Thinking Out Loud

May 5, 2016

Moving on to Bigger and Better Things

life's journey

As many of you know, I follow an unofficial and invisible ‘algorithm’ of sorts whereby I consistently return to same month posts from previous years to look for new material and new approaches to old topics.

Sometimes there are surprises: The particular item we quoted or linked to has been scrubbed from the site, or the entire blog or website no longer exists. I’ve never purged an article from any of my sites. If it was worth saying that day, I think it’s worth being able to go back and examine it again.

But often, it’s just a case of the writer stopped writing and rode off into the sunset.

The reasons vary, I suppose; but this one got to me:

This week I signed a publishing agreement with [name of publisher] to write my first book.

And with that, he was gone.

I recognize that you can only be active on so many fronts and perhaps if I had a book deal with that publisher — which came close once; they read my manuscript — I might reconsider the daily posts here. But then I keep thinking: It was probably their blog that got them the attention which led to the book deal, and now they’ve stopped doing the thing that got them where they are.

Some things we do in life are stepping stones. One thing leads to another. Once you’ve mastered the bicycle, you tend to leave the tricycle in the garage. I get that. But when it comes to sharing your thoughts in a forum like this one, I don’t see how you can simply not have anything more to say. What about topics that aren’t the central theme of the book you’re doing? Do you no longer have opinions on subjects that are currently on the minds of your (former) readers?

If you are a regular reader here, you know where this is going: Pastors who reach a degree of national prominence, get a major book contract, and step down from local church ministry. We saw this in the last decade with people like Rob Bell and Francis Chan.

I don’t think it’s right to sit back in my recliner and armchair quarterback other peoples’ lives. I would probably never claim to know the will of God for someone’s journey. I believe it highly presumptuous to critique the career changes of individuals I don’t know intimately.

However, in the realm of faith, I believe that the heart of ministry is local church ministry. Show me a published author who detaches himself (or herself) from the day-to-day stuff of the local congregation, and I’ll show you someone who will slowly lose the thing that got them their book contract. On a micro scale, show someone who is a pastor, but is never available at the door to shake hands after the service, or never does coffee shop appointments with parishioners, and I’ll show you a pastor whose sermons will become distanced from the very people he (or she) serves.

For those who are blessed with a deal from a major publisher: Don’t stop blogging. Don’t quit doing the everyday, run-of-the-mill thing that got you where you are. Your book won’t suffer; the non-contractual writing may in fact enhance it.

Not all bigger things are better things; they may just pay more bills.

April 25, 2016

Camp Memories (1)

Through a variety of circumstances, and with only three years experience ever having been a camper in my teens, I found myself on senior staff at a Christian camp for three summers.

The first year of the three the camp was in somewhat of a recovery mode. A previous administration hadn’t worked out and in desperation, the general director turned to an old friend who had spent a career in foreign missions to whip the place into shape. That man in turn rounded up a dozen people from the mission agency who were also catapulted into senior staff roles.

Organization PoliticsAs it turned out, that was oil and water. The senior staff was definitely split along “us” and “them” lines. One of the staff members had a baby girl, and various members of the “them” would take turns bouncing her on their knees. Let’s say the girl’s name was Carly. I did notice that the senior staff seemed divided into Carly-bouncers and non-Carly-bouncers. That was my own appraisal.

Beyond that, I was completely blind to the politics of the organization. Although most of my Christian service orientation at that point was with parachurch organizations, it was around the same time that I was discovering local church politics. But generally speaking, I was completely oblivious to the two factions that persisted at camp. I was there to do a job, and I tried to do most of my socializing with junior staff and if context permitted, even campers.

I also joined a coffee klatch, so to speak, consisting of two or three other senior staff members. The invitation to join had been highly qualified. I was told how Lewis and Tolkien and Kierkegaard would meet regularly for drinks and that the trip to the local village bakery for coffee and butter tarts (and me to pick up the camp mail) would be the equivalent. Really, they wanted to know if I, as one of the catapultees was a “them” or an “us.” And they were being very carefully guarded about what they said to me and I was being extremely vague because I had no idea about the organizational politics. Questions included shots in the dark such as, “Have you noticed anything unusual going on at camp?” (For the record, I was equally clued out about some of the young women on staff and missed a lot of social cues. If you were a female housekeeper or dishwasher that year and you’re somehow reading this, I apologize for not responding.)

