Thinking Out Loud

April 8, 2019

Credit Where Credit is Due

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, ministry, testimony — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:04 am

This dog also led Kevin to Jesus. Source Café Press.

It’s always interesting when people you know from a fairly fixed context show up at a funeral for someone you knew from a fairly different fixed context.

“How did you know Kevin;” I asked.

“Actually, I led him to the Lord.” It happened in the town park, apparently.

Later in the funeral service itself, a speaker who had been previously scheduled got up to pay tribute to Kevin and explained how he met him at his apartment through a mutual friend, and as they talked about different things, he led him to the Savior.

After the service was over, a woman who I’ve known for years explained how she had led Kevin to to the Lord on a bus in which they were both travelling.

I wanted to ask her if she’d even been listening to the man who had spoken one of the tributes, but decided not to go there. I’ve run into her since and she certainly affirms her version of things.

My wife said later that Kevin had a ministry to people who had the gift of evangelism.

(Think about it.)

I have no doubt now as to Kevin’s eternal state. He certainly met the Lord on many occasions and accepted him as Lord on an equal number.

I mean why would anyone lie about a story like that?


May 22, 2018

Anniversary of a New Start: Are We There Yet?

Yesterday was a holiday Monday in Canada, and by about 9:30 PM, the local kids had used up their supply of fireworks. It was the silence, not the sound of bottle rockets, that reminded me of another May holiday Monday.

This one took place when I was 17. The impact wouldn’t be known until the next day, but on the Monday night, a beautiful young girl on our street was killed on the back of a motorcycle. My father came in my room on Tuesday morning and informed me of what he’d heard on the radio.

It hadn’t been a good weekend for me already. Clearly, my life was on a trajectory that wasn’t good. I had one foot in the church and one foot in the world and the gap between my feet was growing larger.

So I used Mary-Ellen’s death as a defining moment and decided, as the summer holidays came calling, to leave high school a different person and start college with a different focus, a better mindset, an attempt at cleaner living.

Which brings me to last night.

I don’t usually reflect on this on the May long weekend, but it occurred to me to ask — audibly — if I’m where I should be all those years later.

Clearly, my life was heading for a train wreck, and I’m considered a leader in the Christian community, and I’ve raised two fine boys who are serving Jesus, and I have several blogs, and lead worship and speak in churches, and… and… and…

But what about who I am? The inner life that few ever get to see?

Suddenly in the silence caused by the absence of fireworks, I had this sense that I’m not where I’m supposed to be; or at least being all that I could be. That I still have a long way to go. Most people, in a similar situation, would never admit this. But here we are…

…Sorry…it’s just me thinking out loud.


March 26, 2018

The Excruciating Pain of Losing a Spouse

Filed under: Christianity, testimony — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:29 am

NLT Psalm 22:2 Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

Yesterday in our worship gathering, the pastor began his sermon by pointing out that we get the word excruciating from two Latin words meaning out of and the cross. The excruciating pain we sometimes face in life was felt by Jesus on the cross and as our high priest he is able to sympathize with our pain.

But then he took it a different direction; providing a clear example of what that pain looks like.

We have known the Bayer family for 25 years now. Their son, Andy and his 3 brothers were the same age as our boys and no doubt sat in the same classroom for Children’s Church. Andy Bayer lost is wife Julia to ovarian cancer days before Christmas, 2016.  You can read her blog, Anchor of My Soul on which Andy is now occasionally posting. Or watch the video below:

Words can’t describe all that Andy shared yesterday about how, as Julia’s spouse, he has tried to carry the pain of her loss. There is still anger, and frustration and wishing God would speak more directly as to the purpose of her death.

My reason for posting this today is to make you — or people you know — aware of a website that Andy has started, My Spouse Has Cancer. Resources like this are so important when a person is in the middle of this battle, and Andy has taken the time to write some things he wished he had known ahead of time, to try to be a help to others.

