Thinking Out Loud

May 25, 2014

The Young Girl in the Coffee Shop

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

After about ten minutes, Joe called my cell phone. It turned out that he had the name of the coffee shop right, but had gone to their west-end location. I told him that I couldn’t promise I might not go ahead and order a coffee.

Short StoriesTruth is, I don’t really drink much coffee, but this place has a non-carbonated peach drink that is a refreshing change, even if it consists of about 200% sugar.

I got us a booth near the window and tried to figure out what Joe might want to talk about. He was both a church veteran and a new Christian, if you know what I mean. The discussion could go many different directions.

The two guys in the next booth were obviously regulars. You could tell it by the way the booth seats seemed to conform to their slouching as they conversed while flipping the pages of a local, small-town newspaper.

“Check that out;” one of them said.

While pretending not to have heard, I looked up to see what had got their attention, but the only change was that a family of four — parents, a boy and a girl — had walked up to the counter. These were not regulars. They had tourist written all over them, and I almost wanted to say, ‘Hey, if you’re going to visit our town, check out one of our good coffee houses.’ 

The conversation next door continued.

“Yeah. What’s that gotta be? Twelve, thirteen?”

“I’d say eleven. Damn!”

Okay. A few things came to mind. First, this wasn’t going to be the ideal booth to sit at when Joe arrived. The place was pretty full, but I saw a guy on his last sip in a similar booth on the other side, and if I could watch for the moment he left, Joe wouldn’t be distracted by anything overheard.

Second, I glanced briefly at the young girl. Her top didn’t quite meet her jeans. Clearly the guys at the next booth had the age right. I wondered what might happen if her parents knew that right at this exact moment two perverts were staring down their daughter. The conversation got a little louder.

“What if you knew you’d never get caught?”

“Seriously? Nobody would ever know? For life?”

“Yeah.”

“Life doesn’t give those guarantees.”

“What if God Himself promised you it would be a lifetime secret between you and her?”

The guy at other booth had gotten into a newspaper story, but moved the coffee cup off to the side. I was ready to make my move and make it fast. But first, I had endure more speculative theology at the next table.

“Well sure, what guy wouldn’t?” 

“She sure is a cutie.”

Newspaper guy stood up, and as he did, so did I, swooping in like a vulture to claim the new table, sitting on the side he hadn’t. ‘Thank goodness I don’t have to listen to that conversation;’ I said to myself.

Instead, I found myself staring at the young girl and suddenly there was a voice in my head speaking like I had never heard a voice in my head before.

‘So what if I told you, you could have that girl and there would be no repercussions?’

‘Get out of my head, you stupid voice; I’m trying to get focused for my discussion with Joe.’

‘But play along, what if I told you there would never be any consequences for you?’

‘I don’t even know for sure who you are, but assuming that you’re genuinely able to make that offer, you’re forgetting that I’m married.’

‘You would never bear any — any at all — consequences. Never.’

‘Okay. I hear your offer. A fulfillment of every man’s lustful desire is it? The young girl fantasy? Granted. There would be no consequences for me. But there would be consequences for the girl. You forget there is another human being involved here.’

‘Ah! So it is. You have answered well.’

And then the voice stopped as though someone had turned down the channel on a large audio mixing board, while at the same time turning up the channel with the background sounds of the restaurant.

The girl’s father — who had to be at least six foot four — was now seated thankfully blocking my view of her completely.  Had I just passed some kind of test?

Apparently Joe had already arrived, as he showed up at the booth coffee in hand while I continued with my large cup of sugar juice.  Of all the topics Joe could have brought to the coffee shop that day, it turned out he wanted to talk about some career choices he was facing that might involve him and his wife moving a considerable distance.

“I keep weighing the pros and cons of each possibility;” he said, “but it’s like I hear voices in my head and I think it’s God speaking to me, but then seconds later it seems like it’s more like something the Devil would say, and honestly, sometimes it’s not totally crystal clear who’s who.”

“I know;” I responded. “Sometimes that can be difficult…”

March 12, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Prophecy Class

Yes, it’s true; Target does have people who visit Wal-Mart and link list creators do drop in on other link lists to see what’s making the rounds. If you find yourself craving more of this sort of thing by Saturday, two of my weekend favorites are the Saturday Ramblings at Internet Monk and the Saturday Links at DashHouse. I only borrowed one from iMonk, but linked three stories from church planter Darryl Dash, so this week’s lengthy intro was mostly guilt-induced. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the Link List Overlords; then click the stories you want to read there.

