Thinking Out Loud

January 21, 2017

When the Cause is Worth Jail Time

january-17-2017-supreme-court-death-penalty-protest

There were 18 people arrested this week protesting the death penalty on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was Christian author and social activist Shane Claiborne who got my attention. Maybe it’s because I’ve read his books or that we met once briefly. Coincidentally, I was combing through old blog posts here looking for something else, and I stumbled across something we ran by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove — who is also a friend to Shane — explaining to his kids why he was in jail after a different but equally important event. I thought I would re-run that here today, but then I found something Shane posted upon his release, so today you get both.

First, Shane’s video: (Posted January 19, 2017.)

Second, the piece from Jonathan:  (This appear on his blog on June 5, 2013; it was a different issue, but action borne from equally strong convictions.)

A Letter to My Kids: Why I Got Arrested

Dear JaiMichael and Nora,

Since we went to Moral Monday together a couple of weeks ago, I’ve wanted to sit down and write to both of you to tell you why I got arrested—why I wasn’t home that evening to read you your stories and say prayers with you. I’ve rarely felt happier than I did that evening when the bus pulled out to take us to jail. I looked up and saw the two of you standing with mom, waving good-bye even though you couldn’t see me through the wire mesh of the bus window. Thank you for being there for me.

As you both know, we live in a hospitality house and share our life with other people because God has given us this way of life as a gift. It’s not always easy to greet every knock at the door, eager to see Jesus in the stranger. But that’s what we try to do because this is where Jesus promised to meet us. Indeed, the two of you are teaching me much about how to do this as you grow up at Rutba House.

One of the things we know about God’s family is that we don’t all look the same. Even though you are brother and sister, your skin is not the same color. Uncle Matt and Uncle Vern are not the same color. This is how it is in God’s family.

You also know the story of how Grandma Ann, when she was working to integrate the schools here in Durham, became friends with a white man who had led the Ku Klux Klan. Some people say strong black women and white men in the KKK shouldn’t become friends. But Grandma Ann and Mr. Ellis realized that when poor black people are pitted against poor white people, all children suffer. They became friends because they learned a better way.

Some people say that parents should work as hard as they can to give their kids all the opportunities that are available in our society—that this is what it means to be a good parent. I know you’ve been disappointed at times when you didn’t get to have a video game or wear the coolest new clothes. But your mom and I believe that the best life for you (and for us) is a life in the beloved community that Grandma Ann and others worked for—the life that God wants to give us in relationship with others who are not like us.

The men who run our Legislature in Raleigh right now are people who love their kids like I love you. They are afraid because they believe that the inheritance they have to pass on to their children is the wealth that they’ve been able to accumulate. They do not want to see that inheritance squandered by others whom they think undeserving. They are determined to defend their way of life at any cost.

But we believe they are wrong because we know a better way of life. We have asked them to consider the pain they are causing others by pursuing their own interests. They have refused to listen. Because they have power right now, they don’t have to listen to what we say. They can have us arrested and taken away.

But what they are doing cannot last forever because it is not true. God will stop them; we don’t have to. But I chose to get arrested because I don’t want those men to miss out on God’s great party. I want them to know that there is a better way—that they do not have to listen to our worst fears and re-play the worst chapters of our past.

I want them to know that God has invited them to be part of the beloved community too.

Thank you both for being there in Raleigh with the thousands of others who want a better future for our state. And thanks for helping mom get everything done at home while I was gone. I know it is not always easy to invite everyone in—even the legislators who do not want to listen. But, like I said, I’m grateful to both of you for showing me how to extend the invitation with enthusiasm.

I love you both,

Dad

Two other arrest perspectives appeared on Jonathan’s blog around the same time; from a Political Science professor, and a School Board member

Third, back to the present, here’s the perspective of another one of the 18 people arrested which describes in detail the ordeal the protesters went through following their arrest. (There are other articles at the same website, RedLetterChristians.org) (Excerpt below.)

january-17-2017-protesters-arrested

Would you be willing to do this for something you believe in? 


Read more: Additional pictures and video of Sojourners’ Lisa Sharon Harper arrested at the protest.