I don’t know who is reading this and what your own need is, but I really felt led to share this with you today. Bookmark the website so you can pass it on to someone in the future.

August 3, 2014

The Things That Trip Up Seekers, Skeptics, Doubters

Filed under: Christianity, testimony — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:18 am


Dee and Deb at Wartburg Watch have posted an article by ‘Eagle’ in which he shares part one of his road (back) to belief. It’s a bit longer than what we run here, so click this link to read Eagle’s story.  (Check back with their blog for part two; we’ll try to run the link here as well.)

What I thought important in his story was the list of things that confounded him as he considered the elements of faith. These are the things that get people thinking that perhaps God isn’t real, or, if there is a supreme being He (for lack of a better pronoun) is unable or unwilling to intervene in our affairs.  You’re better to click the link above, but if you don’t, here’s his story already in progress:

The Second Adam

I often wondered about the evangelical definition of sin as portrayed in the second Adam. Why was I held responsible for another person’s sin which took place long before I was born? Why did this issue “taint” me? What kind of loving and forgiving God would allow and hold sin against me – even when I didn’t commit it? And why couldn’t God just forgive that sin? Also why did Jesus have to die? Is God a sadomasochist who took pleasure in murdering his son…especially when this infinite and sovereign God who created the world and brought order to it could have simply said “I forgive you”?

Genocide in the Old Testament

I realized how screwed up Evangelical Hermeneutics can be. You read about this God of wrath in the Old Testament. Then suddenly, you are to “turn the other check and forgive your enemies” in the New Testament. It appeared that God was schizophrenic.  Add to that, the massive loss of life in the Old Testament with the flood, the destruction of the Canaanites, etc. It made me wonder….how is this genocidal God any different than Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot?

The Prosperity Gospel

It was obvious to me that this “gospel” did not square with the Bible. I was shocked at how widespread this thinking permeates evangelical groups, both overtly and also insidiously. My analysis is that 90-95% of Christianity struggles with prosperity theology in some context.

The Problem of Pain and Suffering and End Times Theology

…It seemed to me that Christians were not allowed to be disappointed and angry with God.  Why is it that, up to this moment, all I mostly heard was this “happy clappy” God is good, etc. I came to realize that I had never really heard any ministry leader openly talk or teach about their disappointments or frustrations with God.

I began to question the serious flaws in some evangelical perspective on disasters and end times theology. So many events like September 11, the Iraq War, Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the current Syrian conflict are placed as proof of an end times perspective. When this happens, there can be devastating effects. I would even go so far as to say that Hal Lindsey and John Nelson Derbyshire have brought great harm to American Christianity due to how their teachings have led some Christians to view horrific events of war, terrorism or natural disaster to be construed as being “good news”. Why? Because it means Jesus is coming soon, and the rapture is around the corner.  Instead of empathizing it has led some Christians to have this perverse sense of glee in other people’s suffering.

This brings up an important question. When an evangelical minister claims that events in the Middle East “prove” the End Times are upon us and nothing happens…how is that minister any different than Joseph Smith or Brigham Young? It’s just a thought….

The Eternal Destination of Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel

I began to wonder why someone living in Wuhan, China in 400 B.C. would be condemned to hell because he never even heard the Gospel. The Gospel wasn’t even invented yet so why would that be held against someone who never even had a chance to place his faith in the Lord? This made no sense, especially for all the descriptions of the Lord being just.

Sexual Abuse By Church Leaders

The hot button issue for me is child sexual abuse. I first became aware of this issue in 2003-04 when I was deeply involved in the 20 Something Ministry in Elmbrook Church, in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Several years earlier (in 1999) Daniel Varga, the popular youth minister, was found to be a sexual predator who abused a number of young adults, and the scars from that still hung over Elmbrook. For me it was hard to wrap my mind around the idea that there could be a sexual predator in a position of trust. How could this be? The scars of such abuse last a lifetime for the victim, haunt a church and compromise its mission for years. Yet, the evangelical church often covers up and excuses such activities, carrying on as if nothing has happened.