The Wednesday Link List is a production of Paul Wilkinson with proofreading assistance from Mrs. W. who is actually the better writer in the family.

T on the Wall

October 15, 2013

A Man Who Cut Out His Eyes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am

 If your eye offend you

When Jake arrived in the South Carolina beach town, he knew he’d found the place where he wanted to spend his life. While you can’t see the beach from his home, it’s about a five minute walk. There’s a kind of boardwalk, set way back from the water, which offers a handful of rides and places to buy snack foods and almost a mile of uninterrupted beach which is halted at both ends by private condo resorts.

And as it turns out, there are lots of young girls in somewhat skimpy outfits, even in winter.

If your eye offends you…

Jake can’t remember when he first realized that the beach attire of females was becoming a problem. Admittedly, sometimes he was attracted to the beach by the prospect of seeing healthy bodies, and other days he would avoid the beach for the very same reason.

If your eye offends you, cut it out…

Years in, Jake realized that the buzz of living in a beach town could be experienced at places other than the beach. The town had a certain vibe that extended to storefronts and restaurants on the main street. It attracted writers and painters and musicians. Some of the same young women would frequent the downtown as well, but at least there they were dressed. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

It is better for you to lose one part of your body…

But a few more years in, Jake realized the incredible amount of temptation that was lurking in public places. Forget the internet, reality had a high-definition Imax-styled panorama. He decided to be a bit reclusive, for the sake of his soul.

It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

It was then he started thinking about the scripture in Matthew 5 about plucking out, or gouging out your eye. He noticed that the part about the arm talked about cutting off. He reasoned that if he could cut off his eyes from the things that caused him to lust he would be better served. He went back to the beach, but in the early morning when the traffic consisted of seniors and dog-walkers, or in the evening when offshore breezes caused people to cover up.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.

And then, unexpectedly came the day at the grocery store. She wasn’t particularly attractive to the point of being a “10,” but there was something about the cut of her dress that begged attention. He thought, ‘Isn’t that just what fashion designers do? Garments are made to highlight certain parts of the body.’ He looked away. And then he looked back. And looked again. He couldn’t believe what he was thinking.

Sin is crouching at the door…

Avoiding the grocery store? Not as easy to do if you want to eat. He tried ordering groceries online, but it was expensive, the order was missing a few items, and the driver made it really clear he expected a tip each visit.

Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

Jake realized we live in a reality that is filled with temptation. At the North Carolina beach. At his inland home in Indiana. When you are young. When you are old.

There is nothing outside someone that can corrupt him

Just as Adam and Eve faced the temptation of the tree in the garden, so also do we face similar temptations; in fact, each one of us has a tree; a particular area of spiritual vulnerability.* Jake decided that while the scriptures teach avoiding temptation, he was expected to prosper spiritually in his environment; he was expected to be salt and light in the middle of it.

There is nothing from outside of the man, that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man.

He would gouge out his eyes, but he would do it figuratively, not literally.

He would not allow the things he sees to lead to sin.


Scriptures:  Matt. 5:29, Gen. 4:7, I Cor. 10:12, Mark 7:15

* There is always a tree: The Tree in the Garden (April, 2010), Your Tree, My Tree (Sept., 2013)

September 21, 2013

Your Tree, My Tree

With the kids now older and facing high-school homework after supper instead of the early bedtimes of former years, Patricia donned an light jacket before heading out for her weekly Wednesday night coffee shop ritual with Julie and Deanne.  Well, almost weekly; there were frequent cancellations in the past three years, but they tried to meet as frequently as possible.

“So when are we leaving?” her husband Rick asked.

“What do you mean we?” she responded.

“I thought it might be fun to crash your little group; as an observer or like those war reporters who are embedded with a platoon.  Unless, of course it’s me you talk about every week.”

“No, we tend to talk about church, and politics, and raising kids.”

“So is there room for an extra body?”

“You’re serious?”

“Absolutely.”

Patricia texted the other two, “What do u feel about Rick joining us 2night?”

Julie didn’t answer, but Deanne texted, “Sure Y not?”

And so for an hour, Rick sat with the women and talked about church, and politics and raising kids.

On the way home, Patricia said, “You’re not going to want to do this every week are you?”

“No; it was a one-off thing.”