However, once they heard my Carly-bouncer analogy, I was accepted as an “us,” even though it took about three weeks to get that far.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceThe mission agency people knew very little about Christian camping or even youth ministry in general, especially in comparison the “us-es” but their third world exposure meant they had good organizational skills, an ability to adapt, and a variety of gifts. Overall, I think the kids who attended that year got their money’s worth from this diversity, even if things at the senior staff level were a constant tug of war. (Important takeaway: Parachuting people from other ministry disciplines into unfamiliar contexts is not always a great idea.) I felt that within their own missions-and-development tribe, there were probably reasons to respect some of these people, not to mention their willingness to take on the camp challenge at the last minute.

What I was not prepared for was the very low view they had of those on the other side of the great divide. I had come to this job because I at a young age, I had youth ministry experience, had already started my own business, and brought an extensive knowledge of music, particularly the modern worship genre that was still in its infancy at that point. One of my other coffee klatch club members had vast experience in Christian camping, the third was studying to be a pastor and the fourth had both camping and pastoral training. Three of the four of us returned the following year when the missions people were swiftly dispatched in a spring cleanup the following spring.

So nothing prepared me for the moment when one of the “thems” came to me one day, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your problem is, you’re completely shallow.” Wow! There’s an insult. Try it on someone sometime. Or don’t.

Shallowness I look back on it now and imagine Lucy from Peanuts, “You know what’s wrong with you, Charlie Brown? You’re totally shallow. You have no depth.”

I suppose in comparison to the travel and education opportunities she had experienced, I may have seemed like one of the kids on the farm, even if the farm was the urban ministry environment of Canada’s largest city. On that day however, the choice of words was devastating. I think it hit me hardest because it was everything I felt I wasn’t. I was a Renaissance man. I was tech and media savvy. I was well-read. I had a attended churches in a wide swath of denominations. And I did have a little travel under my belt, four countries including 40 of the 50 U.S. states.

Still, I did allow the short exchange to have some redemptive value. I worked hard to not be a one-issue candidate. To not obsess over certain pet subjects or causes. To read outside my comfort zone. To immerse myself in contexts and conversations with persons who are different. To study articles about things that aren’t my usual interests. To try to meet different people and then get inside their heads and understand their histories.

I don’t think I’m a shallow person, but…

…I do ask myself in certain situations if I’m being shallow. Is the conversation or relationship at the point of taking a leap to the next level — sure, use the video game analogy if it helps you — but I am remaining stuck at Level One? Or is the person on the other side of the exchange really hurting and I can’t see the question behind the question? Or am I missing an opportunity to go deeper because I’ve formulated some entirely different other agenda as to where I think the discussion is going? Or do I have a simplistic view of the topic at hand because I’ve never tracked with that discipline or genre? Or are my own topical choices tending toward the superficial?

Being called shallow could have been a scarring experience, but instead, I used it to form a system of checks and balances in my life. Though the rebuke was done entirely to hurt and to wound, I think it shaped me in some positive ways.

 

 

April 2, 2016

Being Needy While Wanting to Help Others in Need

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:44 am
Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Because of the particular path our lives have taken, there have been times when we have accepted financial help from friends and acquaintances. In the process, we’ve often said that the people who are least able to help are usually the ones who give. I’m not positing this as a universal truth, I’m just saying that it’s been the case in our situation.

In Wednesday’s link list, I felt moved to post a story about a family who faced unusual financial hardship during Lent because of their daughter’s illness and are asking for help. You can read that link here. 48 hours earlier, my wife showed me a crowd funding page that was set up by students (or former students) in a local high school for a guy who part of our church plant ten years ago and has had a medical diagnosis that will result in unexpected costs. You can read that one here.

