Thinking Out Loud

March 31, 2009

The Presence and the Perfunctory

Filed under: Christian, Christianity, Church, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:35 pm


Because I paid the ultimate price for some things I wrote here a few weeks ago, I’ve had a lot more time to think about what it means to expect God’s presence in all that we do “at church.”      I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.”   This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together.    Or at least, sort of.    I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning.   He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us.   Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here.   No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize.  Open our hearts.   Meet with us today in a special way.  Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory.   And I think a church business meeting is a good example of that.   Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?”   Yeah, seriously.   What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities?    What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mailout and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.”   Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.


Quick example.   Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario.   I worked alone.    One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me at a local church.    To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse.    At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to break in, but I couldn’t find a place to jump in.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today.   I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program.   (See this post, Blocking Peoples’ View from exactly one year ago, for another way of describing this.)

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us.   But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen.   And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things  outside of church.   We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives.    Nah.  That’s way too radical.

…After committing to write this piece a few days ago, I came across this today from Kaybee, a regular visitor here, on her blog Important to Me.   She looks at the way we approach our local church as a sign of what our expectations are.  Do we expect that God is really waiting to meet with us?


March 30, 2009

Mashpost Monday

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:30 pm
From Musician Shaun Groves

On your first day on the other side of the grave, do you think you’ll look back on this life and be flooded with gratitude for hours spent watching episodes of American Idol and Lost?

Will you wish you’d done more of that? Do you think you’ll look back fondly on the effort and money spent remodeling the kitchen?  Will you wish you’d had a nicer home?

Do you think you’ll be glad you were up-to-date on the juicy details of celebrity lives?  Will you wish you’d read more magazines?

Will you regret not spending more time at the office?  Will you wish you’d logged just a few more hours every week at work?

Will you miss your blog or Facebook?  WIll you wish you’d just had a couple hundred more readers, just a few more “friends?”

Me neither.

~ posted at Shlog Blog
(HT Zach Nielsen)

Why I Don’t Link To Your Blog

Thanks for the link on yours to mine, but here’s why I am presently not returning the favor:

  • doctrinal discussions are fine, but militant denominationalism doesn’t interest me
  • you haven’t posted anything since 2008
  • I gave up on your last post after the 27th paragraph
  • I like edginess and don’t mind critical commentary, but remember that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her
  • you think Twitter is cool, but I really don’t want to read all the minutae of your life, I’ve got my own minutae and you don’t want to read it  (BTW, Dan is over his problem with irregularity and Carla’s got blonde streaks in her hair now)
  • I can respect your view that the “other-ness” of the gospel is best expressed by using King James era English, but if that’s what you believe to be the case, I’m going to have to insist you write your blog that way
  • I’ve already got a dozen links that share your viewpoint and decided that was sufficient
  • I wanna blog about Jesus, the Bible, the Church, faith; not the latest gadgets from Apple, alternative operating systems and social networking sites
  • there’s a reason why newspapers have photo editors, I tried text-only blogging and its boring, plus you discover new ideas when searching for pix
  • I’m not sure that the Bible itself should ever be the object of a joke
  • if you don’t mind my saying, I think you’re really full of yourself
  • I’m not sure my average reader would get your distinction between the church’s need to embrace homosexuals versus the idea of personally embracing or endorsing the lifestyle
  • is it really about the blog, or are you just trying to sell more copies of your books?
  • I enjoy reading what you write to other pastors, but I’m not sure that the average reader of this blog would relate to it
  • I think your cynicism and skepticism is potentially contagious and thereby potentially dangerous
  • the thirty-five YouTube embeds currently on your first page mean that the page takes forever to load, even with high speed
  • here’s a thought, if you didn’t “get” what The Shack was all about and who it was written for, perhaps the problem is you not them  (comments re. this entry will not be posted)
  • we didn’t want to offend our Baptist readers
  • for all the depth of your deep theological explorations, I’m not sure that any of it really matters to anyone besides yourself
  • last time I checked, the Christian world extended beyond the United States’ borders
  • many of the bloggers I link to are people I would really, really like to meet
  • a house is known by the company it keeps

I currently read about 140 blogs per week, there’s about half that many listed here.   The ones that are listed are ones I endorse, and many of them are deleted if they wander from what they were when I started, and of those, about half find their way back later on.

Reaching Out To The Wealthy by David Hayward at the Blog Naked Pastor


For My Ontario (Canada) Readers

This year, for the first time in Ontario history, some students will be going back to school the week prior to Labour Day.   (Yes, that’s Labour with a “u,” in Canada!)   The decisions by each school board are just being announced now, and not every board is making the change.   Needless to say, this is throwing the tourism industry in general into a bit of a tailspin, but it also greatly impacts Christian camps, many of whom had their materials printed and suppliers under contract since last summer.   Christian camping is a ministry sector important to me, and my wife and I met at a Christian camp.    This is a surprise they simply didn’t need.   To read more about this, with a response from three Christian camps affected, you can link to a separate article here.

