Thinking Out Loud

August 16, 2019

What it Means to be Human

Lately, I’ve been encountering the phrase, “What it means to be human.” Since I almost exclusively read from Christian sources, this wasn’t some self-help, or human-potential phrase being utilized, but rather Christian writers encouraging us that with with God at the center of our lives we can be all that we were made for.

But for the last 96 hours, I’ve been thinking about “What it means to be sub-human.”

Our next door neighbors came back from their annual two months away.

The man walks up and down the property which divides our houses growling a long list of expletives. No additional nouns, articles or prepositions in-between. It’s directed at us, and we know this. He doesn’t like us, and he doesn’t like our trees. He tore down every tree on his property, diminishing its resale value in the process.

My wife, who is not given to pronouncements of this nature, said yesterday, “I think he might be demon possessed.”

These are the people whom I once compared to another neighbor when we lived in Toronto:

We had a rather strange chain-smoking neighbor when we lived in our apartment in Toronto. I recently asked God why we were forced to spend the last 25 years living next door to bad neighbors after already dealing with this in Toronto and I very distinctly heard God say, “Because anybody else would have killed them by now.” I laughed when God said that, and I think I saw Him smile.

I just checked the date on that post, and it’s been almost exactly five years, so I guess this is a twice-a-decade rant, since it doesn’t look like they’re moving anytime soon, and we can’t.

We were made for more. We were made to serve God and love Him forever.

But sometimes, you’re only reminded of this when you see someone who almost seems to have been made for lesser things; who seem less than human; who almost strike out against the notion that we were all made in the image of God.

And that’s unfortunate, because the power of God in a life is transformative. And yes, it’s difficult, but we do pray for that miracle, though admittedly not often enough.

No graphic with this. What graphic image would you have used to illustrate this article?


August 15, 2019

The Best Christian Books Amplify the Bible’s Message

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

I didn’t realize I might want to mention this book here on the blog, or I might have taken some notes! The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with The Reign of God by pastor and theology professor Darrell W. Johnson was given to me by the staff of Regent College Publishing while we were in Vancouver.

Back home, I read the book’s 160 pages in just a single day. Eight beatitudes, ten chapters, total. Eloquently presented.

But now, ten days later, as I see the cover peering out among others on my coffee table, I can’t help but think that this is the best of what a Christian Living (the category in which Christian booksellers file the greatest number of titles) title should be all about.

I realize I say this occasionally, perhaps too often, but if someone was a recent convert and this was their first opportunity to read a Christian book, I would want it to be something like this; something which on a very accessible level says, ‘Okay, you’ve read the text before, you know it’s from The Sermon on the Mount, but now we’re going to look deeper and you’re going to see all manner of things you hadn’t considered.’

And then, in response, I would expect that young-in-faith reader to think, ‘If something like this can be produced out of just a single section of Matthew 5, then there must be thousands of layers of depth and insight that can be discovered in other Biblical texts.’

They would be right. 

One fun thing about the book is Johnson’s dealing with the repeated word, blessed. He offers, “Right on” are the poor in spirit, or those that mourn, and frequently reverts to, “You lucky bums!” That took some getting adjusted to!

The book ends with ten sets of questions for group study.

As I said, had I known I was going to write this, I might have written some things down, but for now, suffice it to say that this is the type of book which got me interested in Christian books, in later distributing them, and selling them; and then much later writing about them online.


August 14, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Found this through this link on Reddit. The artist produces movie-style posters for a summer sermon series his church is doing. (A link takes you to three more.)

After many weeks away, welcome back to Wednesday Connect. There’s some great articles linked here, so slow down and take the time to click at least a dozen of them!

■ A real labor of love: Michael Frost chronicles great movies that weren’t religious films, but Jesus showed up anyway. “I’ve gone for more incidental Jesusy characters, individuals you might not immediately think of as Christlike, but who’s story turns out to mirror the gospels in some way.” Stealth Messiahs: Christ Figures in Film

■ …On the other hand, an apologetics website suggests caution in using film illustrations in sermons. “…[W]e need to make sure that cultural engagement means we influence the culture with the gospel, not influence the meaning of the gospel with pop culture.”