I’m reading these through the lens of our own situation.

My wife came to me a few weeks ago — she’s our family and business bookkeeper — and said, “We have enough in the savings account to last us one more month, and then we’re done.” By ‘done’ she means we don’t have a back-up plan, unless we cash in one more savings fund — which is currently locked — and take a huge penalty for so doing.

I announced in Monday’s column here:

We’ve never monetized Thinking Out Loud, but this labor of love — along with our Christian bookstore — have totally depleted our savings. Still, how does one do effective fundraising in the face of other families and individuals with seemingly far more urgent needs? After our US/Canada 800-number, toll-free, call-in-a-pledge appeal failed last year, we’re looking for something that will actually help us keep going. We hope to have an answer late this week. 

But as the week went by I keep fighting taking this particular approach. Surely the two stories listed above are far more worthy of my readers’ support, right? Still, I know there are longtime readers both here and at Christianity 201 who might give if we created the right vehicle for processing donations.

Within the Christian realm, there are bloggers like Tim Challies who is able to blog full time because of referral income and sponsored posts. Author Skye Jethani is not currently on staff at a church (or at CT) and is supporting his writing and podcast ministry (and his family) through the sale of monthly devotional subscriptions, and eBooks. (Check out, How Churches Became Cruise Ships.)

Because of my involvement in a brick-and-mortar Christian bookstore (which loses money almost every day the doors are open) I still can’t bring myself to be a referrer to A-zon or even CBD, both of which have contributed greatly to the closing of such Christian shops all over North America. So I’ve never monetized the blog in that manner.

And there is the pride issue. As a twenty-something, I was told that I have difficulty accepting hospitality in all its forms. Plus there is the fear of putting it out there only to find the donations embarrassingly meager. Add to that wanting to be hero; wanting to be the one helping others, not the one asking.

So the announcement I was going to make this week is postponed for now. I leave you the comments section — if you wish — for two purposes today.

  1. If you can recommend a crowd funding type of website that isn’t time-limited and would allow people the opportunity to support Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201, I’d love to hear it. Bear in mind that I’m in Canada, but nearly 80% of my readers are in the U.S., so it has to be American-based, but able to pay us up here.
  2. If it’s got a Christian connection, feel free to mention any fundraising page you’re aware of that’s running now. Honest! I don’t mind. (I might delete the comment after any relevant expiry dates.) Today is one day you can use the comments to promote a cause.

 

 

 

 

 

March 24, 2016

How the Internet Accelerated Change in the Church

close-to-home-on-blogging1This is part two of a two-part article.

In the setup in part one, we indicated that the influence of rock music in general and The Beatles in particular caused some sweeping changes, particularly in the U.S., in terms of fashion, drugs, war resistance and the sexual liberation. Some of this may have been inevitable, and there were certainly other influences at play, but the 1960s were essentially two decades worth of change sandwiched into one.

So what about another media (for lack of a better word) which influenced the Church?

The effect of the internet on Christianity or Evangelicalism varies depending on which aspect of the technology you’re discussing.

Email simply replaced snail-mail. Communications happened instantly, and at a fraction of the cost, but it’s hard to argue that this changed anything within church culture.

Church websites simply replaced the marquee at the front of the church building, allowing churches to opt instead for larger changeable letters adorned with pithy sayings. No need to post the pastor’s name or the service times, since all that was now on the website.

Video on demand or live-streaming of weekend services simply replaced buying time on local TV outlets, or for the blessed few, on a network of stations.

No, none of these things changed anything in and of themselves.

The real change happened on social media. Online bulletin boards, chat rooms, etc. made it possible for dialog to happen and made it easy for people to enter the conversation regardless of where they lived or their level of education.

But the biggest change occurred with the type of thing you’re reading now: Weblogs, or as they are better known, blogs.

While I can’t cite specific years as I did in part one of the article, here are some effects that I would say took place from about 2003 to 2009.

