| 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 14, 2017
In addition to Valentine’s Day, it’s also our anniversary. Not just any anniversary, but one of those special ones that ends in a ‘5’ or a ‘0.’ A really special one.
Where did the time go?
I decided that for today’s article, I would share the text of a poem I found on a card that my father sent my mother on an equally special anniversary. Last week I put it in a very safe place. You know how those things go, right.
It was titled, “I’d Marry You Again.” You’ve possibly seen it on cards and on plaques and on goodness knows what else. But the one you’ve seen is probably the version credited to Anne Peterson. It ends,
…With all the ups and downs we’ve had
In learning to be friends
I know that in this heart of mine
I’d marry you again.
In looking around online however, I found Lynette, a blogger in South Africa who had posted a version of the poem credited to Carla Flamm. Lynette’s blog seems aimed at creative crafters and scrapbookers and I clicked the header to see if she was still writing and she is. She says her blog is, “The place where I am free to share my love for my Lord and Saviour.” That header reads, “My life: Perfectly imperfect.” So for all those reasons, this poem seemed to fit like a glove
Do you know how much I love you
How much you mean to me
I can’t imagine my life without you
My world would be empty
It seems like only yesterday
I first looked in your eyes
But the years have passed so quickly
Much to my surprise
The life we’ve made together
Our children and our home
The memories we have to cherish
How much our love has grown
Through the good times and the bad
You’ve been right by my side
You’ve made me smile, made me laugh
And wiped my tears when I have cried
You are my partner, my companion
My lover, and my best friend
If I had the chance to do it over
I’d marry you again.
I’m writing this a few days ahead, and things are a little hectic. It’s a perfectly imperfect day. But I have so very, very much to be thankful for looking back over all these ends-in-a-five-or-a-zero years. I really married up. I got the better of the deal. And it’s just for that reason that she would never admit this. She accepts me despite my brokenness, my sometimes cold responses, my frequent inability to make decisions, and even the odd bad habit. I have the greatest difficulty accepting that; accepting that I am so very blessed.
Happy Anniversary, Ruth. We’ll celebrate that in a few months when the weather is warmer. You are so intelligent, so gifted and so wonderfully unpredictable. For today, Happy Valentine’s Day.
I’m so thankful I have someone to say that to.
December 10, 2016
The man picked up his car keys and rattled them a few times. The dog’s ears perked up.
“Wanna go in the car?”
At this the rather large Shepherd Cross started skidding on the tile kitchen floor in excitement and then began jumping up trying to catch the keys from its master’s hand.
“Okay, okay let’s go;” he said and yelled up to the second floor to his wife, “I’m just gonna stop at the hardware store after I’m done at the vet.”
At the mention of the word ‘vet’ the dog stood still for a split second and then bounded down the stairs into the basement where it retreated into a back corner hoping not to be found…
…It’s the question kids always ask when told they have a doctor’s appointment: “Am I gonna to haff to get a needle?”
Nobody wants to be poked or prodded and like dogs, we have a long-term memory for things which have upset us as children, such as previous doctor visits.
But when you get older and have had a few exploratory procedures done, the poking and prodding isn’t what you fear, it’s the diagnosis; we fear the words.
Such was the case last week when the specialist I was seeing for the first time, walked me back from another room, told me to sit down and began with, “There’s no easy way to say this…”
My concern wasn’t anything he was going to do but rather what he was about to say.
For my regular readers, this wasn’t a life-and-death situation, but it was and is upsetting to say the least. The words are important. The words matter. The doctor basically spoke a condition into existence, at least from my point of view, that I was unaware of.
My next day continued as had the day before. Other than a new medication to take, nothing really changed except my awareness that something was changing. Age. Decay. The passing of time on a clock that we can’t turn backwards.
We don’t fear the condition so much as we fear hearing the words associated with it. He didn’t say anything as devastating as probably tens of thousands of others around the world heard that day, but it was the experience of hearing someone break any kind of medical news to a patient.
NIV 2 Cor 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
August 5, 2016
I’m writing this in a moment of brokenness…
…So a few weeks ago our church did a four-week series on apologetics, and one of the weeks dealt with the problem of evil. The speaker was quick to point out something that both my son and I immediately caught on to when he said that the question, “If there is a God then why is there evil in the world?” might be coming from two different places.
The speaker explained that there is the intellectual problem of God and evil coexisting, but then there is the pastoral problem; “If God is love, why is there so much pain and hurt in my life?”
I love when people give you the words to properly articulate a situation or issue. So many times since, I’ve said to myself, ‘You’re reflecting the pastoral question; or the pastoral side of things.’
The pastoral is personal; it’s subjective; it’s taken up with with the cries of one’s own heart.
