hip-hop music at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest has me thinking about language and its usage.

Hip-hop comes out of urban black culture, the inner-city ghettos of the United States. It is folk music in the true sense of the term (which has been expropriated to usually mean relatively mild singer-songwriters wielding an acoustic guitar). Part of its expression, a rebellion against the predominately Caucasian establishment, is the frequent use of profanity to shock and confront.

Img 080215I maintain that really doesn’t work. There is no longer any shock value in the words; society has changed. The words may still not be acceptable in church, or business, but their power to cause offense has been greatly reduced.

Yet every rapper and hip-hop artist makes liberal use of certain words, probably because it makes them appear controversial and contemporary, at least in the eyes of the average 13-year-old.

The words we find offensive vary from culture to culture. As a society changes (I would have said evolves, but that implies progression) the words deemed offensive can also change.

In my youth swearing had religious connotations. That is no longer the case in our post-Christian society. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is no longer risqué when no-one believes in God. Our “swearing” now deals with excrement and various sexual acts, especially ones still considered taboo. I suspect that fifty years from now the offensive words will be a completely different set than the ones we have today. But there will be something that can’t be said in polite company, we seem to require that vocal relief.

Canada is a bilingual country, so I have been exposed to French-language profanity also. Much of it still seems to be to be religiously based, despite French Canada (Quebec) being perhaps the most secular area of this post-Christian nation.

Maybe profanity hasn’t evolved as quickly there because the church was so dominant in that society for so long. It is so culturally based – unless you are a French Roman Catholic I don’t think exclaiming “chalice of my tabernacle” (a direct translation of one of the most popular curse phrases) really has much effect.

So what if “orange” was a swear word? The entire hip-hop industry would wither and die. Rap is all about the rhyme, and I have heard some very creative rhymes with English (and French) swear words. But there is no word that rhymes with orange.


Lorne Anderson is an Ottawa-based communications consultant working primarily in music and politics. He can usually be found online at randomthoughtsfromlorne.wordpress.com

August 1, 2015

Planned Parenthood: An Alternative Christian Perspective

A guest post by Jim Forde

We first met Jim Forde at Resonate-Greenhouse, a small group for people involved in doing church planting that met every four or five weeks in a city equidistant from some of the participants. This first appeared a few days ago as a string of Tweets (you can follow Jim at @TheJamesForde) and he reformatted it for us to share with you here.


I have watched over the past few weeks as the “Christian” internet has been stirred deeply with a topic that I have been touched by closely. It has moved me and left me unsettled. I wrote about it on twitter and felt i would Storify it to help condense the story.

Jim FordeI once sat on the edge of a hospital bed; in it was my unconscious pregnant wife. Her blood pressure was steadily dropping, the heart rate of the child inside her was inconsistent at best, disconcerting at worst. This life that was growing inside of her, was killing her.

I had taken her into the hospital several times already due to pregnancy related nausea it was usually a matter of an IV and a small dose of Diclectin and she was good to go. This time something was different. She had been vomiting around 25-30 times a day and now small pieces of her stomach and throat were coming up.

It was late in the evening when I took her in and we spent all night there. The morning came and a new doctor came on rounds. I expressed to him that she didn’t seem to be bouncing back and that I was worried she would be discharged without being helped. He looked her over and within minutes things became intense. They did blood work and looked over her chart from the night and the doctor began calling for the nurse. He gave her a series of instructions and told her to get an ambulance on standby.

He gently took my arm and asked me to come talk with him. We stood off to the side and he looked me in the eye and frankly asked.

“Mr. Forde we have one last thing we can try, if that doesn’t work you will have to choose” I just looked at him blankly, no sleep and the stress of the situation (being that it was now the day of our first anniversary didn’t help) had me standing there with no ability to think or speak.

“You see, your baby is killing your wife. If this next drug doesn’t work you will have to pick between losing the baby. Or losing your wife and baby.

“Mr. Forde, we will know very quickly if this will not work, so this is a decision that will have to be made very quickly.”

