| It’s our 9th Birthday…which means we’re now in our tenth year!
Who would have thought I’d be doing this 9 years later? I thought this year, instead of taking the time to reminisce and blow my own horn, we’d look at you guys, readers. If you’ve been with us since the beginning, thank you for your support. If this is your first day, welcome.
First you guys have forced me to discover who I am. Yes, the various labels are annoying sometimes or a caricature of what people truly believe, but writing every day and interacting with such a broad base of news stories and opinion pieces have helped me clarify my positions on a variety of doctrinal subjects and crafting a personal theology.
Second, you readers have inspired me to read some really great books. There are times I got on the bandwagon of trending authors and now wish I’d focused on different types of material — more from IVP perhaps — but I appreciated tracking with the titles that have frequently topped bestseller charts.
Third, the off-the-blog fellowship that has resulted from this project is something I greatly treasure. True, it’s often still confined to the world of electrons — emails and direct messages on Twitter — but I’ve also been blessed to meet a few of you face to face.
Finally, without Thinking Out Loud, there would never have been a Christianity 201, which has benefited me spiritually in so many ways. I thank those of you who tell me, “I read both blogs;” it is humbling to think you spend that amount of time with me on a daily basis.
So this time around, it’s Happy Birthday to you the regular readers here at Thinking Out Loud. Thank you for keeping us among the top Christian blogs in North America.
February 25, 2017
February 15, 2017
A friend walked into my workplace and asked if I’d heard the one about the pastor who was caught having an affair and hid naked in the bushes. It was making the rounds in local and national newspapers.
I told him that I actually had heard the story and it had been in the blog’s link list the week before. I guess the story took its time gaining traction.
But then, I suddenly felt this sense of embarrassment. Why had I felt the need to share that story with my readership? Why would anyone want to share that story with anyone else?
Such is the nature of the beast. Using a secret sauce mix of sources, I’m able to pull together a variety of things which reflect the nature of the readership. I’m told we have radio guys who are looking for some quick things to fill the gap between songs. We have pastors and church leaders and seminary professors, many of whom started following during the 22 months the link list appeared at Christianity Today. We have people in KidMin and yMin and every other Min. People looking for the Essay of the Week, and the Video of the Week, and Parenting Place and Leadership Lessons.
Although there are weeks the WLL seems like a giant albatross, most weeks I’m amazed how it comes together; even as I add just one more link at a few minutes to midnight before logging off for the night.
Oh…I do think the nutty pastor stories need to be out there. (I want to say exposed but it doesn’t work well with that particular story.) For good or for bad, these people are part of our extended faith family. I think we kinda need to know what our crazy cousins are up to.
Today, I’m taking a week off for the first time in a long while. I’m sure you’ll find some things online to fill in the gap, or you can go to an August, 2015 post where (if you scroll down a bit) you’ll find a list of aggregators; people who (at the time) were doing link lists and news roundups like mine.
If the Lord wills and I am able; we’ll be back at this time next week.
January 16, 2017
January 8, 2017
December 1, 2016
C201’s tag line is “Digging a Little Deeper.” What I mean by this is something deeper than those little devotional booklets that offer a key verse, a paragraph with a cute story, three more paragraphs, a poem and a prayer. I know many people who use these, and I support the ministries which print them, but often they’re over and done with in 60 seconds. Even with the devotional website I read each morning, it’s easy to be in a hurry and read the key verse, skim the rest, and then move on to other computer activity.
I started C201 at a time when Thinking Out Loud was mired deep in some investigative stuff about the latest Evangelical scandals. I needed balance personally. I started with some short quotations and brief Bible expositions that had a huge faith-focus and then C201 found its identity with pieces which went a bit longer. There are no points for length, but I felt there was too much online that was just too short. Eventually I got into the rhythm of scanning the internet for people who were writing deeper devotional and Bible study content. Some days go deeper than others.
Presently we have two regular writers; Clarke Dixon is midweek (usually Thursdays) and Russell Young is Sundays. I try to do one a week. Most of our writers are people who have appeared previously on the blog. There is a very broad range of doctrinal perspectives. We’ve only had two take-down orders in 2,435 posts and both of them were Calvinists. Just sayin’. (I am looking for one more writer if you are familiar with C201 and feel qualified to contribute.)
On a personal level, I need this. I need the personal discipline that comes from coordinating this project. I need the input of the material that is used. Because Thinking Out Loud posts in the mornings (usually) Christianity 201 posts between 5:31 and 5:34 PM EST. Again, it’s a personal discipline, and with great humility I say, even on my worst days spiritually, I am always in awe of how the daily devotional Bible studies come together.
