Thinking Out Loud

November 14, 2015

The Pastor and the Worship Leader Need to Be Best Friends

Note to readers: Because we were away all day Friday, this post was scheduled before we learned of the tragic events in Paris, France yesterday. For that, we have no words.

I came across the article in the spring of 2007 in Worship Leader magazine, never realizing how it was about to change my life. They interviewed a number of worship leaders in the U.S. — magazines like WL are usually unaware that anything exists outside the U.S. — on the subject of their relationship with their senior pastor.

worship-leaderMany mentioned the need for friendship, the need to be doing things together outside the office. As someone who was involved in a weekly worship activity that resulted in a senior pastor relationship which was entirely “task related,” I suddenly figured out why I had the nagging feeling that something was missing. The WL magazine article very clearly articulated the disconnect I was feeling, and realizing that was not about to change, I quit doing that job at that particular church. 

Basically, I realized that I was a utility, an implement; and while he was willing to listen to my opinions about a variety of subjects, I was really there because I knew how to play the piano. Nothing more. But what to do with the extra time and creative juices?

I knew that I made the right decision each morning when I would log in to the internet. Both the readers of this blog and the writers at the vast number of other blogs I monitor each week have gave me a new ministry life that far exceeded the boundaries of anything I was doing previously. And it wasn’t a cold turkey ending to my music life: I occasionally still got to do a few things musically, but also reached an age where I was actually consulting with other worship leaders and getting to give all kinds of advice, some of which was actually respected.

But I often consider the question of the relationship between pastor and worship-person, and here is what I have concluded:

(1) It’s not enough to know where the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding you and your congregation in the worship element of the service; you need to also have a sense of where the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding the senior pastor in the teaching element of the service, and the other participants leading the service, too. You need to work, no make that minister well together.

(2) While the Holy Spirit is able to impart all kinds of information like this to you supernaturally, and while the Holy Spirit is hopefully leading both pastor and worship leader in the same direction, this aspect of ministry can only work well if the pastor and worship person know each other well as humans, as people, as friends. It’s only when I know the natural impulses and responses that a person manifests on a human level that I can truly appreciate when God is doing something unique on a given day on a supernatural level. You need to know each other well.

Worship leaders and pastors should be good, good friends. Maybe not BFF friends, but they should have both a good working relationship, and a good off-task relationship.

November 13, 2015

Before the Kids are Born, Decide Which December Story You’re Going With

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 am


Had an interesting discussion yesterday with the grandmother of a young girl who, although she has grown up in a Christian home, has been saturated with the Santa Claus story as well. And now that she is getting older, the reindeer are coming home to roost, so to speak.

The grandmother, caught between a North Pole and a hard place, is trying to ease the pain by — wait for it — buying the girl some extra gifts for Christmas this year. I hope she signs the cards as being from Grandma and not Santa.

This girl knows that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. But the jolly fat man with the red coat and white beard seems to be an equal part of the story. And if Santa isn’t real, what about the thing about the baby, the manger; and shepherds and wise men and sheep, oh my? In her brain, she is probably wondering when that ‘myth’ gets deconstructed.

So why do we do this to our kids? What do we introduce a narrative as if it’s true, knowing that at some point we are going to have to tell them it is false. Did you grow up with Santa? What are you telling your kids?

Why We Need to Repent of the Times We Did Not Sin

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am
“…What must we do, then to be saved? To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do you may remain just an elder brother. To truly become Christians we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness — the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope and trust in things other than God, and that in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of these things.”
~ Timothy Keller in The Prodigal God, 2008 Dutton; pp 77-8; see also Prov. 16:2

November 12, 2015

Reviewing Wicked Women of the Bible

In a publishing environment that has brought us Bad Girls of the Bible and Desperate Women of the Bible and Really Bad Girls of the Bible, it was only a matter of time until Wicked Women of the Bible. Zondervan author and editor Ann Spangler’s titles are usually a little bit more pedestrian, but as she explains it her publisher “suggested that it might be interesting to use the word wicked in both its literal and ironic sense;” or cover what the blurb calls “wicked and ‘wicked good.'” In all honesty, I see this book coming back in a year or two on my “formerly published as…” list with a new title.