Blog ChildBlogs and BooksIt wasn’t Christian publishers who came up with using social media to promote new releases, rather the conversations simply started happening over the latest title or the newest author. For reasons I’ll get back to in the final point, the period was a golden age for non-fiction books and publishers were tripping over themselves to place new voices under contract.

I specify non-fiction because the publisher relationship with social media today tends to be more focused on mommy bloggers critiquing and giving away spoilers in the latest Amish or romantic or historical fiction title. Some of these make it through three books a week and publishers are quite willing to supply even relatively small blogs with freebies.

But that wasn’t always the way. The original discussions were all about doctrinal, or Christian Living titles. Maybe a devotional. Eventually, the one Christian children’s book that ever got serious blog review, The Jesus Storybook Bible.

The Growth of Calvinism – This really isn’t anything new, neither should it come as a surprise. Any advance of media technology, or any general cultural shift in communications has been seized on by the Reformed community. Just look at one of the first megachurches (Crystal Cathedral, Reformed Church in America), one of the first TV ministries (Day of Discovery, Christian Reformed), the organizations which dominate our present publishing community (Zondervan, Baker, Eerdman’s, etc., all Reformed); look at these and you see that Reformers have always been there in any available media. (My running joke: Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers? Because while everybody else is writing about it, the Salvation Army is out on the streets doing it.)

But while the internet promoted Calvinism, in some ways the form of the doctrine that was promoted was also changed by it. There exists a type of militant Calvinism today that has polarized the broad Christian community. Reformed parents couldn’t give their children the comic book The Action Bible until the publisher provided a sanctified edition with text from the English Standard Version, the Reformed community’s new Bible of choice.

blogThe Internet Celebrity – The blog Stuff Christians Like launched Jon Acuff overnight. The blog with the weird name, Without Wax, introduced the world to Nashville pastor Pete Wilson. The Naked Pastor developed a cult following, especially when some of the characters in the illustrations turned out to be actually naked. John Shore, Bill Kinnon, Tim Challies, Skye Jethani, Zach Nielson, and others like them were must reading for their constituencies. The Pyromaniacs aka Team Pyro proved that graphics matter, with their first-rate images appearing throughout their articles and attracting new followers.

But in a recent Happy Rant Podcast, Barnabas Piper and Ted Kluck noted that many of the Reformed blogging superstars have churches that are not as significantly large as their digital footprint might indicate. They enjoy a fame disproportionate to their church attendance. Furthermore some pastors, like Willow’s Bill Hybels, didn’t blog at all.

There’s also the few — of which this blog is one — that managed to attract a following without the author being a pastor or a published author. Voices that might not have been heard if this form of social media had not existed.

Homogenization – Despite the plethora of Christian blogs out there, there was a sense we were all reading from the same page. Re-blogging material was more common and more accepted in the early days, and the water cooler topics in church offices — especially among younger leaders — tended to mirror the topics being discussed on the blogs.

Emergent / Emerging – While the terms are now in disuse, there is much evidence that whatever the Christian blogosphere did for Calvinism, it did even more so for the various strains of the Emergent Church, including the Ancient/Future mini-movement that I feel was Emergent’s best byproduct; along with kick-starting the whole missional conversation.

I’m not sure if  it was Tony Jones or not, but recently a writer from that era wrote a piece saying that Emergent was, in effect, now past its sell-by date. I have to agree, which makes it more interesting when some watchdog blog starts slamming the now non-existent movement. Which brings us to…

bloggingdogs-thumbDiscernment / Watchdog Ministries – The blogosphere in general, if nothing else, is all about being offended, so the discernment bloggers, the watchdog bloggers, those champions for truth and right doctrine (as long as it’s their truth and right doctrine) are a natural fit for social media.

The problem is that the average Christian, doing a Google search, has no idea when he or she has come upon one of these, and may not catch the watchdog’s own biases. The blogosphere, like the entire internet, has few filters.

Furthermore, there are so many targets for these writers, so many ways to instill fear, so many common enemies, that it’s easy to go on the attack and forget that those attacked are real people with real lives and real families. I think it’s harder to hate a person after you’ve shaken his hand, but I may be wrong.