There was no opportunity to sit and talk with Leah about this, no time to find out what her choice would be. This was on me, and I had to decide fast.

I made my decision and sat on a chair crying. If these drugs didn’t work the doctor was to do anything he could to save my wife. I knew what that meant. It was an excruciating decision, probably the hardest I have ever had to make…

The Planned Parenthood discussion hit me in a different way.

If my baby’s life was going to end, wouldn’t it be better for some good to come of it? As someone with a hereditary degenerative heart condition any opportunity the medical world has to study and learn from the human body advances us forward. If the organs of that precious child could be used to help change medical science why would I be against that?

I am a big believer in second chances, and in redemption. If a life has to end, that is tragic; if that body can be used to help others I am all for that.

 

 

July 31, 2015

Helping Teens Spiritually Crash Land

It’s the end of July already.

image 073115Over the next several days, teens in your church will return having spent some time this summer

  • going to a Christian music festival
  • attending a Christian camp
  • working at a Christian camp
  • serving on a missions trip.

They return spiritually energized only to discover that their church experience now seems rather flat by comparison. Suddenly, business-as-usual or status-quo church holds no interest. I say that from personal experience. One summer, after the spiritual high of 13 weeks on staff at large Christian resort, by whatever logic it seemed to make sense, I simply dropped out of weekend services for an entire month, until a friend said something that gently nudged me back.

On the other hand, there are other teens in your church whose summer experience has not been so positive. They’ve been negatively influenced through contact with people

  • hanging out at home
  • vacationing at the campground, cabin or RV park
  • met on a road trip
  • interacting in the virtual world online

For them, returning to church has lost its appeal because they’ve either backslidden a little,  or taken a nose dive into the deep waters of sin. Perhaps they’ve made new friends outside their Sunday or youth group circle.

Either way, summer is always a transitional time for preteens and adolescents, and while that’s true of mental, physical, emotional and social development, it’s also true in terms of spiritual development; and while some have soared spiritually, others have taken one step forward and ten steps backward.

The first challenge is knowing the difference between the two types of summer experiences. Identifying the source of the first type of disillusionment is easy because you probably already know the youth went to camp, the music festival or the mission field. It’s then a simple matter of probing what is they are now feeling after having had such an inspiring and uplifting summer experience. That might consist of finding ways to get them soaring again, although here one is tempted to caution against having teens live a manic life of going from spiritual high to spiritual high.

The group in the other category might not be so willing to open up. There may have been factors that drove them away from the centeredness of their past spiritual life. Perhaps their summer has been characterized by

  • a divorce in the family
  • an experiment with drugs or alcohol
  • delving into alternative spiritualities and faith systems
  • a loss of someone they loved or a pet
  • depression following a regretful first sexual experience. 

They are dealing with pain, or doubt, or guilt, or uncertainty. Restoring them gently, as taught in Galatians 6:1, is likely your strategy at this point.

The second challenge is that many of these youth were, just a few weeks ago, on a parallel spiritual track. In post summer ministry, you’re reaching out to two very different types of kids: Those who prospered in their faith and those who faltered. Either way, they now find themselves back into the fall routine and the spiritual spark is gone.

A temptation here might be to let the first group help and nurture the second, but I would caution against that. The first group needs to sort out their own spiritual status first. They need to process how to return from what they did and saw and felt and learned and apply it to life in the real world. (One only goes on a retreat if one expects to go back to the battle and advance.) They shouldn’t live off the experience, but rather try to keep the closeness they felt to Christ during their time away.

The group which experienced everything from a lessening of their faith to a spiritual train wreck need a lot of love. They need to be reminded that their church or youth group is a spiritual home to which they can return, no matter how they feel, what they’ve done, or where their summer experience has left them.

Youth ministry is not easy. I only worked in it as an itinerant presenter, not as someone facing the same group of kids over a period of several years. If you were to graph their spiritual life, some would present an even line rising to the right, while others would show erratic ups and downs.

