Thinking Out Loud

March 31, 2018

The Cross: A Story to which Everyone Must Respond

Filed under: Christianity, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:22 am

This will be the 4th time I’ve included or alluded to the powerful song below. Please take the time, close your eyes and listen through.

John 14 (The Voice):

Philip: 8 Lord, all I am asking is that You show us the Father.

Jesus (to Philip): 9 I have lived with you all this time, and you still don’t know who I am? If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. How can you keep asking to see the Father? 10 Don’t you believe Me when I say I abide in the Father and the Father dwells in Me? I’m not making this up as I go along. The Father has given Me these truths that I have been speaking to you, and He empowers all My actions. 11 Accept these truths: I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. If you have trouble believing based on My words, believe because of the things I have done. 12 I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father. 13 Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory from the Son.

Everyone we meet needs to respond to the story that crossed our path last week: The Passion Week narrative. That includes you me. I love the way this song asks the question — it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve come across.

As any worship leader will tell you, Easter offers us music which best captures the essence of our faith; best captures the essence of the gospel. All worship should be ‘Christo-centric,’ but at this time of year the intensity of our worship seems so much focused.

One of my personal favorite pieces this time of year is not a congregational song, but a performance piece called “How Could You Say ‘No?'” written by Mickey Cates and performed by Julie Miller. When my wife had a soundtrack for this, we were repeatedly asked to do it each year at the church we were attending; later on we did it with live music.


The song asks the question: How can you see what Christ did for us on the cross and then just walk away, knowing it was your sin that put him there; knowing that he did this for you? Indeed, can a person meet Christ through the gospel narrative and not be changed? Can you simply walk away? I’ve read stories of even the most ardent atheists deciding not to follow but still claiming the story is deeply moving. If you will, It’s a Wonderful Life is deeply moving; so is The Sound of Music and Old Yeller, but they don’t demand a life-changing response. They’re just movies. The Christ-account demands we do something.

Take the next four minutes just to focus on this song and all that it means. (Click the play button below.)

Thorns on His head, spear in His side
Yet it was a heartache that made Him cry
He gave His life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

If Christ Himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full tears
And he held out His arms and His nail-printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Jesus is here with His arms open wide
You can see with your heart
If you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, He’s done all He can
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Thorns on His head, your life is in His hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

Oh, is there any way you could say no to this Man?

December 3, 2017

Short Takes (7): Flying Elephants

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:27 am

As a younger person, I frequently traveled to those large summer outdoor youth festivals which, for some reason, all seemed to take place in Pennsylvania. I remember one of the speakers talking about II Cor. 5:17

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (NASB)

What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! (NLT)

The speaker said that most people think of “becoming a new creature” as referring to something like the proverbial caterpillar who becomes a butterfly; but it’s not talking about that kind of metamorphosis.

Rather, he said, the Greek means that “anyone in Christ” is actually “a species of being that never existed before;” adding “More like a winged elephant than a winged butterfly.”

I’ve never seen a winged elephant, though in the early days of Microsoft, I saw some flying toasters.

The thing about a flying elephant is this: It gets peoples’ attention. If anyone is in Christ, the world is going to notice the change from what we once were, but also the uniqueness of what we have become. We’re going to stand out like a city on a hill that no one can hide; like the light of the world.

There’s a song we sang at camp a lot of years ago:

Little by little, every day
Little by little in every way
My Jesus is changing me

Since I made a turnabout face
I’ve been growing in His grace
My Jesus is changing me

He’s changing me, my precious Jesus
I’m not the same person that I used to be

Sometimes it’s slow going
But there’s a knowing
That someday, perfect I will be

If someone walks up to you and says, “Hey, you haven’t changed a bit;” and you’re a Christian and they’re not talking about physical appearance like your hair color or your weight; then something is seriously wrong.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (New Living Translation):
17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Breaking it down by subjects, as on a child’s report card, it might look like this, with two subjects:

2 Peter 3:18 (New Living Translation):
18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I gotta be honest; some days I do well in the knowledge department and not so well in the grace department. But there are days where the reverse is true as well.

