Thinking Out Loud

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. ___ .

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December 4, 2016

For the Honor of God’s Name

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:14 pm

sheep in green pasturePsalm 23 is one of the best known passages of scripture. It is familiar to both believers and the unchurched, and has brought comfort to millions over the years. In this Psalm the Lord is described as a shepherd who does these things:

  • He makes me lie down in meadows of fresh grass
  • He leads me beside calm waters
  • He restores my soul
  • He leads me along the paths of righteousness

At this point the form address changes from He to You:

  • You are with me
  • Your shepherd’s staff brings comfort (security)
  • You prepare a banquet for me as my enemies watch
  • You anoint my head with oil

The results of all this are:

  • I have everything I need (lack nothing)
  • My cup is full to overflowing
  • I have the expectation of His goodness and mercy with me daily
  • I have a certain hope that His house is my home for my whole life (or forever)

(Wording above is an amalgam of various translations.)

That covers the entire Psalm except for two phrases. One of course, concerns walking through the deep, sunless valley of death. The other is our focus today:

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (v. 3b, NIV)

Other translations have:

  • You are true to your name (CEV) or your Word (Message)
  • for the ·good [sake] of his ·name [reputation] (Expanded Bible)
  • for the sake of his reputation (NET)
  • bringing honor to his name (NLT)
  • truth and righteousness echo His name (The Voice)

Elliott’s Bible Commentary says: “God’s providential dealings are recognized as in accordance with His character for great graciousness.” In other words, his provision in this Psalm is simply a natural consequence of nature in general and his compassion specifically. It’s who he is, which should remind us of the popular worship song, Good, Good Father (see below).

The Benson Commentary states the phrase means, “Not for any merit in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his mercy, faithfulness, and goodness.” As Max Lucado reminds us in a book of the same name, “It’s not about me.” Matthew Poole reiterates this: “not for any worth in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his justice, and faithfulness, and goodness.”

Barnes Notes extend this thought:

For His own sake; or, that His name may be honored. It is not primarily on their account; it is not solely that they may be saved. It is that He may be honored:

(a) in their being saved at all;

(b) in the manner in which it is done;

(c) in the influence of their whole life, under His guidance, as making known His own character and perfections.

Finally, Matthew Henry would argue that the previous verse is key to understanding the whole Psalm, namely that this is the testimony of a dying saint who would say,

Having had such experience of God’s goodness to me all my days, in six troubles and in seven, I will never distrust him, no, not in the last extremity; the rather because all he has done for me hitherto was not for any merit or desert of mine, but purely for his name’s sake, in pursuance of his word, in performance of his promise, and for the glory of his own attributes and relations to his people. That name therefore shall still be my strong tower, and shall assure me that he who has led me, and fed me, all my life long, will not leave me at last.

So many times we pray and our prayers may not be entirely unselfish, but their us-focused instead of God-focused. The full accomplishment of God working in our lives should be that His name is honored and glorified.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.
Isaiah 42:8 NLT

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus
Col. 3:17a NASB


We’ve looked at Psalm 23 before:


For Psalm 23 in all English translations at Bible Gateway, click this link to get to verse 1, and then change the very last character in the URL in your browser to move to the multiple translations of verse 2, etc.

The classic commentaries on verse 3, with the exception of Matthew Henry were sourced at BibleHub.

May 11, 2015

Seeing Your Life From God’s Perspective

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 am

Orion's belt

About a week ago before falling asleep, I reached into the review stack, and discovered a 2013 book, The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan. Clearly, this was a book for women, but it was late so rather than pull out another title, I decided to read just one chapter.

Beauty of Broken - Elisa MorganSeveral days later, I am two-thirds of the way through my first foray into this Christian “women’s interest” book. Maybe I’ll start reading “mommy bloggers” next. (Okay, maybe not.)

Elisa Morgan’s life has been marked by a number of circumstances that would have to be described as tragic. I’m not purporting to review the book here, so I won’t get into details. But it was the one page where her husband Evan shared something — I believe it’s the only spot in the book where he speaks — that I wanted to share as an excerpt today. This is the entirety of the quotation, but remember you’re jumping into the middle of much larger story.

