Thinking Out Loud

October 2, 2015

God Bless Help America

Umpqua Community College Shooting

I had originally mentally sketched out another article here in the wake of the Kelly Gissendaner story. As someone writing from another country, it’s not my place to comment on the U.S. justice system except for those times I can bring the perspective of how I feel the story plays out in other countries. I’m not sure that Americans really have a clue how their nation in perceived outside its borders — something about not seeing the forest for the trees comes to mind — unless they (a) have traveled widely overseas or (b) have made a concerted effort to follow U.S. stories in foreign media.

I guess the thing that confounded those of us looking through the window from the outside was the reporting that this woman had not actually carried out the murder that brought about her sentence, nor was she even present, but the life of the man who did the actual killing would be spared the death penalty because he struck a plea bargain deal with the judiciary.

The problem was that I turned to Twitter the next day only to learn that another state had another execution scheduled, and a third state had something scheduled later in the week. I thought about the statistics that the world’s largest prison population is in the United States which also has the highest incarceration rate per 100K population; and then thought about the U.S. gun laws that seem so bizarre to people from other countries. Apparently, at both ends of the spectrum, life is cheap.

But alas, I need to stop here. This is not the time, because once again there has been another school shooting, this time south of Portland, Oregon. President Obama went on television for the 16th time in his presidency and said, “Somehow, this is becoming routine.”

In other words, ‘This is becoming normal.’ The new normal. Obama then again called for changes to gun laws. “This is a political choice that we make to allow this happen every few months in America… We collectively have to answer to those families.”

Mass shooting #294. In only 274 days. More than one per day. (Defined as incidents where four or more people are killed by gunfire.) As I write this on Thursday night, 10 people are dead and 20 injured. Lives cut short. Families shattered.

Gun advocates say that people need to have guns to defend themselves, but where are the headlines where a mass shooting was aborted because some civilian took out the shooter?

Again, it’s not my place to comment on the laws of another country. But know this: To those of us outside what Pope Francis reminded Americans is called “The land of the free,” we don’t believe the authors of the U.S. Constitution had days like these in view. Not for a moment.

It certainly is “The home of the brave.” You’d have to be brave, to leave your house in the morning not knowing if you’ll be having supper with your family at night.

August 1, 2015

Planned Parenthood: An Alternative Christian Perspective

A guest post by Jim Forde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Planned Parenthood discussion hit me in a different way.

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

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



July 26, 2015

Too Many Characters to Tweet

Some random thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Waterbrook Releases


June 29, 2015

Changing Views on Gay Marriage


This weekend we ran a series of the all time most-read articles on this blog, so this is the first opportunity I’ve had to respond to the events of Friday. There is no doubt the United States begins the week having entered a whole new era. Something that was once illegal (and still is in many places) and was considered an abberation (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM) is now the law of the land, mandated by a constitutional ruling by the Supreme Court.

Now, I don’t wish to discuss the particular issue here, but rather, I simply want to note that we’ve seen over the last few years leading to this decision has been a huge shift in values — even among some Christian people — and I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I know that among my readers are those who have different feelings on not only the issue of the day, but on many different areas where the sphere of spiritual concerns overlaps the sphere of civic or legal issues. Some are truly rejoicing in the events of yesterday, for many different reasons. I think it’s great if you can see an up-side to all this. My point is simply that through one Supreme Court decision we have witnessed a tectonic shift of huge proportions.

Interestingly, while looking up the above scripture verse when I prepared this originally for Chritianity 201, BibleHub posted a link to Habakkuk 1:14 (NLT)

The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

There are some who would argue that the only thing that changed yesterday is that another court, the court of popular opinion, grew vocal enough to tip the scales of justice.

Unfortunately, there are also a few who have a misunderstanding that if something is legal it is no longer sin. It is important to recognize that there is not a one-to-one correlation between the two. Many things that are legal are still sinful, and many things that the law says are illegal have little to do with the spiritual condition of the heart.

For example, if we take a simple Ten Commandments approach, the 1:1 correspondence will hold more often, since many of our laws derive from Judeo-Christian teaching. But society accepts many other things which would go against Bible teaching. To the contrary, if where you live it is against the law to make a left turn at the corner of Central Blvd. and Main St. during the evening rush hour, that does not derive from scripture. Still we should note that in the second case, the left turn, it can also be argued that the principles of Romans 13 apply:

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

The problem is trying to read this in the reverse, and saying that what the law permits, God also is okay with; the logic of that does not hold. The “governing authorities” of verse one are not the ones to whom we hold ultimate accountability.