Did Christian internet bullies contribute to the suicide of a pastor’s teenage son? We asked that question here a few years ago. We’ll never know the answer, but some are willing to speculate.

Connections – I met British Columbia blogger Rick Apperson somewhere in the comments section of my short lived Religion blog at USAToday and we still keep in touch and occasionally I steal articles from him! Dare I say that I’ve made dozens and dozens of contacts through blogging, some of which I consider the most significant in my life, even though we’ve never met face to face.

I’ve also discovered an affinity toward people with whom I think alike and with whom I think quite differently. And I am so grateful for having spent nearly two years doing a column (albeit a news feed) for Christianity Today. I love those guys!

Eccesiology – One of the main benefits of the early years of Christian bloggers was the rapid increase in the number of people who started planting churches. Called “the extreme sport of ministry,” church plants turned up in various shapes and sizes, with lay people who had never had a previous interest in Ecclesiology — and who had certainly never been asked — were writing and turning out blog posts and print books on the subject of doing church and creating a different kind of church (a phrase that if Googled, probably results in millions of hits.)

Growth of BloggingI listed this last, even though it could have been first, because it sums up a lot of what was taking place in a very short time: There was an explosion of ideas. Conversations were flying fast and furious about church governance, leadership models and worship styles. That the average parishioner cared so much about what was taking place drove all us into a deeper consideration of what it means to be Christ’s church.

The discussions and ideas were reflected in books and especially in a parallel  explosion of conferences. People loved their church and loved the church. No idea wasn’t worth consideration. No speaker or writer wasn’t worth hearing.

It was the best of times.

 

March 11, 2016

A Different Response to Envy

Over the years here at Thinking Out Loud, we’ve turned to the Steve Laube Agency for background articles dealing with everything from plagiarism to manipulating the New York Times bestseller list to the restructuring of a large Christian bookstore chain. Steve’s primary work however is dealing with author contracts with major publishers, and if you read the “acknowledgements” section in works by your favorite Christian writers, you’ll see his name connected to some very well known people!

But as we discovered in the article below, sometimes his blog branches out to deal with other aspects of being a professional writer, for example dealing with the success of other professional writers.

You must click the link in the title below to read this even if only to see the very appropriate graphic they included that we didn’t poach (!) and catch some of the comments. But just in case you don’t…

Turn Envy Upside Down

••• by Tamela Hancock Murray

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins and not easy to conquer. Who hasn’t felt jealous over someone else’s success, especially when it doesn’t seem deserved? Seeing an outright enemy succeed is even worse.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, take your feelings of envy and put them to good use. That is, make those feelings work for you so you can succeed.

Here’s how:

  • When someone in your sphere is successful, send unvarnished congratulations. No backhanded compliments or sarcasm permitted.
  • Once you are alone, see how you feel. Do you feel envious? Chances are, you feel you deserve what that person has. Acknowledge those feelings and move to step three.
  • Evaluate the person’s journey. Was the “overnight” success a reality? Or has this person worked for years to have a particular book published, or to be published at all?
  • If so, consider that effort. Resolve to increase your efforts.
  • If not, don’t credit that writer’s success to “luck” because that takes away from such accomplishment. After all, you wouldn’t want your accomplishments credited to luck. Instead, look at what the writer is doing. Why do you think that book speaks to readers? Resolve to make your own work more appealing.
  • Always, always pray for a pure heart. Then take a genuine interest in the writer you envy. Engage her on social media. See what you can learn. If you are already friends with the writer, perhaps she can become a mentor. That is a powerful place to be.
  • Sin takes power away from us. Those who practice love are victorious.

Your turn:

When was the last time you were envious? What did you do?
What other tips can you offer to conquer envy?
Do you have a story about how a successful person inspired you?

click the title above to see the responses

March 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday

Recent comments by Dr. Russell Moore on how he wants to distance himself from the term Evangelical has sparked various discussions including one on this week’s edition of  The Phil Vischer Podcast about the rise of a new category, Progressive Evangelicals. I was reminded of a very lengthy post we did four years ago when a large controversy was happening over a book written by Rachel Held Evans.

