Thinking Out Loud

February 15, 2019

The Contrast Between Enjoying Great Bible Teaching and Living in the Real World

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:27 am

I once had a weird flashback to a brief period in my childhood when the phrase, “So what?” was considered the height of rudeness, especially in a child and parent context.

It came to mind for an entirely different reason however. I was thinking about the great host of scriptural teaching that we are now afforded through websites, blogs, podcasts, streaming and video-on-demand; not to mention traditional media such as books, radio and television.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I'd toss this graphic in to today's discussion salad.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I’d toss this graphic in to today’s discussion salad.

On Sunday I heard three sermons. One I was sitting in church. Two I was sitting at my computer. I actually had the option of watching full services; but chose just to track with the teaching portion. Otherwise, I could have technically been to three church services.

But for all the teaching I’m getting — and I am fairly stuffed most days — there are times when I observe a disconnect between scriptural truth and what is going on in the real world. When I look away from the pages in the book, or glance away from the computer screen, I see a Christianity that is totally messed up, at least in places, including my own.

I hear the reading, jot down the three points, but there’s a part of me that says, “So what?” This time though it’s not in the defiant tone that got me in trouble as a child, but it’s more of a cry of, “Why isn’t this making more of a difference in my life?” Or, “Why am I not seeing this lived out in my life and the lives of my acquaintances?”

A year ago, in a different context, I shared this analogy:

Last summer I purchase some clear wood stain as well as a gallon of opaque wood stain for another project. With the clear product, it took layers and layers and layers of application before I noticed a difference taking place and it immediately struck me that this is what happens with sermons. Applied to our life in layers, the effect is initially invisible, but evidenced over a lifetime of faithfully attending to hear from God’s set-apart leaders.

That’s why I would never give up my listening/reading habits. But I do wish I could find more of a synergy between the idealized Christian life described by those authors, pastors and Bible teachers versus my everyday life in the trenches.

Am I looking for a sign? Longing to see a miracle? Wishing for a better batting average on answered prayers? Simply needing a vacation? Maybe that’s part of it.

Or perhaps my spiritual confidence is just becoming shaky. Not fragile to the point of nearing extinction, but just shaky in terms of where it ought to be proportionate to the years I’ve been on this faith journey, the people with whom I’ve interacted, and the material I have been privileged to have heard or read.

I don’t want to be SuperChristian™, but I just want there to be more of a one-to-one correspondence between the spiritual ideals I can so easily espouse, and my usually stressed-out, burned-out daily experience.

Just being transparent, that’s all.


Related: September, 2011 – Faith Under Pressure

January 30, 2018

If It’s True That You Use Broken Things; Then Here I am Lord, I’m All Yours

I’ve been really sick since last Thursday. It’s a nasty cough thing that’s going around in my part of the world. Some are calling it the “hundred day cough.” If that’s the case, I only have 95 days to go. So I really didn’t feel like posting anything today, though by noon I probably would have found something in the archives.

But I’ve had this song by Matthew West stuck in my head now for several days. Especially the chorus. I felt God rather clearly telling me that this was to be shared today.

Now I’m just a beggar in the presence of a king;
I wish I could bring so much more.
But if it’s true that you use broken things;
Then here I am, Lord, I’m all yours.

Maybe it’s my own brokenness with this illness but this song really resonates right now. Enjoy.

That’s the lyric video, you can also watch the original concept video at this link.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.  (Psalm 34:18 NASB)

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.  (Psalm 51:17 NASB)

“How blessed are those who are destitute in spirit, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to them!” (Matthew 5:3 ISV)


The post tags at the beginning of each article here help guide search engines to themes presented. Today when I typed in the word “broken” some of the ones used today appeared as things we’ve discussed before on the blog. I pray that if that’s what brought you here, that God will meet you in your brokenness today.

December 31, 2017

My Year in Review

Redeem the time - Stewardship of timeThis is certainly the year in review time for many writers. But what about my year or your year? I’m definitely not a KJV guy, but there’s a phrase in it I’ve always particularly liked.

Col 4: 5 KJV Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 5:16 KJV Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

and in the Voice as

make the most of every moment and every encounter

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

Again, The Voice has

Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2017?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?

While some writers emphasize the importance of rest — including it among the spiritual disciplines — others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for rest — Be still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2017?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2018?

How is your year in review?