…So a longer set-up this time around. Here’s what we’ve been up to lately, and as we say regularly at C201, click the title below to read this at source.
Last Sunday, Andy Stanley spoke on the the three “lost” parables of Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. While this is very familiar to most of us, I am always amazed at how the various dynamics and nuances of this famous story result in the situation where good preachers always find something new in this parable.
The premise of the parable is set up very quickly:
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
The last seven words have been amplified and expanded in expository preaching for centuries, but Andy noted:
This son was gone relationally long before he left home. This relationship was broken.
The father wanted to reconnect with the son so bad, he chose the shortest road back. The father wants to reconnect relationally so much; he knows the relationship is broken; the conversation is the pinnacle of a bunch of other conversations that probably went on… He knows the son is distant… the son is gone, he’s just physically there. The father wants him back; not his body, the relationship. He chooses for the shortest route back. He funds his departure.
What the audience heard when Jesus said this was that the father loved his son — don’t miss this — the father loved the son more than he loved his own reputation, and for that culture, they summed the father up as a fool. This is when you need to go to Leviticus and find that hidden verse that says, ‘stone the rebellious children,’ because this kid deserves to be stoned. In the story the father says, ‘Okay. Let’s pretend that I’m dead. I’ll liquidate half the estate…’
…Here’s a dad who is willing to lose him physically, lose him spatially, lose him to (potentially) women.
He didn’t mention this, but I couldn’t help but think of Romans 1, verses 24, 26 and 28:
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.
Implicit in this is the idea of God “letting go” of someone, giving them over to their sin. This particular message in Romans 1 seems very final. But in I Cor. 5, a book also written by Paul and in a context also dealing with sexual sin, we see Paul using the same language but with a hope of restoration:
4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
The language in the last phrase isn’t found in Romans 1 but occurs here. Eugene Peterson’s modern translation renders it this way:
Assemble the community—I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.
Back to Andy’s sermon! The story in Luke 15 continues:
20b “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
He ran to his son and threw his arms around him…
…Why, when the son was leaving; why when the son had his back to his father, did the father not from that same distance, run throw his arms around him the son? Why does he let the go? He doesn’t chase after him throw his arms around him and say ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’? Why now? It’s the same son, it’s the same distance. It’s the same two people But now he’s running toward his son to throw his arms around him and bring him back. Why? What’s the difference.
This is Jesus’ point. This impacts all of us… The father desired a relationship. The father desired a connection the father desired a connection. — not a GPS coordinate, it was not about not knowing where the son was — it’s not spatially, it’s relationally. What the father wanted more than anything in the world was not the son living in his house, but to be connected with the son and when he saw the connection being made when he saw the disconnected son begin to reconnect he ran toward his son and he kissed him.
He concludes this part of the sermon by reminding us that Jesus is telling his hearers:
‘My primary concern is not the connected; I know where they are. And I’m grateful that we’re connected. My priority, my passion, the thing that brought me to earth to begin with was to reconnect the disconnected to their father in heaven.’ This answers the question, why would Jesus spend so much time with irreligious people? …The reason Jesus spent so much time with disconnected people is because they were disconnected. The reason Jesus was drawn to people who were far from God is because they were far from God.
The gravitational pull of the local church is always toward the paying customers. It’s always toward the connected. It’s always toward the people who know where to park and know how to get their kids in early and find a seat… The gravitational pull and the programming of the local church is always toward the 99 and not toward the 1. …We all, individually and collectively, run the risk of mis-prioritizing… how we see people.
There’s much more. You can watch the entire message at this link; the passage above begins at approx. the 50-minute mark in the service.
September 1, 2016
We did this back in March of 2014 with an article title Substance Consistently and I’ve been wanting to update that for some time.
- Ed Cyzewski – If the about page leads off with the author’s identity as a freelance writer, you know the writing is going to be above par. The blog is subtitled Contemplative and it will make you think.
- Stephen Altrogge – The Blazing Center is home to Steven, Mark Altrogge and Barnabas Piper. Although we aren’t from the same theological tribe, I really enjoy the variety of articles here; they tackle subjects I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
- Scott McCown – We’ve gone back seven times for material at Scott’s blog, The Morning Drive, to use at our own C201 blog. He’s a Church of Christ pastor in Alabama. (The state, not the band.)
