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 14, 2016

Today, Lawyers Would Nix This Book

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:24 am

I really don’t know how this book came into our home. I was looking for something else and suddenly there it was, published by Zondervan in the year MCMXLVI.*


The book is part of Christian Education resource genre referred to as “Object Lessons,” and these may have been more prevalent in early days than they are presently. The book naturally fell open to the following page:


Reaching the list of necessary chemicals at the bottom I realized that this book would never be published today.

First of all, your church’s insurance policy would probably be all over quashing the idea of someone showing up for church with turpentine, ammonia and kerosene. I know that when I show up for church with those things, the greeter at the door always takes me aside.

Second, Zondervan’s lawyers would have the same concerns and not want to be in a position of liability encouraging people to do this little trick. A page later, we’re warned, “Care should be taken not to spill any of the ingredients or the completed solution.” I guess so. I would be uncomfortable with the idea of doing this with adults, let alone teens or children. Things are simply too litigious these days than to risk presenting this in a church basement.


*70 years ago in 1946

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 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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April 29, 2016

Camp Memories (4)

The camp that I worked at was large enough that the food services operations had been contracted out to a catering company. Some of the teens who got hired were friends of other people on our junior staff, but there was no screening of anyone in the sense that our staff had to have a recommendation from a pastor, a youth pastor, and enclose a copy of their personal testimony.

All this meant that our dishwashers and housekeeping staff — who were Christians — regularly interacted with non-Christians who were cooks and bakers. Furthermore, the cooking staff got to attend any of the special events that were taking place in the evenings — special speakers, concerts, etc. — which meant that over time they had a number of questions about what we believed.

Evangelizing the people from the catering firm became a priority for the dishwashers (guys who fell under my supervision) and the housekeepers (girls who lived with the female bakers and cooks).

As Labor Day approached, two of the bakers were close to crossing the line of faith, but there was no indication that this was happening anytime soon. This increased the level of concern — and prayer, I hope — on the part of the housekeeping staff to the point where they upped their game in terms of pleading with the two who had expressed some interest.

img 042916I will say this: Regardless of your views on soteriology, or any aspects of the monergism/synergism debate, there is something to be said for the line from the Billy Graham radio show, “This is your hour of decision.” And there’s, “Now is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation.” And don’t forget, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Even if you believe that salvation happens as process and not in a moment of crisis, I believe there is still always a defining moment.

Then, on Labor Day Monday, in other words on the same day, and possibly within an hour of each other, the two girls decided it was time to make that commitment.

So the housekeeping staff were ecstatic.

And they ran and got me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I had never been in the spiritual delivery room before. I just thought it was interesting that after evangelizing and sharing their faith journey all summer with the two catering staff members, they felt they needed a professional to lead the actual conversion moment. And they thought that I was that professional. (We did have people with theology degrees on staff, but…)

So, not knowing what I know now, I felt it necessary to have them “pray a prayer” because that’s what the Bible says you do when you want to enter into eternal life, right? (Well, it does and doesn’t.)

Girl One joined me in the dining room, which was an appropriate setting given their summer had consisted of preparing the food which was eaten there. I told her that I was going to give a line and she simply had to repeat it after me. She did. Smiles. Hugs and high fives.

Then Girl Two came in and after a brief discussion, I told her to simply repeat the prayer after me. I was on a roll now. Any chance there’s a third person waiting outside?

“Dear Jesus;” I said.

“Dear Jesus;” she repeated.

“I acknowledge that I’m a sinner;” was the next line.


“I acknowledge that I have sinned;” I repeated with slight editing.*

“I can’t pray this;” she said. 

Wait, what?

At this point I could have concluded that she just wasn’t ready; or that she’d felt coerced into this moment; or that peer pressure had resulted from the other girl’s decision. Or perhaps she just couldn’t give intellectual assent to committing to follow Christ. Or maybe I’d worded it wrong and she didn’t want to think of herself as a sinner.

For all those reasons, I could have just suspended this and suggested she think about it and get back in contact with the camp or her new friends at some point in the fall.

But I didn’t go that route. Instead I opened my mouth and this came out:

“Then just tell God, in your own words, what you want to say to him right now.”