Nobody said this was easy…

…To my Thinking Out Loud online community, I wish you God’s best in the New Year.

February 16, 2016

So What?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:32 am

I had a weird flashback a few days ago to a brief period in my childhood when the phrase, “So what?” was considered the height of rudeness, especially in a child and parent context.

It came to mind for an entirely different reason however. I was thinking about the great host of scriptural teaching that we are now afforded through websites, blogs, podcasts, streaming and video-on-demand; not to mention traditional media such as books, radio and television.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I'd toss this graphic in to today's discussion salad.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I’d toss this graphic in to today’s discussion salad.

On Sunday I heard three sermons. One I was sitting in church. Two I was sitting at my computer. I actually had the option of watching full services; but chose just to track with the teaching portion. Otherwise, I could have technically been to three church services.

But for all the teaching I’m getting — and I am fairly stuffed most days — there are times when I observe a disconnect between scriptural truth and what is going on in the real world. When I look away from the pages in the book, or glance away from the computer screen, I see a Christianity that is totally messed up, at least in places, including my own.

I hear the reading, jot down the three points, but there’s a part of me that says, “So what?” This time though it’s not in the defiant tone that got me in trouble as a child, but it’s more of a cry of, “Why isn’t this making more of a difference in my life?” Or, “Why am I not seeing this lived out in my life and the lives of my acquaintances?”

A year ago, in a different context, I shared this analogy:

Last summer I purchase some clear wood stain as well as a gallon of opaque wood stain for another project. With the clear product, it took layers and layers and layers of application before I noticed a difference taking place and it immediately struck me that this is what happens with sermons. Applied to our life in layers, the effect is initially invisible, but evidenced over a lifetime of faithfully attending to hear from God’s set-apart leaders.

That’s why I would never give up my listening/reading habits. But I do wish I could find more of a synergy between the idealized Christian life described by those authors, pastors and Bible teachers versus my everyday life in the trenches.

Am I looking for a sign? Longing to see a miracle? Wishing for a better batting average on answered prayers? Simply needing a vacation? Maybe that’s part of it.

Or perhaps my spiritual confidence is just becoming shaky. Not fragile to the point of nearing extinction, but just shaky in terms of where it ought to be proportionate to the years I’ve been on this faith journey, the people with whom I’ve interacted, and the material I have been privileged to have heard or read.

I don’t want to be SuperChristian, but I just want there to be more of a one-to-one correspondence between the spiritual ideals I can so easily espouse, and my usually stressed-out, burned-out daily experience.

Just being transparent, that’s all.


Related: September, 2011 – Faith Under Pressure

July 5, 2015

If It’s Not Working, Check the Connections

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

January 19, 2015

Review: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ

Killed by the Church Resurrected By Christ - Rick AppersonIf someone decides to start something like Churchgoers Anonymous, I think I’ve just found your curriculum: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ published by WestBow Press. Author Rick Apperson has had his share of strange church experiences. Remarkably, just weeks after visiting some of these congregations, the place would shut down. Someone suggested it was like having Angela Lansbury of Murder She Wrote show up at your front door, but clearly, none of this was Rick Apperson’s fault.

From Pennsylvania to East Tennessee to Croatia to British Columbia; and from Catholic to Charismatic to Congregational; Rick has seen his share of church governance models, worship styles, and quirky parishioners. But mostly he’s seen hurt, frustration, and disappointment. If anyone had the right to walk away from it all, it was him and the book’s final chapter should end with total rejection of faith in God.

But instead, Rick, later with wife Sarah, perseveres. We aren’t told what drives this desire to keep attending even in the face of lies and false doctrine, but he seems to always be willing to risk the vulnerability of starting from scratch in a new place of worship.

Despite the autobiographical nature of Killed by the Church, there is much teaching here and I would suggest that at 132 pages, the book offers more food-for-thought than books twice its size. What’s more, despite what some would consider the ‘in-group’ nature of a critique on the local church, it is presented in a very simple, very casual writing style that might actually resonate with that person you know who has walked away from weekly church attendance.

Most of the chapters in the book conclude with a section called “What I Learned on the Way to the Resurrection” where Rick does delve a little deeper into the life lessons underlying his personal journey. Then there is a section called “Taking it Deeper” which is a set of discussion questions that could be used in a group setting, but are also deeply personal to the reader.

