Thinking Out Loud

September 3, 2019

In Religion Reporting, There’s a Tradeoff Between Objectivity and Accuracy

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:37 am

I’ve said before that only insiders can report a news story in Evangelicalism.

I realize this means that there is a certain loss of objectivity that a reporter borrowed from the business beat or the political department would have, but I believe it’s worth sacrificing that aspect of objectivity if it means getting the report mostly correct.

The reason is simply that there is so much terminology, so much nuance behind our stories that an outsider simply can’t appreciate. In the name of objectivity, it would be possible to get the story wrong.

I wouldn’t consider writing a piece about a Muslim cleric or a Buddhist community any more than I would consider writing about NASCAR, South African politics, or gourmet cooking.

Fortunately, there is the website Get Religion, which keeps us abreast of the missteps by (mostly) print media in attempting to cover stories of (mostly) Christianity. Usually these include things like wrong terminology, poor theological understanding, unawareness of the full history of the story, or missing entirely the sub-strands of the story being covered.

I was reminded of this on the weekend reading some tweets from religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, made, as it turns out, in reference to an item I now also see covered on Get Religion.

She wrote,

I’ve been reporting on religion, especially the inner workings of U.S. evangelicals, for 12 years now. I’m fully aware of the skeletons in the closet. I have fun stories to share! BUT if your publication can’t write a fair piece about them, you risk alienating 25% of the country.

I was inspired to become a religion reporter after Bush’s re-election, when reporters were baffled by what many of them portrayed as stupid evangelicals willing to vote for a buffoon. I thought perhaps I could explain. 12 years later, I don’t think the media has woken up.

I’m tired of watching the media botch religion coverage, whether news or opinion.

If you see your faith poorly covered, you will instantly distrust the rest of that outlet’s coverage.

That last sentence is key. Can you truly put your faith in a media outlet if their coverage of the subject that is perhaps closest to your heart is being rendered carelessly?

For Sarah, I suspect it’s doubly discouraging, knowing she could have been asked to write the piece and done a better job. Full disclosure: In this instance, the piece in particular at the New York Times was an Op-Ed — an opinion piece — and not hard news. But I know for writers and reporters like Sarah and others like her this is a constant frustration.

I’ve had the privilege of writing some print pieces for nationally distributed media outlets. But for 30 years I’ve also lived in a small town, doing a somewhat visible ministry that interacts with all the churches and parachurch organizations. In all those years, I’ve never once been interviewed as a source to help the local newspapers clarify a religion story, and often it means they’ve missed the mark almost to the point of getting the story completely wrong.

It leaves the public misinformed, and leaves the media outlet looking less than they would desire.

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June 28, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:48 am

For the past six months, my friend Pastor Clarke Dixon has been preaching an epic-length series under the title “Compelling.” Six months is a long time, but it represents a commitment to assemble all the major apologetic arguments in one place. It was truly a labor of love — in many ways — and I decided we would share it here as well as we’ve been doing every Thursday at Christianity 201 for the last six months. Each of the points below is a link, and you can access the full articles for each subject by clicking through.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth.  People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviors that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the TV series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centered, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


Use the above links to read any of the posts in the series. At each you’ll find a link for the audio version of the full sermon on which they are based.


1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

May 20, 2019

The Colorization of Your Bible

On the weekend I realized that several articles we’ve done here at Thinking Out Loud and at Christian Book Shop Talk have a common theme: The progressively increasing use of color in Bibles. By this I don’t mean the addition of illustrations, such as is found in Children’s Bibles such as The Picture Bible or The Action Bible,

but rather the use of color in otherwise unedited, full-text editions.

There also isn’t time to talk about Biblezines, such as these three (lower right of photo) produced by The Gideons in Canada, with beautiful photography running through every page. Besides, they aren’t full Bible editions either, but contain selected themed text, with the Gospel of John complete at the back…

I’m sure it began with covers. I can’t imagine that black was always the cover color of choice. Evangelist Bob Harrington used a cherry red Bible which apparently some found offensive. He countered with, “The Bible should be read;” a homonym pun he repeated (and repeated) at successive appearances in the same churches.