Need a more complex report card with more than just two subjects? Here’s the next level version:

Colossians 1:9-12 (New Living Translation)
9 … We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. 11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father…

Here’s to change; personal change that you know inwardly and others see outwardly.


August 17, 2013

Missing Easter Sunday

Apparently James MacDonald isn’t the only one who has issues with preaching about Easter on Easter Sunday morning. I found this in my files from April, 2009:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:20


I mentioned a few weeks ago that I enjoy reading the worship sets that people file at Fred McKinnon’s blog as part of something called The Sunday Setlists. So I looked forward to the recap of what was being presented on Fred’s blog for Easter Sunday in some of the top churches in the U.S., Canada and beyond. I know some worship leaders find the Christmas Carols frustrating — we won’t get into that debate now — but figured anything dealing with suffering, death and resurrection of Christ would represent the best that Christian music (modern and traditional) has to offer.

Some worship directors clearly rose the occasion. In both their comments and their choice of songs it was clear that this high point in the church calendar was also the high point in the worship music cycle of their house of worship.

good-friday1But other worship leaders clearly weren’t going to let something as pedestrian as Easter get in the way of their worship agenda. In fact a couple of churches — as evidenced either in the WL’s writeup or further linking to the church sites — clearly continued with other theme series they were running. At least one did a kind of split service between their current series and Easter, as though the ‘holiday’ was an interjection not unlike making room for a baby dedication or mention that it’s the Sunday closest to Veterans Day.

On April 13th, I wrote the following letter to McKinnon:

I didn’t want to spoil the mood in the Sunday Setlist comments, but it’s amazing to see the difference between the WLs who really focused on the death and resurrection of Christ, and those who simply did the songs that are currently popular, or the songs they were going to do anyway before Easter “got in the way.”

Everybody encourages everyone else in the respective blog comments; there seems little room for critical evaluation here.

The one that really got me was the church that went ahead with a sermon series acknowledging that it had nothing to do with Easter.

As a guy who is being edged out of weekly WL duties — it is a young man’s game — I really wish I was still more active, when I see so much disregard for the central Sunday of the church calendar.

More recently the blog Slice of Laodacia reports that the website Pirate Christian Radio awarded the “Worst Easter Sermon Award” to Joel Osteen. Here’s some highlights:

“Every Christmas Christians whine and complain about secular and atheistic efforts designed to take Christ out of Christmas yet more and more Christian pastors have committed an even worse offense and have removed Jesus Christ and His victorious resurrection from the grave from their Easter sermons,” said Chris Rosebrough. “Far too many pastors have played the role of Judas and have betrayed Jesus. Rather than being paid 30 pieces of silver, these pastors have sold Jesus out for the fame and adulation that accompany having a ‘growing, relevant ‘man-centered’ church’.”

…The sermons Rosebrough picked for this year’s contest included:

  • A sermon that explored the “deep” spiritual lessons of the movie Slumdog Millionaire .
  • A sermon entitled “Beer Babes & Baseball”
  • A sermon entitled “Livin’ Venti” that encouraged people to live life to the fullest.
  • A sermon entitled “You Have Come Back Power”
  • And a sermon entitled “Easter in the Octagon”

This year’s winner of the first ever, Worst Easter Sermon Award went to Joel Osteen’s sermon “You Have Come Back Power”.

Commenting on Osteen’s sermon Rosebrough stated, “Jesus didn’t die and rise again on the cross so that you can have ‘come back power over life’s set backs’. Osteen completely missed the point of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and as a result he missed the entire point of Christianity.”

Said Rosebrough, “I wasn’t surprised that Osteen was the first winner of this award. Osteen is like the Tiger Woods of heresy, he takes false teaching to a whole new level.”

And also a couple of days ago, Stephen Weber on the devotional blog Daily Encouragement writes the second of a two-parter called The Tyranny of the New writes:

…Most churches now want to be identified as contemporary (whatever that really means). Wouldn’t most churches in 1900 or at any other time in history have been contemporary during their age?

My annoyance at the contemporary church is not the embracing of the new, something I feel has been done all through history, but rather the tendency to devalue and disparage the old. Among so many I encounter a snobby attitude toward older music, i.e. hymns or even music written within the past twenty five years.