It’s more to the point to refine our understanding of what sin is and isn’t. The word means ‘missing the mark.’ It connotes an archery image of firing our arrows but not quite hitting the bulls-eye, or worse, not even hitting the target sheet at all.

I believe that knowing God’s best exists means we can’t settle for anything less; we can’t be content with the good or the better knowing there is a best.

When we fail to be concerned with aiming for the best we grieve Father, Son and Spirit.

The ultimate question of the day therefore is the question that should guide the everyday actions of all believers: Can God be trusted?

Do we think that maybe, just perhaps he has his reasons for suggesting we organize our family units in a certain manner and live in a particular way. Is it just, as some suggest, that some laws were given were given to provide Israel with a distinct identity from its neighbors, or is there, to put it one way, a method behind the madness?

I believe God’s best is so not because it’s best for him, but because he knows what’s best for us

We must keep this in mind, especially when the tide of public opinion changes, and the law of the land shifts accordingly.

June 21, 2015

The Price to Pay for “The Right to Bear Arms”

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:18 am

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” – President Obama

In light of events this week in Charleston, I am repeating two columns this weekend that were posted in the wake of similar events. The second one below appeared in December, 2012, after Newtown. Also, before you get angry with me, if you’re reading this from the U.S.,  take some time to see how these stories play out in foreign media; look at how the rest of the world views the U.S.


To Our American Friends: It’s Time to Have the Conversation

To our friends in the U.S. in light of events yesterday;

Please accept our heartfelt sympathies.

Even though we’re close neighbors, we don’t fully understand the U.S. gun culture that is part of the DNA of those with whom we share this continent. And before we start to sound judgmental, we don’t always get it right up here, either; neither have we been immune to gun violence.

But we don’t think the framers of the U.S. constitution had yesterday in mind when they drafted the 2nd Amendment. Rather, I think they would be appalled, provided they were not completely bewildered trying to process where things presently stand.

This is only going to get worse. And worse and worse.

It’s time to drop everything else you’re doing and have the conversation necessary to save America.

It’s time to repeal the 2nd Amendment.

I know this subject rips at the emotions of people within the U.S.; and I’m not trying to open existing wounds. I am simply stating an opinion commonly held by people outside the U.S., an, “It’s broken; you need to fix that thing;” opinion which I know does not play well with some Americans. The push-back in the comments section was fully anticipated. I’m just saying that this is how it looks to outsiders. We grieve with you, and know the pain you are experiencing as a nation because this thing hits close to home for us as well. But it represents a set of circumstances that are unique to the U.S. that I truly wish were different; that Americans would begin now to beat their swords into plowshares.

June 20, 2015

The Sun Sets on Another Week of Mass Killing in the U.S.

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” – President Obama

In light of events this week in Charleston, I am repeating two columns this weekend that were posted in the wake of similar events. The first appeared in July, 2012, a few days after Colorado.

Another Day of Random Violence

Like so many in North America, I turned on the television this morning only to find there has been a mass shooting in Colorado.

Mass shooting in Colorado. I’m having a deja vu. Haven’t we been down this road before?

It would be very easy for me as a Canadian to get all self-righteous about how this is a consequence of the American constitution’s “right to bear arms;” were it not for a similar shooting that took place in Toronto just a week ago. But oh, how I wish the framers of that constitution had been a little more particular in their wording on this item. (And what they meant by separation of church and state.)

The alleged perpetrator has been arrested. You have to say alleged. Or suspect. Due process of law is guaranteed for all. But the facts on this one are fairly established. There is no way he knew the people he killed. Whatever his motive, there was no individual reason why those people died.

He simply had no regard for human life.

Whatever he learned in school about science, math, spelling, history, geography, music, art, literature; he did not learn the basics of moral law or moral ethics.

He had no regard for human life.

Families are now dealing shock, and loss, and planning funerals; and only beginning to contemplate life without their loved ones; while meanwhile others hold vigil outside hospital rooms hoping for a favorable outcome.

It’s almost 12:00 noon, and I still haven’t posted this. I turn on the television again, and Drew Carey is explaining the rules of a game to a contestant on The Price is Right. The major networks have returned to regular programming; so I title this, Another Day of Random Violence. Just a typical morning in the USA. Does anyone really care today if Drew’s contestant wins the prize package?

No regard for human life.

No regard.

At all.


God, when will it end?