Red letter Bibles are not that old. Wikipedia tells us:

The inspiration for rubricating the Dominical words comes from Luke, 22:20: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which I shed for you.” On 19 June 1899, Louis Klopsch, then editor of The Christian Herald magazine, conceived the idea while working on an editorial. Klopsch asked his mentor Rev. Thomas De Witt Talmage what he thought of a testament with the Dominical words rubricated and Dr. Talmage replied, “It could do no harm and it most certainly could do much good.”

Klopsch published the first modern red letter edition New Testament later in 1899. The first modern, fully rubricated bible was published in 1901. The rubricated bible instantly became popular, and is sometimes favored by Protestant Christians in the United States. Especially in King James Version editions, this format is useful because quotation marks are absent.

But we want to look at more recent developments.

Even as early as 2010, I noted the following Bibles that were offered for sale by a prominent online Christian retailer, and asked readers to reader decide if we are really so excited about Bible engagement that we needed all these permutations, or if the marketers had gone a little crazy on us (and no, I am not making these up):

  • The Veggie Tales Bible
  • The Soldier’s Bible
  • The Grandmother’s Bible
  • The Duct Tape Bible
  • The Busy Life Bible (“Inspiration even if you have only a minute a day”)
  • The Chunky Bible
  • The God Girl Bible (only in “snow white”)
  • The Wisdom and Grace Bible for Young Women of Color
  • The Waterproof Bible (useful in frequently flooded U.S. states)
  • The Pray for a Cure Bible (in pink)
  • The Divine Health Bible
  • The Wild About Horses Bible
  • The Fire Bible

The cover colors offered were just as varied:

  • Raspberry
  • Melon
  • Razzleberry
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Caramel
  • Espresso
  • Toffee
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Glittery Grape Butterfly
  • Plum
  • Lavender (with flowers!)
  • Black Cherry
  • Distressed Umber (?)
  • Mocha/aqua

and remember this was before the “duo-tone” type of Bibles became more entrenched, ultimately exceeding the traditional “bonded leather” editions in terms of popularity.

In January of 2017, we reported on the trend that developed out of a convergence of adult coloring books and scrap-booking. People were apparently coloring the text pages of their Bibles and not everyone was happy with the results.

Bible Journaling 2

Bible Journaling 1

In 2017, Tyndale Publishing House decided to help some aspiring artists kickstart their personalization projects by creating The Inspire Bible, available now in a half dozen different editions.

The primary market for these is women, so I don’t actually own one. This page sample was captured online, and then I darkened it considerably so you would see the graphic art material which is actually printed in a much lighter tone.

They will disagree, but rival publisher Zondervan has never come with anything quite as striking in terms of color, print process (including the page edges) and overall aesthetics for the NIV. Meanwhile Tyndale is about to issue a girls version of Inspire.

Then last week, I discovered that even Bible tabs had joined the party. You can’t buy the ones pictured at Christian bookstores or major Christian online vendors, but through independent sources.

Of course, not every innovation pleases everyone. Just last week someone reacted to the NRSV Pride Bible which we had noted in a past edition of Wednesday Connect:

This, they felt went too far, though minus its appellation, with its primary colors it would make a nice Bible for kids.

Finally, all this is nothing new; people having been been marking their Bibles according to theme for decades. Perhaps this well-marked copy was the inspiration for the various color-coded Bibles on the market today…

…such as the Rainbow Study Bible, pictured here:

February 4, 2019

People in Your Church — Not Just the Staff — Have Gifts

This concerns a topic that is recurring around our supper table. It was many years in the making, and something that both of us had been thinking and talking about for a long, long time before she wrote it all out. Not the first time presenting it here, but I believe it’s still relevant, if not more so than when all this happened.