We live in a time when battle lines are being drawn between conservative Christians and progressive Christians. I usually find myself standing somewhere in between, trying to build a bridge between both groups; trying to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy while at the same time recognizing that this ain’t 1949 or 1953 or 1961. It’s 2012 already.The world changed in-between; the world changed last year; the world changed last week.

We need to be mindful of the duality as we interact with the broader culture; as we live between two worlds; as we exist as aliens and strangers, having citizenship in another country; but having to live, eat, breathe, work and play in a world that’s not our permanent home. (See graphic below.)

To that end, we need authors and publishers who will translate our message into the vernacular of the day, or even the hour. We need books and book distribution networks that will illustrate Christian worldview in a way that people can understand.

In the end, the books we create should, at times, make us uncomfortable.

Christians Live in Two Worlds


If you’ve ever visited the blog platform Patheos, you’ve also seen that bloggers are divided into two categories, Evangelical and Progressive Christian (as well as Orthodox and Catholic, but strangely, not Mainline Protestant).  I’ve always felt that Patheos was ahead of the curve on this one in terms of making the distinction long before some had consciously considered the differences.


Another throwback: As I write this one of the many, many debates concerning Donald Trump’s aspirations to be U.S. President surrounds the idea of having someone elected to the position who is not a career politician, not a Washington Beltway insider. Some feel this makes Trump uniquely qualified.

Four years ago, we did a tongue-in-cheek post about a guy who is visiting a church and notices a board vacancy in the bulletin. He makes an argument for the refreshing perspective of someone who is not a congregation insider:

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,

February 25, 2016

Thinking Out Loud: The 8th Anniversary

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:14 am

Blog Birthday 8

TOL square

So, Paul; it’s been eight years.

Yep!

…and…?

Yes?

What are your thoughts?

Sorry, I thought you were going to ask me questions.

I thought you were going to write out your own questions and then provide the answers.

Shhh!

So did you ever think you’d be doing this eight years later?

Yes and no. I was doing this and Christian Book Shop Talk and a local-interest blog where I lived and a consumer advocacy blog and using a blog platform for our business and doing a local-interest blog in the community and setting up a blog for a specialty daycare center where we live and writing a book on internet addiction which was using a blog format and then later adding Christianity 201.

At that point anyone could have said, ‘You’re going to burn out doing all these things at the same time;’ and they would have been correct, but fortunately I jettisoned a few of those projects. If you only post to your blog once a week, or if you don’t bother to fact-check things you’re referencing or quoting, then I suppose it’s easy to sustain that for the better of a decade. But to post fresh content to two blogs every single day and to do this for free for eight years is probably, for the average person, somewhat inadvisable.

TOL Welcome YellowWhat about the free thing? Why not monetize the blog?

I did ask for donations at one point. Our business has a toll-free number that works across Canada and the U.S., and I thought if people were enjoying what was happening here they could make a donation using their credit card and we set up a day for that, but the phones didn’t exactly ring off the wall.

First of all, I’m not going to be a referrer to Amazon or even CBD because I have too many friends and too many years invested in brick-and-mortar Christian bookstores. I believe in doing everything I can do to help these stay in the communities where they are doing ministry.

Second, I don’t think you can run advertising on WordPress.com; so that just isn’t an option.

To be really honest, there are a number of components of my life, not just my writing that I thought I would be able to monetize at some point and it’s never worked out. For whatever reason, God has kept us hovering around the poverty line for more than 20 years now, and while I don’t remember answering a call to be a missionary, I’m realizing now that I’ve become one by default. Maybe that’s why I relate to Randy Alcorn, who for different reasons, is in the same situation.

As a writer however, I’m thankful I was able for 22-months to create a synergy with a version of the Wednesday Link List created just for Leadership Journal at Christianity Today and the one that appeared on the blog. That income was not huge, but it helped buy some weekly groceries.

