Thinking Out Loud

February 23, 2018

Ten Years of Thinking Out Loud

Today and tomorrow we’re celebrating ten years of this blog’s existence; ten years without missing a single day, as far as I can remember. Because the anniversary falls on a Saturday, I thought we’d spread this out over two days, but then again, we might take our cue from the wedding at Cana, and just let things go on for a week. Here’s some things gleaned from earlier anniversary notes.

Year Zero – The blog began in 2008 by accident. It was a continuation of a newsletter I was sending to a rather limited number (about 250) of people. Someone commented that they really didn’t like the newsletter itself, but they liked the little editorials I would add to it. I had a huge catalog of material to post so there were at least two items daily. In December, 2008, there were 70 posts. Not sure I could do that now.

Year One – Blogging was a big thing in within the Christian community in 2009. People were actively leaving comments all over each other’s pages and there were fewer trolls. Much of my best material was posted as comments on other blogs. There was a huge connection to whatever Christian publishing was releasing. Bloggers made many Christian bestsellers happen. As a book guy, I was now being flooded with review copies that had never happened in Christian retail, even though the stores need to sell the product for the system not to collapse.

Year Two On that anniversary I wrote, “I also want to continue to make this a blog for the ‘spiritual commoner.’ That’s the person who feels he or she has a real contribution to make to the life of their church, Christian fellowship or broader community, but isn’t as resourced as today’s modern pastor who, already equipped with both an undergrad and graduate degree, is still taking courses and jetting off to conferences.” In 2010 a lot of people were still on dial-up internet, so we were the blog that was kind to them and didn’t embed videos. We made up for it later.

Year Three – I began with, “I remember years ago participating in a discussion about the ’emerging’ internet where the main concern ran something like this, ‘How are they ever going to get enough content to keep those websites supplied with fresh material?'” I guess that problem solved itself. Thinking Out Loud enjoyed a good run in terms of blog stats due to posting things about the financial problems at The Crystal Cathedral and pictures of televangelists homes. No other blog writers found either interesting at the time, but if you needed to know Google was quite happy to send you here. Also noted, “Some of the best things that happen as a result of all this online activity are never seen online.” So true today as well.

Year Four – Blog anniversaries were routine by then, so I could be more whimsical: “On our stats page, ‘Akismet has protected your site from 294,600 spam comments already.’ I don’t know how that compares with the big boys, but I’m honored just to think that on 294,600 occasions Russian models and manufacturers of imitation European handbags found this particular blog so worth spamming. And while the rest of the blog stats may pale in comparison, just think how quickly they are about to rise now that we’ve used the phrase ‘Russian models.’”

Year Five – At the 2013 anniversary mark, I took time to mention the blog’s greatest spinoff effect: “And then there’s Christianity 201, which is very much a part of the Thinking Out Loud story. If you have trouble maintaining a steady Bible study and devotional habit, then start a Bible study and devotional blog. Seriously. Even if nobody shows up to read, it is its own reward…” I’m not the poster child for spiritual discipline, so doing this blog’s ‘little sister’ faithfully every day — even if some days I work on three articles at once — since April, 2010 has probably contributed to my own spiritual walk and, dare I say it, preservation. Christianity 201 is something I needed to force myself to do. A few days after that anniversary, I also joined Twitter.

At one time, blog counters were quite the rage, but you could rig the starting number before it kicked in.

Year Six – For 22 months, the Wednesday Link List became part of the Christianity Today family. I will always be grateful for that opportunity; it has always had, and still has, a stellar group of writers associated with it. In 2014, I wrote,”I still believe it’s a greater thing to make the news (in a good way, not the weird stories) than it is to simply write the news. But I don’t mind playing scribe if it means I get to choose some things I think are worth noting as part of each week’s passing scene… I enjoy simply giving away content here each day as long as people come by even though this, combined with my equally non-remunerative vocation was recently calculated to represent a loss of income over the past 20 years in the neighborhood of $1,000,000.00; The phrase “Do Not Attempt” should be at the bottom of each page.” This was one of my most candid posts, and one where I began to lament the situation whereby the blog has visibility and is read by people in many different countries, but in terms of local churches here, I’ve never been invited to the ministerial table. I still don’t get that.