• • • by Ruth Wilkinson

A number of years ago, a terrible thing happened.

Our local Christian school had just celebrated their Grade 8 graduation. Excited 14-year-olds, proud parents and grandparents, a ceremony, a party.

That was Friday evening.

One of the students, a girl, went home that evening, full of life and fun and hope, said good night to her parents, went to sleep, fell into a diabetic coma and died in the night.

The next day, phone lines burned up as the word spread and the Christian community prayed together for this family and for the girl’s friends.

Sunday morning during the service, the then pastor of #thechurchiusedtogoto mentioned the terrible thing in his ‘pastoral prayer’ before the sermon and the congregation prayed together for the comfort and healing of us all.

Over the next week, it started to sink in as these things will do, and a lot of people, solid believers who love Jesus, began asking hard questions. People deeply wounded by the fact that God could allow this to happen.

We own the local Christian bookstore, and some of these folks came in looking for answers. The best we could do was share their questions and their pain. Because there are no answers, besides the trite ones that don’t work.

The next Sunday, I was scheduled to lead worship. I chose songs that were familiar and simple, songs that spoke only of who God is and always had been and avoided “I will worship you” and “Thank you” types of lyrics.

On the platform, in my allotted one minute of speech, I said that a terrible thing had happened last week. That a lot of us were still hurting and questioning and angry. That it can be difficult to sing praises at a time like this, out of our woundedness. But that God was still God and though we don’t understand, we can trust him.

And we sang.

The next day, I got an email. From the (P)astor. Telling me off.

Apparently I had crossed a line. I’d been “too pastoral”. He said that I had no right to address the need in the congregation that week because he had “mentioned it” in his prayer the week before. And that was his job, not mine.

This was in the days before I was liberated enough to allow myself to ask, “What the hell?” so I went with the sanctified version of same, “What on earth?”. How could I possibly have been wrong to acknowledge what we were all thinking, and to act accordingly?

But, knowing from long experience that there was no point in arguing, I acquiesced and he was mollified.

However.

That episode stuck with me. Like a piece of shrapnel the surgeons couldn’t quite get.

“Too pastoral”.

Ephesians 4:11 speaks about gifts given to “each one of us”. The writer lists 5. Widely accepted interpretation of this verse sees each of the 5 as a broad category of Spirit-borne inclination and ability, with every one of us falling into one or another.

Apostles – those whose role it is to be sent. To go beyond the comfort zone and get things started that others would find too intimidating or difficult. Trailblazers.

Prophets – those whose role it is to speak God’s heart. To remind us all why we do what we do, and, whether it’s comfortable or not, to set apart truth from expediency. Truth-speakers.

Evangelists – those whose role it is to tell others about Jesus. To naturally find the paths of conversation that lead non-believers to consider who Christ is. Challengers.

Pastors – those whose role it is to come alongside people, to meet them where they are and to guide them in a good direction. To protect, to direct, to listen and love. Shepherds.

Teachers – those whose role it is to study and understand the written word of God, and to unfold it to the rest of us so we can put it into practice. Instructors.

I’ll be the first to point out that “worship leader” isn’t included in the list. Which means that those of us who take that place in ecclesial gatherings must fall into the “each one of us” who have been given these gifts.

Every time a worship leader (or song leader or whatever) stands on the platform of your church and picks up the mic, you are looking at a person to whom has been given one of the 5-fold gifts.

But can you tell?

Don’t know about you, sunshine, but I want to.

I think that, after a week or two, you should be able to tell. From their song choices, from the short spoken word they’re given 60 seconds for on the spreadsheet, from what makes them cry, smile, jump up and down – you should be able to tell that:

  • This woman has the gift of an evangelist. She challenges us to speak about Jesus to the world because he died for us.
  • That guy has the gift of a teacher. He chooses songs with substance and depth of lyric. He doesn’t just read 6 verses from the Psalms, he explains things.
  • That kid is totally a prophet. He reminds us of what’s important and what’s not.
  • This dude is an apostle. He comes back to us from where he’s been all week and tells us what’s going on out there.
  • This woman is a pastor. Her heart bleeds when yours does. She comes alongside and walks with you through the good and the bad and encourages you to keep going.