And that’s where I find myself right now. I’m asking myself how can I keep giving of myself and serving others in ministry — mostly through my vocational calling, but also through my various blogs — when the cry of my heart seems to go unanswered. I really don’t know how much more I have to give.
Ah, yes; the problem of unanswered prayer. It’s partly that, but it’s also just a general brokenness; a feeling that God has distanced himself from the circumstances and situations which make up my personal journey. Some of it is just self-pity. So many things I dreamed of — even for this summer — not accomplished as time slips away…
…So if it’s a pastoral problem, why not see a pastor? I guess I’m in a season where I don’t really have that go-to person in my life; which is ironic because I am surrounded by clergy. I don’t want to have to sit down and pour out the minutiae of my life to people whose life is so very different from mine, or people with whom our basis of association hasn’t had to include the details of our family situation. It would feel good to talk, but at the end of the day I’m not sure they would get it. (Cue: Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.)
I think I need a shepherd.
Even more, I really need a hug.
July 9, 2016
It’s been awhile, but this is the third time for this article here, this time with revisions…
I’ve previously written here about how we’re big fans of sermon audio when we travel, and as someone who works in a Christian bookstore environment, it’s a given that I’m a huge booster of Christian books and music.
But today I want to approach this from a slightly different perspective. Many times I’ve written about the battle that goes on for our thought life, and how this takes place on a moment by moment basis. Back in June, I posted a great analysis of the types of thoughts, that are going on in our heads at any given point in time.
I don’t spend a lot of time commuting, but I am increasingly aware of the contrast that exists between the mental processes that take place when I omit to turn on the radio — which is mostly presets for Christian stations — and drive in silence, versus the times I have worship songs playing. This is a giant contrast in my thoughts and attitude, not a mild difference.
Listening to Bible Teaching
I frequently listen to sermons from Willow Creek, The Meeting House, Woodland Hills and North Point, in addition to live sermons at church, and the occasional streaming of conferences.
Life was not always so.
I can remember asking my parents why they had to constantly listen to more preacher programs. Their media of choice was WDCX, an FM station in Buffalo, and WHLD, a Buffalo AM outlet. Of course, my choice would have been Top 40 rock station 1050 CHUM in Toronto. I think that was the real issue.
But today, although I hunger to learn and grow and discover more about Christ through what others have learned, I also am acutely aware of what happens in the absence of Christian media in the home.
Bible teaching can come in other forms besides radio and television. There are the aforementioned sermons-on-demand and live-streaming church services on the internet, plus many pastors often do a separate podcast. But there are still audio CDs of sermons kicking around, and of course books.
Reading Christian Books
One of my latest rants is that, in the average 21st Century family, I’m not sure the kids have ever seen dad sitting in a chair reading, and here I’m speaking of reading anything, a newspaper or magazine would suffice. How much more is it important to take time out and immerse yourself in the Bible, devotional material and study resources. If you missed it, I encourage you to read an article we did on Bill Hybels’ “Chair Time” concept.
Listening to Christian Music
For some Christ-followers, the dominant form of uplifting, inspirational and wholesome media is Christian music; which may consist of hymns, mass choirs, southern gospel, adult contemporary, Christian rock in all its various genres, and the current favorite, modern worship.
Again, these can be accessed in various forms. Some choose mp3 files which can be played back in the car and in the home. Many people are still buying music CDs. Christian music song videos abound on video sharing sites like YouTube. There is an abundance of Christian radio available online, and here in North America, most people live within range of a broadcast station that plays music, teaching or a mix of both.
But I have to say that as a worship leader, nothing compares to the songs what you experience in a worship environment with your faith family. Even today, I hear a song and I’ll remember which church I was in when I heard it and who was leading worship that day. Or I’ll be reading a scripture and I’ll recognize the verse as a line from a worship lyric. If you happen to be blessed with a gift that allows you to play in the worship band, a particular song can get stuck in your head for hours, and in a good way.
For a listing of some of my favorite songs with video, visit the sidebar in the right margin at Christianity 201.
Our family was never a movie-culture family. We’ve been to the cineplex less than a dozen times, ever. But the production of Christian cinema has exploded over the last few years, and if you’re the type who enjoys gathering everyone around the home theater there are now some really decent films from which to choose, plus you’re supporting a genre that has tremendous outreach potential. You can purchase DVDs — great for loaning out after you’re done — or stream movies live.
Listening to God
These varied media I find to be a positive alternative to anything else, and in fact fulfill a direct instruction from scripture:
Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.
What will control your thought life this week?
June 12, 2016
Once again, we’re late today. Our church did it’s annual service in the park and this year’s was one of the best in terms of outreach and connection. Sets the bar high for next year, though!