For some reason this morning I can’t get this song off my mind. There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God is Seated at the Conference Table) is actually a song about war, but the chorus hook keeps replaying in my head in light of today’s events. There won’t be any peace, until the Prince of Peace returns.

May 31, 2015

The World We Now Live In

Filed under: current events — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:53 am

This is how the international page of the Christian Post looked when I started the day yesterday morning. I leave it here without further comment.

Christian Post May 30 2015

April 28, 2015

When World News Hits a Small Town

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:27 am

While a national newscast is streaming live on my computer, I often offset the tension of world events with card games from, but this time a familiar name caused me to click back to the newscast.

There she was, a woman who I know well, who has shopped in our Christian bookstore. She was telling a national reporter about her husband, missing in Nepal after the earthquake. I know him as well.

Events half a world a way were impacting our small town.

The man, aged 77, is given to a lot of travel, and he was in Asia visiting friends and encouraging local people in ministry. He left for China on April 1, then went to Bangladesh and arrived in Nepal on April 15. After hearing about the earthquake, the family tried repeatedly to connect.

This story ended well.  He’s living on the street, but he is alive. An answer to the prayers of many here. But we know there are Americans missing or dead at this point, or if you’re reading this from elsewhere, perhaps people from your nation, or, as we see here, even your community.

It seems trite to say that it’s a small world, but to think that international events could impact our little community in this way is, on the one hand, certainly unexpected, and yet on the other hand, not surprising giving the interconnectedness of the modern world.  Right now, as you read this, half a million human beings are in the skies.[source]

Continue to pray for the people of Nepal. If your internet world doesn’t include world news and you didn’t hear about the tragedy there, perhaps it’s time to reconsider awareness of world events, even if they aren’t about someone in your city or town.


April 18, 2015

Thinking Out Loud after PARSE

Link List - Out of Ur22 Months ago, an email from Skye Jethani changed things around here and forced me to raise the bar on what I was doing with the Wednesday Link Lists. He wrote,

I’m a fan of your Wednesday Link List. Not only is it helpful and concise, but I enjoy some of the wit and whimsy of your comments. I think the readers of Leadership Journal’s blog, Out of Ur, would benefit from what you’ve created. I wanted to explore the possibility of having your weekly link list published on our site in order to give it a wider audience.

Just days later, the first installment appeared at Out of Ur, later renamed PARSE.

I have always had great admiration for Christianity Today, and I wish there were space here to list the great Christian writers and leaders who have had staff positions with its various publications. I actually applied to be a columnist at Leadership Journal (their website is the parent to PARSE) in the days before the internet, and still have the rejection letter from Kevin Miller. If you’re going to be turned down, at least be turned by the best.

Out of UrI will admit that I got carried away at times. One of the lists had 38 links in it. So more recently we transitioned to a new format whereby there would be far fewer stories, much longer excerpts, and a twice weekly format that was originally envisioned as ten on Wednesday five on Saturday, but ended up being close to ten each time. I will admit that I still get carried away at times.

The biggest joy of writing for people at Leadership Journal was knowing that the material I selected was being seen by people in full time vocational ministry. It was, in its own small way, a means whereby an ordinary writer like me could be an influencer.  In an earlier lifetime, I had stepped down from a similar monthly column at Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine with the closing line, “While it’s a fine thing to write the news, I think it’s a better thing to make the news.”  (Actually, it was the dark ages, and italics had not been invented yet.)

Now I’m not so sure that was wise. Certainly, as a frustrated musician, it was hard to write of others’ successes, but this time around, in a world where everyone has a blog and is clamoring for attention, there is some honor in choosing what types of news stories and opinion pieces people see.

Working with people whose opinions and perspective on Christianity and culture resonate with me has been a blast, even if we’ve never met face to face. I can’t thank Skye Jethani enough for the opportunity, and also thank Paul Pastor, Drew Dyck and Tim Gioia for doing the legwork of making what I wrote visible to so many. 

But alas, things change, so last week I was abruptly told by Drew Dyck,

…After many years, first as “Out of Ur” then as PARSE, we will be shutting down our blog.  I’ve been incredibly grateful for the awesome job you’ve done for us. I still don’t know how you manage to track down all the relevant/interesting stories for church leaders around the web—and then do such a great job of setting them up. Anyway, with Paul Pastor gone, maintaining a multi-voice blog has been a challenge…

So as suddenly as it began, it ended.

