Thinking Out Loud

October 19, 2016

Wednesday Link List

Economy Edition

As most readers here know, it’s been a tough week for us. So forgive me for a shorter list today. Also many U.S. sites and writers are completely sidetracked by the election, which means many other subjects just aren’t getting covered.

This picture desperately needs a caption:


October 12, 2016

Wednesday Link List



Lots of people trying to sell you things. Maybe I could combine the two elements above with a weight loss and worship workout timer.

From the archives of randomness:




October 8, 2016

Nothing But The Best

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:08 am

This is an expanded version of short article that first appeared in our e-mail newsletter in May, 2007

All but one of the banks in the small town we live in are located in the downtown core, so driving to the bank requires me to trek there, which usually involves having eyes on the road, ears listening to radio and thoughts entering and exiting my head at lightning speed. I am focused on everything vital, but anything not central to my agenda is usually not registering.

The route takes me by the town’s Roman Catholic Church. At the entrance to the church they had hung a large banner celebrating their 125th anniversary, but my tired mind didn’t process the details correctly and instead out of the corner of my eye morphed the sign into the type of banner that manufacturing plants hangs outside to announce that they have met the criteria for the International Standards Organization. (I tried really hard to find a picture at this point.) As far as I was concerned, the banner said, “I.S.O. 9001 Certified;” until I did a double-take and more carefully noted the church’s anniversary.

That got me wondering though what it would be like if our churches had to meet something like I.S.O. standards.What if there was an independent body out their testing to see if we’re meeting our objectives, conveying our message accurately, using only best materials, best practices, best processes; getting our “product” to the community efficiently, etc.? Like a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” on a product, or a AAA (American Automobile Association) Approval Rating on a motel. Would your church be able to meet a world standard of performance?

And what if some churches passed the test and got to hang that all important banner… who would be impressed? Would neighbours who have passed that church by for 20 years or more suddenly say, “Well, we really should go and visit sometime… after all they are I.S.O. certified”? What would be the impact on people in other churches that hadn’t reached the gold standard?

(One pastor recently shared with me that in all the research that’s been done and all the articles and reports that have been written about church growth, church planting and church marketing, there is very little concern about two issues that are central to the experience of visitors: The quality of the chairs and the room temperature of the auditorium. Guess we’re all too spiritual to worry about such things. Too trivial? Maybe you should write that book.)

Nevertheless, I believe that God calls his Church to excellence. That includes excellence of the heart. Excellence in motivation. Excellence in attitude. But it also includes excellence in worship. Excellence in preaching. Excellence in Christian Education. Do everything as unto the Lord. We should aim for nothing but the best, regardless of whether or not we are a church of 200 or 600 or 1,400, or a church of “two or three gathered together.”


October 6, 2016

Faith and Snobbery

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:23 am

We’ve visited the blog of author and pastor Mark Fox, Christians in Context, several times at C201, but I thought today we’d share his most recent post with our larger audience here at Thinking Out Loud. At C201, we ask readers every day to send some link love to our writers and click through to read the post at source; just click the title below.

Snobbery and faith don’t mix

In his commentary on James, Kent Hughes tells the story of a woman who came from “the other side of the tracks,” to visit a prominent church in her city. She may have wondered why no one ever spoke to her or welcomed her, but she liked the church anyway, wanted to join, and told the pastor so. He told her to go and think about it for a week. She did and came back and told him she wanted to join, and he said, “Let’s not be hasty. Go home and read your Bible every day for an hour, and come back next week and see if you still want to join.” She did. And came the next week wanting to join. He said, “Let’s do one more thing. Go home and pray every day this week, asking the Lord if he wants you to come into this fellowship.” The pastor didn’t see her after that for six months. Then one day they met on the street, and he asked her what had happened. She said, “Oh, I did what you suggested. I prayed every day for a week, and one day while I was praying the Lord said to me, ‘Don’t worry about not getting into that church. I’ve been trying to get into it myself for the last 20 years!’”

James questions the integrity of those in the church who would welcome the rich man to the church, offering him the best seat, fawning over him because of his wealth, and then telling the poor man dressed in shabby clothes to stand, or if he must, be seated on the floor. There’s a difference between showing honor to someone and showing partiality. We honored three sailors in our church two weeks ago, three young men who are stationed at different places and had come home to Antioch while on leave. If the governor or any civic leader were to visit the church, we would honor him or her because of the position God has given them. Peter said, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” But here’s the thing. If the wealthiest person in town showed up in your church, you would do wrong to make a big show of his attendance, to honor him simply because of his wealth. The sad truth is that too often churches go even further, making a rich man an elder, not because he has the spiritual qualifications, but because he has a pocketful of cash.