Corruption in the church

Churches can seem no different than secular businesses. Money, nepotism and cronyism often take precedence over the truth and faith. Many parts of Christianity have become a business with money to be made in publishing, conferences, music, etc… There were times when I attended a Christian concert and cringed at the commercialism surrounding it. Nepotism and cronyism are major issues in evangelical Christianity, and it has amazed me how some pastor families can have a lock on a church or Elder board. This could turn a family event into a church meeting without the congregation even knowing about it.

The Problem of Prayer

I wondered…What good is prayer to an omniscient God? Does prayer serve any purpose in illness? Why do some seem to get answers in prayer and why does God seem to be silent in other instances? What purpose does prayer even serve?

The Problem of Evil

This was the hardest question for me and the tipping point which finally drove me away from the Christian faith. Evil is everywhere, and its not something you can escape… [He gives several examples] …So why would I worship an omniscient God who allows evil to occur? Why is such a God considered good?  (I’ll talk about it later, but I would also suggest that in many parts of evangelicalism today words are being redefined. The word “allow” is one of many.)

So there’s a cliffhanger for you. How will Eagle overcome these various obstacles to faith? Stay tuned…



June 13, 2014

Southern Baptists Condemn All “Heaven” Books

Heaven is for Real books

If you haven’t heard, this week’s Southern Baptist Convention convention (redundancy intended) included a resolution that basically said, ‘To hell with heaven books.’ Blogger Kristine McGuire summarizes the story accurately in this introduction,

There is an article on Charisma News which is reporting that the Southern Baptist convention has issued a resolution stating books (and now presumably movies) such as Heaven is for Real and others like it (such as My Journey to Heaven by Marvin Besteman, To Heaven and Back by Dr. Mary Neal, and 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper) are not in line with “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and are determining to remove Heaven is for Real from Lifeway Christian Stores.

And it’s taken them how many years to come to this decision? Heaven is for Real has been in stores since 2010…

continue reading here

Christian Retailing reported the same story:

…The parent body of LifeWay Christian Stores stopped short of calling for such products to be pulled from the retail chain, however.

Delegates—known as messengers—to the Baptist body’s assembly focused on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife,” cautioning against putting books about personal heaven experiences on the same level as the Bible’s description of the hereafter…

continue reading here

But certainly the rule here should be caveat lector, let the reader beware. By extension, isn’t any Christian book in danger of being elevated to the same status of the Bible? And doesn’t this already happen in certain circles, where the words of both Charismatic and Reformed superstars are given an almost divine authority.

Black Christian News reported:

In another cultural pushback, Baptists affirmed “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and criticized best-selling movies and books that have focused on heaven and suggested descriptions of it.

“Many of these books and movies have sought to describe heaven from a subjective, experiential source, mainly via personal testimonies that cannot be corroborated,” they said.

In the same session where the resolution was passed, a messenger asked that Heaven Is for Real be removed “for theological reasons” from LifeWay Christian Stores, which are affiliated with the SBC. The request was ruled out of order.

continue reading here

J.D. Hall at the blog Pulpit and Pen notes:

What’s forgotten is that Burpo’s book (and Wallace’s movie by the same name, Heaven is for Real) is nothing new, novelty, or unique. Phil Johnson gives a good list of books with similar testimonies that have become so prominent in the evangelical marketplace that Tim Challies has come to call the genre “Heaven Tourism.” Johnson gives the list including My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman; Flight to Heaven: A Plane Crash . . .A Lone Survivor . . .A Journey to Heaven—and Back, by Dale Black; To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, by Mary Neal; 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper; Nine Days In Heaven, by Dennis Prince; 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man’s Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Torment, by Bill Wiese.

continue reading here

Heaven is for RealHis article is titled “Heaven is for Real: Is Discernment Dead?” and makes the point that in the final analysis, “the details of the book ought to strictly and immediately raise the red flag of discernment for even the most elementary of Christians – let alone those serving as provost of Southern Baptist seminaries.” But he seems to disagree that giving so much stock to the child’s story as to render it worthy of condemnation is the wisest move. Good, personal discernment is all that’s needed.