I have no idea what she said next; I only remember that it was sincere, it was beautiful and it passed whatever was my ‘sinner’s prayer’ litmus test. And there were more smiles, more hugs and more high fives…

…Today I know so much more. Entering into new life is more than a prayer; it’s a commitment to live a new life in a new way under the Lord-ship of Jesus Christ even when the cost is difficult. But for that day, that would have to suffice.

There was little time to arrange for follow-up, but I heard some encouraging news in the short-term through my housekeeping contacts, and we did have monthly camp reunions — this was a huge camp — back then which kept some staff in touch in a world before email, texting and social media.

In the years that followed, I got to pray with other people while doing itinerant youth ministry** as a guest speaker in various churches; but there was never another moment like this one.

I’m just so thankful that I was there when needed and when the opportunity arose.***

*After 11 weeks at camp, I think the doctrine of sin had been clearly defined, but today, if I was going to introduce a prayer at all, I would probably word it differently.

**I got to experience some interesting situations and meet some great people in itinerant ministry, but there is something to be said for working in a local church environment where you really get to know the same people over an extended period of time. At camp, working and living and sleeping in community created some close relationships, but eleven weeks seems like such a short time and the nature of the organization made follow-up challenging. I love the context for ministry that camp creates, but it’s important to recognize the shortcomings of any evangelism model.

***It’s easy for an organization to miss the importance of ministry to its workers. Some of the greatest life-changes are taking place at the staff-level and it’s important for senior staff to see the summer as a two-pronged program.


April 26, 2016

Camp Memories (2)

“This is Natalie. She has no English. She will learn, yes?”

With that, her mom left the registration desk and drove off leaving her little 11-year old girl in our care for six nights.

But we didn’t know the registration story until three days in.

Natalie (not her real name, at least I don’t think so) turned out to be a handful, but not in any hyperactive or disciplinary sense. Simply put the girl appeared to be a young nymphomaniac. She was very affectionate to the male sports instructors. She was very touchy-feely with some of the male counselors. She seemed to have no limits in rubbing against male senior staff members like a cat.

Not having the vocabulary to verbalize even the most basic things, she communicated physically. In ways that were inappropriate. In ways that suggested there was lot more to this than just a language barrier.

Today, we have the internet. Simple searches can reveal patterns. We know that sometimes a child that young has probably had their sexuality button switched on by abuse of some type. We talk about those things more freely. The internet, in many respects, makes everyone an expert on subjects that formerly have been left to the professionals.

middle school youth ministryBut flashback a few decades and those supports didn’t exist. In fact, it took several days for our assortment of instructors, counselors, kitchen crew, maintenance workers, and senior staff to combine their stories to form an overall picture of what had been happening at camp. People started comparing notes, and the anecdotal base grew rapidly.

Fortunately, this was an era where the staff, though very large, had a strong sense of morality and ethical integrity. These days, it seems that everywhere you turn there are stories of people in children’s ministry or youth ministry landing on the front pages of local newspapers. It would not surprise me to hear of camps hosting children like Natalie with totally different outcomes.

I got invited to the senior staff meeting. I mostly sat in silence except to say, “I’m not sure how she knows the difference between a 16-year old staff member and a 16-year old camper.” I went on to say, “I think we’re okay with our staff because they’ve been screened carefully, but don’t know that a camper might not take advantage of her.”

The meeting continued and eventually it was decided to quietly communicate the situation to the entire staff base — some 150 people — to make sure staff kept their eyes open; to make sure that any and all contact with male campers was being supervised.

Another half week later, Natalie got picked up and the staff breathed a collective sigh of relief as her mom’s car drove out the front entrance. In the ten minutes that followed I heard at least three people simply say, “It’s okay; she’s gone.”

I know this camp, and I know that in the intervening years there were probably a few more Natalies. I would wager to say that the number of kids who have been in abusive situations, even in seemingly-respectable upper-middle class homes is probably slowly increasing, and the number of adolescent and pre-adolescent kids acting out their sexuality is growing accordingly. But liability concerns dictate that camps, Christian and otherwise, make sure that staff at all levels are trained in negotiating various complex situations. For the most part, camp staff are doing the right thing.

For our camp staff, what was the issue here? Was the problem Natalie, or Natalie’s mom; the way she simply dropped her off and made a hasty exit off the property?