March 29, 2009

After the Church in the UK has Disappeared

Several months ago, I wrote about alternating between contemporary Christian books and classic Christian titles.   This time around, I’m writing about a 2004 book that’s already out of print.   Not sure where that fits in…

For reasons I won’t attempt to list, I think Christian Canadians resonate to a greater degree with British Christian writers.    That’s if they can find them.   We have no true marketing machine here, so we simply have the spillover affects of American marketing and promotion, which means that we end up with U.S. titles accounting for around 95% (or more) of Christian book sales.

But given the opportunity to hear of a UK title, most Canadians will say they enjoyed it.   Some of my favorites include apologist Michael Green, humorist Adrian Plass, songwriter Graham Kendrick; not to mention a rather obscure chap who simply goes by C. S. Lewis.   And then there’s Nick Page, author of over 20 books, of which I’ve been fortunate enough to read four.

nick-pageNick’s prime visibility in North America is owed to a book called The Map; a Bible handbook published by Zondervan,  built around a graphic theme which resembles most European train or subway maps.    (His harmonization of the gospels is thereby most interesting, with the story running on four parallel tracks.)

church-invisibleSo several months ago, I spotted The Church Invisible in a pile of remainder books; two weeks ago I took it to Atlanta with me; and after returning home not having cracked the cover, I finally finished reading it over the weekend.

In it, Page, writing a story in which he plays himself, is transported forward to the year 2040 where he meets Lydia, who takes him on a quest to see what has become of the Church in England as he knew it.      Lydia provides commentary on the before/after relationship between what Page is seeing versus what he remembers:

“The church of your time rightly rejected the nominalism, the archaism, the general lack of understanding.   What it didn’t do was incorporate the depth, the richness, the artistry.   It didn’t become a regular part of people’s lives.  And it too assumed that people understood the language and the forms it was using.”


“Leadership…That’s what you need to lead a church.   That’s what you need to take people forward, you need to be a leader.  You need leadership skills.   And what did we teach them?  Theology.   …The assumption is that those who teach are always going to be the ones who lead.   We so combined the teaching and preaching role with the leadership role that we couldn’t imagine one without the other.   Those who lead the churches had to be the ones who preach…”


“So often what we wanted to do was to talk rather than act.   We were too busy telling people what was wrong with them, telling them what to think…  We had so much doctrine and dogma to stuff them with, we never noticed they were scared and desperate and lonely.”


“…So many people were put off church because there was simply no variety in how it was done.    …That’s not how Jesus taught.  Sometimes he preached.   Sometimes he led discussion groups.   Sometimes he just told stories.   Sometimes he just did things and left people to draw their own conclusions.   So why did we assume that one person talking to a room full of other people was the best way to teach?”


“You couldn’t have a worship song unless it was filled with sheep and swords and banners and people being ‘refined by fire.’   I mean, what was with all that refining fire bit?   How many people understood the image?  Did I miss something?   Was the 21st century church filled to the brim with an in-depth knowledge of smelting?  …What we really needed were new metaphors; new images to convey God’s love.  …We should have kept checking that the words were working.   Instead we were sloppy and lazy.   It was far easier to fill our sermons with antiquated images that meant nothing.   Thinking up new metaphors is hard work.”

…and from another character who appears near the end describing the change that has taken place:

“You keep thinking of the church like a warship, with a captain on the bridge and the crew obeying orders.   But we’re not an aircraft carrier anymore; we’re a fleet.   We’re hundreds of little boats, going where they will, doing what they think is right.   We’re not the navy, you know.  We’re pirates.

There are so many more great sections.   The book also deals with the practical matter of municipal councils listing buildings (i.e. designating them as historical) eventually forcing their owners to maintain them.   Something already problematic both in the UK and North America due to dwindling attendance.

In addition to the fictional fast-forward narrative; each chapter also contains a lengthy critique of the manuscript in the form of letters between two other parties.

In North America, the end of mainline denominations is equally predictable, even as the megachurches appear to continue to blossom in the suburbs.  In the UK, where the Church of England (i.e. Anglican for my Canadian friends; Episcopalian for my U.S. friends) so greatly dominates, the impact is more critical.

It’s too bad this book went, as booksellers say, OP.   It was a slight bit ahead of its time.   If you’re ever in England and you see remainder copies, bring me back a half dozen, okay?