■ A university affiliated with the United Methodist denomination has hired a Muslim chaplain. “United Methodism has over 100 universities and colleges. But very few of these schools have, dating back many decades, taken very seriously their church association.” “As United Methodism divides and reconfigures, traditionalists will have to think through what effective Christian education in universities and colleges should entail.”

■ First there was Joshua Harris. Now it’s Hillsong’s Marty Sampson. “I am not in any more… All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point.”…

■ … but then in this Christian Post article he walks it back slightly. He  “clarified that while he hasn’t ‘renounced’ his Christianity, it’s nevertheless on ‘incredibly shaky ground.’” [Link added 8:55 AM]

■ …and if you’re wondering about Harris, there’s this

■ …and also this response from John Cooper, lead singer for the rock band Skillet where he says they are basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.”  [Link added 8:50 AM]

■ Pew Research: Only a third of Roman Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. “The vast majority of those who believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ – 28% of all Catholics – do know that this is what the church teaches. A small share of Catholics (3%) profess to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist despite not knowing the church’s teaching on transubstantiation.”

■ Yes, he did do another list; as in Joshua Reich’s annual summary of the best 200-or-so quotations from the annual Global Leadership Summit. Samples:

  • “If you want to change things, you have to change the right things.” – Danielle Strickland
  • “Fear is part of every negotiation because we’re hardwired to be afraid.” – Chris Voss
  • “Too many of us struggle with impostor syndrome.” – Jo Saxton
  • “To be a leader, you have to have awkward conversations.” – Patrick Lencioni.

■ If you wish to insist that civic meetings open in prayer, that’s one thing. But be prepared for it to be a type of prayer you weren’t expecting.

■ Running ahead of the law? “After 20 years leading Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Alex Schadenberg is unsurprised by news a B.C. doctor has been exonerated for sneaking into an Orthodox Jewish nursing home and terminating an elderly resident.

■ New Music ♫ / KidMin: This appears further up the list for a reason, ya gotta watch this. Rend Collective introduces RendCo Kids in a video that will remind you of something Coldplay did awhile back.

■ As humble as he was, John Stott’s writing reminds us that Jesus was constantly talking about himself.

■ Making a difference: In 3 short points, something you say or do this week could prevent the next mass shooting.

■ FREE! Read the first two chapters of John Mark Comer’s new book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry at this link to a 36-page .pdf.

■ Culture Watch: “YouTube has democratized the ability to make and share art.” (A column we missed back in May which is worth reading now.)

■ If he’s not the Pope… then why does it appear that people are kissing the ring of Gospel for Asia founder K. P. Yohannan?

■ The God who is “not like Jesus.” Roger Olson responds to the “watershed difference” between Calvinism and Arminianism.

■ We tend to think of church-planting as a Charismatic or Evangelical thing, but Anglo-Catholic church planters? I liked this sentence: “Like Jay, the 19th century Anglo-Catholic priest who built a boxing ring to reach people in his local context, many of today’s church planters are using both innovation and tradition to reach their local context in fresh new ways.”

■ Essay of the Week: When Christians suffer. “So why do our stories so often tend towards the triumphalistic? I prayed and: it got better, ‘x’ went away, the relationship was stronger, the addiction was broken, I was saved from… the list could be endless.”

■ If you think The Bible Project videos are just about books of the Bible, you haven’t tracked with what they’ve been up to lately. “The New Humanity” looks forward to a future reunited heaven and earth.

■ Scanning the Plugged-In movie reviews at Focus on the Family, I was reminded of the Unstoppable (another ‘Un-‘ title) movie which played in theaters in July. Did this movie appear where you live?

Memo to young Mormons: Vaping is not permitted. Does the youth ministry department of your denomination have an official position?

■ Parenting Place: Keeping the kids from squirming during church services doesn’t seem to end as they get older.

■ New Music ♫ – Apollo LTD – Man I Used to Know (click description for full lyrics).

■ New Music ♫ – Fresh Life Worship – Many Waters – recorded live.

■ Old Music ♫ – If you were aware of alternative Christian music in the 1980s, especially bands from England, you’ll want to know that Spotify has released a collection by The Technos (aka The Techno Twins). (Sample song.)

■ John Piper, again. Only this time, Relevant notes the revival of a 2012 clip where the Pipester addresses a group of Christian counselors. Awkward.