Wicked Women of the Bible - Ann SpanglerMoving past that, I expected to find perhaps at most a dozen women covered, but this book takes on no less than twenty; and for each there is the story itself, followed by some background on the setting, followed by study questions. That “The Times” article follows the story is an interesting twist, that contained information that was well-researched, as were the stories themselves. (Each section’s title page also contains a related Biblical text.)

God chooses to reveal himself through narrative. The stories we grow up with — whether involving male or female protagonists — are actually telling us much about His character and dealings with His people. Some of the stories in this collection were quite familiar, and some involved women that are less frequently highlighted. The ones we learned as children are probably in the former category, yet I found both types of account to be written in a measured, informative manner.

Spangler’ present-tense storytelling style also involves bits and pieces of conjecture, but nothing too excessive. This is not what some call ‘Biblical Fiction,’ but falls more into the commentary category. Some of the best insights are in the footnotes; I never considered Jericho’s Rahab as an innkeeper. Or that Bathsheba wasn’t entirely an innocent victim of King David’s advances. Still, in one case David is singing to his wife Michal, and the sample text provided is recognizable from Song of Solomon. A footnote acknowledges this inter-generational stretch, but for some reason, this one concerned me.

Overall however, this is a great resource for small groups and an excellent catch-up for new Christ followers unfamiliar with these narratives. It also provides balance to those who feel the nature of the Bible literature is overly patriarchal.

November 11, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Rick Webster Rick is a poet, so the above is to be expected. But unexpected was the revelation at that Ben Carson actually owns this picture: Ben Carson at the Right Hand of Jesus And now on to the links…

On a serious note, today is Veteran’s Day in the US and Remembrance Day in Canada. The freedoms we enjoy in places like North America, western Europe, Australia, etc., are here because someone paid the price so you wouldn’t have to. I’m guessing there’s also a sermon illustration in there, don’t ya think?

November 10, 2015

Realities of Urban Ministry

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am
Ruth was one of three women who started a weekly dinner in a rundown motel that many people called home. The organization later morphed into something a little different from their original focus, but continues to serve the same community, including some of the same people.

My wife was one of three women who started a weekly dinner in a rundown motel that many people called home. The organization later morphed into something a little different from their original focus, but continues to serve the same community, including some of the same people.

by Ruth Wilkinson (circa 2008)

We found out tonight at Dinner that [our project] had been “announced from the pulpit” at a local church. Which — once I’d clarified that it was announced and not denounced — is very cool. It’s created some interest in people who attend that church, which I’ve always pigeonholed as very conservative. So, with my stereotype in mind, I’m wondering what they’ll think of the whole thing.

One of the team is going to organize a meeting at her house for those church-folks who are interested so we can give them an idea of what ‘we do’.

I’m tempted to tell horror stories and see if it scares them off. But I won’t.

This motel unit was home to one of the many people we simply called "our friends." The front window is broken the door only locks from the outside (with a padlock) and whatever carpeting or tiles ever existed on the floor had long vanished leaving only plywood.

This motel unit was home to one of the many people we simply called “our friends.” The front window is broken, the door only locks from the outside (with a padlock) and whatever carpeting or tiles ever existed on the floor had long vanished leaving only plywood.

But I will say this:

• If you can’t sit down for dinner with 30 people, without having someone say the blessing,

• If you can’t share a meal with someone who may or not be drunk,

• Someone who may or may not be mentally ill,

• Someone who may or may not be lying to you,

• If you can’t have a conversation with someone who is smoking without making faces and waving the smoke away,

• If you can’t hear someone use the F word as a verb and an adjective and a noun and an adverb, possibly all in the same sentence, without cringing,

• If you can’t laugh at a genuinely funny crude joke, and good naturedly rebuff a truly offensive one,

• If you can’t hug someone who may or may not have Hepatitis C or AIDS,

This may not be the place for you.