I went about 20 years and never thought about Natalie. But recently, as online reports about crises in youth ministry and children’s ministry seem to get darker and more frequent, she came back to mind, as my personal poster child for post-abuse. Sure, maybe some of it was hormonal, and I know that there are occurrences of kids acting out in this way simply because that’s how they’re wired, and I know that the lack of verbal communication messed up the dynamics that week; but despite that, I remain convinced that something in her past had triggered her precocious behavior, though our summer staff that year never knew what it was, and never will…

…On Saturday morning the kids leave and just hours later, you’re hosting a new batch of children, and dealing with different issues…

April 8, 2016

You Have This Moment

The Set Free Summit taking place in North Carolina wrapped up last night. For an overview of what you/we missed, check out the hashtag #SetFree2016. We’ve devoted three of the five weekday posts here to this one topic, but when I started scrolling through old posts here and discovered the one I re-posted yesterday, I was also reminded of this one.

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

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?”


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? 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 in a devotional 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.

April 5, 2016

Set Free Summit: Confronting The Porn Problem

Josh McDowell - Set Free Summit 2016

…While doing research for one of my books on addictive behavior, I conducted a telephone interview with a leading expert in the field of sexual addictions. He told me, “I believe evangelical Christians have a greater tendency to fall into sexual addictions than any other sub-culture in the United States.”

When I asked him why, he said, “Because sexual sins are so taboo in the church people find them more exciting. Once they commit a taboo sexual act, they refuse to tell anyone. Their belief that they have done something bad creates guilt which leads to shame. This shame generates pain which they try to medicate with more sexually taboo activity. The deeper they fall into sexually deviant behavior the more closely they must guard their secret. The longer the behavior continues, the more addictive it becomes, and the more it destroys their core being.” …

…According to a May 18, 2010, survey conducted by Today’s Christian Women Online, 34% of their readers admit to intentionally accessing porn. The results of this are staggering. More women are getting involved in cybersex, more women than men convert online conversations into real-life affairs, and more women are accessing porn while at work.

If those stats didn’t get your attention this next one will. According to Family Safe Media, the largest group of viewers of Internet porn is children between ages 12 and 17. In spite of this staggering statistic, most of the Christian parents I speak with deny their kids have or would check out a porn site

~Bill Perkins, article “Porn in the Church: The High Cost of Silence.”

Last night around 9:00 PM I became aware of a number of people tweeting using the hashtag #setfree2016. (You don’t need a Twitter account to see the posts.*) I decided to check it out.

The Set Free Summit started yesterday evening and runs 3 more days in Greensboro, North Carolina and is hosted by Josh McDowell Ministries and the makers of Covenant Eyes computer software. Opening night speakers include McDowell, author Steve Arterburn, David Kinnaman from Barna Research, and author Michael Leahy.

Time Cover - PornPerhaps coincidentally, or perhaps providentially, the cover of the latest issue of Time Magazine has just released (April 11 issue) with the cover story Porn and the Threat to Virility, which chronicles the rise of porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED).  A sample:

A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic–more prone to permanent change–than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning.

The article is packed with research; budget about 10 minutes to read it all. (Some language might be considered edgy.) There’s also a short book excerpt from Peggy Orenstien’s Girls and Sex which again, coincidentally (providentially?) I had just heard about after youth ministry specialist Walt Mueller noted it in an April 1st blog post, along with an audio link (embedded) to an interview the author did with NPR.

While the Set Free 2016 event is not streaming live, and it’s not an annual event (so far), you can get an idea of what you’re missing by clicking on the 4-day tabs on the conference schedule. (I hope some videos are eventually posted.) Again, allow some time to scroll through to see what each presenter will be discussing; the short seminar previews are themselves a window into this issue.

Bill Perkins concludes:

Our strategy to achieve sexual purity has to be like a laser-guided missile. These weapons constantly adapt to the changing terrain as they zero in on their target. Because the moral terrain is constantly changing, we must be adept in adapting as we pursue our target: sexual purity.



*The link is for the “live” feed on Twitter. If you just want highlights, click the tab that says “top.”

April 4, 2016

Not Your Parents’ CCM

I realize we ended last week with both a Thursday and Friday post about worship music, and this isn’t a worship or music blog, but today’s topic just kinda landed on the doorstep over the weekend…


And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
 Revelation 14:2 NIV

There has been much talk about what the next wave of Christian music will consist of, and in particular, what the next generation will do with the enormous catalog of modern worship songs it is being handed.

