Thinking Out Loud

August 31, 2012

Reviewing: The Reason by William Sirls

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:47 am

This is actually the third blog post here devoted to this book, with this one constituting my actual review. I attach a lot of significance to this book’s release as it combines elements used by a number of authors in the past five years in a single volume.

I’ll mention some similarities to The Shack in a moment, but one similarity that exists outside the pages itself is the fact that neither The Shack nor The Reason were ever intended to be seen by a larger audience. Wm. Paul Young wrote the former for his kids with the initial “print” run being a dozen copies. Photocopies really. William Sirls wrote the latter and submitted it to Westbow, a self-publishing division of Thomas Nelson, Inc (TNI) to be available in print on demand, until it was read by a TNI receptionist who had an eye for good writing.

Sirls is an unlikely author. As covered here earlier, “…Sirls, who began writing a novel in 2004, shelved his story after he made the decision to turn himself in to authorities and spend 29 months in federal prison, convicted of wire fraud and money laundering. While in prison, Sirls began to understand what it meant to have a true relationship with God. Inspired by his developing faith, Sirls picked up his original manuscript and began creating a spiritual backbone to his novel.

Like The Noticer by Andy Andrews, and So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore by Jake Colsen (pseud.),  William Sirls’ book contains a character who seems to have unusually deep insights into people and events both past, present and future. Is he more than what he appears to be?

Like the currently popular Rooms, The Book of Days, and The Chair by James Rubart, The Reason contains a continually advancing plot, a good mix of male and female protagonists — nice to see more fiction men can enjoy — and supernatural occurrences.

Like The Shack, this book, The Reason contains a crisis or if you will, a “great sadness.” Or several. Not to mention several characters in a crisis of faith.

And like all of these, The Reason uses a fair amount of “Socratic dialogue” to give the complete work a didactic or teaching value without compromising considerations of plot and characterization. There is enough character balance that the tough questions of life are addressed in a manner that isn’t preachy or ‘churchy’ resulting in a book that could be given — or should be given — to people outside the faith family.

The ultimate message of believing faith in The Reason probably answers as many questions as it creates new ones. I certainly couldn’t stop reading this book, and I suspect it will be among the top ten Christian titles heading into the fall season.

An advance copy of The Reason was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Thomas Nelson/Graf-Martin


August 30, 2012

Having Trouble Sleeping?

zzzzzzzzzzz — Oh! Are we on?

I believe that the Bible can inform many more areas of life than we give it credit for. And I believe that a big problem many people face but don’t talk about has to do with their sleep life: insomnia, sleep deprivation, etc.

So I was intrigued when Dr. Charles Page asked me about doing a guest post here. At first, I thought he’d do something similar to what’s on his blog — a scriptural study on sleep — which we could run as a Bible study at C201. But then I looked at what he sent me, and decided the issue needs to be raised among a greater audience.  So if this issue touches you read this, or if involves someone you know, send them here today to get the discussion started.

Surrendered Sleep

Living in this nanosecond digital world that never seems to slow down can leave your head spinning. Who has time for sleep? If you snooze – you lose.

Emerging out of our 24/7 lifestyle are issues with sleep and rest that could not even be conceived of in past generations: air traffic controllers falling to sleep on the job, exhausted health care workers having more complications, drivers having accidents falling to sleep at the wheel, sleep disorders reaching epidemic levels. Remember Michael Jackson?

What’s the answer? Sleep Medicine? A new mattress? Sleeping Pills? Herbal remedies? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Polyphasic Sleep? A new internet fad for insomnia? Two cans of Red Bull for breakfast?

Revisiting the truths of God’s word gives us insight to many of these complicated issues involving sleep and rest. I present to you no formulas but rather a Christ centered focus and a biblical framework for making sense of what is becoming one of the biggest issues of our day. As we explore the scriptures several attitudes surface:

A Calm heart:

Jesus modeled the perfect balance between activity and rest. Trusting calmly in the protection and provision of His Father, Jesus slept peacefully in the bow of a ship in a raging tempest. Having the Spirit of Christ within we who believe can rest in the peaceful assurance that God has our back–no matter what storms come our way. Like Jesus, His followers should never lose sleep over worry, fear, loneliness, anxiety, relational tensions or tasks left undone. Based on His unmerited favor, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves as we sleep, providing for our needs and protecting us from harm’s way.