(But I hope it is.)

November 9, 2015

In Relationship With God

Filed under: Christianity, God, relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:26 am

Relationship between us and God

I am at the front of the room speaking and I invite my wife to come and stand about six feet from me. “What does it mean,” I ask everyone, “to say I am in relationship to Ruth?”

Some of the answers are:

  • “You love each other.”
  • “You have shared history and experiences, that the rest of us don’t know about.”
  • “You are intimate with each other.”

But then I ask her to sit down and invite Mike to come up to the front. Mike and I are not close, I had to ask his permission before this point because we only know each other superficially. I position him in the same spot.

“So again,” I ask, “Where am I in relationship to Mike?”

After a bit of laughter, some dare to come up with something:

  • “You are standing to his right and he is on your left.”

“Let’s go with that,” I respond, “What does that entail?”

  • “He can see you and hear you and knows what you’re doing.”

I start to deliberately creep back from him. “What about now?”

  • “The distance between you can change.”

The first set of answers all have to do with what we normally think of with the word relationship.

The second set of answers could easily involve other words or phrases: Where I am with respect to Mike; Where I am according to Mike.

When we think about our relationship with God, we might want to consider it in terms of love, intimacy and shared history. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own…”

Today I’m proposing we look for ways to expand that and consider the possibilities that:

  • We need to be aware of God’s position in our lives; that he does stand next to us, and our posture should be that of standing next to him. One counselor I know would say we need to visualize this. The example of me standing next to Ruth or Mike can provide the imagery we need to do this.
  • He sees us; he is watching us (“the eyes of the Lord run to and fro”) and this is also true for everyone on earth; whether they acknowledge him as Lord or not, he sees them. But this works both ways; I think we could also include in this an awareness of seeing Him in the everyday routine.
  • We ought to keep close to him; not let ourselves drift away from the awareness of His presence, either on a momentary basis or over a period of time. (For example, I could continue speaking and forget that Mike is still standing there until he asks if he can sit down now!)

In other words, asking the question “Where I am in relationship to God?” is only partly about the nature or quality of the relationship itself, but also about where God is in my life, and where I stand with respect to Him. The focus shifts from the tie that bind us to how I act and live my life according to Him.

The issue is one of proximity or closeness. 

God is omnipresent but that sterile piece theological information means, by definition, that He is also present.


November 8, 2015

Behind the Scenes

Filed under: blogging, personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:16 pm

Some of you know that much of my time weekly is taken up with the operations of a Christian bookstore, and when I say operations, I mean everything from buying, merchandise, marketing, bill-paying and cleaning the restroom. We’ve had up to three stores, currently have one, and that store has been going for 20 years now, though the business itself had a previous 20-year history on the day that store opened, some of those early years having all the financial scope of a child’s newspaper route.

On paper, the store made a very modest profit each year, and that constituted our family income. Fortunately our help and sustenance has come through other means, but that fund will be reduced to zero by the end of the year, and the operating debt of the business will hit a record high around 4:00 PM tomorrow; money that at this point, even with Christmas coming, we will not be able to fully pay back. And even the modest paper profit disappeared the last two years.

In other words, periods of denial notwithstanding, our little bookstore is not immune from the factors that have hit so many other stores, and is no longer sustainable.

The problem is, if I share this with my customer base, the assumption is that the store is immediately closing, which through the miracle of “broken telephone” communications, becomes already closed, which then becomes closed last month.

I want to put the information out there, so our total demise is not without warning, but don’t want people abandoning us in droves. My blog readership and my customer base have a very, very small overlap, so basically, I’m practicing here how to share the news there.

Plus, I think I need to see this in writing to remind myself that it’s true. Every fiber within me wants it to not be, but the measure of miracle required at this stage would be rather dramatic and unlikely.

That’s all for now on that subject…

…My oldest son asked me this week if all the blogging is tiring me out. I thought about it and last night realized that there is a cost/benefits balance here, and that if the blog network I created ever shut down, one thing I would miss greatly is the review books.