I can’t say enough how much I think people who have abandoned church could identify with this book. However, despite the many ways that people in local assemblies may have wounded them, this book has a very positive spirit to it and could be part of their journey to healing.

…I’ve been following Rick’s blog, Just a Thought almost from its inception and have especially enjoyed the Five Questions With… series he runs with Christian leaders and authors. After years of association with Youth With A Mission, today he serves with The Salvation Army.

In the last chapter, just to show that God has a sense of humor, we learn that Rick and Sarah planted a church. Who better? 


Read an excerpt from chapter 2 of the book at Christianity 201.


Paperback 9781490853789 $13.99 US
Hardcover 9781490853772 $30.99 US

April 4, 2013

A Lesson Learned Too Late is Still a Lesson Learned

Was this the one time we disobeyed God? …Okay, maybe there were lots of times…

The time in particular that I’m considering is the time we moved to the city where we now live. It was 22 years ago, and we came with some “push” factors (wanting to get out of our 9th floor apartment in the city of three million) and some “pull” factors (liking the look of the town, as seen from the highway).

Later, I would write a song with an opening sentence that talks about the “pull” factors:

The part of the town that you see from the highway
Is never the part that the people there know.
The smiles and hellos that are so superficial
Filter the feelings we never let show.

When the business we were going to start in this town didn’t happen, we got caught up with the momentum of the “push” factors and decided we would move anyway. We would go into this foreign place and trust God to work out the details for employment and income. Not so smart.

(Tangent/aside: Never move to a town where you plan to raise a family if you don’t know anyone and therefore don’t have your potential babysitters or family supports lined up ahead of time. Ours included teenage girls who were (a) completely inexperienced — “You mean I was supposed to change him?” — with kids, (b) dealing with medical crises, (c) dealing with severe emotional breakdown.)

I think there was some element of God’s leading us to where we moved. We thought we were moving to start a business, but instead, we ended up getting involved with a church that really needed us. I got to write a newspaper column every weekend for ten years which paid for our groceries. My wife got to raise her boys in a house and not the apartment in the big smoke. I got to teach a year at a Christian school. My wife got to start a number of ministry projects which have made a big difference in the lives of people.

But did God just allow us to “make the best of it?” Was there a principle we missed?

I think there was, but I didn’t know the particular chapter and verse at the time. The verse is found in Proverbs 24:2 —

Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house. (NLT)

First plant your fields; then build your barn. (Message)

Fix your business outside. Get your fields in shape and then build your house. (rough English translation of Louis Segond translation in French)

In other words, get a job, know where your mortgage payments are going to come from. Heck; know where your next dollar is coming from. Settle your career in that place first, then talk about your residence. Don’t move to Dallas, or Lisbon or Sydney without having a job waiting.

But we were young, we were idealistic, we were acting on a mix of faith and foolishness. I think we prayed about it — a bit — but earnestly praying together as a couple hasn’t been our strong suit. If you’re a younger married couple, and the shoe fits, take that as a personal admonition to do better than us when it comes to prayer. Starting now.

Joshua 9:14 — the story of Joshua’s ill-advised treaty with the Gibeonites — makes an even stronger case:

The Israelites … did not inquire of the Lord. (TNIV)

So the men … did not ask counsel from the Lord (ESV)

I really feel that God has journeyed with us and blessed us so many ways. But there have been some uphill battles that I believe trace back to not adhering to a basic scriptural principle. In many ways we’ve lived like monks who have taken a vow of poverty, nonetheless we’ve been blessed with some family circumstances that made it possible for us to live what appears from the outside to be a comfortable lower-middle-class life.

But my advice to people today is always the same: Prepare your work in the fields and then build your house.

March 15, 2011

What Are Your Spiritual “Numbers?”

We don’t have a high “comments-to-readers” ratio here, and it would probably easier just to give up, but I want to take a run at this anyway, and if we only get a small handful of replies, that’s fine.