- Jackson Ferrell – Another C201 connection, this one is recent. At Chocolate Book a Bible passage is paired with a chocolate flavor of the day. It’s a win-win! Jackson is a graphic artist who writes with straight-shooting honesty and transparency.
- Micael Grenholm – This Swedish writer’s blog, Holy Spirit Activism, brings both a charismatic/pentecostal perspective and a European perspective to matters of faith.
- Lorne Anderson – A longtime friend, Lorne had just started up Random Thoughts when we did our 2014 list, but dived into blogging with abandon and posts every day. Some items are more Canadian in substance, and not everything is faith-centered, but this has become a must-read for me, and when I miss, I play catch-up.
- name withheld – The author of Wintery Knight has a fairly good apologetic for keeping his blog anonymous owing to some high level position he holds. (The blog’s subtitle indicates the theme is faith in the public square.) The intrigue just keeps it all the more interesting.
- Aaron Wilkinson – Yes, he’s my son, but he’s writing some interesting stuff at this, his second blog, Voice of One Whispering, aka Voxus Surrantis which reflect his varied interests and unique perspective.
- Clarke Dixon – Clarke is my source for Wednesday articles at C201. His Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon is a posting of his sermon notes from his Baptist church in Ontario, Canada. I always learn something new.
- Scot McKnight – When Jesus Creed got left off the original list, I added it a few hours later, but it’s one from that list I still check regularly and wish I had time to read it all, as there are often several daily items to chose from.
- Greg Boyd – Also one of two here from the original list, I am a rabid fan of Re-Knew. You don’t have to convert to open theology or pacifism to be a reader, either.
The Missing Link: Although it’s easy to find, I chose not to link to the 2014 article. My tastes have changed considerably. These are some people on the top of my computer bookmarks I wanted to share today.
The Many Missing Links: I know what you’re thinking, Where are the Women? I tried to address this before the list first appeared, but decided I didn’t want to simply include some token female writers, but want to take more time to develop a list because I do, in fact, read several women writers. We dealt with this challenge four years ago with this link-packed article.
By the way, although he’s busy doing eBooks and podcasts right now and didn’t meet our 30-day litmus test, Skye Jethani is one of my favorite thinkers and is possibly one of Evangelicalism’s best kept secrets. Here’s one from earlier in the summer which never made the link list: Are Christian Tattoos The New Circumcision? Sample: “Because the absence of a foreskin carried so much meaning in the ancient world, in a real way it was the prototype religious/consumer brand—an external mark of one’s identity; a visible symbol that provoked feelings of national and religious pride in the imaginations of God’s people.” Branding. I never thought of it that way.
August 26, 2016
July 4, 2016
The thing I appreciated about this list — besides the fact we ranked #69 — was that it is by all appearances a very realistic reflection of what people are reading right now.
The “mommy blogs” get a lot of traffic that is never recorded, so it seems appropriate that Women of Faith should be #1 on this list. It was also good to see veteran bloggers like David Hawyard and pastor Pete Wilson continue to make top traffic lists.
But there were also several new ones here that I need to check out. This is a great list, and I can’t recommend using it as a resource when you’re surfing online for some stimulating thought.
May 27, 2016
*with apologies to John Ortberg’s Who You Are When No One’s Looking
With a 74% U.S. readership, the idea of writing something in-depth on the day most of my readers are packing up for a Memorial Day Weekend activity makes me think it would be a good time to just post something simple — a cartoon, for example — and let it go.
That said, on this site’s worst day it draws more readers than those belonging to the many people who faithfully post their thoughts without consideration of numbers. These are like the original “web log-ers” (from which we got the word blog in the first place). They write for the sake of writing and don’t frequent their stats page. For those who post daily, it’s about faithfulness and consistency.
I am reminded of the original goal of Christianity 201. I decided to something that was just for me and whoever else wanted to tag along for the ride. I was managing eight different blogs back then, and it took a year for C201 to arrive at an established format or concept. I would just post something I thought was more spiritual than the topical issue of the day on Thinking Out Loud. I needed balance. I needed to do it regardless of who was looking.
As I pulled all these thoughts together, I was reminded of a trip Ruth and I took to the northeastern states a few years ago. I’ll let her tell it:
Boston was one of our most recent expeditions. Really interesting city, American history machine aside. Cool architecture, good subway, Chinatown, really easy to get lost, terrible maps, good food. Perfect. Some historic churches. Mostly for “freedom” reasons, of one kind or another.