A Responsive Heart and a Servant’s Heart:

On the flip side, our Lord’s eyes never closed in the garden of Gethsemane. Surrendering to a greater purpose, Jesus prayed and prepared for the suffering of the cross. We typically think that the best way to prepare for a challenging day is to get as much sleep as possible. Ironically, the Lord acted in the reverse. Discipleship sometimes calls for sleeplessness to fulfill God’s purposes and plans for our lives–and the lives of others. It may be as simple as rising early in the morning to listen for God’s leading and prepare for the day.

Have you ever awakened in the still of the night for some unknown reason? Perhaps it’s just some undigested Pizza? Or perhaps—it’s the Lord of the universe waking you up to pray for an unknown trial on the horizon, waking you to serve or a brother in need.

When God calls his followers to give up rest, He also supplies them with mercies that are new every morning. The yoke of exhaustion is easy and the burden of sleeplessness is light when we consider that the Lord is working in and through our lives.

An Enduring Heart:

Sometimes there are no answers for why we suffer with sleep–incurable sleep disorders, the pain of chronic diseases–those “ten thousand sleepless nights” mentioned in a popular song. Perhaps suffering with sleeplessness truly is a blessing in disguise. God’s grace is made perfect in our weakness. However, believers can victoriously endure understanding that heaven is just around the corner. Sleep will no doubt be much lower on our priority list as we experience the eternal presence of Jesus with incorruptible bodies, worshiping in the presence of the saints and the angels. Forget sleep! So whatever sleeplessness believers endure in this world pales in comparison to the glory that shall be revealed when we arrive at our final destination. Insomnia may be a reminder that we are truly not home yet.

It’s all about surrender. As we diligently seek God’s kingdom, prioritizing Him first, He has promised to supply all these things–in our sleep or in our sleeplessness. Surrender your sleep to the One whose eyes never close. All praise to Him–our best thought by day or by night. Waking or sleeping–may his presence be your light.

Dr. Charles Page is a surgeon, author and father of five who enjoys watching sunsets with his wife Joanna in their Texas sized tree house. For a free download of an overview of the spiritual principles of sleep, check out the Surrendered Sleep blog at

August 29, 2012

Wednesday Link List

This week’s links include:

1 Be sure to click the link inside to the .pdf of the actual pamphlet he created. I wonder how other preachers and evangelists would fare if their language was under the microscope in this manner?

2 It could be argued that this website exists only for the convenience of the people in the church’s local community, but ‘online church hopping’ is becoming a global phenomenon. True the address is actually there in plain sight, but the usual maps and directions escaped me after ten minutes of searching. If I had just moved to the area…

3 This link is valid until after the next show is broadcast, probably tomorrow (Aug 30). There are versions of the song elsewhere on YouTube but this one had the lyrics.

August 28, 2012

Burn Out

Filed under: blogging — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:44 am

I have hardly ever missed a day here, but today I find myself completely stressed out and exhausted. Some of this is the usual “busy-ness” of life, and some of it is circumstantial. The Bible says that God chastens those He loves, and with me, that often takes place through circumstances — things that happen. Unfortunately, I don’t learn the lessons I should be learning, and so the process has to repeat over and over and over.

August 27, 2012

The Reason: Next Big Thing

Filed under: books — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:19 am

I’ve already blogged about The Reason by William Sirls here, and still, this isn’t yet the review. But I’ve reached the halfway point now and I think this is going to be the next major Christian book title, and by that I don’t mean next major Christian fiction book title, but next big Christian title period. 

True, it combines elements of several other books I’ve reviewed here, so there’s a sense some readers may think they’ve seen it all before. But for me that’s its charm. I’ll save those comparisons for the review when I finish the book — I’m on page 200 of what I estimate is about 400 pages; I never peek — but I am starting to question why a person like myself who never reads much that isn’t in the non-fiction category is drawn to certain types of titles.