■ Headline of the Week: “This Cathedral Installed an Amusement Park Ride So People Could Get A Better View of The Roof.”

■ Runner Up: The Fairway to Heaven.

■ Finally, your favorite Bible stories retold as “Florida man” stories, as in, “…In other news a Florida man was arrested today for…” Don’t ask me, apparently it’s a thing.

Sourced at Happy Monday. This link will take you to several of the more recent installments.


August 12, 2019

The God Who Both Permits, and Desires to Melt Hardened Hearts

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

Over the years, in addition to receiving the Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of forthcoming books, I have also been priviledged to receive manuscript editions; copies of the draft submitted to the publisher for final edit.

But then there are those rare occasions where you get to work with an author at a much earlier, more conceptual stage with what are basically rough notes or individual chapter drafts. You always wonder whether that person actually has what it takes to carry the ball over the finish line. (It’s understanding great metaphors like that one which makes me such a great editor.)

Such was the case when Carol McMurray, who I’ve known now for almost 24 years, walked into my workplace with some ideas she had for something she felt God was directing her to write. I looked her notes over and suggested that both my wife and I might go through them and make some suggestions. Mrs. W. is the better technical editor anyway, and I tend to deal with conceptual issues.

A week later Carol returned with some further chapters, including rewrites of some sections which we hadn’t yet returned to her, which isn’t the normal process, but there was no denying her passion and the building momentum to see this project through to a printed and bound book. At one point we stepped back because I still wasn’t sure, and we were overwrought at the time with other projects.

Then last week she walked in and handed me an envelope containing the finished book. She’d done it!

Melting a Heart of Stone: A Biblical Look at Hardness of Heart throughout History (Word Alive Press) was, at its earliest conception, the result of a conversation Carol had on the subject of predestination. With 40 years spent in a Charismatic church, divine election wasn’t a recurring topic.

So she delved into it, and found that while a case can be made for such a doctrine, it’s not the last word on the subject. Rather, every bit as equally, God desires to place in people “a new heart, a heart of flesh for a heart of stone.”

The back cover of the book explains the relevance of this:

If a reporter were tasked with analyzing the state of Christianity today by attending a typical Sunday service, they would probably conclude that all is well. The music is upbeat and joyful, the sermon clear and concise—with the aid of PowerPoint slides and a touch of humor—and visitors are met with plenty of friendly handshakes and greetings. But based on the conversation among Christians in social settings or on the internet, we see a different picture emerging; one of growing frustration and anxiety, and even some bitterness entering into our increasingly negative conversations.

With this in mind, consider the following questions:

  1. Do our choices matter to God?
  2. Can our attitude affect our destiny?
  3. How do society’s attitudes compare with the days before the flood?
  4. Is it possible to melt hearts that have hardened like stone?

Melting a Heart of Stone provides a biblical examination of the phenomena of anger, bitterness, and hardness of heart throughout history, delving into its root cause, negative effects, and the only possible solution. God is seeking those who through humility and repentance are willing to exchange their heart of stone for a heart of flesh.

Concise at 23,000 words (80 pages) and containing references to 42 out of 66 Biblical books, this is a message that I would love to encourage you track down and study for yourself.

The book is available through all the usual outlets, and North American wholesale distribution is provided by Anchor Distributors.

ISBN: 9781486618729 | 11.99 US/CAN

August 6, 2019

Grappling With Galatians

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:19 pm

…which brings us, in this the fourth of four articles, to the course itself; our reason for being at Regent College and our reason for going to Western Canada in the first place.

As I said yesterday,

“Grappling with Galatians” was taught by N.T. Wright on five consecutive mornings with two back-to-back lecture modules each day, each consisting of an hour of teaching followed by 15-20 minutes of Q&A. Ten lectures in total.

For the most part, the 325 students were there in earnest. There were a few who were clearly spouses of those more interested, but those were exceptions. Of the 325, I’m told that between 70 and 80 were taking the course for credit, while the rest of us were auditing the course.

While some Bible scholars quote their sources in the original Greek, N.T. Wright quotes Dead Sea Scroll fragment numbers. “4QMMT” came up frequently. Was it all Greek to me?