Many articles noted that LifeWay did not actually end up having to remove the book from sales. There’s too much money to be lost, and LifeWay is a cash cow for the denomination. In various places here we’ve reported on instances where the company puts profit over principles, such as Southern Baptists’ wholesale condemnation of women in ministry, while at the same time publishing and promoting the ministry of Beth Moore. 

By falling just shy of condemning the book outright at LifeWay, the company leaves itself open to carrying the DVD, certain to be both popular and profitable. The film has earned $89,007,517 in the U.S. so far according to Box Office Mojo, and ranks 15th for 2014. The movie is scheduled to release on July 22nd from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, with an initial MSRP of $30.99 for DVD and $40.99 for Blu-Ray.


March 23, 2013

Heaven is for Real: The Movie

Heaven is for RealChristian Post is reporting that Sony Pictures is negotiating with actor Greg Kinnear to play the role of Todd Burpo, father of Colton Burpo, who was the subject of the huge bestselling book, Heaven is for Real.

Read the whole story at Christian Post.

Although I haven’t read the book cover-to-cover, Pete Wilson at Cross Point Church in Nashville did an extended interview with both Todd and Colton Burpo which was presented on film as the largest part of a Sunday morning sermon.  That interview is still online, and I invite you to watch it at Pete’s blog.

March 1, 2013

March Madness, Blog Style

I don’t do repeats here until the piece is a year old.  So a new month always offers new items from the previous year that you may have missed… (Apologies to email subscribers…this is long!)

A Letter to the Nominating Committee

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,

This Song Should Be the Anthem of Churches Everywhere

I was scrolling through the CCLI top 200 worship songs, and it occurred to me there is a song that really needs to be there; in fact it really needs to be part of the repertoire of every church using modern worship.

Eddie Kirkland is a worship leader at Atlanta’s North Point Community Church, where, just to warn ya, the worship set may seem to some of you more like a rock concert than a Sunday service. But I hope you’ll see past that and enjoy the song.

We want to be a church where freedom reigns
We want to be a people full of grace
We want to be a shelter where the broken find their place
We want to be refuge for the weak
We want to be a light for the world to see
We want to be a love the breaks the walls and fill the streets…

All are welcome here
As we are, as we are
For our God is near every heart

If those sentiments are not the goal of where you attend on Sundays, frankly, I think you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s another version of the song that was used as part of North Point’s Be Rich campaign, where each year, instead of reinventing the charity wheel, NPCC members flood secular social service organizations with money and volunteer hours.

Watch the song a few times, and then forward the link to today’s blog post — — to the worship leader at your church.

If a church of any size desires to live up to what this song expresses, there’s nothing stopping that church from changing the world.

Qualifying “It Gets Better”

One of the Church’s biggest failures of the past decade has been our reaction, and over-reaction to the LGBT community, especially to those who — absent the treatment they see their peers receiving — hold on to a faith in the Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, there are the usual conservative voices who insist that any gay sympathies constitute an automatic ticket to hell. Frankly, I am curious to see who shows up to picket at their funerals.

On the other hand, there are among the more progressive progressives, certain Christian bloggers who in their compassion have thrown out a lot of the core of the Bible’s ideal for family, procreation and partnership.

And now, to add to our confusion, we discover that Psalm 139, the scripture used as a major element in the argument against abortion, is used as a rallying cry for gay and lesbian Christians. Regardless of which translation is employed.

Anyway, I’ve already blogged my personal place of balance on this issue, but in thinking about it this week, I’ve realized that my particular choice of words has a bearing on another commonly heard phrase particularly among teenagers who either come out of the closet by choice or who are outed by their classmates.

The phrase is, “It gets better.”