Either way, I think the greatest challenge would be those critical roundup weeks in the early fall when you’re trying to assess where everyone is at, and then try to move on.

 

July 30, 2015

Time With God

Are people spending time with God each day, or taking a devotional shortcut?

A fair percentage of evangelicals would, if asked, respond positively to the statement, “I spend time daily doing devotions and/or reading my Bible.” This is certainly commendable, though if this was a survey question, I wonder if they would qualify how much time constitutes time. I also wonder to what extent the early church would recognize our modern practice of devotions.

Our Daily Bread - Radio Bible ClassIn North America, we’re blessed to have a number of free daily devotional booklets available to us. Our Daily Bread and Upper Room are two of the best known, but some Christian denominations print their own. Most of these follow a very similar format.

In the UK there is Every Day With Jesus, pioneered by the late Selwyn Hughes. On the surface its pages look exactly alike to Our Daily Bread, but you’re actually studying a single theme, continuously for 60 days. (No forgetting what this morning’s devo was all about.) Readers there pay to get these things (along with its successor, Lucas on Life by Jeff Lucas) and that no doubt affects their commitment to using them faithfully. (I have at least ten years’ worth of EDWJ in a box under the bed!)

When I started this blog’s sister, Christianity 201, the idea was that by “digging a little deeper” we could produce something that went beyond the “theme verse, three paragraphs with cute story, and a prayer” type of format. I found in my early days of blogging that I was getting caught up in all kinds of issue-related, topical-interest material, but it all lacked enduring substance. I could have simply ran a daily C201 post here at Thinking Out Loud — which would have greatly increased blog stats — but decided to launch C201 under its own banner. (Some people here have never seen C201, and some readers there have never clicked over to Thinking Out Loud.)

About a month ago at C201, I repented of the “no illustrations” snobbery and admitted that my apparent sober-mindedness probably had its roots in pride more than anything. Didn’t Jesus leverage the power of a good story?

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. Matthew 13:34 NLT

Still, I think that some people simply do the absolute minimum. Booklets like Our Daily Bread are a great way to start the day, or to end it; but if you’ve been on this journey for any length of time, there’s got to be something more. In North America, Australasia and Western Europe, we’re blessed with study guides, commentaries, Bible reference materials, and more Christian living books than any of us could read in a lifetime; not to mention the great host of Christian podcasts and church sermon media online.

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.  Hebrews 5:12 NLT

The little booklets that are available are great. They’ve been a major influence in the lives of so many, and continue to be even today.  However, some people — including people reading this — really need to start digging a little deeper.


Normally I don’t draw attention to the subject tags that appear underneath the title of each article, but as I tagged this one, I was reminded of all the things this touches on.

  • Christian maturity,
  • the deeper Christian life,
  • spiritual disciplines,
  • spiritual formation

July 29, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Filed under: Christianity, links — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 am

Consumerist Church

Not sure which is better, giving you more links or concentrating on a smaller list of about twenty or so…

Don’t forget the summary of things most clicked appears late Thursday or Friday on my Twitter. Not sure I’ve ever mentioned that before; sorry!

Both our opening and closing images today were sent by reader and fellow-blogger Clark Bunch whose own image collection appears each week at his blog The Master’s Table at a feature called Happy Monday. Kinda feel sorry for the woman in the picture below; ya gotta pick your subway/bus seat carefully.

She's Thinking Out Loud

July 28, 2015

Noah’s Prayer Whilst in the Ark

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:29 am

Noah's  ArkThis was written by Gary O’Dwyer who gives pastoral leadership to Christ the Servant, a spiritual community near Cobourg, Ontario that we have been privileged to worship with on four or five different occasions. This was written as part of a Creation Liturgy, and while we don’t really know what Noah prayed on board the Ark, this could come fairly close…

Lord,

I am grateful…Really I am.
We’re all safe in the ark when everyone else is gone.