TOL sidebar Sept 2013Thinking Out Loud is very much faith-focused. Snippets of personal life are few or even personal spiritual life.

I try to write at least one of the Christianity 201 devotions each week. If there isn’t a name attached to it, then I wrote it. And obviously I’m not listed among the many Calvinist bloggers. But beyond that I realize I’m somewhat of an enigma to people who don’t read every day, and even those who do.

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.

For me, it’s about whether or not something resonates with me, in light of other teaching I’ve heard, other reading I’ve done, and the general apprehension I have of the ways of God. Is that subjective? You bet it is.

TOL sidebar March 2014Why not do the pastoring thing?

It’s now been two years since I last did pulpit supply in a church; though with our bookstore ministry, I get to preach several times a week; it’s just the crowd size is much smaller. Over the past year, my goal was simply to completely memorize a 35-minute sermon, and I think that’s ready to go now. Otherwise, there’s no way I would want to take what local church pastors take on, either in terms of time or the emotional energy that must be spent.

I would like to be ordained however. I know that sounds strange, but I’m looking for an Evangelical organization that offers some accountability beyond paying $50 a year for a clergy card so you can perform weddings. I don’t want to do funerals, weddings or pastor-for-hire events, but I would like to be able to sit at the same table as clergy and have a collegial relationship that I don’t have now despite the blog or the bookstore or time spent in itinerant ministry.

On the other hand, I’ll take an honorary degree from a recognized Evangelical institution. They can present it to me in ceremony, or just let me know if one falls off the back of a truck, Proverbs 25:27 notwithstanding.

Number One WidgetNext on the blog?

There’s always a breaking story or issue waiting to happen, and always someone in the widest sphere of Christianity about to have their fifteen minutes of fame. At a deeper level, there are always trends resulting from the continuing tension between Christianity and popular culture. Rather than just jump in on the story that’s the flavor of the week, I think we should carefully choose the issues that use our mental energy.

Anything else to add?

Tonight I’m speaking about the blog to a group of students at Canada Christian College; but I’m doing it pre-recorded, which means if you’d like to learn more, click this link. It runs about 18 minutes and it is audio-only with a few quickly-put-together slides. I’ll leave it up for a limited time.

 

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January 23, 2016

It’s Snowing

On New Year's Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F. Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer is showing that we’re heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F. Their high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That's 101 degrees F difference. That day I was asking, "Are we even on the same planet?"

101 Degrees of Separation: On New Year’s Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F. Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer was showing that we were heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F. The Aussies high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That’s 101 Fahrenheit degrees difference. That day I was asking, “Are we even on the same planet?”

A big shout-out to all of you trapped inside today by the blizzard.

Snow is something I know a little about.

I live in Canada. It snows here. But not always. And lately, not as severe as what parts of the U.S. have seen in recent years.

We drive carefully. I don’t have winter tires. I can’t afford to have one set of tires on the road let alone two. My wife’s car — my old one — has no anti-lock braking system. So we drive carefully.

When it does snow we don’t have a run on groceries, or snow shovels, or whatever it is that causes American grocery and hardware stores to be stripped bare. We already have food in the pantry. We already own shovels. Full disclosure, your average Canadian Home Depot is most likely to see a small run on rock salt in the event of an ice storm, or generators if the forecast is severe. But nothing like the inventory ransacking that takes place Stateside.

Mostly we stay home. No family event or business meeting or educational pursuit is worth getting into the type of accidents we see on the ABC or NBC evening news reports. Snow days for the kids. Closures for some retail stores and cancellation of some church meetings. But we don’t have closings or cancellations at anything close to the rate of our neighbors in Buffalo, New York.

I do remember one snowfall.

It was on January 23rd, several years ago.

It was the launch of my concert ministry organization, an outreach on the University of Toronto campus. The snow paralyzed the streets of the city and all of southern Ontario. Several youth groups had committed to attend, but hadn’t bought advance tickets. So we lost our proverbial shirts.

True, some people drove a great distance, and the concert went ahead, and it turned out the guy who drove the farthest was from… well… Buffalo.