A worship leader who is free to express their giftedness in the congregation is, himself, a gift to the congregation.

A worship leader who is bound by rules and by “what we do” is a time filler.

Church “leadership” who restrict the use of Christ-given gifts are, in my humble opinion, sinning against the Spirit and the congregation.

Those gifts are there for a reason.

Let us use them.


December 31, 2018

Of Lives and Years; Of Beginnings and Endings

Have you made your New Life’s resolutions?

As I was thinking about how to wrap things up for 2019, it occurred to me that there might be four different possibility for how your year has gone; and those are the same four which can be applied to the longer span of our lives. For some context as to what I mean by this, here’s something I wrote in 2009. A small portion of this is actually appearing for the 4th time; much of it for only the 2nd time, and some is new.

I’m certainly not one of those “Everything happens for a reason” people, but I do believe every book in the Bible is there for many reasons, and with II Kings, the clearest message that I see is that when it comes to their relationship with God, not everybody ends well.

living-bibleIn II Kings we see a succession of leaders, many of whom are relegated to the most minimal of mentions. In the original The Living Bible, Ken Taylor in his most paraphrasial — ya like that word? — moment in the entire work actually lapses into point form in the later chapters. Those chapters could be called the “bullet point translation.” One could think that perhaps Taylor tired of the various Kings simply not getting it. Basically there are four main types of stories told and each King is representative of one of them:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

There are several benefits to reading this. It should make you want to end well, to leave a legacy of faithfulness and devotion to God, His word, and His work. But if you’re not solidly signed up with the eternal security camp, it also means you must end well. It allows the possibility that I can blow this Christ-following thing, with severe consequences.

Of course it helps that God, by His Holy Spirit is constantly nudging us closer to His ways. There are times in our lives however, when we don’t respond to His prompting. In the Revelation given to John, a message to the church in Laos ascribes three possible states of response: hot, cold, or lukewarm. Although the descriptors here apply to the local church as a collective noun, I believe the same terms can also apply to us individually.

heat-sensitive-imageMany of those who are cold or even lukewarm will recommit themselves down the road, but in terms of the here and now, if you were to take a picture of the spiritual temperature of people using a “spiritual heat sensitive” camera, you’d find that not everyone is responding to what the Spirit is suggesting. Or demanding; God’s not big on suggestions! Some just love their sin too much. Others are just spiritually apathetic. Some are just too busy.

One of the biggest myths in the Church (capital ‘C’ this time) is to suggest that “It’s all good.” To me, that’s not dissimilar from the Universalist perspective. It’s all good if it all ends well. Right here, right now, in the middle of the story, we don’t see so clearly how it will end. We have absolutely, positively no idea what’s going on in the lives of people at the deepest level, so we can’t begin to assume what God may be doing, or what He may be using to work His purposes, but if II Kings tells us anything it is that even Kings, representing the highest their country has to offer, can refuse to see the need to make God part of their lifelong equation.

lifes-journeyAnother myth is to say “We’re all on a spiritual journey.” The Greeks held that there were four core ‘essences:’ Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Knowing their list didn’t account for everything in the world, they held that there was a fifth essence, ‘quintessence,’ representing ‘spirit.’ Unfortunately many people live lives that are dominated by earth or air or fire or water or whatever modern equivalents represent our modern passions. Their journey can’t be characterized as spiritual at all; or if it contains elements of spiritual life, it appears to be a journey to nowhere.

In Jesus time, we see life represented in the phrase, “heart, soul, mind and strength;” both in terms of Jesus early life in Luke 2:52, but also in how we are to love the Lord with all our being. Some people allow their lives to be dominated by mental or intellectual accomplishments (mind) or physical prowess (strength) or their physical or emotional passions (the eros and philios loves; soul) rather than by a focus on their own spirit and the spiritual side of life.