Year Seven – I was becoming increasingly aware of the tribalism in Christianity at the same time I noted that, with some exceptions, blog platforms like WordPress were losing readers to short-form platforms like Facebook and Twitter. I also noted that, “I am forced to read the widest variety of Christian news and opinion pieces from a vast field of writers I might not otherwise consider. I may disagree totally with what they wrote Thursday and Saturday, but if they make some good points on Friday, I want to be able to celebrate that. I’d like to think that I am capable of sitting down for coffee with any writer who has trusted in the atoning work of Christ on Calvary for salvation. I do know that some of them might not want to reciprocate that. That is unfortunate and I believe grieves the Holy Spirit… I guess I’m just grateful for what this writing platform had done for my own Christian growth and understanding of the Church, the body of Christ. I’m also thankful for the books it compels me to read which enhance my understanding of God and His ways. And last, I’m thankful for you, the faithful readers whose page views and link clicks demonstrate a shared interest in these things.” That’s true today as well.

Year Eight – By design, I don’t talk much about my personal life or include pictures of myself here. Two years ago, I did a Q&A format anniversary article and attempted to fill in some blanks: “My beliefs are each rather hybrid in nature. On church government, I’m congregational but I believe in structure and accountability. On women in ministry, I am more sympathetic to the egalitarian position, but with a recognition of God-ordained differences between men and women. On eschatology, I believe ‘we see in part and we prophesy in part’ and that many of the models currently taught are still somewhat insufficient. On worship, I prefer doctrinal substance over empty emotion, but at the same time think that we can be passionate about God, about Jesus and about theology in general. On supernatural spiritual gifts such as miracles and tongues, I calculate that if 50% of the people are faking it, that means that 50% are having some type of genuine experience… Some doctrinal issues are above my pay grade. This is one of the few blogs that has risen to prominence that is written by someone who is not a pastor, not a seminary professor, not a local church pastor. I believe we can appreciate the complexity of a subject like substitutionary atonement or divine foreknowledge without having to dissect it, just as one can be a connoisseur of fine foods without necessarily being a great cook. If I can, in my lifetime, fully master just two things — incarnation and atonement — then I will have accomplished much.”

Most of our readers either love or hate the Wednesday List Lynx, Thinking Out Loud’s most recurring character. But he (or she; we’re not sure) wanted to wish us a Happy Anniversary.

Year Nine – Eventually you start repeating material, so last year I mentioned the value of all the books I have been privileged to review; the off-the-blog interactions; the development of the C201 blog project; but I began with, “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. Thank you for keeping us among the top Christian blogs in North America.” (The anniversary post last year was a day late, because of the sudden impact of the Family Christian Stores closing. I do try to respond to breaking news, though not each and every story.)

Year Ten – Which brings us to today, or more accurately, tomorrow. Not sure what we’ll do. I would have liked to include some quotations, but most of what appears here only works well in its full, original context. Besides, that would be a bit narcissistic. If you’re away tomorrow, don’t forget March 7th is the 400th edition of the Wednesday Link List.


February 3, 2018

That Moment Where the Dentist Drills and Fills the Wrong Tooth

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:31 am

It didn’t seem right.

I wanted to say something, but I didn’t speak up soon enough.

So yes this happened.

It happened this morning.

It happened to me…

…Except it was a mechanic, not a dentist.

He was plugging a tire, not filling a tooth.

And I sensed when he pushed the plug in he was widening a hole that had not yet been created and was out by about an inch on the hole that the nail had caused which he had just been working on..

…Brand new winter tires, scarred for life.

And me? The emotional trauma. The horror of it all.

Not exactly the dentist, but equally disconcerting.


January 27, 2018

Today’s (Cough!) Blog Post (Cough, Cough!) is Late (Cough, Cough, Cough!)

Filed under: Christianity, health, personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:57 am

My wife was kind enough to share her terrible cough with me. (To think I always say she never gives me anything.) After walking around for a week smugly congratulating my superior immune system, I capitulated to the inevitable and started coughing a few days ago. It certainly does help you to appreciate the healthy days.

She just left for choir practice. I’m not sure if she plans to just stand in the loft next to everyone else learning the music, or simply sit in an empty seat at the back with her sheet music. I hope she doesn’t give it to anyone else.

Before she left she asked me for a kiss, on the grounds we’re both sick now anyway. I took the Jon Acuff route and gave her a side hug. There’s something counter-intuitive about kissing someone when you’re coughing. 

Someone once told me that doctors don’t catch things because all of the exposure to dozen of sick people every day builds resistance, and the contacts tend to be short; tend to be fleeting. When you live with someone, it’s different.

As I’m typing this I’m having to go back and correct spelling on a larger-than-usual number of words. Tired I guess. Working the backspace key and thankful we’re not back in the days when a serious typing error meant having to insert a new piece of paper and start from the top of the page.