“So Rick, I know you, what was this about really?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“Honestly? I didn’t want to be home for a full hour with the computer. When you go out, it never ends well.”

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

Isn’t it ironic that the very technology that offers you the option of reading Christian blogs like this one, downloading sermons, looking up Bible verses online, etc., also offers both men and women the ease and convenience of experiencing sexual temptation like we’ve never known before.

Knowing as I do the various search terms that will find you all manner of websites, I can honestly say that every time I approach the machine — and I do business online all day long, plus prepare three blogs — I am reminded that each visit represents a choice: Choose things that will strengthen spiritually, or choose things that will do spiritual harm.

Like the goaltender in a hockey game, we can’t always block every “thought shot” that is fired toward us, but I believe we can exercise self control on a minute-by-minute or even second-by-second basis. I am always reminded that:

You have this moment.

You may not have won an hour ago, and you might slip an hour from now, but you have this moment to make the individual choice that affects this moment.

Right now, it’s a rainy day as I type this. It was a weather cancellation nearly a decade ago that found me with idle time typing a random phrase into a search engine that led to a random chapter in the middle of an online erotic novel. That’s right, it was text, not pictures. It wasn’t pictures for quite some time.

Idle hands. The entire universe-wide-web at my disposal.

Even today, I admit that search engines permit all manner of random thoughts to be explored online with varying results. I often find myself like the guy who loves to join his buddies on fishing expeditions, but actually hates the taste of fish. It’s about finding the fish, but not necessarily enjoying or consuming the fish.

I suppose it’s different for everyone.

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

I think it’s interesting that Genesis 2:9 tells us that the original source of temptation — the fruit of a tree in Eden — was found in the middle of the garden.  Not off to one side.  Not hidden behind other trees.

In the middle.

For men men — and women — reading this, your tree is right in the middle of the family room or living room; or it’s a laptop that is in the middle of wherever you find yourself.

Maybe your tree and my tree are different, but the result is the same: Temptation never disappears.

I looked at this a different way yesterday at Christianity 201. There’s a link to a song, and a specific point (about 70 seconds) in the song you can fast-forward to.

I’ve found it to be helpful.

Feel free to share what works for you.

You have this moment.

August 13, 2013

Keep the Story, Lose the Illustration

This is a rebroadcast of a piece from September 2011…

Having become previously acquainted with the addictive properties of the internet’s dark side, I can identify with the AA mantra that “one drink is too many and a thousand drinks are not enough.” I have experienced moments where one online image essentially gives you permission to then delve deeper into more of the same, a task easily undertaken when you have the road map memorized.

Of late, this has not been an issue. Facing job uncertainty, the loss of a friendship, or a medical challenge has a way of keeping you focused on things that matter, and making a renewed commitment to purity of thoughts and actions. For me, anyway. I know there are others for whom the same stresses are what drives them to find a way of escape. But lately I have been relatively detoxified and in fact, there are parts of the above-mentioned roadmap that start to fade over time.

But it can only take one idea, one article, or one photograph; and the process can start to unravel. I know this because, about a week ago it happened to me

On a Christian website.

The woman in question, who I believe has written some Christian books, had posted to her site/blog an article about a particularly disturbing trend taking place. I won’t name it, because I don’t want to drive anyone to find it. She posted a number of pictures including one that I don’t feel was absolutely necessary. Furthermore, in the limited internet exploration which did follow, I discovered she had posted a picture that many secular bloggers and media sites had shied away from.

And then, there was the temptation to go back and see how some hold friends are faring, if you get my drift. Heck, I had already started down the road, and I might as well see how the old neighborhood was doing.

But instead, I just sat at the computer, not once, not twice, but several times with my hands hovering over the keyboard, but unable to complete any actual keystrokes. Some would say there was a battle raging. If so, the battle probably stretched out over about three days. In the end, while I somewhat danced around the outskirts of what is for me, the internet’s forbidden zone, I did not actually revisit the old haunts.

But none of this — absolutely none of it — would have happened if a certain Christian internet writer had been content just to report on a problem without feeling the need to add pictures. It was just completely unnecessary. And it was, to at least one person, a huge potential stumbling block.

We all want more readers. We all want to think our particular blog or website is a relevant source of breaking trends and opinion on current issues. The stats provide that affirmation.

But not at any price.