Of course, it is not for us to know what God is doing in everyone’s lives. We are responsible for the ending to our own story, not that of anyone else.

I want my life to be spirit-focused; to be quintessence-focused. I want the center of that focus to be Jesus Christ. I want to end well. I want those around me to end well, too.

So while we’re caught up in what is really the ‘micro-focus’ of how a particular year began or ended or both, we need to also consider the ‘macro-focus’ on the overall progression of our lives. 

It’s a time for New Year’s resolutions, but also a time for New Life resolutions.

November 2, 2018

You Can’t Throw Money in the Kettle if You Don’t Carry Cash

For 120 years, The Salvation Army’s Christmas kettles have been synonymous with the holiday season and the spirit of giving. Kettles are already on the streets in more than 2,000 locations across Canada, collecting spare change and cash from passersby to help us serve more than 1.7 million vulnerable people in 400 communities across the country each year.

After a break of a few years, we’re back with another year of providing our online friends in Canada an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people in need. (American readers: Just wait a few paragraphs!) The program in Canada is called iKettle. Any of my Canadian readers can host a kettle with a few clicks of the mouse.

So first this is where my Canadian* blog readers kick in. You can’t toss spare change in the kettles anymore because you pay for everything with plastic cards, and you don’t get change. Any bills in your wallet are probably there for emergencies. Plus, while it pains me to say this, a lot of you shop online and don’t even have the collection kettles in your face anymore. (Maybe that’s why you shop online!)

So here’s where you go to contribute*

Donations stay in the community where you live, so if that’s Winnipeg or Calgary or Ottawa or Halifax or some place in-between, that’s where the money will be applied to the Salvation Army Family Services branch; including smaller towns where they have an active presence.

I really hope you’ll help us launch this over this weekend. We will be repeating this appeal on the blog several times during. Our giving can meet the needs both in overseas relief and development and in the cities and towns closer to home. This is an opportunity to do something on the domestic front in yet another year that’s been rough on many people.

*For my American readers there is a secure online donation website just for you.

There are also online opportunities to give in most parts of the world where the Salvation Army operates.

This is a trusted, respected ministry. When you give, you’re giving locally. But don’t just give. Consider volunteering. Share the link to this article with Facebook friends. And by all means, find one of the many books that tell the William Booth or Salvation Army story and read every page.

Do your giving
while you’re living
so you’re knowing
where it’s going.

September 23, 2018

Christianity on the Move: When He Said Timbuktu, He Really Meant Timbuktu

Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance on the expansion of the Christian church worldwide.

Part One: 4 Minutes

Part Two: 5½ Minutes


Link to the World Evangelical Alliance

Brian is also the author of An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker) which we reviewed here recently.

My review of Brian’s Evangelicals Around the World (Thomas Nelson) (an encyclopedia of all things Evangelical).

My review of From Jerusalem to Timbuktu (InterVarsity).

September 15, 2018

Weekend Archives: Best of the Early Years

Three posts, with some updating, from our very first year…

My Paraphrase of II Tim 3:16 – The Purpose of the Bible:


Today’s New International Version (TNIV)

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for

  • teaching
  • rebuking
  • correcting…
  • training in righteousness

The Message

Every part of scripture is God-breathed and is useful one way or another —

  • showing us truth
  • exposing our rebellion
  • correcting our mistakes
  • training us to live God’s way

New Living Translation (NLT)

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to

  • teach us what is true…
  • make us realize what is wrong in our lives…
  • correct us when we are wrong…
  • teach us to do what is right

My very loose paraphrase

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

What Your Library Says About You:

Several years ago we were asked to stop in at the home of man who was well known in the Christian music community here in the 1980s. He passed away on the last day of August, and because he had some books and Bibles, and because we’re in the book and Bible business, we were asked to help find a home for some things.