January 20, 2017

A Theology of Non-Anger

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:20 am

For some time now, I’ve ended the day unwinding with a 20-minute podcast compiled from excerpts of The Brant Hansen Show. Brant‘s a long-time Christian radio guy who has served with Air-1 and WAY-FM. He’s joined daily by producer Sherri Lynn to whom God has apparently given the gift of laughter.

On the sidebar of Brant’s website I kept noticing a reference to Brant’s book, but I figured it to be some self-published project, after all, these days everybody has a book. Only a few days ago did I realize it had been released through Thomas Nelson, and decided it warranted further investigation.

unoffendableUnoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better was actually released in the spring of 2015, so we’re coming up to two years. (You’ll notice my blog hasn’t been reviewing new releases lately; I just share what I’m enjoying.) If you think that the people in Christian radio are somewhat shallow, you’re going to be pleasant surprised — perhaps amazed — at the substance in this book.

Basically, Unoffendable is a study of instances in scripture (and real life) where anger is a factor. You could call the book a treatise on the theology of anger, though I prefer to take a positive spin and emphasize non-anger. We can be so quick to assume, to lash out, and to hurt. Our knee-jerk reactions aren’t good for the people in our line of fire, and they’re not good for us.

The timing on this is significant as commentators are constantly reminding us that the hallmark of social media in particular and the internet in general seems to be our ability to be easily offended. At everything. We are an offended generation.

The book isn’t necessary a self-help title. You won’t find, for example, six steps to avoid getting angry. Rather, through personal anecdotes and lessons from scripture, proceeding through the book’s chapters instills a climate of non-offense as you read. There’s a sense in which the book has a calming effect.

In many respects, the book is an extension of and consistent with the radio show. There are sections where Brant quotes letters he received from listeners and in my head, I was hearing those as the phone calls he takes on air. Our ability with today’s technology to access spoken word content by authors means you can really allow your imagination to hear the author as you read. We found a station that streams the whole show — not the podcast — daily and listened in just to get the feel.

I encourage to get your hands on this. Read it for yourself, not just to give to so-and-so who gets mad so quickly. I think there is a sense in which we can all see ourselves within its pages; because we all have times where we’ve over-reacted.


Order Unoffendable through your favorite Christian bookseller; or get more info at Thomas Nelson.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for the review copy.

January 19, 2017

The Harsh Reality of an Aid Worker’s Life

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:12 am

Today’s a bit of an exception: A book that’s not new (published in 2012) and not carried by Christian retailers. Rather, it was loaned to me by a friend who met the author at a work-sponsored event several months ago and thought I would enjoy it. I need to return the book to him now, so I don’t even get to keep it, which means I really didn’t need to bother to write anything about it but the fact is, I’m really pumped (a pun which will you’ll get in a minute) about this and want to share it in the hope some of you might track it down.

wine-to-waterWine to Water: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World (Avery) is the suspense-filled autobiographical account of how Doc Hendley went from bartender in a college town to founding his own charity and being sent carte blanche to Darfur, Sudan by Samaritan’s Purse to develop a program to bring fresh water to people there regardless of their religion or politics.

Ever watched or read an appeal for a third-world charity and wondered what the people on the ground actually do when they wake up each morning? It’s possibly the polar opposite of what you imagine. As the story unwinds, Hendley is basically an actor in a play in which he has to write (and re-write) the script daily. There is guaranteed opposition and no real promise that you’ll live to the same the next day. In one harrowing tale, he is at a loss to understand how a bullet fired directly at his head could possibly have missed.

If you haven’t figured it out, the book’s title relates to how Hendley the Bartender begins a series of pub-based fundraising events with the aim of helping with the world water crisis. But he does so not knowing where the money will be used. When he first connects with Samaritan’s Purse, they actually turn down his donation and invite him to see the situation firsthand before he spends the first dollar.

I mentioned at the outset that Wine to Water isn’t sold at Christian retail, but perhaps it should be. On a personal level, Hendley strongly identifies with his religious upbringing as a preacher’s kid.  His personal faith in God and the power of prayer ought to be a challenge to the rest of us who perhaps have the dotted the is and crossed the ts when it comes to doctrine and theology, but may be missing out on actual real faith


Read an interview with Doc Hendley on the book’s page at Avery/Penguin. Donations can be made at winetowater.org .