It’s interesting that WordPress has kept the strikeout strike-out option but removed the option to underline. (I had to do that through the text editor.) Am I rambling? Lack of sleep. Eyes hurting from staring at the screen.

So thank-you Mrs. W. for the lovely gift. Forgive me if at some point in the future, I give it back.

Which brings us to today’s homework challenge: Martin Luther’s 95 Theses as Early Example of Blog Post. Discuss. (Cough, cough, cough! Ouch!)

December 28, 2017

When Someone You Love is Ill

Filed under: family, personal, prayer — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:22 am


Over the nearly ten years I’ve been writing here, I’ve covered many times the challenges we faced as a family dealing with the health of my parents.

Now the focus has switched from the generation above to the generation below. Over the past month, our youngest son has found himself dealing with undetermined digestive tract issues, and also intense anxiety. Needless to say, each condition probably is feeding off the other.

I’d appreciate it if you could pray for Aaron with respect to both issues. He just wants to get well so he can get on with serving Jesus through his life and work.

December 22, 2017

Claiming Bragging Rights

Filed under: Christianity, media, personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:11 am

Something in the human psyche longs for connection with the rich and famous…or perhaps simply for bragging rights on Facebook.

This year I passed on a couple of opportunities to meet two authors for whom I have great respect. Both had books made into movies and at the end of the press preview for each there was a meet and greet where you stand in line and get to shake the person’s hand and tell them how much their writing has meant to you.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor to be invited to these things and if they were a little closer, or ended at an earlier hour before the drive home, I would probably rearrange my schedule.

But I would be going for all the wrong reasons.

Basically, while I would have a memory of meeting them, they would have absolutely no memory of meeting me. That’s the simple dynamics of these things. It would not be that I “had coffee with” or “sat on an airplane next to” them; rather, the contact would be superficial, fleeting. Usually the takeaway from these things consists of two possible responses: “She was taller than I expected;” or “He was shorter than I expected.”  (Bonus marks I suppose for those rare times you walk away saying, “He had a very firm handshake.”)

We do have these experiences in our life as a couple. One time, just about ten minutes before going on stage, my wife gave a popular Christian singer a much-needed cough candy. (“Local woman saves performance by international musician…Film at 11:00.”) Every once in awhile his name comes up along with the requisite candy mention…

Had I gone to the film screenings, the result would have been quite simple: Bragging rights. I would have earned the right to say that I’ve met the person in question, and then presumably others would say of me: “You know Paul has actually met him. In person.”

There would be no exchange of business cards and personal e-mail addresses and I would not have heard, “That’s sounds interesting. Let’s get in contact at the start of next week.”

The event would, I suppose serve the intended purpose of increasing my passion with respect to that author’s books and movies. But that passion would have already been there for me to have traveled to the preview.

That said, I really wish it had worked out for us to attend both events. I regret that we could not make the schedule work A year needs some high points. Perhaps it’s about legitimizing what I do and the vocation that occupies my daytime energies.

Maybe it would be about telling myself, ‘I actually met him. In person.’

December 10, 2017

Deleted Content

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, personal, writing — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 am

I bookmark articles I think will be useful to myself or to readers. Occasionally, I return to some of these only to find the writer has deleted that particular item. They continue to post daily, but I guess they want their site to reflect well on them, or perhaps they’ve recanted certain perspectives, or perhaps something that was quite current at the time is no longer relevant or even amusing.

The internet’s ability to be updated is both a blessing and a curse. I will often write an article, hit “publish” and then minutes after the subscribers got their copy, I’ll notice an omission, a spelling or grammatical error or a lack of citation. Some pieces are subject to constant revision over the course of the day.

A few of the earlier pieces here are perhaps a little embarrassing. I didn’t fully understand the nuances of an issue. I weighed in on an issue that was above my pay grade. I quoted a source I would not endorse today. I predicted an outcome which never took place.

But delete them? It never occurs to me. It’s what I wrote that day.

These things are called blogs because it’s an abbreviation for web-log. It’s like a diary. You wouldn’t rip out pages out of your personal diary just because…well…okay, some of you might.

We sometimes operate them more like websites than blogs, and at that point we lose the personal aspect. Yes, I have some training in journalism, but this is also my personal online diary. It contains the things I was thinking out loud that day.

Deleting content would be revisionist. To use a journalistic term: Stet. Let it stand. Leave it as it is. Warts and all.