Finally I just sat down in the bay window of our breakfast room and looked up at the sky. Honestly, I’d had it. But I felt compelled to look at the stars.  I’d always been intrigued by the galaxies. And in that moment, one of my favorite Psalms filtered through my thoughts, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?'”  (Psalm 8:3-4 NIV).

It was like God was drawing my gaze upward – to consider his heavens.  I couldn’t not look. Yet I couldn’t figure out what was going on, what I was supposed to see or understand.

“Yeah. Yeah. I know, you’re all-powerful and all,”  I said sarcastically through the glass of the window up to the sky. I couldn’t believe I was acting this way towards God and I half expected him to zap me in the moment. But I was just so sick of it all.  In this weary night watch I relented, “I see it all, God. You made all this. You’re infinite. Whatever!”

Still, I couldn’t take my eyes off the night sky. And then Orion’s Belt came into focus. My eyes were nailed to it. I couldn’t pull them away.  Astronomy wasn’t even a hobby for me, but everything I’d ever known about that constellation whirled through my mind. Orion’s Belt: three stars, seemingly perfectly aligned and yet most likely hundreds of millions of miles apart from each other. For some reason I imagined myself in an airplane – no, a space ship circling in the cosmos, and then around a single star in the formation. I realized that from that vantage point – going around just one of the three stars, I couldn’t really see or even know about the other stars, much less how they aligned together to make a unique constellation.

And then I heard God speak to me – as in no other moment in my life. I’ll never forget it.  Evan, from where I sit, it all lines up.  Suddenly, I was sitting with God, next to him in his celestial seat, viewing eternity past and future, without limitations. God laid his hand on my shoulder, and pointed out the stars to me: a picture of his providence and sovereignty in our lives. From no other place could I have comprehended… from where he sits, it all lines up.

July 21, 2014

I Don’t Know How, But I Know The Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:15 am

The Path - Graphics at Miriadna dot com

This is the first few lines from a post by Dave Carrol at the blog Big Ear Creations:

I’ve never known how I was gonna get where I’m going but I’ve always known the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to afford to get married in college… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to get a job that paid apartment rent… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to get to Africa like that vision in my head… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to get into ministry like that picture in my mind… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to afford kids… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to shape the culture… but I knew the path.
I don’t know how I’m going to get through my car repairs, my debt, my next visions, my growing grocery bill, my kids college, my mortgage, my retirement…. but I KNOW the path.

[…click here to read the rest…]

October 14, 2010

Bill Hybels: Turning up the Audio on God’s Whispers

God speaks to us in different ways.   Sometimes it is through the promptings — the inner voice — of the Holy Spirit speaking something specifically to each individual.   The question is:  Are we able to supress the background noises in our life so that we can we can hear God’s audio?

That’s the subject of Bill Hybels’ latest, The Power of a Whisper (Zondervan), a book the author says he waited 35 years to write because, people tend to look at you a little strangely when you say you’re hearing voices in your head.   Or your heart.

In many ways, Whisper is simply one in a series of conversations the Chicago pastor has been having with his readers for many years.   Thematically, I think this book picks up where Just Walk Across the Room — also a book about listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit — leaves off.  As with that title, this book is a mixture of scriptural teaching and anecdotal evidence of what happens when people indeed do listen to God’s whispers.

Of course the central question — though Hybels doesn’t use these words — is how do you tell when it’s God or when it’s the pizza from the night before?   He provides five filters to consider; filters that he considers important enough to reiterate them in an appendix.  Filter # 4 asks the question as to whether what God is asking you to do is in fact suited to your temperament and character; and provides the example of a man who felt God was calling him into the Christian music industry when, in fact, he didn’t sing or play an instrument.

While very anecdotal, the book is also partially autobiographical.   We learn more about Hybels’ personal story, his childhood and teen years, and learn more about the early days of Willow Creek Community Church in the process.  Rather than his own story getting in the way of the greater teaching points, it is key to understanding them.   The full title of the book is The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God.  Having the Guts to Respond.  It takes courage to follow where God might lead us, and Hybels has illustrated this at various junctures in his own life.

I want to end this where Hybels begins it; with the recollection of a poem he memorized as a second grader…

Oh give me Samuel’s ear,
An open ear, O Lord,
Alive and quick to hear
Each whisper of Thy Word
Like him to answer to Thy call
And to obey Thee first of all.
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