I was visiting with a friend after Easter who attends a self-identified “contemporary” church in our area. He’s my age and has a history in the church. I asked him about the service, “Did you sing some of those great Easter songs like ‘He Lives’ or ‘Christ The Lord Is Risen Today’?” He told me, “Oh no, we just sang new choruses.” I asked if they sang any songs dealing with the Resurrection. He told me they sang an “old” song from 1999 that he thought might have had something to do with the Resurrection! That’s sad!

One of the best memories I have of 2008 is a Good Friday service where the worship was led by a man in his late 60s. He chose mostly modern worship pieces, but the choices were so absolutely, totally focused on the message of the cross. At the time, the choices seemed so self-evident — especially having just come from a similar service in a nearby town — but I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote them all down anyway, trying to preserve this lesson in choosing worship material.

By the way, Weber’s text for his post was:

“This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it'” (Jeremiah 6:16).

christoncross1I think that something key is being lost when worship leaders miss the point. In the church I contributed to most over the past three years, I was solely responsible for the first 35-40 minutes of the service, and then the pastor would speak for 35-40 minutes. That’s a major responsibility. I wasn’t on staff, I wasn’t on the board, but I had the second largest contribution to each person’s Sunday worship experience. Humbling.

Therefore, I wouldn’t dare walk into an Easter Sunday service without being absolutely convinced that this particular date demanded my absolute best. Easter is why we have a church. Easter is why we have a faith. Easter is why we have a hope. Easter is why we have salvation.


Update March, 2010: As we approach Easter again I noticed this particular post was getting a lot of traffic. I just want to point out here that The Sunday Setlists — mentioned in the first paragraph — is now part of The Worship Community blog.

Also, if you’re not a regular reader here, I also didn’t want to leave the impression I was giving a blanket endorsement to the Slice of Laodicea blog or to Pirate Radio. I’m just saying that I think in this instance they got it right.

June 10, 2010

Christianity Add-Ons

Filed under: Church, Faith, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

This originally appeared here in June, 2008 under the title “Extra=Biblical Christianity.”   Jeff McQuilkin of Tulsa, Oklahoma  blogs at Losing My Religion.   Here, literally ripped from his own website, is today’s post.


Have you ever stopped to think about how much we say/do in Christianity that is not found anywhere in the Bible?

Not saying all of it is bad–I have mentioned in previous posts that I feel the Bible purposefully gives us a lot of latitude in how to “do church”. So just because something isn’t in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But what is kind of interesting–and a bit funny, even–is when we treat our extra-Biblical stuff as sacred, as if it were in the Bible. Things we’re so attached to that we wouldn’t feel like it was “church” or “Christian” if it weren’t there.

Far from being a comprehensive list–below are just a few examples of what I’m talking about. And again–I’m not saying these are right or wrong. Extra-biblical doesn’t mean anti-biblical. So if it works–keep it. :) Just thought it might be fun to take a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the stuff we might take for granted. So…here we go…

  • The term “personal relationship with Christ”. Are you surprised that this is not in the Bible? (Not messing with good theology here–not saying there is no such thing, or that you shouldn’t have a personal relationship with Christ–just saying this isn’t how the early believers would have referred to it.)
  • “Going to church”. In the Bible, the people are the church. (How do you go to yourself? You’d have to be schizophrenic or something…) The church “assembled together”, but people didn’t think of it as “going to church.”
  • Revival. (Also related phrases like “move of God”.) These days, many Christians live from revival to revival, chasing after the next “wave” or the next “move of God.” There are many examples of “outpourings” of God’s Spirit in the Bible (Pentecost being probably the most well-known), but “revival” isn’t a word any early believer would have used. In their minds, the supernatural was normative, and the focus was on following Christ, not manifestations. (The word “revive” means to bring back to life; so if you have to have a revival, it suggests something was wrong to begin with.)
  • Meeting in a designated building. This didn’t happen until the church was several hundred years old–before that, most meetings were held in people’s homes. Yet there are many people today who don’t feel like they’ve “been to church” if the meeting is held in someone’s home.
  • “The Sinner’s Prayer.” This term didn’t come around until the 19th century. There is a strong principle of genuine conversion in Scripture, but the idea of leading someone to Christ by leading them in prayer is a very new concept.