September 3, 2017

If It Seems Creepy, Cut Your Losses

Filed under: Christianity, ministry, personal — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:23 am

I was a blue-jeaned 17-year old who had come out to my youth group as a half-competent piano player. He was a well-dressed mid-20-something who the church frequently sent out to traditional, small churches as a soloist. He needed an accompanist.

He came by the house with a brown leather briefcase stuff with more sheet music than I knew had ever been printed. Church soloist stuff. Arrangements of classic hymns. Growing up in church I knew many of the songs, and the ones I couldn’t read note-for-note I could play well by ear. Not my usual repertoire, but at least a chance to serve.

He left the briefcase and encouraged me to “dig through it.”

I dug.

At the bottom were what I can only describe as a collection of erotic poems. Tame by today’s standards to be sure, but shocking and unexpected given the context. Pages of the stuff parked almost adjacent to Gaither’s “The King is Coming” and Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer.”

I was no prude. My high school friend Mark and I had the book, a pocket sized pornographic paperback we had found on a walk in the woods. I’ve never seen anything else that particular size and shape. We traded it back and forth a few times.

But I wasn’t putting myself out there as a “music ministry ambassador” for a large church. The hypocrisy of it was evident to me even at that age. And the fact that he wanted me to discover these photocopied, typed and hand-written pages was just… creepy.

I played the one church I agreed to play, and then told him I couldn’t do this moving forward. I’m not sure if I went into details. Years later, I find myself recalling the incident, but can’t think of the guy’s name or what happened to his singing career.

I had been aware enough to discern that something was wrong, but didn’t necessarily catch all the imagery in the poems. At that stage in life, I made the choice to stay blissfully ignorant.

August 5, 2017

A Memorial Cortege

I had already planned to take a different route on Friday. Normally, I take the freeway and drive two exits to work, but I had to pick up three boxes from someone’s house, so pulling out of the driveway, I headed in a different direction.

Several minutes in, I realized these side streets were quite busy and it was easy to deduce that the highway was closed. The backup intensified so I turned on the radio.

There had been a fatal accident twelve hours prior involving a transport truck and two cars. Two people died.

For me, from that point on, with the traffic so tied up, it was like we were all part of a funeral procession, cars slowly moving past given points in honor of the deceased. It was sobering and cast a shadow over the entire workday…

…When you live near a busy motorway, there are always markers. This is where the person laid a sheet over a body at the on-ramp, this is where the teenager chose to take his life, this is where I saw the car spin out of control and roll over just before leaving for holidays.

It’s a sad but ever-present reality. On some days the highway is simply quiet. Sometimes for 15 seconds; other times for 3-4 minutes at a time. On those days you wonder what is going on. You worry…

…On your best days, a car or van is a death-trap. The drivers of the big rigs are usually the most responsible people on the freeway, but when things go wrong, they can go terribly wrong. Some question the theology of praying for “traveling mercies” but asking God for protection is probably as much a reminder to us of our vulnerability as it is a request to him.  We do our best, we drive responsibly and trust him to prompt other drivers to do the same.

July 22, 2017

A Place Where God Isn’t

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:43 am

Crowds in Prague are looking upward, not for some spiritual reason, but rather waiting for the 12:00 Noon strike of the Astronomical Clock

First of all, let’s deal with the theological error in today’s title. No, there is no place where God is not present, but I’m sure there are many places in this world, beyond the ones that we explored, where it seems that way.

Our last tour guide said something to the effect, “Most people here [Czech Republic] do not have a religion because we’ve [collectively, historically] tried religion and we see that it doesn’t do anything [help, solve problems].”

Again, we need to look at a statement like that theologically as well, because if the Bible teaches us anything it shows that when it appears “there is no one left” it often turns out that God has a remnant of people who have stayed loyal to him.

Peering through the glass doors at the back while a Priest leads a small group in a midweek 5:00 PM mass.

In the 2011 census, 34.5% claimed no religion and 44.7% did not answer the question. That situation leaves us with 10.4% Roman Catholic, 0.5% identified with an Evangelical denomination there and 0.8% claiming affiliation with “Christian churches not exactly stated” along with even smaller percentages of other groups.

However, we know that historically, under Communism, answering a question about religion on a government survey would be unwise. It’s possible that in that combined 79.2% saying they are ‘nones’ or skipping the question there is room for belief.

Still, it stands in contrast to the vast number of cathedrals and churches and synagogues (0.01% present membership) that are clustered throughout the cities and countryside. It stands in contrast to the degree to which religious belief is interwoven throughout the country’s history.