Surprisingly not so. My wife and I — both decidedly ‘lay’ people — felt that with a wealth of past reading to our credit, we were able to keep up with the nuances of the lectures. But we weren’t there for the particularities of Wright’s interpretation of Galatians, we were there as much to gain an understanding of his process.

Several times in that process he explained that some of his earlier commentaries contain views to which he no longer holds. He mentioned being influenced by his own mentors. He credited one of his students with providing him with insights into the text a year ago. He discussed a view that he had come to a year ago, and mentioned further things he was wrestling with on the airplane flying to British Columbia.

In other words, N.T. Wright, considered one of the greatest New Testament scholars of our generation, is still very much a student, a student of the text itself, and willing to be taken wherever the text leads.

I find that fascinating.

In the total of 15 hours in the classroom, Dr. Wright was at times very personal, but for the most part, it was all business. Questions in the Q&A portion were routed through a moderator. Unless you had a book to be autographed at the book signing — a total of 90 minutes were set aside with strict directions to keep conversations brief — there was no access. Through mere happenstance I was able to shake his hand and say ‘Thank You’ as he was leaving.

There was also a large public lecture held in downtown Vancouver on the Wednesday night which we chose not to attend, so that others could. It had sold out well in advance.

In the lecture hall, one of my questions was used, but its premise, related to I Corinthians, was edited out.

As preparation for the course, I hand copied the entire book of Galatians from the Kingdom New Testament (N.T. Wright’s version) which actually came in handy several times during the lectures. I also found having my father’s old NIV New Testament opened to the text most helpful, but was in a definite minority on that practice. Lecture notes were handed out each morning, but there was no use of visual aids such as PowerPoint.

Does that constitute a ‘review’ of the course? I don’t know. I have nothing with which to compare it. I do know that I consider myself blessed to be able to have this experience. It may have been a one-of-a-kind thing, though my wife is checking out other possibilities including how she could enter a Masters program as a mature student and take courses through distance education. 

One thing I would have liked to see was an opportunity where students from different parts of the world could interact with those from similar locations. Other than the morning water break, there were limited opportunities and it seemed that, other than the two days there were chapel services, people seemed to scatter after the lectures.

Thanks to our friend Jon who let us know the course would be offered, and coached us on buying tickets on the one day they were available.

N.T. Wright takes a question from the Teaching Assistant. Officially, photography was prohibited, but that didn’t stop a few of us in the final moments of the last lecture.








August 5, 2019

Regent College: An Oasis on the UBC Campus

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:25 pm

This is the largest classroom at Regent, which is where the chapel services are held.

From the minute I stepped on to the Regent College property, I could tell that I was among the people of a very special spiritual community. If you’ve ever spent time working at a Christian camp, or done a training school program like Youth With A Mission, or perhaps you were on staff of a very large church; then you know what I’m describing, a Christian community which, once you’ve found it, you never want to leave, and the people who were there while you were there become friends for life.

I was asked if I was going to write a review of the course we took. I’m still not sure about that, what it would look like, or if I’m even qualified to do that. “Grappling with Galatians” was taught by N.T. Wright on five consecutive mornings with two back-to-back lecture modules each day, each consisting of an hour of teaching followed by 15-20 minutes of Q&A. Ten lectures in total.

The course was held in a nearby science building because the registration exceeded the capacity of Regent’s own building, so my exposure to Regent consisted of some brief moments of registration on the first day, two chapel services, two visits to the school’s bookstore (written about on my trade blog) and a self-guided tour of the library.

I’ve already written about Vancouver, zoomed in tighter to reflect on UBC, and now attempt to zoom in further to look at Regent, but in doing so I find that the school isn’t so much its facilities (which are modest) but its reputation in the Christian community as evidenced by the quality of its staff. I hesitate to build a list, but J.I. Packer, Gordon Fee and Eugene Peterson would be near the top. (You can read their entry on Wikipedia, or visit the school’s website.)

I just wish we could have experienced more of that community. During the break between lectures there were a few brief conversations. One with people who were from California and another with a man from Hong Kong. I got to interact after the last lecture with Ben, who runs the summer lecture program, and Corey, who led the two chapel services, as well as a student originally from Brazil who was taking a degree program concurrent with running a fitness business in Vancouver.

But otherwise, there simply wasn’t opportunity to interact; no forum or platform was set up to know who else was there.