Yeah; I know. The book thing again. I like books. And CDs. And of course, Bibles. We don’t do a lot of reviews here, but publishers know that when I like something, I can get really passionate about it.

The business and the blog share one thing in common, however: Decline. Blog stats for one month this year were about half of what they had been for the year prior. Ouch! I know of very few people who are gaining blog readership, such is the reality of a fragmented social media market.

And of course engagement (i.e. comments) are severely down, which affects online community.

Much wisdom needed on both fronts, I guess.

November 7, 2015

When You Find Yourself in a Worship Service of Another Faith


My wife and I enjoy touring the worship facilities of other religions. We’ve been in a variety of these, including two Muslim mosques, a Hindu mandir and a Hare Krishna temple. At the temple we were served some deep fried cauliflower. Did “breaking bread” in that sense possibly mean something to them that we missed? Did we inadvertently partake of cauliflower communion?

Okay, scratch the last sentence; but sometimes — even in the cases above where we were simply visiting the facilities on non-holy days — you could find yourself in an unexpected situation.

Many of you know the story from 2 Kings 5 about Naaman being healed of his leprosy. Naaman was an army general, but was also a man under authority, serving the king. Here’s a link to the story from The Message Bible.

Because he’s healed, Naaman wants to give Elisha a gift, but of course, the prophet will have none of that. Naaman pledges himself to worship [the] God [of Israel], but before he leaves, he asks Elisha if he can be forgiven for one transgression; something from the past, that he expects to also arise in the future.

CEB 2 Kings 5:17b Your servant will never again offer entirely burned offerings or sacrifices to any other gods except the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master comes into Rimmon’s temple to bow down there and is leaning on my arm, I must also bow down in Rimmon’s temple. When I bow down in Rimmon’s temple, may the Lord forgive your servant for doing that.”

The NIV (see further below) says the king is “leaning on his arm” while The Message version seems to make Naaman a little more complicit than the NIV indicates:

“…When my master, leaning on my arm, enters the shrine of Rimmon and worships there, and I’m with him there, worshiping Rimmon, may you see to it that God forgive me for this.”

Elisha tells Naaman to “Go in peace.”

The God he is concerned about having worshiped is “‘Rimmon’ (lit. ‘pomegranate’) is a parody of the name Ramanu, the Syrian storm god corresponding to Baal. This chief deity of Syria was also known by the name Hadad (Zech. 12:11)” [Reformation Study Bible]

I was unfamiliar with this aspect of the store Naaman’s healing until I was listening to a discussion two weeks ago on a Christian talk show* where the guest was Dr. Paul Metzger, a professor at Multnomah Bible Seminary. Not having been able to record the reference, I wrote to him for clarification.

…In the interview, I referenced Naaman, who was a military commander of the king of Aram’s army. Naaman was also a leper. He came to Elisha for healing, and God healed him of his leprosy. Naaman devoted his life to the God of Israel as a result. I alluded to the account in 2 Kings 5, as it pertains to how Christians might engage others in multi-faith settings today. Naaman asked Elisha if he would be pardoned for going with his Master, the king, into the pagan temple and bow when the king leaned on him. Elisha gave him his blessing. Here is the text in 2 Kings 5:

17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” 19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. (2 Kings 5:17-19; NIV).

I made use of this text in response to [program host] Drew [Marshall] concerning the matter of what one should do in a worship service in a diverse or pluralistic context. I said it is a case by case matter of intent. Naaman’s heart intent was to honor the God of Israel, not the pagan deity. Thus, Elisha gave him his blessing. It is not the bowing as such that is the issue, or the praying, but to whom is one praying in one’s heart. Again, I don’t think it is a matter of bowing or not bowing, praying or not praying, but the object or intent of the bow or prayer.