July 26, 2013

Pornography Has Been Weaponized

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

Dr. Russell D. Moore:

…Pornography is not now simply available. With the advent of Internet technology, with its near universal reach and its promise of secrecy, pornography has been weaponized. In some sectors, especially of our young male populations, it is nearly universal. This universality is not, contrary to the propaganda of the pornographers themselves, a sign of its innocence but of its power…

continue reading here

October 25, 2012

4th James Rubart Novel Boldly Goes Where Few Have Gone

I may never pray the same way again. Seriously. And all this from reading a work of fiction. As in, a made-up story.

Soul’s Gate is the fourth novel from James Rubart, author of Rooms, The Book of Days and The Chair; and he continues to excel with each new release.

For this book, he digs deep into the unseen realm(s) of the battles ordinary people wage each day against invisible spiritual forces. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood,’ right? In so doing, Rubart has brought to market a story that rivals the original in this genre, Frank Peretti’s landmark title, This Present Darkness from the late 1980’s. (C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters notwithstanding.)

But this is not fantasy. The book revolves around four people whose lives are not that different from yours or mine. Yes, there are things that take place that I believe Rubart would say exceed possibility — such as inferred from the title — but his take on praying with great, expectant faith is also down-to-earth and practical. Life application fiction, if you will, though I suspect the phrase is already copyrighted. It definitely can change your prayer life.

Reviewers often mention the page count of a book — 372, if you need to know — but this is a book that adds value with every single page. During the first few chapters I was already given ideas to process, and am considering restarting at chapter one once my wife is finished.

There is also a very strong Christian presence in each situation and character and the narration places a high value on scripture. This is the book you hand to someone who wants to know what a work of Christian fiction looks like; what makes it distinct.

My only concern is that after accepting a review copy I discovered this is the first in a series of Well Spring novels. A series. Something I swore I would never do, especially as someone for whom non-fiction, doctrinal books are dominant on my shelves. ‘I will read this first one,’ I told myself, ‘and then move on to other writers.’ By the half-way mark, I decided such was not the case.

I’m hooked.

Soul’s Gate will resonate well with Christian readers, but I wouldn’t stop there, as the book may work well with people who enjoyed that other popular Christian fiction title from last few years which also featured a cabin on the cover. If you know what I mean.


A copy of Soul’s Gate was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Thomas Nelson and is available in paperback wherever good books are sold.

For some other reflections I had after reading this book, click over to this article at Christianity 201.

September 16, 2011

Think Before You Post

Having become previously acquainted with the addictive properties of the internet’s dark side, I can identify with the AA mantra that “one drink is too many and a thousand drinks are not enough.”  I have experienced moments where one online image essentially gives you permission to then delve deeper into more of the same, a task easily undertaken when you have the road map memorized.

Of late, this has not been an issue. Facing job uncertainty, the loss of a friendship, or a medical challenge has a way of keeping you focused on things that matter, and making a renewed commitment to purity of thoughts and actions. For me, anyway. I know there are others for whom the same stresses are what drives them to find a way of escape. But lately I have been relatively detoxified and in fact, there are parts of the above-mentioned roadmap that start to fade over time.

But it can only take one idea, one article, or one photograph; and the process can start to unravel.  I know this because, about a week ago it happened to me

On a Christian website.

The woman in question, who I believe has written some Christian books, had posted to her site/blog an article about a particularly disturbing trend taking place. I won’t name it, because I don’t want to drive anyone to find it. She posted a number of pictures including one that I don’t feel was absolutely necessary. Furthermore, in the limited internet exploration which did follow, I discovered she had posted a picture that many secular bloggers and media sites had shied away from.

And then, there was the temptation to go back and see how some hold friends are faring, if you get my drift. Heck, I had already started down the road, and I might as well see how the old neighborhood was doing.

But instead, I just sat at the computer, not once, not twice, but several times with my hands hovering over the keyboard, but unable to complete any actual keystrokes. Some would say there was a battle raging. If so, the battle probably stretched out over about three days. In the end, while I somewhat danced around the outskirts of what is for me, the internet’s forbidden zone, I did not actually revisit the old haunts.

But none of this — absolutely none of it — would have happened if a certain Christian internet writer had been content just to report on a problem without feeling the need to add pictures. It was just completely unnecessary. And it was, to at least one person, a huge potential stumbling block.

We all want more readers. We all want to think our particular blog or website is a relevant source of breaking trends and opinion on current issues. The stats provide that affirmation.

But not at any price.