My post two days ago about Christian stewardship and the automotive market got a couple of comments which I felt were worthy of a longer and more visible reply.
The general response I would expect is: Don’t over-think it. In other words, if you live in North America, unless it’s in the heart of a major urban center, you’re going to need some type of motorized vehicle.
Trust me, I get that.
What I wanted to do was simply get people thinking. (Hint: See blog’s title.) In a world of scarce resources where God’s people are called to maintain a distinct identity, are we putting our personal funds to best use to incurring a cost on a depreciating item.
That’s the tension I hope we live in.
So yes, my wife needs a car — and I need her to be happy — but it would also be good to allocate those resources to other things and causes.
By doing the one I can’t do the other.
Our personal finances are extremely limited. So we buy the used car, but it pains me to have to do it.
I think that tension is a good place. It’s not keeping me up at night, but it’s a better place than simply going through the motions of life without a thought as to the big-picture issues I believe God’s people ought to consider.
One comment said,
“a car is not an investment, it’s a consumable good like shoes or a phone”
That’s true. Really each and every expenditure I make, no matter how small, should be done with good stewardship in mind. From buying bananas to garbage bags to socks to dish soap, my goal should be to exercise wisdom with the gifts God has given.
If you have loads of cash available, you might see this differently, but when you are barely scraping by, stewardship and survival go hand-in-hand. And yes, you can strain at a fruit fly and swallow a dromedary. We do all the time. We get a great deal on a $5 commodity and then make a $50 mistake by missing a payment deadline.
I think God wants us to be aware.
I think He wants us to think about our actions.
But I also think He wants us to enjoy the money we work for.
June 10, 2016
When a Christian is trying to practice financial stewardship, there’s something counter intuitive about buying a motor vehicle of any type. The key word is depreciation, but I think it also has to do with high cost of owning and maintaining a car, van or truck versus the other uses to which those funds could be applied.
Today we’re picking up a domestic, 2009, 4-door sedan. The 2017s will be out in a few weeks — I think; I don’t tract the automotive market at all — which means we’re already model years behind, so this will be the oldest car we’ve ever purchase, but it is all our present bank account will allow us to buy. Even there, we are buying this with family help, given that my current vocation — i.e. missionary — is not providing any income at present; and by “not providing any” I do indeed mean nothing at all.
So we’re waiting for the call that this vehicle is waiting for us. It’s not my dream vehicle — also used; my dreams are modest — but this car will be primarily driven by Mrs. W. to replace the one she’s currently using which is simply not safe to drive.
Yes, there are hungry people in the third world. (Or two-thirds world, or majority world, or whatever it is we’re supposed to say.) But we live here. It’s hot in summer, cold in winter. Temperatures in Canada can vary between -40°C and +40°C. That’s an 80 degree range. 144 degrees in Fahrenheit. Distances are not near. Public transportation between communities is not as sophisticated in North America as it is in Europe. We don’t live in an urban center.
I’m not sure if my social justice friends would approve of my purchase. They might question whether we need a car at all. They might suggest we keep repairing the present one. Or, I hope, they might commend me for buying used.
Bottom line, with the measure of intelligence God has given us, we feel this is the right decision for today. And yes, the car will continue to depreciate until it is basically scrap, like the one we’re trading in today. And yes, it’s counter-intuitive to do this when things that appreciate or are a valid investment seem like better stewardship.
Mixed feelings. Ambivalence.
June 4, 2016
I don’t know if my parents purchased them or if my grandparents bought them, but somewhere in the house we have a few Bible stories on View-Master®. Sometimes images from your childhood will appear for no good reason, and for me, a few days ago, it was the scene where the head of John the Baptist is brought to Herodias’ daughter on a platter. Wikipedia explains:
According to Mark 6:21-29 a daughter of Herodias danced before Herod and her mother Herodias at the occasion of his birthday, and in doing so gave her mother the opportunity to obtain the head of John the Baptist. Even though the New Testament accounts do not mention a name for the girl, this daughter of Herodias is often identified with Salome. According to Mark’s gospel Herodias bore a grudge against John for stating that Herod’s marriage to her was unlawful; she encouraged her daughter to demand that John be executed.
If you don’t know the story, Mark 6 (NLT) records it:
17 For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her. 18 John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, 20 for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.
21 Herodias’s chance finally came on Herod’s birthday. He gave a party for his high government officials, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee. 22 Then his daughter, also named Herodias, came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests. “Ask me for anything you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.” 23 He even vowed, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!”
24 She went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?”
Her mother told her, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist!”