There is the danger of taking too much liberty from this passage however. Again we turn to Matthew Henry who takes a more hard-line approach:

He owns he ought not to do it, but that he cannot otherwise not do it, but that he cannot otherwise keep his place,—protests that his bowing is not, nor ever shall be, as it had been, in honor to the idol, but only in honor to the king,—and therefore he hopes God will forgive him. Perhaps, all things considered, this might admit of some apology, though it was not justifiable. But, as to us, I am sure,

(1) If, in covenanting with God, we make a reservation for any known sin, which we will continue to indulge ourselves in, that reservation is a defeasance [voiding or undoing] of his covenant. We must cast away all our transgressions and not except [make an exception of] any house of Rimmon.

(2 Though we are encouraged to pray for the remission of the sins we have committed, yet, if we ask for a dispensation to go on in any sin for the future, we mock God, and deceive ourselves.

(3) Those that know not how to quit a place at court when they cannot keep it without sinning against God, and wronging their consciences, do not rightly value the divine favor.

(4) Those that truly hate evil will make conscience of abstaining from all appearances of evil. Though Naaman’s dissembling his religion cannot be approved, yet because his promise to offer no sacrifice to any god but the God of Israel only was a great point gained with a Syrian, and because, by asking pardon in this matter, he showed such a degree of conviction and ingenuousness as gave hopes of improvement, the prophet took fair leave of him, and bade him Go in peace, 2 Kings. 5:19. Young converts must be tenderly dealt with.

I have four takeaways from this.

  1. The Bible is wholly adequate to speak to issues which arise in a 21st century context, especially with increasing religious pluralism.
  2. You may indeed find yourself doing more than “touring the facilities” but actually being asked (because of work or family commitments) to attend a service of worship of another faith.
  3. As Dr. Metzger points out, it is the attitude of the heart that matters most.
  4. As Matthew Henry indicates, this situation ought to be the exception and not the rule, and we’re not granted permanent indulgences to participate in such worship events, but need to trust God that he will provide alternative arrangements so that we’re not doing this on a regular basis.

The graphic is a response to the popular Coexist graphic found in a 2012 blog post at the apologetics website Stand To Reason. Click the image to read more.

*Scroll down to October 24th, the “Pub Crawl” segment at this link.

November 6, 2015

Canada Reacts to New Government

Filed under: current events — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:58 am

canadian-fallsCanada welcomed its new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau on Wednesday. While the U.S. is now in Day Gazillion of leadership challenges for both the Republican and Democratic parties — and still a year away from the actual vote — in about 75 days the cousins to the north had a peaceful change of government.

In Canada, this analysis of the new Cabinet was all over Facebook. I made one minor edit to make it more family-friendly, and Americanized the spelling for those in my 74% U.S. readership unable to translate! (I kept the capital letters from the original. Not sure who should be credited for this.)

For once, Canadians are proud (and perhaps even a little bit smug). We ran the data:

We have a Minister of Environment and CLIMATE CHANGE.
We have a Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and REFUGEES.

Our Prime Minister is a sci-fi geek.
Our Minister of Health is an actual Doctor.
Our Minister of Families, Children and Social Development is a poverty economist.
Our Minister of Science is an actual Scientist (oh, and she has a Nobel Prize).
Our Minister of Status of Women is an actual woman!
Our Minister of Veterans Affairs is a quadriplegic because he was shot in a drive-by shooting.
Our Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labor is a Professional Geologist.
Our Minister of Democratic Institutions is a Muslim refugee.
Our Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities is a Paralympian Athlete.
Our Minister of Defense is a respected war hero, Afghanistan combat vet, and police officer.

Half of our Ministers are women.
Half of our Ministers are men!
Two of our Ministers are people of First Nations (Kwakwaka’wakw, Inuit)
Three of our Ministers were born outside of Canada (India, Afghanistan)
Two of our Ministers are Sikh.
At least one of our Ministers is Muslim.
At least two of our Ministers are Atheist.
One of our Ministers is battling breast cancer.
One of our Ministers is in a wheelchair.
One of our Ministers is blind.
One of our Ministers is openly gay.
One of our Ministers is openly ginger.
Also, Hon. Navdeep Bains has a perfect twirly mustache.

Read about Canadian/US government differences at this link.

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