The question James is asking us to consider is this: does our reaction change depending on who walks in the door on Sunday morning? To show partiality means literally to “receive the face,” to accept or reject a person based on outward appearance. Our tendency may be to see the clothes and the car and the house and the lifestyle, and to honor someone based on those things. We must not do that, and if we allow that thinking in the church, we are headed for trouble. You see, though the world puts premium value on wealth and status, the church must not, because God has turned that upside down in Christ. “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.”

True riches are only found in Christ, and He welcomes all who come to Him by faith: rich or poor, highly educated or a high school dropout, powerful in society or just known by friends and family.


October 5, 2016

Wednesday Link List


Canadian LynxWelcome to link list #328. By the way, if you do a Google Image search for “list lynx” (like the one at pictured here) we pretty much own the results.  Top clicks last week included Tony Campolo dumping Evangelicalism, the Eternal Damnation list, and that most disturbing Baby Heaven video.


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September 28, 2016

Wednesday Link List

The worldwide shortage of Christian book titles continues, as indicated by this collection, all recently-released

The worldwide shortage of Christian book titles continues, as indicated by this collection, all recently-released

Your top clicks last week included Should an Egalitarian Date a Complementarian? and the Greg Boyd epic book announcement and Stephen Altrogge wandering to and fro in the history of ’90s CCM. (I normally put these on Twitter a day or two later.) But that was last week, and this is…

As the worship team at Central Neighborhood Tabernacle arrived for a 7:30 AM set up, there was no mistaking that the sound console was emitting a supernatural light.

As the worship team at Central Neighborhood Tabernacle arrived for a 7:30 AM set up, there was no mistaking that the sound console was emitting a supernatural glow.

September 26, 2016

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Evangelicalism

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

If you have a copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, you’re probably familiar with the quote which follows:


I decided to put a bit of soteriological spin on this.


September 22, 2016

A Pastoral Career: The Parabolic Curve of Church Size

Filed under: Christianity, Church, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Conrad sat in the living room staring at the “yearbook” that Central Church had given him when he resigned several years ago. Well, “resigned” wasn’t exactly the right word, but other than that, there was nothing about his time pastoring the 700+ member church that did not evoke fond memories. He was only the third pastor Central had ever known, and while he did not experience the rapid growth of his predecessors, he’d seen the church grow from 556 members to 703.

Not that it was about numbers. Well, maybe it was. His first church was 168 members, but he was only there for three years. Then he jumped at the opportunity to go to a 289 member church, where he stayed for five years. Next, he entered a four year term with the 374 member — oh, my goodness; it really was about numbers; he couldn’t believe he had remembered all that detail.

Short StoriesBut Central was the pinnacle as it turned out, twelve years, and average weekend attendance just under a thousand in two services, with 703 of those people full members.

And then he got sent to East Valley on an interim pastor assignment, that ended up lasting six years. Smaller numerically. A little backward culturally. He was balding now and the 414-member church was an older demographic that signified, along with his own age, the numbers might start dropping. And then it did.

Before he knew it, he was doing a meaningless job in the district office waiting out the years to retirement. He had ridden the entire parabolic curve of church size.

He put the yearbook down and sighed.

“You’d better get ready to go;” his wife Carla admonished from the kitchen, “The service at Whispering Willows starts at 2:00 PM.”

So this is what it comes to, he thought. Sunday afternoon chapel services in the local seniors’ home.

The pianist assigned from the Salvation Army didn’t know any of the hymns he’d bookmarked. “We tend to do Army music;” she confessed, “But I can do Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.”

“That’s all they ever want to sing anyway;” Conrad told her, and at 1:55 Whispering Willows staff started wheeling in the dozen-and-a-half women and three men who had signed up to go to chapel that week, plus two staff. Okay, a few of the residents used walkers, but he noticed that everybody that week had some type of appliance necessary to get them around.

At 2:00 he opened in prayer. At 2:01 they sang How Great Thou Art. At 2:05 they sang Amazing Grace. At 2:08 he asked the pianist if she would play a little number from her Salvation Army hymnal. She gladly obliged, but the tune was unfamiliar and the melody was incomprehensible. But now it was 2:10.