“Concert promotion is legalized gambling;” I declared. And for the most part I stayed away from it. But I couldn’t stay away from Christian music. It was having a profound spiritual effect on me personally. And I had to share it with others.

In a little corner of the concert that night was a little concession stand we’d added at the last minute. Cans of soda. Bags of chips. And albums by some of the artists who would shape my life.

The albums grew into its own business. And expanded to include books and Bibles. Which at one point, expanded to include three retail stores.

It’s the same venture which today shapes about half of my work week. The blogs and other writing I do shape the other half.

And I owe it all to a bad snowstorm.

On January 23rd.

cat-can-part-snow

January 14, 2016

Spiritual Ups and Downs

Filed under: Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

Spiritual ups and downs

Several days ago I was introduced to someone who is a relatively new Christian. As she told a bit of her story, I felt led to share some things with her.

This is not a new thing, I do this all the time; but in this situation, even as I was hearing myself speak, I sensed an extra measure of authority in my words which is not always there. As an added plus, although I often allude to various scriptures, I found myself quoting passages more verbatim than I normally would.

It was a good discussion and I didn’t mind at all that it left me ten minutes late for our next appointment.

Flash forward about six hours…

I was alone in the house, and it was like I was having some type of gigantic spiritual breakdown. Overwhelmed with a variety of circumstances; frustrated, stressed out and discouraged; I found myself saying, “God, I can’t pray; I just can’t pray anymore.” (Yes, I realize the irony. By crying out to God I was praying. I was conscious of it at the time, too.)

It was just one of those moments — call it a spiritual warfare attack — where the burden of everything going on just seemed too much.

And that’s the end of the story…

…Okay, I realize this isn’t very redemptive, and it runs the opposite of most the Psalms you’ve read. If you read the Psalmist, you know that there is a lot of raw transparency there. But there is always resolution, a moment of ‘Then the Lord heard my cry’ (6:9; 18:6) or ‘Then the Lord answered me’ (34:4; 118:5).

Hey, I’m a writer. I like to tie up the end of the story with a bow. I want to end each blog post with, ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

So it looks like I’ve got the parts in the wrong order, right?

Well, no. Life is after all, a series of ups and downs, not just downs and ups. Each chapter of our lives is connected to the previous and to the next, and so our lives are more like a sine wave. (If you’re spiritually up all the time, I look forward to reading your book. Most people’s lives aren’t like that.)

And God and I were never that far away from each other. I was just at a low point. And alone at home. And probably especially vulnerable to attack after the spiritual high of my earlier conversation. And things did even out after I was through with my spiritual rant.

Can you relate?

 

Here’s a classic from Maranatha Music which came to mind as I wrote this:

December 13, 2015

A Holiday Travel Alert

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

Many years ago blogger David Fisher introduced me to the poetry of Greg Asimakoupoulos whose work is posted at The Partial Observer. I felt that this poem, posted about ten days ago, would be a welcome addition to the mix here, especially with its provocative title! Send Greg some link love by clicking the title below to read this (and other works) at source.

A Holiday Travel Alert

Lessons from Mary and Joseph’s Flight to Egypt

by Greg Asimakoupoulos
December 4, 2015

The warning system set in place
suggested grave concern.
A terrorist in Israel hatched a plan.
Those leaving home this time of year
would do so at great risk.
The danger posed called for a travel ban.

A dad and mom and infant son
packed for their westbound trek.
They knew they had to make their midnight flight.
Determined to avoid the threat,
they cautiously escaped
advancing in the shadows of moonlight.

That terror cell in Bethlehem
achieved its ruthless plot
exterminating children under two.
With ISIS-like precision,
Herod killed the innocent
while unaware his hoped-for target flew.

And now-as-then the travel risk
this time of year is great.
Young families have good reason for their fear.
The tyranny of terror robs their joy
and steals their peace
because they can’t be sure when death is near.

So as You guided Joseph
on his flight to Egypt land
with Mary and young Jesus in his care,
won’t You dear loving Father
please protect the ones we love
as they travel in a car, by rail or air?

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