January 18, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Welcome to the Link List. Beware of the Dog:

beware-of-dog

mosquitoMy wife took that picture while standing about five feet away. It never budged. As to the little home decor item at right, it’s an actual item made by Heartfelt, Inc. Can I put you down for a dozen of them?

This week a big shout-out to all the radio guys who check us out every Wednesday for program material. You can watch for our invoice in the mail.

…and yes it’s true. Skye Jethani was part of the cast of Puzzle Place. We offer a screenshot as proof.

skye

January 17, 2017

Christians and Reading

bookstore-signThis is part two of two articles on the general subject of reading and language, especially as it relates to the closing of bookstores in the wider market, and Christian bookstores in particular. Click here for part one.

Times are a lot tougher than in the past. Millennials struggle to find jobs and wealth creation is not as it was in the days of double-digit interest rates. The R-word — recession — is occasionally mentioned; some say we’re moving into it, some say we’re in it, some say we’re in recovery. Christian bookstores could have reason to claim immunity for the following reasons:

  1. In full out economic depression, people turn to religion.
  2. Also in depression, people turn to entertainment. While the book industry doesn’t have the same profile as movies, music and television, it is most definitely a subset of the entertainment industry.

So why have so many Christian bookstores closed? As with yesterday’s article, I haven’t taken the time to cite studies and statistics, but trust me on some things I can offer anecdotally.

First, we mentioned the various time pressures, distractions, and diminishing attention spans. I would argue that this has led to decline in the traditional devotional reading time. Bill Hybels has tried to give this new life by christening it with a new name, Chair Time. I wrote about that in February, 2016. Curling up with a good book and building a personal library are becoming rare activities. The only way to ensure people have contact with books at all is sometimes to have small groups or home groups which are essentially book study groups. That doesn’t always happen however. Many house groups use church-provided outlines or small study guides related to DVD curriculum they are watching. I do like the traditional book groups, especially in the sense in which they provide accountability (to cover the chapters for the next meeting.)

Second, I think the problem is self-perpetuating. Focus on the Family did some studies a decade ago on the spiritual influence the Dad has in the home, citing things like church attendance over time. I would contend that a generation is arising that has never seen their fathers sitting in a chair reading and when I say reading here, I would settle for the Sears catalog or Sports Illustrated. Many homes no longer receive a newspaper; and I understand that, you can read it online. But online reading is very personal. I could be doing anything online now: Checking the weather, balancing my bank account, posting a social media status update, watching YouTube videos, playing an online game, reading a serious article, or writing for my blog. But when someone sits in a chair reading, they are very obviously reading. Kids need to see this modeled for them as a life component every bit as normal as brushing your teeth.

Third, I believe that leadership is not setting the pace. In the retail store where I hang out, we see Sunday School teachers, we see worship team members, we see small group leaders. What we don’t see is elders, deacons, board members. Sometimes I will visit other churches and I see the names of these people printed in the church bulletin and I don’t recognize any of those names. We even had an instance of a pastor who we were told on good authority did not use his book allowance in ten years. (The man was incredibly arrogant and probably felt he knew all there was to know.) There are a few exceptions to this, but many people are chosen to serve their church in this capacity because they are business owners or executives who are successfully managing the company they work for and are considered wise enough to run the affairs of the church. Maybe they’re too busy to work on their own spiritual formation. That wasn’t the case with Stephen however. When The Twelve needed to create another tier of leadership to do the everyday running of things, they chose, “a man of faith, full of the Holy Spirit.” (The solution to this is pastors who buy the books in bulk they want their elders to study and then give them out as required reading.) 

Fourth, the stores need traffic generators; they require a constant hit bestseller to pay the bills. The Left Behind series accomplished this. The Shack brought people to the stores to both discuss and purchase the book. The Purpose Driven Life did the same. (I know there are people here who aren’t fans of these three examples, but they make the store sustainable for people looking for a classic Spurgeon commentary, or something by Tim Keller, or an apologetics resource.) Even on the non-book side of things the Gaither Gospel Series DVDs provided that traffic. These days, whenever something takes off in the Christian marketplace, Costco and Barnes and Noble are quick to jump into the game. Conversely, it doesn’t help when major Christian authors experience moral failure. The publishers occasionally offer products exclusively to the Christian market, but they only do this for specific chains (Mardel, Parable, Family Christian, etc.) not the independent stores who so desperately need this type of support. You have to be inside the stores to see other products you might wish to read or give away.