April 17, 2010

The Tree in the Garden

It was a simple test.   Other than this, you can do anything you want to, just don’t touch that tree over there.   Yeah, that one.

Adam and Eve lived in less complex times.   It was a good time to be alive if you were bad at remembering peoples’ names.   Or not so good at history.   And the only moral law they had was “The One Commandments.”  Thou shalt not touch the fruit of the tree in the middle.

You know the tree.  The one that looks so inviting.  The one thing you can’t have.   The big fluffy tree that’s like a giant “Wet Paint” sign that’s just begging you to touch your finger to it.   Except they didn’t have paint back then.

Anyway, you know how that story ended.

I believe that throughout history there has always been a tree in the middle of the garden.   It’s there in the garden of our world.   In the garden of our society.   In the garden of our nation.   In the garden of our community.   In the garden of our families.   In the garden of our hearts.

There’s always a tree.

The warning not to touch its fruit is given to some by direct command, though others believe that the idea of not tasting of its bounty is written on the hearts of people; they simply know.

Some people say that everyone knows this, some people think people do need to be commanded, to have it spelled out for them; while others spend long hours drinking hot beverages wondering what then of the people who haven’t heard of the command.

In some cases, there is always one large tree to confront.   In other cases there are several trees which must be avoided.    Some reach a point where they simply lose interest in the forbidden fruit, it no longer tempts them, only to find themselves looking squarely at another tree, which holds a similar prohibition.

“Why, when I have lived my whole life never having been tempted to touch the tree in the middle of the garden, do I find myself now, at this stage of life, looking squarely at another tree in another part of the garden which is so very captivating, but apparently so equally off limits?”

Many, therefore, succumb.

Meanwhile others say there are no trees that are verboten.   The time of such restrictions has passed, and one is free to enjoy all the fruit of all the trees.   They entice others to eat, and the penalty for such as trespass doesn’t seem to befall these, though the eating of the fruit does leave a kind of stomach ache that lasts for a long, long, long, time.

At the other extreme are those who manage to transcend all of the temptations and all of the trees.   These people enjoy a kind of regret-free, stomach-ache free existence.   They are above such weaknesses.  They don’t eat the fruit.   They don’t touch the tree.   They stay away from all the trees in all the gardens that might be simply wrong to taste, touch or even look back on.

They are however, rather quick to condemn those who who do succumb.   “We warned them;” they say.   “We put up signs that pointed people to the other trees; the safe, practical trees; the open spaces free of vegetation.”

They do this, not realizing, that their response is their tree.

Their careful analysis of the condition of gardens inhabited by weak people who do in fact stumble, who do in fact fail; their commentary on the nature of human weakness; their lack of compassion for those who have been unable to resist the appeal of the tree and its fruit… somehow… in some way… that became their tree.

They have gazed at it.   They have touched its trunk, its branches and its leaves.   They have tasted its fruit.

They are really no different.

For all have missed it; coming up short in understanding of the true nature of the creator and his expectations.

They forgot to look at the tree they were standing next to all along.

October 13, 2009

Same Old Con Game

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:58 pm

clock spiralI take no pride in the fact that I get more junk e-mail in a day than some people get regular e-mail in a month.    It’s just a consequence of keeping the same address over a long period of time and having an address that’s “out there” in dozens of different contexts.

But I’m thankful that my ISP does such a good job of separating the e-sheep from the e-goats and placing the unwanted messages safely in quarantine.

Reading the subject headers of the junk mail reminds me of what it might be like to walk the downtown streets of Philadelphia or Miami or Baltimore back in the early part of the last century.

Guys in trench coats whispering, “Hey kid, wanna buy a watch?”

I get more solitications to buy timepieces than all other forms of e-junk combined.   It just seems so old.   I want to climb on a mountain and shout to all the junk mail senders, “Is that all ya got?”

You would think that with all the advances in technology, somebody would come up with some new thing that is worthy of all this presumed economic activity.   But no, the wristwatch remains the business opportunity of choice.

…And somewhere else on the planet a snake is telling someone to have a bite of the magic fruit.   “Hey kid, wanna be like God?   It will make you oh so very wise.”   Offering what is not his to give; promising what is not his to promise.”

Hopefully the discerning temptee can say, “This is so old.” And, “Is that all ya got.”

But the oldest con jobs don’t die easily.

What do you think are the biggest lures and temptations people face in 2009?

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