Many idealists would prefer that the next generation simply accept the status quo, and that nothing drastic changes; even though that generation greatly shook up and shattered the paradigm handed it from their parents. However, a simple study of musicology reveals that for the past thousand years (and beyond) every period in music history is a reaction to the period which preceded it.

What follows is my opinion only, but there has to come a point when millennials reject the current styles in either large measure or in some small measure. People who agree with this notion usually say something like:

  • There will be an entirely new form
  • There will be a return to the hymns
  • There will be more of a blended worship approach
  • There will be new songs, but a return of four-part harmony
  • There will be fewer vertical worships songs and more songs of testimony
  • There will be less instrumentation; a minimalist or even acapella aproach
  • There will be more interest in Episcopal or Anglican forms; or chants and Taizé
  • There will be an emphasis on preaching, and less music, so it won’t really matter
  • There will be a decline of congregational participation, and a return to performed solos, choirs, etc.
  • There will be a situation where the congregation becomes passive, and music videos are simply watched

But I think a change is already in the works; it’s been happening for a few years now and it consists of

  • A rejection of Nashville as the music agenda-setting capital of the Christian world, with the next generation church embracing a more European sound
  • A rejection of the guitar as the primary contemporary worship instrument, with worship leaders playing keyboards, especially synthesizers.

(Apologies to Third Day and Big Daddy Weave; et al.)

Hillsong Y&F - Youth RevivalI believe that nothing expresses this better than the new Hillsong Young and Free album, Youth Revival. I’ve been listening to cuts from this over and over again. It puts a smile on my face. (I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s also the band I hear at North Point Online before and after the Sunday live service feeds.)

I realize that this opinion may not sit well with Chris Tomlin fans. I’m just sayin’ that if you have a choice between guitar lessons and piano lessons for the kids and you’re a forward-looking parent, I would go with the piano. As a keyboard player who never once got to play at a campfire, I realize the instrument has some limitations, but I think the next generation is looking for something completely different than G, C, Em, D7 or its many variations.

Hillsong Young and Free stand somewhere between Hillsong Kids and Hillsong United. I get the whole Radio Disney thing. Nonetheless, I believe they best represent the change already taking place.


Sadly, the three videos originally posted here have been removed from YouTube and there are no substitutes available as of May 14, 2016.

April 3, 2016

We Were Created to Create

Created to Create Spring 2016

Last night I went to see a kids musical production being performed in a church that was almost within walking distance of my house. We don’t have children in that age cohort anymore, but I wanted to be supportive and the proximity of last night’s show — the first of three performances — left me without excuse.

If you had come with me you might have seen a kids play with a couple of missed lines, several audio problems, and some awkward scene changes, but I saw so much more; so very much more.

created to create logoCreated to Create is an initiative of our local chapter of Youth Unlimited, formerly known as Youth for Christ. Their focus with this creative arts program is inclusive of kids normally younger than you find at any given city’s branch of YU. This was, I believe the third such show they’ve done, and the second one I’ve seen.

What struck me last night was the producer/director’s commitment to excellence. The whole program was, I’m told, something that was conceived in her mind over a year earlier and incorporated content from three different primary sources, plus some original dialog and the addition of humorous video inserts throughout the show.

One of those video clips was filmed in Lake Ontario; so it had to be shot at the beginning of rehearsals in September, with great faith that the casting would stay the same over six months later in April.  Some actors played multiple roles — no small challenge — while others took on their parts rather convincingly, given that for some of them this was their first time in a dramatic production of this magnitude.

The thing that struck me the most was how, by the third and final act, these kids very much had their audience. The inside of the great fish was convincing, even if executed solely with Styrofoam pool noodles and black light. If you had been a neighbor or a relative of one of the kids and didn’t really know the Biblical story, there was enough of a message here that you got both narrative and practical application. In the finale, when ‘Old’ Jonah and ‘Flashback’ Jonah joined hands at the end to take their bow, I think the audience was fully aware of the thought and work that had gone into the production and completely convinced that the 90 minutes had been well worth their time.

We serve a God who inspires us with creativity. True, it hits some people more than others, but I believe we all have a measure of imagination inside us that can be used to inspire others.

Bonus item: Though not recorded at the show, here’s a song it contained, from the Newsboys: In the Belly of the Whale.

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