Ironically, PARSE just won Third Place in the Blog category at an Evangelical Press Association awards night, and is also the #15 blog on the latest Top 300 list from Church Relevance. I’m not sure that dumping a relatively hot internet property like that is wise, especially when blogs are struggling to maintain readership numbers. But that’s their call.

Again, I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with a great team.

…And now we come to where I need your help. The Wednesday Link List will continue. I’m not sure about the Weekend Link List however. The question is, do you like the excerpts or would you prefer the original listing of nothing but bullet points?

Please email me via the contact page, or leave a comment right here or on Twitter.

And if you manage a Christian website that has a budget, use the contact page if you’d like to offer the Wednesday Link List a new home.

March 22, 2015

New York House Fire Highlights Challenges of Orthodox Jewish Observance

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:49 am

img 032115

Because Orthodox Jewish observance of Torah precludes the turning on and off of electrical lights and appliances, the family left a hotplate on all night which may have sparked the blaze. On Friday night in New York City, seven children — all from one family — perished in a fire believed started by that device. ABC News reports:

Fire investigators believe a hot plate left on a kitchen counter ignited the flames that raced up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor rear bedrooms, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

Many religious Jews do not use electricity on the Sabbath, along with refraining from work and observing other prohibitions meant to keep the day holy. As a result, some families may leave them on so they are usable without violating any religious laws or traditions.

Just last week, the situation comedy Fresh Off The Boat introduced some new characters, part of an Orthodox family where the toilet is used in darkness because switching lights on is forbidden and in another scene the guests are asked to do things in the kitchen which the family cannot do themselves.

Many Evangelicals (who comprise the majority of this blog’s readers) don’t realize that in Judiasm, there are denominations, just as there are in Christianity. From that most authoritative source, Wikipedia, we learn the following:

  • Orthodox Judaism holds that both the Written and Oral Torah were divinely revealed to Moses, and that the laws within it are binding and unchanging.
  • Conservative Judaism holds that the Oral Law is divine and normative, but holds that both the Written and Oral Law may be interpreted by the rabbis to reflect modern sensibilities and suit modern conditions.
  • Reform Judaism  rejects most of the ritual and ceremonial laws of the Torah while observing moral laws, and emphasizes the ethical call of the Prophets.

Denominationalism in Judiasm is not a recent development. We know that Jesus entered into a situation where some Jews followed the teachings of Hillel and others followed Shammai. Jesus brought new teachings which did not build on what was previously taught but came from his own authority: “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” (And the belief system which followed from his teachings and resurrection, thought not initially termed Christianity, was represented very quickly by different strands, or sects.)

However, his general ethic seemed to be founded on the idea of opting for that which preserves life. He brings up the story of David and his men eating the consecrated bread from the temple as an example of practicality. And then,

NASB-Luke 14:5 And He said to them, “ Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?”

By Orthodox standards, Jesus’ teachings would be seen as quite liberal, if not heretical or even blasphemous (because of what they would perceive as his, at the very least casual attitude toward the law, or at worst, contempt for it).  But what would he say in today’s world, where Orthodox observance meets with the technology afforded by electric lights and ovens and (for New York apartment dwellers) pushing elevator floor buttons.

Back to the news story… Did some in the dominantly Jewish neighborhood hesitate to call 911 because of a prohibition against using a telephone? The fire did spread very quickly, so we certainly don’t want to attach blame here. But another Wikipedia page offers some insight:

Like other electrical appliances, telephones are bound by similar restrictions on Shabbat. Operating a telephone may involve separate prohibitions at each stage of the operation. Thus, removing a telephone from the receiver to produce a dial tone closes a circuit and makes a noise. Dialing closes more circuits and creates more noises. Speaking on the phone increases an existing current, but Rabbi Shlomo Auerbach and many other authorities permit this. Hanging up the phone opens a circuit, which is a Biblical prohibition of “destroying” according to the Chazon Ish but a Rabbinic prohibition according to others.

Dialing on many phones, including cell phones, also causes the numbers to be written on a display screen, thus violating the prohibition of writing (even though the writing is not permanent). If a phone call must be made on Shabbat, other factors being equal, it is preferable to use a phone without a display screen.

and then adds,

In some cases, the telephone may be a lifeline in the event of an emergency, in which case the laws of Shabbat are of course suspended: a life-saving phone call may be made.

What might the Rabbi of Nazareth say about a hotplate which introduces the risk of loss of life? Would the principle of life over law extend to the risk imposed by the hotplate left burning through the night?

It certainly highlights the complexities of a legalistic code about which those outside the faith know very little.

image: ABC News (click link in story)








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