For the bullied, the confused and the lonely, I certainly hope it does. Soon.

But I have to say this, and maybe this can be your response as well, “It gets better, but it doesn’t necessarily get best.”

In other words; I’m there for you.

I understand.

I’m not someone looking at this from the detachment of an outsider; I’ve read your blogs, I’ve looked in to your online discussions. I do get it.

But with all the love in my heart, I just think that ultimately, God has something else in mind which, because He made it, is perfect.

So yes, it gets better, thought it doesn’t necessarily get best.

A Powerful Story Echoes Three Decades Later

This was recorded nearly 30 years ago at a Christian music festival somewhere in Canada. Nancyjo Mann was lead singer in the band Barnabas. I always knew that I had this in my possession — on VHS, no less — and have always felt that more people need to see it. For those of you who knew me back in the days of the Searchlight Video Roadshow, you’ll remember that I often closed each night with this particular testimony.

July 30, 2012

This Will Kickstart Your Week Like Nothing Else

Filed under: testimony — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:00 am

Rachel Held Evans had this on her blog. I had to add it here. I don’t want to say too much, but I promise that you will have some kind of reaction to this.

The video is 21 minutes long. It features Nadia Bolz-Weber. She blogs at The Sarcastic Lutheran. Whatever you think, when you think ‘Lutheran,’ this isn’t it. Move over Garrison Keillor. Rev. Nadia is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. Nobody really believes she’s an ordained pastor in the ELCA. Maybe it’s the sleeve tattoos or the fact that she swears like a truck driver. Either way…she’s fine with it.

I link to lots of different video things in the course of a year, but I felt this one was seriously worth embedding here. You can let me know, or add your voice to the hundred at Rachel’s. We take you now to a Lutheran (ELCA) youth thing in New Orleans.

June 1, 2012

A Pair of Paired Links

Sometimes you have a hunch about a book, even though it’s not one that you’ll ever read yourself.  Obviously, I don’t fit the demographic for The V Society: The True Story of Rebel-Virgin Girls by Adele Berry, but I ordered a couple of copies of this book for our store.  I think it will work well with late high school and college aged females who enjoy Rob Bell or Brian McLaren; people who are looking for something edgy and might also read Rachel Held Evans, who I reviewed here a week ago.

So I was interested when a few days ago I found a promotional trailer for the book.  (You can also watch the video the book’s website.)

Only two videos had been posted on that account, so I got curious as to the other one.  It’s actually a 89-second montage showing the actual printing of the V Society.  In a world where the future of print books is being questioned, this film footage could serve as an historical document some day.


One of the recommended videos on YouTube yesterday was an author interview with Alex Bellos, author of  Here’s Looking at Euclid: From Counting Ants to Games of Chance – An Awe-Inspiring Journey Through the World of Numbers — published in the UK as The Adventures of Alex in Numberland — and I noticed down the sidebar a link from the same uploader to a video about the number 666

But that, in turn, took me to a YouTube channel under the name Bibledex. I decided to watch the one that deals with the “double donkey” problem in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in Matthew’s gospel, as it relates to the prophecy in Zachariah 9:9. How can you ride two animals at once?

The eight minute video is interesting because there are two people, one of whom particularly represents the approach of those steeped in higher criticism or textual criticism who seems to radiate an aura of skepticism that would be foreign to many of my readers here.  For that reason, it’s worth having some exposure to this type of discussion.


Made some interesting finds online?  The Wednesday link list is prepared late on Monday afternoon; use the contact page to reach me.

March 20, 2012

Powerful Testimony: Nancyjo Mann from Barnabas

This was recorded nearly 30 years ago at a Christian music festival somewhere in Canada. Nancyjo Mann was lead singer in the band Barnabas. I always knew that I had this in my possession, but for the last few days I’ve had this very strong leading that more people need to see this. For those of you who knew me back in the days of the Searchlight Video Roadshow, you’ll remember that I often closed each night with this particular testimony.


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