And Lord, I am sorry about the phoenix.
We didn’t believe the stories;
we thought they were old wives’ tales.

How it got hold of those pieces of flint, I don’t know.
Lucky we smelt the smoke in time, eh?
Pity we couldn’t save the bird.

Shem reckons it was an evolutionary adaptation to nesting in the same place in the desert every year.

‘The fire would get rid of the parasites,’ he says.
Know-it-all!

And Lord,
I have a rather indelicate matter to raise.
Should I mention this to you?
But you created everything, so you understand about dung.

There are piles and piles of it.
The dung beetles are in heaven – but I’m literally up to here with it.
The others keep saying I mustn’t pollute the oceans.
And that we’ll need it later as organic fertilizer.
But please, would it be OK to chuck some of it overboard?

And Lord, they’re all moaning about Japeth, my eldest.
It seemed a logical division of labor at the time,
allowing specialization, development of expertise.
I look after the mammals, Ham does the birds,
Shem takes the invertebrates
and Japeth the reptiles.

But reptiles only need feeding once a week.

He can witter on as much as he likes about constantly monitoring environmental conditions, but the others reckon he’s on to a cushy number.

And Shem reckons he’s running out of food for the locusts
and they’ll turn cannibal if they’re starving.
Is he having me on, Lord?

And Lord, we started off with two rabbits.
Now we’ve got fifty-four.I thought I’d give the foxes a treat,
a bit of fresh meat.

‘You can’t do that!’ says Madam. ‘Those baby bunnies are so sweet.’ She didn’t object when I fed the baby rats to the pythons. Is that the criterion I use to decide who is to live and who’s to die? Cuteness?

It’s enough to drive a man to drink, it really is.

July 27, 2015

The Heavens Are Telling: A Review of Story in the Stars

The Story in the Stars

Several years ago I was made aware of First Century Foundations, the ministry of Joe Amaral. Joe and his wife Karen are based in Canada; their ministry is very similar to that of America’s Ray Vander Laan. Both are committed to help people see the life, teachings and miracles of Jesus in the context that his Jewish audience would have seen, heard and understood them. Although I had some early exposure to Ray, it has been Joe’s teachings which most recently have helped me learn more of this type of content, which truly makes the Gospels come alive. In addition to books such as Understanding Jesus and What Would Jesus Read? they lead tour groups to Israel on a regular basis.

So it seemed only fitting that the man who has helped so many see so much of what we miss in our hurried scripture readings wearing Western-mindset glasses should turn his attention to the many astronomical references in the scripture which can be equally overlooked. (Perhaps it was the natural next step, since Joe takes his telescope everywhere.)

“Can you direct the movement of the stars–binding the cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion?
 -Job 31:31 NLT

He who made the Pleiades and Orion And changes deep darkness into morning, Who also darkens day into night, Who calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the surface of the earth, The LORD is His name.
 -Amos 4:8 NASB

Story in the Stars is a DVD/BluRay combination which does leave you scratching your head in wonder at the detail that we’ve missed. Even the twelve signs of the zodiac, which is anathema in conservative Evangelical quarters, are rich in relevance when interpreted through a Biblical lens.

But the real payoff in this 41-minute documentary is a section at the end which gets into signs occurring in the heavens relevant to Jesus’ birth — a better understanding of what drew the Magi to the Bethlehem stable — as well as his crucifixion, resurrection and second coming. Having been in the audience for several Story in the Stars live presentations, I can say that this video only begins to whet your appetite for this topic, and as I said above, it serves to warm you toward an area that has been off limits for many church people. Perhaps it’s the similarity of the word astronomy to the word astrology that throws Christians off the trail.

Story in the Stars is available for purchase or download at StoryInTheStars.com and at Christian Bookstores who can order copies through Elevate Entertainment via Send the Light Distribution. It’s a great introduction to a topic that many of us might never have considered. A companion coffee-table book is also available; and even though it’s not about astrology, the move or the book make a gift and conversation-starter for someone who has that passion.