Finally, we’re not presently seeing a spiritual hunger. People are not desperate for God in North America and Western Europe right now. We hear reports from Africa or South America, though it’s hard to really quantify what is happening when there are often fringe movements or revivals based on extreme Charismatic doctrine or a mixture of Biblical Christianity and local animistic beliefs. In my early 20s, I remember hearing a Christian speaker say (quite tongue in cheek) “We don’t need the Holy Spirit, we have technology.” There is a sense in which this is true. It does remind me of the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, but you can put salt in his oats to make him thirsty.” We have to find ways to instill that hunger for reading in our local congregations. Pastor recommendations of books from the pulpit are the most significant factor driving customers to make purchases or place orders.  Another way the technology can be made to work is by providing chapter excerpts for people to sample; but publishers are very reluctant to do this, for reasons which escape me. 

In conclusion, all the factors mentioned in the previous article are impacting bookstores in general, these factors listed here are some things that concern me about the Christian market in particular.

not_enough_shelves

January 16, 2017

The Erosion of Language as We Knew It

giant_library_scene

Yesterday I provided a kind of soft intro to the topic I want to look at today which bears on larger issues than just why bookstores are struggling.

There are some widely circulating statistics suggesting that in North America, western Europe and perhaps Australia/New Zealand as well, for the first time ever we’re seeing a generation with a lower life expectancy than their parents and grandparents faced; in other words, after better nutrition and medical knowledge have allowed us to live longer for years, suddenly it appears the numbers have peaked for both males and females.

On top of that, we’re also seeing a major decline in economic expectancy. Millennials are struggling to find jobs and the prospect of amassing enough wealth to secure their retirement years has somewhat vanished.

I would argue that parallel to all this we’re also seeing a major decline in literacy, or at least literacy as we have previously understood it or measured it.

There are a number of reasons for this, but all related to the personal computer revolution of the past 20 years. This isn’t a technical revolution, because the technology has been around much longer, and it’s not really a computer revolution for the same reason. Rather it’s the effect of personal computers being a part of every home, or even every individual. In the Fall of 2009, Finland became the first country to declare broadband internet access a legal right and by the summer of 2010, every person was to have access to a 1Mb connection.

I’ve written elsewhere about how computers and the internet have accelerated social change and how we’ve basically lived 4 decades worth of shifting paradigms in just 20 years. Today however we want to focus simply on language.

The simple answer to the question, “Why aren’t people reading books like they once did?” is easy.

  • We don’t have the time. We’re spending all our free time with our devices, or more specifically, screens.
    • The small screen in our pocket associated with our mobile phone
    • The medium screen be it a desktop, laptop or tablet
    • The giant screen in the living room be it Plasma, LED or LCD
  • We don’t have the money. We’re using up all our discretionary spending money on the same screens.
    • monthly phone bill and data plan overages
    • apps
    • cable or satellite television
    • home internet connection
    • streaming services
    • software bundles
    • accessories, extended warranties, virus protection, etc.

That is all fairly obvious.

We’re also seeing some other things at play at the same time.

  • Spell-check – You don’t really need to know how to spell a word anymore since the computer corrects it for you. Grammar-check is also slowly improving.
  • Texting – This is the reduction of the English language in the extreme.
  • Emojis – This is the reduction of written communication in the extreme.
  • Acronyms and Initialisms – I hope you’re taking this article seriously and not ROFL or LOL.

But there are also other factors beyond what’s happening online:

  • The end of cursive writing – They don’t teach cursive script in many (if not most) schools now. I would argue there’s something different about what we write when confined to individually printed letters. But this is a moot point when you think about…
  • The end of handwriting, period – If you’re of a certain age and are right-handed, and you look toward the end of your middle finger, there’s probably a callus there from many years of penmanship. Today, most kids spend far more hours keyboarding than handwriting.
  • The increasing emphasis on numeracy over literacy – Your ability to process numeric data is increasingly more vital than your way with words.
  • The diminished need to learn – It’s no longer necessary to know anything as long as you have mastered search and can locate the information needed. Unfortunately however there is a less sense as to the expected answer one is looking for, or a healthy skepticism as to whether or not the source is trustworthy or accurate.