Conrad checked his watch again. These services ran an hour, usually 40 minutes of singing and a 20 minute message. He knew he needed to stretch, so he asked if anyone had any prayer requests. “Just put your hands up.”

Surprisingly a woman in the second row did just that. He nodded toward her to share anything with the group and she said, “This isn’t the dining room.”

“No it isn’t;” Conrad replied.


More silence. He noticed the ticking of a mantle clock he’d never noticed before. Things had never been this quiet.

“You know;” the retired pastor said, “I come here each month and I’ve never really told you much about myself, so before I share today’s scripture reading and message, perhaps I should share my story.”

So he spoke about his call to ministry late in high school, and how he had gone off to his denomination’s Bible college, and how he graduated and started climbing the ministry ladder. The problem was, as he had done before leaving for Whispering Willows, he was sharing more about the metrics of the various churches than about anything else that had happened in those various communities.

There was no story about Fred, or Jill, or Michael, or Jennifer, or anyone else. It was about the 168 and the 289 and the 374 and the 703 at Central Church and down to the 414. There was no reference to Carla standing by him in all those years in ministry, or raising a daughter and two sons in those various churches.

And then Conrad stopped. He had been listening to his own story. And he realized that it sounded pathetic.

It wasn’t that all he cared about were the numbers; it’s that he was bitter about never again getting the adrenaline rush associated with being able to speak to a thousand people each weekend. About being bounced down to a smaller church. And then left to deteriorate in a useless administrative position in the district office.

Another resident raised a hand, this time one of the men.

“You left out a number;” he said; “22. There’s twenty-two of us here, twenty-four if you count yourself and the woman who can’t play the piano.” (Of course he had miscounted by one and ignored the staff, but…)

“Well actually;” he said, trying to do some damage control, “I think she did those hymns really well, she just doesn’t know the ones that are in your book.”

“Well I grew up Salvation Army, so hey, Miss, do you know Thou Christ of Burning, Cleansing Flame?”

“I don’t think we know that–” he started to say, but the pianist suddenly lighted up and launched into a rather rousing introduction, uncovering previously hidden keyboard skills, and the man stood to his shaking feet and in a loud and clear voice sang verse after verse.

As it turned out the song had a hook, a line that repeated constantly and by the 4th verse, all the residents were singing. Singing loudly, “Send the fire, Send the fire, Send the fire.”

By now it was 2:40 and he was back on schedule.

He read the text for the message, a sermon from the files of the glory days at Central Church, slightly shortened to fit the 20-minute window. In his mind he was back there. Two services. Almost a thousand people every weekend.

One of the two staff members held up a cardboard sign that said “One Minute Left.” He thanked everyone for coming and gave a short benediction. The staff members started getting ready to pull wheelchairs out of rows and into the hallway.

“Wait a minute! Stop!” yelled the man who had introduced the last song into the service mix; “That number you forgot. We aren’t 703 members, but there’s twenty-two of us, and we’re the best damn twenty-two people you’ve got right now.”

Conrad looked deep into the man’s eyes, and then noticed the smile.

And then he smiled back.

And then time froze and the staff stopped moving wheelchairs and everyone waited for Conrad to say something in return, except he couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. So he said the first words that popped into his head.

“This isn’t the dining room.”


September 21, 2016

Wednesday Link List



young-jesus-at-bath-timeWelcome to WLL #326. The issue of the missing years of Jesus’ childhood is thorny and the ‘infancy gospels’ are long contested. So we don’t lay any claim to the accuracy of the cartoon at right, nor do we know the source. For the more conservative out there, try not to be offended.

When your business has a name client, you want to advertise that:


September 14, 2016

Wednesday Link List

It may not catch on like WWJD, but...

It may not catch on like WWJD, but…


This Lexus owner is either a NKJV supporter, or expressing a Christmas wish for a new copy of the classic. Will that be 1611 or 1789?

This Lexus owner is either a NKJV supporter, or expressing a Christmas wish for a new copy of the classic. Would that be 1611 or 1789?

the-bard-and-the-bibleWelcome to WLL#325. If you love theater and love God, have we got a devotional book for you; pictured at right, published by Worthy Inspired.

I hope you find something of interest in this week’s list…it was lots of fun putting it together for you.

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