Since this is about numbers let’s number the question(s):

  1. C. S. Lewis, among others, advanced the idea of salvation more as a “process” experience more than a “crisis” experience, but for most Christians — especially Evangelicals — emphasis is placed on remembering specific cathartic moments when we “crossed the line of faith.”  So as you think to that time, what age were you when you, depending on the type of language used, “accepted” Christ or acknowledged him for the first time??
  2. Churches impose other spiritual “rites of passage.”  While we don’t have confirmation in the tradition that I grew up in, believers baptism by immersion was the norm.   What age were you when you really (a) went public with your faith, or (b) affirmed or confirmed a commitment you may have made at a younger age??
  3. Spiritual formation doesn’t always follow a straight graph line, and doesn’t always conform to the age at which we participated in certain church experiences.  Was there a later time where through circumstances or some other “ah ha!” moment things crystallized for you spiritually??  A time that Jesus went from being ‘savior’ to being ‘Lord’??
  4. It’s not about numbers.   What do you make of the numbers you responded with?? Perhaps your spiritual walk is more characterized by a “new every morning” kind of journey.  Are there things we can learn by looking back to see how far we’ve come, or by sharing our story with others??
  5. Are you moving closer to the cross??  Do you see yourself maturing spiritually, or do you long for the experiences or zeal or joy you had as you reflect on previous days?

Comment moderation Tuesday will be mostly after 6:00 PM EDT

July 24, 2010

Meeting the Conditions

We’ve just come back from a few days away, and as I have nothing scheduled for today here at Thinking Out Loud, I’m going to borrow this one, which ran last night at Christianity 201 under the title, “Conditional Promises.”

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

May 30, 2010

Logan’s Run and Contentment

Here’s a simple psychological test you can conduct at your next dinner party.   Everyone gets a small piece of paper and is asked to write down the age they would like to be if they could be any age.   After they are finished, you ask them to draw a line and under the line write their true age.   They fold up the papers and drop them in a hat, and then you open them and read the difference between the first second numbers.  (i.e. “three years younger;” “two years older;” “seven years younger;” etc.)

They say the mark of contentment is when the difference is zero, when the person is most happy being the age they actually are.   (For added fun, then try to guess who might have said what!)

Some of us are not so content.

Today, I am celebrating (or perhaps lamenting) one of those birthday years that ends in a zero or a five.   Something about our decimal system ascribes to those years great additional significance.

I am not going to tell you what it is.   While I have nothing but contempt for middle-aged men who park in teen chat rooms pretending to be something they are not; I relate best to that part of the Christian blog culture most populated by twenty-somethings, or worst case, thirty-somethings.     With a lack of photographic evidence on this blog to prove anything contrary, I want to keep it that way.


Still, this is a birthday I approach kicking and screaming.    I can relate to Logan, in the movie Logan’s Run. (Mention does not imply endorsement.)  For those of you don’t know, here’s the 411 from Wikipedia:

Sometime in the 23rd century…the survivors of war, overpopulation and pollution are living in a great domed city, sealed away from the forgotten world outside. Here, in an ecologically balanced world, mankind lives only for pleasure, freed by the servo-mechanisms which provide everything. There’s just one catch: Life must end at thirty unless reborn in the fiery ritual of Carousel.

Within a domed city, Logan 5 watches as an infant’s hand is implanted with a Lifeclock, a crystalline device that changes color as a person ages. As someone approaches his “Last Day,” the Lifeclock blinks red and finally turns black, at which time the person must report to Carousel, where—he or she is told—there is the hope of Renewal, a sort of reincarnation.

Logan is a Sandman, responsible for hunting down and killing Runners, people who refuse to report to Carousel when their Lifeclock expires. Logan is accompanied by his friend, and fellow Sandman, Francis 7

The two watch a Carousel ceremony as the participants assemble in an arena, are lifted up by an invisible force and appear to be struck by electric arcs and vaporized while the cheering audience shouts, “Renew!”. Neither Logan nor Francis have known anyone who succeeded in this, but Francis believes that Sandmen always renew…
continue reading here…

I believe that the Apostle Paul’s statement,

…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Phil 4: 11 NIV)

and by inference, injunction — that of being content in whatever place you find yourself — is a valid if not necessary life choice.    Given Paul’s history of imprisonment and shipwreck — not the kind of guy you want to take out on your new ski boat — his ability to relax when things are literally sinking reflects the degree of his faith and trust in his Lord and Savior.

But I am approaching this particular birthday kicking and screaming.   Wait a minute, did I already use the phrase, “kicking and screaming?”   Oh no, that’s one of the symptoms of this age, you start repeating yourself.    Not only that, but sometimes, for no apparent reason, you start repeating yourself.

Anyway, I just want to say in conclusion… that I think… perhaps we can all learn… oh no, it’s worse than I thought, I can’t remember what I was writing about…

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