The technology has also inflicted more damage to traditional reading:

  • Shortened attention spans – I don’t understand the psychological ramifications and I’m sure much ink has been given to this in professional journals and forums, but simply put, there’s something about the technology that has made us restless resulting in the often-seen response, “TLDR” (too long, didn’t read).
  • Increased distractions – One person well when they said something along these lines, ‘The problem with the internet is there are too many off-ramps.’
  • Dependency on rich text – I am referring here to our inability to follow a sustained argument through a lengthy paragraph. Rather we have become dependent on the use of italics, bold face, subheadings, bullet points, pull-quotes, and even (horrors!) underlining, color and enlarged fonts. (Yes, guilty as charged here.)

Next, there is the particular challenge of eBooks:

  • When they were first introduced, eBooks were offered at a substantial discount. The problem with this is that when you only spend 99-cents, or get the book for free, you don’t really have any investment in it. Many people would read a chapter or two, figure they got their money’s worth and never finish reading. This concerns me on several levels:
    • It strikes me as cheapening reading, diminishing the value of the author’s worth.
    • For some, it was all about the downloading experience; loading the device with titles for which the person had no intention of reading
    • It grossly inflated eBook sales which signaled a death of print which never happened.
    • The side effects of sore eyes and headaches caused by the devices turned some people away from reading.
    • It made it more difficult, if not impossible to loan a book to a friend.
    • When someone really loves a book, they will tell five friends, of which only one (at most) will be another eBook reader; the other four will try to get the book in print. But to love the book they have value it and finish reading it.
  • The side effect of cheap eBooks and the introduction of the Amazon discounting paradigm created a perfect storm, wherein print books were more widely discounted, which cheapened the value of printed books and also resulted in a climate where people were not finishing reading what they had started.

Finally, as noted above the technology afforded the possibility of online sales which bypass the traditional brick-and-mortar store.

  • The Amazon paradigm — the company itself and various copycats — created a situation whereby books were shipped directly to a customer’s door, thereby creating a situation where people were less likely to interact with physical books in a retail store environment. Choices are made from a store which really has no filters and where obscure publishers can buy placement in ways unknown before the Amazon revolution.
  • Sometimes customers got burned. The book didn’t materialize as what was suggested in online.
  • Other customers took to using the traditional bookstore as a showroom for the online seller. They would check it out in a local store, but purchase it cheaper from the online vendor. This was (and still is) a source of great frustration for bookstore owners, many of whom didn’t need another reason to throw in the towel.

…Well, that about covers it, right? Not quite. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the particular issues which face bookstores more familiar to some readers here, Christian bookstores; the topic we originally set out to answer.

Feel free to engage the comments section to suggest things I may have missed. These notes are from many years of doing this extemporaneously and I may have omitted some things. If the omission is serious, I may update the text.

Borders - The End is Near

 

January 15, 2017

Christian Bookstores Wondering What Happened to Christmas

Only a small handful of you would know that I also write a blog specifically for Christian bookstore owners and managers in Canada. This past week we’ve heard from a few about how their year ended, and the common theme seems to be that the bottom fell out of the month of December. One store apparently had a 20% drop from the same month a year previous, others reported less severe drops, and I suspect many of our brothers and sisters in the US experienced a similar year.

So what happened? Were there weather factors? Was there a gravitational pull to other types of retail to buy hot items this Christmas? Was it the Trump effect?

I can only say that I know the value of these stores and the ministry that can take place when such a place exists. The “category killing” of bookstores in general may not have stopped people from reading, but where Christian stores are concerned, the loss of stores is a loss of a neutral meeting place for Christians of all denominations and the loss of potential referrals to those churches.

Someone put it this way:

we-heart-christian-bookstores-2

Tomorrow we’ll take another look at why the stores are hurting.