We chanced upon one that really struck me. Not as old as some of the others, probably. No “Paul Revere slept through the sermon here” plaques. But a lovely red brick building, tucked away in one of the more serpentine neighborhoods. We climbed a few steps to a back door and found it unlocked, so we went in. Found ourselves in a foyer of sorts, creaky floored and unlit. There was another door in front of us, so we pulled that one open. Creak. Stepped to the threshold. Creak. Peeked through the door. Creak.
It was beautiful inside. Warm and hushed and soaring. Stained glass windows, old dark pews, draperies and candles. It smelled of polished wood and wax and flame and time and prayer. But we didn’t go in any further. We closed the door and left. Creaking all the way…
…You see, the reason why we left without really going in is that when we opened that inner door, we heard something.
Someone speaking. One voice.
One voice echoing through the room, over the pews, off the windows. The pews that were completely empty, the windows that were telling their stories to no one.
One voice, chanting in what might have been Latin. Reciting a text that no one would hear. Except the speaker and God himself. Because they were the only ones in the room.
As we left, we looked at the sign on the fence outside. “5:00 pm. Mass”. It was 5 pm. So the Mass was being said. Whether anyone was there to hear it or not. It had to be said.
Why? I have no clue. But it had to be said. If only to the antique pews and the priceless glass and the glowing candles and absolutely not a living soul. Haunted and driven by tradition. Disregarded by life and humanity…
In the end, it’s not always about the audience, or the feedback, or the recognition. Sometimes you just do what you do.
April 2, 2016
Because of the particular path our lives have taken, there have been times when we have accepted financial help from friends and acquaintances. In the process, we’ve often said that the people who are least able to help are usually the ones who give. I’m not positing this as a universal truth, I’m just saying that it’s been the case in our situation.
In Wednesday’s link list, I felt moved to post a story about a family who faced unusual financial hardship during Lent because of their daughter’s illness and are asking for help. You can read that link here. 48 hours earlier, my wife showed me a crowd funding page that was set up by students (or former students) in a local high school for a guy who part of our church plant ten years ago and has had a medical diagnosis that will result in unexpected costs. You can read that one here.
I’m reading these through the lens of our own situation.
My wife came to me a few weeks ago — she’s our family and business bookkeeper — and said, “We have enough in the savings account to last us one more month, and then we’re done.” By ‘done’ she means we don’t have a back-up plan, unless we cash in one more savings fund — which is currently locked — and take a huge penalty for so doing.
I announced in Monday’s column here:
We’ve never monetized Thinking Out Loud, but this labor of love — along with our Christian bookstore — have totally depleted our savings. Still, how does one do effective fundraising in the face of other families and individuals with seemingly far more urgent needs? After our US/Canada 800-number, toll-free, call-in-a-pledge appeal failed last year, we’re looking for something that will actually help us keep going. We hope to have an answer late this week.
But as the week went by I keep fighting taking this particular approach. Surely the two stories listed above are far more worthy of my readers’ support, right? Still, I know there are longtime readers both here and at Christianity 201 who might give if we created the right vehicle for processing donations.
Within the Christian realm, there are bloggers like Tim Challies who is able to blog full time because of referral income and sponsored posts. Author Skye Jethani is not currently on staff at a church (or at CT) and is supporting his writing and podcast ministry (and his family) through the sale of monthly devotional subscriptions, and eBooks. (Check out, How Churches Became Cruise Ships.)
Because of my involvement in a brick-and-mortar Christian bookstore (which loses money almost every day the doors are open) I still can’t bring myself to be a referrer to A-zon or even CBD, both of which have contributed greatly to the closing of such Christian shops all over North America. So I’ve never monetized the blog in that manner.
And there is the pride issue. As a twenty-something, I was told that I have difficulty accepting hospitality in all its forms. Plus there is the fear of putting it out there only to find the donations embarrassingly meager. Add to that wanting to be hero; wanting to be the one helping others, not the one asking.
So the announcement I was going to make this week is postponed for now. I leave you the comments section — if you wish — for two purposes today.
- If you can recommend a crowd funding type of website that isn’t time-limited and would allow people the opportunity to support Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201, I’d love to hear it. Bear in mind that I’m in Canada, but nearly 80% of my readers are in the U.S., so it has to be American-based, but able to pay us up here.
- If it’s got a Christian connection, feel free to mention any fundraising page you’re aware of that’s running now. Honest! I don’t mind. (I might delete the comment after any relevant expiry dates.) Today is one day you can use the comments to promote a cause.