Then, of course, there is the Christian-ese lingo we use, where lots of those terms are found in the Bible, but we’ve lost the depths of meaning by making them into catch-phrases…things like “anointed”, “blessed”, “hallelujah”, “glory”…things like that. In this case, we’re talking according to the Bible, but our usage of the words lessens the value.

So what else do we Christians say or do that’s not in the Bible?

March 31, 2010

Passion Week 4

How Can Anyone Just Walk Away?
All this week, I’m repeating the links to the five-part series I ran last year at this time, “Setting Our Faces Toward Jerusalem.”    This one is a consideration of one of the most beautiful invitation songs, “How Could You Say No?” originally recorded by Julie Miller.  (I hope someone re-posts the original again on YouTube, I had to change the link in the post from last year.)  To read the lyrics and link to the audio, click here.

March 30, 2010

Passion Week 3

Filed under: Christianity, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:56 pm
The Best News You’ve Ever Shared
All this week, I’m repeating the links to the five-part series I ran last year at this time, “Setting Our Faces Toward Jerusalem.”    This one is a piece I wrote reflecting on the unique opportunities Good Friday and Easter present for sharing your faith.   To read it, click here.

March 28, 2010

Passion Week 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:40 pm
When I Survey
All this week, I’m repeating the links to the five-part series I ran last year at this time, “Setting Our Faces Toward Jerusalem.”    This one is a short meditation inspired by the hymn, “When I Survey,” from a blog which no longer exists.   To read part one, click here.

December 18, 2009

Another Time, Another Place

Filed under: Christmas — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:04 pm

Today, Rick Apperson and I are having a blog swap.   While I’m writing a post at Rick’s blog, Just a Thought, Rick is back here for a guest post:

I love science fiction. I grew up with Star Wars, the original trilogy, and have always enjoyed a good sci-fi film. One thing that has always fascinated me is the concept of time travel, going back or forward to a different place or time in history. What would it have been like if I was born in a different era? If I had the chance to make a decision over again would I do things differently? That is the question I hear people ask all the time. What if I had dated someone else? Moved when I had the chance? Taken that job when it was available?

Really, the fascination many have with time travel is that it would give us the chance to correct mistakes. The chance to right a wrong or to take the path that now looks better in hindsight. How many times have you heard someone say, “If I only knew then what I know now”? You might have said it yourself. I know I have.

Many of us live a life of regrets because we are always looking backwards. God the Father was a forward thinker. He had a plan in place even before He created the Heavens and the Earth. Notice how, when the fall happened, as recorded in Genesis 3, He immediately spoke “prophetic” words about Christ coming! (Gen. 3:14)

How about these words spoken in Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Look at this longer passage from Ephesians:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-12)

So, God was a forward thinker. He had a plan. His plan, as set forth in Genesis, was for Christ to come at another time and another place. A perfect time and place I might add. So it was that, a little over 2000 years ago, Christ was born in a manger. He came to fulfill God’s plan. He gave up the throne room of God for a season, so that He could bring us into everlasting relationship with the Father. He restored what was lost in the fall.

This holiday season, and throughout the year, don’t look back with regrets. Lay down the “what ifs” and think about the “what is”. God is directing your life. He has a plan for you. He knows what He is doing. Trust Him.

Passionately sharing Jesus at:

August 25, 2009

Reblogging The Best of August 2008

Filed under: blogging, quotations — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:46 pm

Here’s three short posts I ran around this time last year that I thought worth repeating. Summer reruns, I guess.

The Dangerous Act of Worship

“Our central lie is in the discrepancy between the language of worship and the actions of worship. We confess “Jesus is Lord” but only submit to the part of Christ’s authority that fits our grand personal designs, doesn’t cause pain, doesn’t disrupt the American dream, doesn’t draw us across ethnic and racial divisions, doesn’t add the pressure of too much guilt, doesn’t mean forgiving as we have been forgiven, doesn’t ask for more than a check to show compassion. We “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” expressing our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us when we think we are at our best. Despite God’s Word to the contrary, we think we can say that we love God and yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed. Its the sign of disordered love. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God.”


Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 71 — h/t Andrew Hamilton blogging in Australia at

To all the hearts that have been broken,
To all the dreamers with abandoned dreams,
To everyone in need of a friend,
— You are loved, You are loved;
To the rebels wounded in battle
To all the rockers that have lost that beat
To all the users who are all used up now
— You are loved, You are loved.

~from the mid ’80s by Christian Rock band, THE ALTAR BOYS; this was running through my head this morning as I felt a hunger and desperation to know deeper the reality of God’s love for me as an individual; something that we all need to strive to be more aware of. His love for us is there and it is constant; it’s our perception of it that changes with circumstances and feelings.

I’m standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other. And then I hear someone at my side saying, “There, she’s gone.”
Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone;” there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!” And that is dying.

No, it’s not C. S. Lewis. Attributed to Henry Scott Holland or Henry Van Dyke, depending on who you ask.

August 22, 2009

Come and Get Your Healing

Today we were in the big city, where, if you lift your gaze above the retail shops at street level, you see the one-flight-up storefront churches, tucked in among the dance studios and offices of insurance adjusters and pool halls.

The one that caught my eye today had lettered on one window the words, “Come and Get Your Healing.”

I believe in healing.   I’m one of those people convinced that the gifts of the Holy Spirit did not cease at the end of the Apostolic age, including the gift of tongues.   (The real gift of tongues, not the people who are faking it.)   I believe in praying powerful prayers.   I believe in a limitless God who invites us to stretch our faith muscles to believe in limitless possibilities.  (Based on His resources, not our possibility-thinking things into existence.)

So my personal beliefs lean slightly in a more Charismatic direction, even if I find some of the forms excessive and find that identifying myself as part of the broader Charismatic movement places me in a category of people with whom I largely don’t identify.    (I keep meaning to read and review Rob MacAlpine’s book Post Charismatic here sometime, as I feel that term better describes me.)

church upstairsEven so, I find the lettered sign in the window of the walk-up storefront church a little distressing.   While church-planting is the rage and the home-church movement is producing little organic fellowships at a rapid rate, the nature of many of these small groups is such as to place them at the extreme fringes of the Evangelical mainstream, perhaps even the Charismatic mainstream itself.

How about a sign that says, “Come and discuss life issues related to the quest for meaning.”    Maybe the Alpha Course fills that void.   Or, “Come in for a look at the various religious belief systems available.”    Maybe the more cerebral, more intellectual, more ‘bookish’  members of our faith tribe just aren’t the kind of people to put first and last month’s rent down on a former ballet studio or fabric trade sweat shop.

But no, it’s “Come and Get Your Healing.”    Will these people get healed?   Will they get what they saw promised on the window sign?   Will they be asked to jump through a number of hoops before their healing manifests itself?

I’m also current wrestling with the question, “What if Jesus had never healed anyone?”    Certainly the healings demonstrated His divinity and it’s hard to imagine the gospels without them; though the power of His words also arrested men and women in their tracks.   But it would seem that a modern expression of the Christ-follower movement begun 2,000 years ago would contain the potential for healing.    And many who came to Jesus, attracted by the miracles He performed, stuck around and became part of the core group; while others were told to go back to their home communities and share what they had seen.

“Come and Get Your Healing.”

It just seems too simplistic.

How about, “Come and find acceptance.”   “Come and find forgiveness.”  “Come and find meaning to your life.”   “Come if you’ve been hurt.” “Come and meet Jesus.”   “Come and let us love you.”   “Come and help change the world.”

TODAY’S BONUS ITEM — On one my wife’s many blogs, she recounts the story of doing a ukulele performance this week for a group of developmentally challenged adults.   As a well-known local worship leader, this collection of songs represents her “alt-repertoire” which seemed highly suitable for the assembled audience.    Read her post here, and see why I say she is the better writer in the family.

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