I’ll get to that when I zoom in one last time to look at the course itself, or at least whatever part of it I feel qualified to cover.

This picture doesn’t capture all of the size and scope of the Regent College Library which is located underneath a large outdoor patio at the front of the building. I suspect that many on our summer course never got around to seeing it.

July 30, 2019

The University of British Columbia: UBC = Youth BC

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

It’s a sin to be old at UBC, regardless of whether you are a building or a staff member.

Because Regent College is located on the UBC Campus, this became our home for the past ten days. As I was doing dishes in our apartment a few days ago, it occurred to me that all we needed to do was add some house plants and buy a dog and a person could get quite accustomed to this.

Unless that person is me.

When we noted to someone downtown that the whole campus seemed to be under construction, he noted that a few years ago they decided that none of the Art Deco buildings were deemed to be required anymore. So they’ve been tearing them down and replacing them with look alike residences and academic buildings.

Having graduated from the University of Toronto, where all our buildings had historical designations, it’s a strange thing to be on a campus where the one or two older buildings stand in sharp contrast to everything else.

It’s the same with the students who come from all over the world to work here, with the emphasis on the word ‘students.’ Everyone you meet seems to be frozen in time at age 22 or 23, and the university hires a very large number of summer students.

I went to a church once where they had the rule of not picturing anyone over 30 on the website. (They used a lot of stock photography, as possibly your church does as well.) I can smell the ageism a mile away.

Maybe that’s what makes Regent College so special. There are gray hairs on the faculty and staff. There are mature voices guiding and helping students. Not sure to what extent this exists on the larger campus.




July 29, 2019

Why I Could Never Live in Vancouver

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 am

VANCOUVER — This city is a Hades for anyone who owns a car. If you live in Toronto, you can go years without ever having to drive downtown, unless some legal issue requires you to appear before a Superior Court judge. But in Vancouver, if you’re ever going to connect with the Lower Mainland — and the rest of Canada for that matter — you simply must drive through the downtown. There are no freeways, either.

Yet strangely, Vancouverites are greatly invested in their downtown core. Since this is a faith-focused blog, it seems fitting to mention that the downtown churches are healthy. But locals pay anywhere from $2.50 to $12.50 to park — depending on the church — each and every week. But they pay to park just about everywhere. There are no suburbs in the sense of what I grew up with or the neighborhood where we now live back home. Because the density is somewhat equally spread out, there are parking permits required on streets where you wouldn’t expect parking to be an issue.

Want to avoid the whole car thing? Check this out: There’s a bus system and a train system but they aren’t integrated. They’re treated as separate entities. It’s nuts.

Food costs more here.

Housing costs more here.

If you go for a walk there are no places to sit. 

There are no places to refill a water bottle, or any water fountains.

Information is hard to come by. It’s assumed everyone has a phone and can navigate Google maps, even when these maps are ambiguous.

But it’s the driving/traffic thing that really irks me. Our two journeys over the Lion’s Gate Bridge were on Saturdays. No business traffic, right? It was still crazy. Perhaps I need to go to New York City to have a better basis of comparison.

Mind you, Kelowna in rush hour on Friday was no better, and that’s a city of only 190,000 people. The same rush hour was creating havoc in Vernon. Maybe people in this province have never seen a traffic system that works, and they have nothing to aim for.

Heck, we got out of Greater Toronto, even though our daily reality was Scarborough, not the downtown, and now live in a town where three cars waiting for a traffic light to change is a major backup. And those traffic lights are all on vehicle-sensors so they change dynamically with whatever traffic exists at that moment.

No, this would drive me to insanity, and even though I was not behind the wheel today, it pretty much did anyway.

July 24, 2019

Unity is More Than Just Agreement…

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:21 am

…It may involve the need to transcend socio-economic class, ethnicity, gender as well. I can’t remember where I first saw this, but the original KJV text itself cried out for more inclusive language, and my wife, who has the better graphics program, was more than willing to help out. 

A truly mixed church would be represented by throwing in a Robin, or even a crow! In the lecture we attended yesterday we were reminded that too many churches are monochrome where they ought to be polychrome.

July 23, 2019

I Lift My Eyes to the Mountains: Lake Louise, Canada

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:03 am

Text: Psalm 121
Photo: Ruth Wilkinson

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