At the end of June, a four day rally or festival was held in Prague, the third such summer event held as part of the Awakening Europe series begun with Nuremberg in 2015 and Stockholm in 2016.  On their website, one of the organizers wrote:

Even though it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world outwardly, to my heart it seemed like Nineveh, caught in the valley of decision – not knowing where to go. There are many cities like it all across Central Europe…

That’s how I felt. Despite the history. Despite the beautiful churches. The words of the tour guide keep echoing as I write this.

On the second last day, I told her that for some of us, the Jesus story is real, and vital, and life-changing and something we commit our lives to daily. She was cordial, but I felt like I was being met by a blank stare.

Awakening Europe (June 29 – July 2) on YouTube. Organizers from the UK’s GOD-TV seem to have brought a Charismatic worship style, but I hope they presented a strong apologetic that would rationally and intellectually present the Christian message to seekers. My other concern with this event is that possibly the majority of attendees were simply Christians from other parts of Europe.






July 18, 2017

Mingling with the Wealthy

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:01 am

River Cruise ships are quite different from ocean liners. The long rectangular design would fit well with Ken Ham’s vision of Noah’s Ark. This was home for seven nights. We were on the middle level. The weather never started getting rough and the tiny ship was not tossed, in fact it moved seamlessly through the course of the river.

Before I get into some of the previously mentioned titles in a series of posts about our first mega vacation, I want to address the elephant in the room: The price of such a trip.

We were in some respects out of our league here. First of all, most of the people on the trip were veterans at cruising; both in terms of river cruises and ocean-liner cruises. We were complete newbies. Secondly, although the “formal” dress code in effect for the evening meal was not strictly followed by everyone to the letter, clearly my wife and I do not shop in high end establishments.

For one meal, I decided to wear a tie, since I had brought two with me. I certainly remembered how to tie it, but it felt awkward, like Saul’s armor. In our little town, about an hour’s drive east of Toronto, there is a saying that if you see a man in a suit, that’s the Funeral Director. Church is casual. Our pastor and his two sons were leaving for Africa on Sunday and as they commissioned them in prayer, I saw two guys onstage wearing shorts. It is in that type of dress code I am more comfortable. For the last year, I have worked with a dress shirt that is not tucked in. Frankly, it makes more sense for the physical requirements of the average day. I am not at home in a tie, or a belt, or clothing in general. Local bylaws do not favor any expression of the latter condition, however.

The other thing is that I am not fully comfortable in any fine dining situation that runs 2¼ hours long. While I think we both quickly adapted, the wait staff could be quite intimidating if you’re not accustomed to pampering. At least at breakfast and lunch there was a buffet format. Oh, and as an aside, I might not always know which knife to use with the fillet, but I do know if a knife hasn’t been washed properly. But one hates to nitpick.

The other thing that is always awkward in our lives is dealing with the question, “What line of work are you in?” Yikes! I don’t even know the answer to that myself. It was gratifying a couple of times to be able to say in all truthfulness that my wife co-founded a non-profit that works with the economically disadvantaged. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that for decades we’ve been economically disadvantaged ourselves.

A few times I mentioned that we “once owned a chain of bookstores and now are down to a single location.” That’s absolutely true. And I said I was a writer. Also true. But I also mentioned “ministry” and “working with churches” and “Christian publishing” to more than a few people. More on that in a future article.

And then there was the guy the very first day who summed up our situation with, “You’re here on an inheritance.” Well, yes in a way, but we also managed my mom’s finances for 13 years after my father died without receiving any compensation for doing so, nor having access to any of the funds. Some of the investments we picked for her performed well, and I have no qualms about spending some of that interest income. (Full disclosure: My mother paid my wife $200 a year for doing this. 200 Canadian dollars.)

So perhaps everybody knew we were fish out of water, and perhaps we were even the subject of some conversations. I don’t really care. At least we didn’t show up in the dining room in slippers, as one person did; nor were we rude in saying “These seats are saved” when we wanted to sit with someone who, as it turned out, wasn’t saving the seats for anyone. (I avoided the phrase, “What am I? Chopped liver?”) I got the feeling that among some of our fellow-travelers, there was a certain sense of entitlement.

So we mingled with the rich and with those spending an inheritance and with those whose how-they-got-there stories we’ll never know.

We thanked God that we got to have such an experience. Even when there were times I wondered if we really belonged.

Attending a classical music concert is something with which I do in fact have considerable familiarity. This one at the Palais Liechtenstein featured orchestral and operatic music as well as ballet. We were on the front row, which means Ruth came extremely close to being drafted for the waltz demonstration.




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