 

 

July 26, 2015

Too Many Characters to Tweet

Some random thoughts:

My wife noted the other night that if she were black and lived in the United States, she would simply take public transit everywhere. It’s increasingly difficult for a person of African-American descent to survive a routine traffic stop.

Also, in the Sandra Bland case, did anyone notice on the video that she was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change in an area that was completely devoid of traffic? Even if it’s the custom to divert cars to a side street for the ticketing process, there’s no denying that in the dashcam video, the traffic pattern is unusually light. I’m not sure I would signal a lane change under those circumstances.

Why isn’t enforcement taking place in high traffic areas where the need is more acute and driver errors are more consequential? I’d venture to guess that irrespective of everything that followed, this was entrapment not enforcement.


Internet pornography is an express train that will take you from the “That’s disgusting!” station to the “I’d be willing to try that” terminal in record time. From there you change to trains that can take you in a variety of directions to unexpected destinations.

Yes, there is exploitation; and yes, there is the problem of addiction; and yes, some people do act out on what they see; However, the greatest impact is the potential for long-term viewing to undermine values and alter worldview.


North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley) has added extra broadcast times to its Sunday full-service live stream which contains music, announcements, baptisms and the sermons (which later are available by themselves on demand). The program now airs live services on Sunday at 9:00 and 11:00, and then rebroadcasts at 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, 10:00 and midnight, EST. (The Wednesday rebroadcast has been dropped.) 


Recently the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ran an news item about “Free Range Parenting.” (They might have called the piece “Free Range Kids” but that’s copyrighted by the woman they interviews.) As I watched the kids in the story navigating the New York subway system, I recalled my own days heading off to downtown Toronto on mass transit at a young age.

From my perspective, the problem in the story is not that some parents feel their kids can handle the same level of independence that we did at the same age, but rather, the busybody neighbors who feel it’s their duty to report said parents to the authorities.

We’re living in a tattletale culture. If Big Brother isn’t watching you, the neighbors are.


Finally, three new books to tell you about from Random House subsidiary Waterbrook Press.

Kent Brantly was the medical missionary who contracted Ebola in Liberia and needed to evacuated to the US, where he received an untried anti-Ebola drug. He and his wife have written Called for Life, just released in hardcover. Liz Curtis is back with a study into the Biblical figure known as The Queen of Sheba. It’s Good to be Queen is a paperback original. Finally, Nick Vujicic’s Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying converts from hardcover to paperback.

New Waterbrook Releases

 

July 25, 2015

Worship Moments

Filed under: Christianity, worship — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:34 am

Last week we attended an outdoor Sunday service in which the focus was honoring and respecting God’s creation. Toward the end, I was reminded of a poem I thought we had posted here, only to learn I had done so on a different website. On Friday’s post at Internet Monk, there was a statement that “American readers will refuse to read poetry.” Reading the poem there, I was reminded again of the one below.  I know nothing of the author of this poem, which I had memorized when I was much younger; in fact I had always thought it was written by Tennyson. Some conservative Christians will bristle at the phrase “Mother Earth,” but I love the premise of the first verse and last verse especially.

IN THE WOODS

Scott, Frederick George

THIS is God's house--the blue sky is the
   ceiling,
 This wood the soft green carpet for His
   feet,
Those hills His stairs, down which the brooks
   come stealing
 With baby laughter, making earth more
   sweet.

And here His friends come, clouds, and soft
   winds sighing,
 And little birds whose throats pour forth
   their love,
And spring and summer, and the white snow
   lying
 Pencilled with shadows of bare boughs
   above.

And here come sunbeams through the green
   leaves straying,
 And shadows from the storm-clouds over-
   drawn,
And warm, hushed nights, when Mother
   Earth is praying
 So late that her moon-candle burns ill
   dawn.

Sweet house of God, sweet earth, so full of
   pleasure,
 I enter at thy gates in storm or calm;
And every sunbeam is a joy or pleasure,
 And every cloud a solace and a balm.
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