March 28, 2009

Heaven: Who’s In, Who’s Out

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:58 pm


I’m one of those people who believe that there will be a lot of surprises in “heaven,” when it comes to who gets in and who is left out.   Of course, we each have to live our lives prepared to give our own account, not obsessing about our relatives, neighbors, fellow workers or fellow students; beyond living lives that will attract them to the person of Christ, and sharing a verbal witness with them when asked.

This comic is from Close to Home by John McPherson.

Related post:  The oft repeated “Preaching at Your Own Funeral” blogged this time by Timothy Archer at the blog  The Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts.

Here’s a great quote from D. L. Moody that fits so perfectly that you simply MUST link to this one. (Thanks, Jim Upchurch)

March 27, 2009

David vs. Goliath on Twitter

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 pm

I came across this blog today.   I’m not seeing any information as to who Christian Ranter is or where this originates.  He posts infrequently, but it’s quality not quantity that counts here.  This piece is too funny.   Don’t forget that in Twitter, as in blogging, to catch the sequence of what follows you want to start reading from the bottom up.    (Note:  If you decide to link to this blog, be warned that this is a “must read every post” kind of blog.   I’m blogrolling this one for sure.)


Christian Music: Who Will Tell Our Stories?

With the entire cast of Christian musicians currently preoccupied with writing vertical worship music, it does the beg the question, who will tell our stories?   What aspects of our faith is not being transmitted to the next generation due to our sidelining of music with narrative or didactic lyrics?

mona_mahmudnizhadWhat got me thinking about this was a YouTube viewing last night of a song by Canadian musician Doug Cameron, Mona With The Children, which tells the story of a young Baha’i girl, Mona Mahmudnizhad, who was one of ten women martyred in Iran for teaching her faith to children.    Her heroic story is inspiring on so many levels. It is hard to just dismiss the strength of her conviction just because our beliefs are different.   But more important is my longing for a Christian equivalent to this type of music.  Sadly, there isn’t much out there.

Kids that form Christian bands believe that they are limited lyrically to what they sing in church and at youth group.   It was not always this way.   I love modern worship, but I believe we are severely limiting ourselves.  As Christians, we need to the huge resources of our “Christian music industry” to praise God and to teach and tell stories of personal salvation and heroes of our faith.

March 26, 2009

Deeply Regretting Things Done in My Past

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 pm


This story of an 18-year old in Cincinnati who hanged herself last July after constant taunts from both school friends and strangers had an eerie resemblance to several other stories that have crossed my path lately.    We sometimes call it cyber-bullying, but it’s really just harassment, ramped up to the nth degree.

Suddenly, my mind flashed back to a scene in a different era several decades ago…   A group of teenagers returning from a weekend at the beach.   The cottage, situated on one of the Great Lakes,  was owned by a good friend, and his dad was driving us home.   He’d dropped people off one at a time and arranged it so at the end it was only my friend and I left in the car.

Then he let us have it.    “The way you treated ***** was terrible;” he said.   “Don’t you know the boy has feelings?”   Actually, no.  Mainly because  ***** seemed content to laugh along with the rest of us, as we ridiculed his speech and mannerisms.   And some of us — like me, for example — didn’t know back then how to let a joke die…

Dear RG

The chances of you reading this are one in a gazillion, but I need to know that it’s out there.   Perhaps someone else will read this who isn’t you and doesn’t know me; but they’ll claim it as their own.    Perhaps by some miracle you’ll see this and recognize my name and know it’s for you.

We like to think things were better back then.   There was no e-mail, or texting, or instant messaging, or Twitter.   No matter what people thought about you, you could go home and shut the door and be within the safety of your family.    I don’t know if your family provided that kind of refuge for you, or if our remarks were so hurtful that you went home and cried.

We didn’t really mean to hurt you.    We thought you were in on the gag.   Looking back, you were probably just being brave, just being defensive.

Today, the kids have all this technology and we know that bullying doesn’t have to be physical, it doesn’t have to mean picking a fight.    While we didn’t have the technology to invade the sanctity of peoples’ homes and continue the harassment; we should try to remember that we weren’t that innocent in those innocent times.    People were mean and cruel and said things they shouldn’t have; and some of us didn’t know when to quit.

So, RG; I’m sorry.   I hope you were able to triumph over our high school stupidity and that you’ve made a good life for yourself all these years later.

For what it’s worth, I went to church back then, but didn’t understand the dynamics of living as a Christ follower.   I didn’t let my faith deeply impact my behavior.  I didn’t know my life was supposed to reflect a difference; a distinctive; patterned after the One I had pledged myself to serve and obey.

Some of that came together during the very last weeks of high school; some I figured out in the second term of first year university; some came together when I was 21; some I learned when I got married and had kids of my own; some stuff I worked out last year and last month; and a lot of what it means to bear the name of Jesus Christ I truly have yet to learn.