Perhaps the issue is that there is so little Christian fiction that would have a strong appeal to men that isn’t violent or, for lack of a better word, tense. I go to movies to be entertained, not to take on new concerns or anxieties. I realize that for some guys, suspense films or books provide the necessary escapism from the cares of the day, but I just want to relax.

Not that The Reason is without certain tensions. For example, my natural tendency is to run a mile from any book that has a medical sub-plot. But somehow this is different. But I’ll save all that for the review, which probably won’t happen until later in the week.

August 26, 2012

Deconstructing Past Platitudes

So for those of you who grew up in church, did you ever hear this one:

God doesn’t want your ability, just your availability.

Familiar?  I’ve always believe this and even taught this principle to others; the idea that what God requires is your surrendered heart more than any unique gift set you might possess. And there is some truth to the idea that too many people think they are “God’s gift to God” because they have unique abilities. 

But generally, we classify what we can “bring” to God in three areas:

  • time
  • talents
  • treasure

and since “availability” is a sub-set of time, we’re saying that one of these is more important than another.  But what if someone is a rich young ruler who finds it hard to give up wealth? We might say,

God doesn’t want your hours of community service, just your wealth.

Wow! That was awkward. But is it any more awkward than the first one? What if someone is a professional and is accustomed to charging for their services and someone suggests that

God doesn’t want your money, he wants you to volunteer your services.

That could really bite. But it’s true that some people want to “buy” their way out of surrendering their time or talents. For some people, the easiest way to meet a need is with a cash, check, or credit card donation.

So what’s the solution?

The fact of the matter is God doesn’t want/need any of those “t” things listed above. He is concerned about who you are and are becoming. He wants you to be his friend. He wants to commune with you, spend time with you; and wants you to want to commune with Him and spend time with Him.

God doesn’t want your ability or your availability, He wants you.

August 25, 2012

Kent Dobson Succeeds Rob Bell at Mars Hill Grand Rapids

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 am

First, Rob Bell was on the pastoral staff at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, working under Pastor Ed Dobson. Then he departed to start Mars Hill and as the story goes, launched the first Sunday with over 1,000 present to hear the first of a year long series on Leviticus.  Yes, Leviticus. For one year. “That’s in all the church growth books, right?” Bell has quipped.

This week, Mars Hill Bible Church announced that Ed Dobson’s son, Kent Dobson would assume the senior teaching pastor position. The Dobsons are both no strangers to Mars Hill; the elder often occupying a place in the congregation after leaving Calvary Church, the younger serving as a worship director in the church’s early years.

More details in this Christianity Today story.

Like the person he is replacing, Kent Dobson is no stranger to controversy as outlined in this 2008 local news story.

August 24, 2012

Steven Furtick: Start Small, Dream Big

Somewhere early on in the book Greater: Dream Bigger, Start Smaller, Ignite Gods Vision For Your Life Steven Furtick comments that where his first book — Sun Stand Still — invited people to “pray audacious prayers,” in this book he wants to invite people to “live audacious lives.”

I say “somewhere” because normally when I read a book to review here, I grab a half sheet of white paper — which also acts as a bookmark — and as the reading progresses, I note different words and phrases that I want to incorporate in the review, and I also note page numbers for excerpts at my other blog.  That process fell apart with Greater; I just kept reading and reading and before too long I had a completed book and a blank sheet of paper.

So now what to write?

Greater is based on the life of the prophet Elisha, who asked his mentor, Elijah, for a double portion of all that Elijah had and did; which is remarkable when you consider Elijah on Mount Carmel, and the fact we know that story but can’t always quickly recite an Elisha story. But Steven Furtick argues that certainly Elisha did receive a greater portion.

Three things stand out to me on reflection, and in the absence of more detailed notes.

First of all, I continue to gain respect for all that Steven Furtick has accomplished and is doing at Elevation Church in Charlotte. He shares more of his personal story in Greater but does so in a way that relates to those of us who haven’t started a megachurch lately. While some of us spent our teen years rocking to Top 40 radio, Steven went to work playing and replaying sermon audio of great classic preachers, learning every nuance and cadence of their teaching. You sense that this is a unique person for whom God had a unique calling; yet at the same time he writes to the average person whose job may not seem as spiritual and may not be as high profile, and to those who may not currently have a job at all.