We were only there an hour, but it got me thinking about the stuff we own, the stuff we collect, the stuff we purchase, the stuff we save and the stuff we leave behind. Someday, everyone reading this will be gone and perhaps someone else will be going through their stuff trying to decide was is valuable and what is not; what is worth keeping, what is worth selling and what is worth giving away; what ought to go where and to whom.

I have always believed that a man consists of more than the abundance of his possessions. But the things we hold on to, the things we value, say a lot about the people we are. It tells those who follow after us what our priorities were. I remember visiting an artist once who had a vast collection of what artists and printers refer to as paper stock samples. He then — somewhat tongue in cheek, because he was a Christian — said, “These are my gods.” Others would not say this as humorously.

The man whose library we went through today was different. He didn’t really own much in the sense of having stuff that was marked for long-term ownership. His name wasn’t written in the front of a lot of books. Instead, he had temporary ownership of things he wanted to give away. Books, booklets, Bibles, sermon audio discs, sermon DVD discs. It’s a nice legacy to leave.

His ‘giving away’ ministry was much a big part of who he was, though. I said to a visiting missionary yesterday, that in our local area, after years of meeting with the broadest assortment of the Christian community, I have only met about six people who are truly passionately committed to evangelism. This man was one of them. Finding someone to fill his shoes was quite a challenge, but as I write this, years later, 90% of his materials found a home.

The Mystery Man and His Gift of Encouragement:

For over twenty years now, I’ve carried a secret that is only known to my wife and two kids. The secret concerns the identity of a guy who was used in our lives to be an encouragement to us at a time when no one else filled that role.

We had been several months into our retail store in a market where three previous stores had failed over the past six years. In fact, we were the fourth Christian bookstore and the sixth location in six years. The first and last of these were “second” stores for established retailers, the middle one was a family with a strong retail history. We figured we didn’t stand a chance. Heck, we didn’t even bother installing a telephone. I figured three to six months and it would be over; but the pre-existing business would at least have a chance to blow out some inventory in the process.

And then Mr. ___ walked in. Carrying about six bags of groceries. Interesting groceries, too; stuff we didn’t know what to do with. Lots of pork. And cabbage. And those little cubes you put in water to make beef broth. But it was all so very encouraging. A week later Mr. ___ showed up again, with more cabbage and more broth cubes. And the next week, too. And so on for about six months, and then later it switched to a weekly thing with a little bit of cash here and there to buy similar amounts of groceries.

When we finally realized why the other three Christian retailers had failed in this particular small town, we decided to wrap it up. The problem? How to tell Mr. ___ that it wasn’t working. I did not want to break his heart or make him feel like he’d been used, or that he’d contributed to something that wasn’t going to last. So we deferred the decision another week. And kept deferring it.

Not many years later, we were a chain of three stores in three cities. All because we didn’t quit. Or more accurately, because we were so surrounded by encouragement, so pumped by someone cheering us on in the stands, that we just kept running the race.

His weekly visits lasted over a year. I learned later that he could ill afford to be buying us groceries. He said that God would tell him when it was time to quit, and once we rounded the corner financially, his visits stopped. I only ever saw him two or three times after that.

This guy did not want to be known. This was our secret. He was quite clear on that. It reminded me of Jesus performing a miracle and then telling the recipient to say nothing about it. (But wait; it was a miracle!) The man in our story and his wife may have been the last people on earth that you would guess would play a pivotal role in a ministry that would bless the entire Christian community in three towns. But my wife and kids know differently. God used this couple to get us to keep going when everything around said it was time to pack it in.

The world needs a lot more people like Mr. ___ .

September 4, 2018

Abdu Murray: Contending for Clarity in a World of Noise

Although the book, Saving Truth was released back May of this year, people in my part of the world are just now becoming aware of it. Abdu Murray is the North American Director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM); it’s actually his third book; and like the late Nabeel Quereshi, Murray is a convert to Christianity from Islam.

Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World (Zondervan) begins with the announcement from the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary that “post-truth” was their word of the year in 2016. Since the book was published, we had the statement from Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s attorney, who famously said in mid-August that “truth isn’t truth.” It’s into that chaos that this book steps.

I can’t really review this book without noting a key comparison to another we reviewed here almost exactly a year ago. Like The Problem of God by Mark Clark (also Zondervan) this book is arranged to deal with factors which can crop up in a faith-focused discussion with an unbeliever. While Clark sees his ten as problems to be addressed, Murray sees seven areas — and some of them are the same ones — as subjects where the core issues have been lost in confusion and clutter. While we may bristle at the expression “post-truth;” one can’t be reminded of the conditions a generation ago where the word was “post-modern.”

In terms of how the world responds to the premise of there being absolute truth, the situation today is quite similar and the old arguments have simply been recycled.

Specifically he looks at:

  1. The post-truth mindset
  2. The notion of freedom
  3. Human dignity
  4. Sexuality, gender and identity (the lengthiest chapter; 44 pages)
  5. Science, Scientism and faith
  6. Religious pluralism (all roads start at the same place; end differently)

The end result is what Murray terms a “culture of confusion” a world where the rug of truth has been pulled out from under everyone, including people on either side of any given issue.

As with the writing of Ravi Zacharias, without being an academic title, this book will appeal to the more informed reader; and like Zacharias, broadens its appeal with humor and by mixing quotations from key philosophers and scientists with lyrics from modern music. Many of the anecdotes in the book are based on recordings of the interactions that RZIM presenters have with skeptical audience members at colleges and universities. In other words, this is not “lite” reading, but it does contain practical responses to objections to Christianity that can be filed away for future use.

One inescapable takeaway is that everybody believes something, or to put it differently, everyone has faith in something. Atheism, as an example is very much a belief system, one that demands the faith of its adherents.

This is a book to read with pen in hand in order to go back to underlined sections for reference.


256 pages | US ISBN: 9780310562047 | International Edition: 9780310599838

For my Canadian readers, Abdu Murray will be featured throughout September on Canada’s national Christian television talk show, 100 Huntley Street.


A review copy of Saving Truth was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin Communications; providing Brand Strategy, Publicity and Integrated Marketing in Canada.


DOWNLOAD A FREE .pdf OF THE FIRST CHAPTER OF SAVING TRUTH AT THIS LINK
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August 4, 2018

Secularization in Europe: Where it Begins

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:05 am

You won’t see a picture like this often: Just 5 minutes earlier this Cathedral in Strasbourg was teeming with tourists, but they shut it down at 11:15 AM every day, evacuating all the guests. Empty churches is the theme of my writing on our concerns for Christianity in Europe.

I’m not a social scientist, though I play one on television.

However, in the informal interviews we had with people in July (and the year before) there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that the secularization taking place in Europe has two very strong nodes; two places where it begins from which the ripple effects spread out throughout each respective country. Furthermore, I’m predicting that in the future, things won’t be much different in Canada and the United States.

One is cities. I know the stereotype. Country people are closer to the land, and it better lends itself to worshiping God in creation. But so many things reinforced the continued devoutness of the people in the smaller communities, as opposed to the secularized society we witnessed in the urban environments. Rural values are more spiritual.

For now.

The second is the young. Even as secularization spreads from the cities to the towns, it spreads as those in their teens advance into their twenties, have their own families for which church attendance is not a part of normal life.

We used to say, “Just wait until they have children.” The theory was that the children would ask questions that would force the parents to provide a structure to help them answer the metaphysical, philosophical, and spiritual questions of life.

Then studies proved that didn’t happen.

I’ve quoted this (source unknown) before:

A faith community that does not impart its sacred writings to its young people is one generation away from extinction.

I would add another today:

A faith community which has lost its children and teens is one generation away from extinction.

…and all the organ concerts and gift shop sales won’t be enough to stop that.

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