Yesterday I read a story about a young girl in Cincinnati and how the taunts of her friends and acquaintances drover her to the lowest point.   I read of the agony of her parents; the grief of losing their only child, and all the hopes and dreams and aspirations they had for her.

And suddenly I thought of you;  I thought of us; I thought of that cottage weekend when I simply didn’t know when to shut up.   I wish I could relive that weekend over again; and I wish I could have been a true friend, instead of using you as a prop for my personal love of attention.

It’s never too late to say you’re sorry.    I’m sorry.



While looking for a graphic for today’s post, I came across this, which also provides some food for thought.


March 25, 2009

Faith is Living Beyond Our Five Senses

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm

Although I’ve linked to this article, I’ve also reproduced it in full here because my analytics tell me that many of you don’t click on the links; and I really do want you to read this.   This is from Mark Batterson, Washington DC pastor and author of In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day, and Wild Goose Chase.

5-senses-22One Quadrillion Synapses

I came across an interesting factoid today as I was researching for my next book.

The human body has approximately 100,000,000 (one hundred million) sensory receptors that enable us to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. And that is a testament to our Divine Designer. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. By the way, when was the last time you thanked God for each of your senses? We have seven million cones that enable us to perceive about ten million different colors. Doesn’t it seem like we owe God seven million thank yous?

Now here is what I found fascinating: neurologists estimate that the average three-year old has 1,000,000,000,000,000 (one quadrillion) synaptic connections.

Honestly, those numbers numb us. But I think they reveal something significant. Our ability to imagine things in our mind is far greater than our ability to interpret physical reality. Mathematically speaking, imagination is ten million times more powerful than our five senses put together!

Naturalism is living down to the limit of our one hundred million sensory receptions. It is the inability or unwillingness to perceive reality that is beyond our five senses. The end result? Our universes shrinks to the size of our senses.

Faith is living beyond our five senses. It is being certain of what we do not see. One dimension of faith is imagining what our five senses can’t perceive or confirm. It is extra-sensory perception. And that is why faith often seems like it is out of touch with reality. But that is because it is ten million times more powerful than our senses!

One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 3:20. It is actually our most-used benediction at National Community Church.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and throughout all generations for ever and ever, Amen.

Translation? God is able to do immeasurably more than we can imagine with our one quadrillion synapses. Amazing isn’t it? Our imagination is ten million times more powerful than our five senses. But God is still able to do infinitely more than anything any of us can imagine with our one quadrillion synaptic connections. And to top it off, no mind has conceived of what God has prepared for us!

March 24, 2009

Enjoy the Worship at 66 Different Churches in One Hour

Filed under: Church, music, worship — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:40 pm

I’m convinced that regardless of anyone else’s good intentions, the person who gets the most out of the Sunday worship in most churches are the worship leaders; technical concerns notwithstanding.     These are the people who are most able to immerse themselves in true worship, while at the same time drawing others into the presence of God.

So even though I no longer lead on a regular basis, I’m trying to get into the habit of reading through “The Sunday Setlists” at Fred McKinnon’s blog.   The way it works is that worship leaders — 66 so far this week — post their worship song list on their blogs, and then link to Fred’s blog, which acts as a clearing house (or aggregator) for the other musicians.

and-on-the-7th-daySome of the stories are of people truly thrilled with the opportunity that presents itself each week.    One tells of a man who went forward and prayed for salvation with an enthusiasm that must rival the angels who rejoice at a soul saved.    But Fred also calls them “worship confessionals” such as the one leader who confesses to have forgotten to wear deodorant.   Way too much information.

But that’s what things are like on the other side of the platform; the other side of the microphone.     Mostly, The Sunday Setlist gives you an opportunity to see what praise and worship songs are in use in different places.   If you know the songs, you can hear the worship in your head as you read.   If you see a song you don’t know appearing on several different lists, you know that’s a song you want to check out.

Most noticable trend on The Sunday Setlist:   Opening and closing the service with the same song.   Is this a good idea “bookending” the service with the same chorus, or is the “reprise” too reminiscent of a “show?”

Read The Bible in One Year: Until Mid-March

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:55 pm

Did you set out to make this your year of Genesis to Revelation reading?

The way Jon Rising sees it, most of the people who set out to read the Bible through in 2009 should be coming to a screeching halt in Leviticus right about now.    Fortunately, he offers some encouragement to keep pressing through:

“Push through the howling winds of boredom in late Exodus and throughout Leviticus. Things pick up a little in Numbers and Deuteronomy. When you reach the plateau of Joshua you will see sunshine again. And remember, when you reach the summit in the Book of the Revelation, the view is breathtaking.”

By the way, if you like the idea of owning good theological reference books, or the idea of taking good theology courses online, or even updating your academic credentials with distance education; bookmark Jon’s blog, Word and Spirit for regular reading.

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