Second, while my mom enjoyed Sun Stand Still, I was much more aware this time around of a writing style that would strongly connect with a reader in their thirties, twenties or even teens. (Greater doesn’t need a youth edition; the book is the youth edition!) Christian book readers, meet your next generation author. But Furtick also bridges the generations that will read his book; when he speaks of an experience as a young man burning his (secular) CD collection, he stops to remind his younger readers that by burning he doesn’t mean duplicating.

Finally, Steven Furtick has the ability to extract a teachable moment from absolutely anything. I’d mention a few, but they’d all be spoilers… Okay, one:  Have you ever been at a football game where a referee’s ruling is sent ‘upstairs’ for a second opinion? An announcement over the public address system begins, “Upon further review…”  Well, as they say on Seinfeld, in this book, “that’s an episode.” Analogies like that stick with you and come back to you in the moment you need that extra shot of faith.

Greater releases in hardcover in the U.S. on September 4th, and in paperback in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

August 23, 2012

Austin Gutwein: Living to Give

The nature of my work permits me to be able to recommend books to parents for their middle-school and high-school kids. When this occurs, which it does regularly, I have three “go-to” authors to recommend. While a number of books are written to teens, it’s great to have authors like these where the books were written by teens for their peers:

  • Zach Hunter — He has three books with Zondervan, starting with Be The Change, and his cause his 21st century slavery. His organization is called Loose Change to Loosen Chains, which he began at age 12.
  • Alex and Brett Harris — A&B are twins and also brothers to author/pastor Joshua Harris. Their books, Do Hard Things, and its companion, Start Here inspires challenge youth to deeper commitment.
  • Austin Gutwein — His first book, Take Your Best Shot tells the story of how he turned a passion into throwing free throws into a fundraising organization, Hoops of Hope, that benefits HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa, a charity he started at age 13 based on an idea he had at age 9.

So when I had a chance to review Austin’s newest book, Live to Give, I jumped at the chance to be able to introduce people to Austin’s writing and his personal story.

But the temptation was to thnk, ‘Hey, this is a youth book, I’ll just read the first half of it and then write the review.’ However, I’ve never reviewed a book I haven’t read to cover to cover, and honestly, I really enjoyed the experience.

Live to Give is based around the story of Jesus feeding five thousand men (plus women and children) and focuses around the lunch that a young boy offered up to Jesus and his disciples that was multiplied many times over. Austin compares this to the lunch box his mom packs for him, and sees that lunch box as symbolic of the ‘gift set’ that each of us possesses. Remarkably, he gets more than a dozen chapters out of that analogy.

The writing style is very conversational. I can’t emphasize that enough. This is a book that even that “not-much-of-a-reader” in your house — which is usually a boy — can get into.

Although the book centers around the gospel narrative of the miracle Jesus performed that day, and the little boy who played a part; there are a number of other stories and related scriptures mentioned. This is a book that will raise the Biblical literacy level of that kid who hasn’t been paying attention at weekend services.

I suspect that Austin tells more of the story of Hoops of Hope in the first book, but there’s enough of it here that you don’t need to have read Take Your Best Shot to appreciate Live to Give.

This is a book that teens, parents and youth workers should be aware of.  Thomas Nelson, paperback, 197 pages. Great book. Amazing author.

A copy of  Live to Give was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin a Canadian agency that works alongside U.S. publishers like Thomas Nelson to promote key titles north of the 49th.

I wanted to step outside the review itself and add a few comments that may seem superficial, but which I feel are important. There’s a saying that you can’t tell a book by its cover, but there are three things with the back cover of Live to Give that I think need to be addressed.

  1. What on earth is Austin wearing in his publicity shot? And is that a tie he has on? Are they cool now? Please don’t tell me ties are coming back. It seemed an odd choice for the primary market they’re going after.
  2. The sticker price of $14.99.  Thomas Nelson has kept its youth fiction at $9.99 for paperbacks; I’d hate to see this price work against more people seeing the book; though I’ll grant you some prices are being set high with the full knowledge that mass merchandisers will be aggressively discounting, rendering the MSRP somewhat meaningless. Still, Pete Wilson and Max Lucado list at $15.99, $14.99  seems high for a youth market title.
  3. The use of the appellation “JUVENILE NON-FICTION” above the bar-code. I realize this is standard at Thomas Nelson; everything that’s not for adults gets this “juvenile” designation; but perhaps it is time to rethink that on teen/youth books. Heck, Austin just started at Anderson College as a poli-sci major; his peers — who would enjoy it — aren’t going to read his book when they see that category label. If that’s ‘policy,’ either change the rules or make exceptions.