25 So the girl hurried back to the king and told him, “I want the head of John the Baptist, right now, on a tray!”
26 Then the king deeply regretted what he had said; but because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison, 28 brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came to get his body and buried it in a tomb.
Anyway, the image flashed into my brain this week for some reason, and I looked for it online this morning, but it’s probably just as well I didn’t locate it.
“Why did you buy that one?” I asked my mom on Thursday.
She remembered the product but didn’t recall the purchase, which leads me to believe it was my grandparents. Despite the rather gruesome image — here’s one to give you the idea — I wasn’t traumatized, I do have a healthy relationship with the New Testament today, but I don’t advise this story be told or illustrated if you kids under a certain age.
May 31, 2016
I still remember the four principles I was taught in Driver’s Ed. all those many, many years ago. I know they probably teach something different today, but here they are:
- Aim High in Steering – Don’t be one of those people who is looking down at the asphalt directly ahead of them and fails to see what’s happening in the block ahead.
- Get the Big Picture – Be aware of the general traffic pattern; cars that a trying to merge; drivers who are in a hurry; people turning from cross streets.
- Make Sure They See You – Don’t drive for long stretches in other people’s blind spots; make sure they know your intentions
- Leave Yourself an Out – In a 3-lane freeway, don’t pull into the space between the car in lane 1 and the minivan in lane 3; have an escape route if there’s a problem
This list of guiding principles has been useful many times, but took on new meaning last night as I was counseling a recent university graduate on next steps.
- Aim High – It’s time to think about career. In the meantime there may need to be an entry-level position, but being a bagger at the Walmart Supercenter isn’t necessary. At this point, there are some things you can start turning down, but don’t expect a reserved parking space or a corner office anytime soon. Maybe it should read aim higher.
- Get the Big Picture – Know the industry, trade or profession you want to work in. Read its journals. Study its online resources. But also have a handle on the job market in general, and what’s going on in the local community as well as nationally. Learn to be conversant in several employment dialects.
- Make Sure They See You – You’re building a career resumé now, not simply looking for spending money. Start thinking about what that piece of paper will look like five years from now. Make an impression. Have a business card. Start a personal website. Commit to excellence.
- Leave Yourself An Out – At this stage, if the job is a stop-gap measure with little chance of upward mobility, say so. Tell the employer you intend to do good work, and be worth his or her training investment, but that you see the position as temporary. When the moment comes where something better arrives, leave on good terms.
March 1, 2016
Most of the pictures of my childhood were developed as 2¼ x 2¼ slides. It was the newest technology of the day, and the feeling was the “wide screen” offered a higher quality image than standard slides.* Every year or so, we would go down memory lane as a family by setting up the projection screen and the projector and watching one after another, possibly along with a few 8mm family movies.
Today, the film and slide canisters sit in a box somewhere. We have the projector, but I’m afraid to try in case the bulb goes. Replacements might be difficult to find.
My wife and I took a different route, developing pictures the old-fashioned way and placing them in an album. (Well, not totally old-school, later on we would send digital files out for printing.) Reliving our family memories is as easy as opening a book.
For those reading today, this is a cautionary tale.
Too many people have too many memories which are currently parked on various social media accounts or worse, sitting on the devices that captured the image on the day they were taken. You are dependent on the technology of the day which may or may not exist tomorrow.
For example, when the opportunity came, my Dad backed up our family movies to VHS. Our wedding is on VHS, and one of the two copies unspooled one day when we were rewinding the tape. (Be kind: Please rewind.) I’d like to transfer the VHS to a digital file, but I don’t want to have another tape get lost in the plastic shell.
And how do today’s digital files compare to whatever it is we’ll have tomorrow?
I realize the analogy has its weaknesses, there is no print-equivalent to movies, but in terms of our other (still) pictures, it’s been about three years now since we last sent a file out for printing.
We do print off a few on the home computer so that my mom can keep them in the facility where she lives, but even they, though done on proper photo paper, are rendered in ink-jet, not laser, which means they are extremely vulnerable. I fear a computer crash could just wipe out everything.
Furthermore, there’s a great irony in the fact that while the new technology means that camera ownership (via phones) is at a record high, new technology means that so many of those memories stand to be lost when people change or even misplace devices.
Again, this is a cautionary tale. Nobody is paying me to say this. But go through your SD-card computer, or your laptop and pick a few images and create a file that your local photo shop can run for you.
I believe you’ll thank me some day.
*This is an argument that is somewhat meaningless. Beta had superior picture quality to VHS, but lost the market war. Blu-Ray is considered much better than standard DVD, but again, the market favors the latter. In this example, the wider format slides simply never caught on. The projector we owned was capable of showing both types, a concession to this situation.