To repeat, I enjoyed this book, and I intend to strongly recommend it, but I think the publisher’s choice for a back cover constitutes shooting themselves in the foot.

August 22, 2012

Wednesday Link List

  • He didn’t originate it, but the above graphic was found at Tony Jones’ blog who discusses the topic-we-haven’t-done-here involving a fast food restaurant we-haven’t-named-here.  Tony has another link here, too. 
  • Our top link today is to one of the blogs by Camille who has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and writes on how to be a blessing to friends with chronic illnesses.
  • No link on this one, but there’s a guy who comments on several blogs I read under the name Eagle, who came down with a mystery illness a few weeks back. It was so good to see how the blog community came together to encourage him and pray for him and keep one another updated.
  • We took a week off from the link list last week only to have Clark Bunch encourage his readers to visit the link list that wasn’t here. So from our Returning-The-Favor Department, here’s a link to The Read and Share file at The Master’s Table.
  • My wife and I find so many church-based ‘friendships’ are really task-based and disappear when the project ends or people change churches. So I liked this quote: “People frequently think they have friends at work—or church or the tennis club or any location where like-minded people gather—when in fact what they have are ‘work neighbors.’” The rest of the article is more for women and those middle-aged, but I liked that ‘work neighbors’ concept.
  • Worship leaders not only articulate theology but in a real way they also shape theology. So they really need to know of what they sing. Zac Hicks explores this with advice for both musicians and pastors.
  • Jim Henderson talks about the thesis of his book The Resignation of Eve in the light of a new report from Barna Research about the role of women in ministry.
  • Bring your church bulletin to a restaurant on Sunday and get a discount. Seems like a fairly typical promotion, right? Well, a complaint has been filed with the Pennyslvania Human Rights Commission for just that special offer.
  • In other protest news, the man who symbolically burned a box of cereal on the front lawn of General Foods died a few days later.
  • The replacement for the “Touchdown Jesus” statue on Interstate 75 is just about ready to be put into place; and this time it’s fireproof.
  • Did I mention Phil Vischer’s podcast lately? Seriously, you need to listen to one of these; you’ll be hooked on the series. Here’s the one where his guest was his brother Rob Vischer though honestly, Episode 13 is much funnier. So you have a choice: serious or silly.
  • Cross Point’s Jenni Catron guests at Outreach Magazine suggesting that in church leadership, red tape was made to be cut.
  • How small is our God? Richard Beck counterpoints the ‘Your God is Too Small’ rhetoric with a piece about finding the small-ness of God.
  • There are definitely more than five things belonging to the realm of mystery in theology, but for C. Michael Patton, these are the major ones. (We might use this at C201 today, too!) 
  • Twenty years after his death, Christianity Today provides a lengthy tribute to the influence of Christian musician Mark Heard.
  • Meanwhile, at a venue quite familiar to Mark Heard, The Choir performs a final song on the final night of the Cornerstone Festival.
  • And here’s a 5-minute recap of the whole event
  • If you find yourself in remote parts of Africa, James Brett wants you to know how to build a rocket stove.
  • Oops!-I-Said-It-Again Department: Pat Robertson stands by guys who won’t date a woman with three adopted international children because in Pat’s view they might grow up weird or have brain damage. Russell D. Moore goes appropriately ballistic in response. “This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.” (I think his co-host would be wise to quit after this incident.)(Pat’s not Russell’s; Russel doesn’t have a co-host.)
  • The oft-cynical Naked Pastor, aka David Hayward pledges his new blog will be the up-side to his popular blog’s rants.  And the blog Pastor Jeff’s Ramblings announces that he is shutting down the blog, and then, a day later announces the start of Pastor Jeff’s Reviews.
  • Below, one of several new panels at Sacred Sandwich:

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