 

January 14, 2017

As Metaphorical as a Simile

analogy comparison metaphor simile

Maybe it’s because of the pending release of a certain movie which will go unmentioned which is based on a certain book which was so very controversial in 2007 when it released; but I keep thinking that some of us Christians are very narrow when it comes to embracing different art or literary forms…

Just because you heard the phrase, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” in the movie Forrest Gump, you shouldn’t extrapolate the individual comparison in a single scene in the film to be a general guiding principle for life. In most respects, life is not at all like a box of chocolates. Nor, as Google might lead you to believe, is like an arrow, a bicycle, a camera, a deck of cards, an elevator, a football, a grapefruit, a hurricane, or… I’ll let you work your way through the rest of alphabet. In my wife’s opinion, life is more like a sushi bar, or the bag containing the Scrabble letters, or herding cats, but I’m willing to bet this month’s rent that those don’t work for you either.

Comparing things can be helpful to our understanding however. In Jesus’ teaching ministry, he took examples from the world as his hearers knew it — mostly agricultural comparisons — and either made direct connections or taught the principles as parables because they were parallel to things his audience could relate to. In my world, I often will use computer jargon and terminology to create an analogy which teaches a Biblical principle.

Our language generally offers us two options: Metaphor and simile. (You’d have to be as dumb as an ox not to know the difference. Just kidding! That’s an example of simile. And sarcasm.) A popular technique in the broad category of metaphor would be allegory, with the most recognizable examples in Christian literature being Pilgrim’s Progress, or the Chronicles of Narnia books; along with a number of contemporary writers in the Christian fantasy fiction genre.

But there is another writing technique I would like to offer here as simply springboard. Skye Jethani does this in The Divine Commodity where he uses the art of Vincent van Gogh to get the discussion rolling, or in Futureville where the springboard is the vision of the future as offered by the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Mark Batterson does this with The Circle Maker, beginning with the legend of Honi.

You could also argue that almost all Christian fiction — while some of it allegorical — is mostly springboard for further discussion; consisting either of internal deliberation, or discourse with friends in your book group, church library or at the Christian bookstore.

This technique does not sit well with all readers. The purists who prefer expository preaching to topical preaching would, with horror, rate the springboard type of writing even further down the spectrum. It’s just all too easy to criticize; to get lost in the metaphor or allegory and miss the point. Some recent popular preachers shun illustrations entirely to the point where, several years in, their advisors corner them to say, “We don’t really know anything about you.”

So here are some reminders:

  1. Most metaphors are limited to single aspects of the thing being compared. Any similarity life has to a box of chocolates is overshadowed by other aspects of the box, the wrapper, the plastic inset, etc., and life generally does not come with a complete guide printed on the lid. This is because…
  2. …All metaphors eventually break down at some point. There are a few ‘perfect’ metaphors, but more imperfect ones. This can lead to a situation where…
  3. …Metaphors and allegories are easily misunderstood. Not everybody grasps the comparison first time around, especially if the chosen metaphor is something somewhat foreign.
  4. Borrowing a theme or idea from another world — whether it’s a legend from another religion or a principle of motorcycle repair — does not necessarily imply endorsement.
  5. The placement of a metaphor or discussion springboard in mainstream Christian literature may result in it being seized upon by people on the fringes of mainstream Christianity who want to use the metaphor to say things the author never intended.

However — and this is so important — the use of parables and similar teaching forms by Jesus should be an encouragement to us to find similar redemptive analogies in our modern world. If you’re a writer, avoid the pressure to be boringly precise and instead, introduce edge into your writing by finding the connection everyone else has missed heretofore.

Communication is only achieved when the hearer fully gets it, and that will involve drawing parallels between ‘A’ and ‘B’ rather than repeating the words of a definition over and over to someone who is missing the point.

January 13, 2017

The Busy-ness of Christian Living

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

I’m about a third of the way through Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better by Brant Hansen Show host Brant Hansen. It’s probably lighter reading than many items I cover, but it’s what I need right now after a rather hectic fall season in which my reading schedule went totally out the window. The book in a nutshell: Christians should not be easily offended.

Here’s a quick excerpt.

unoffendableOne of my friends, David, said something this morning during our church gathering that I keep thinking about.  He said, “You know what? I think God is really just looking for spiritual people. That’s what He’s always been looking for.  He will handle the rest.  He wants a people who long to know Him, rest in Him, and love Him.”

That can sound like a “Well, yeah, obviously” moment.  But it didn’t strike me that way.  I’ve been thinking about it all day, how we love to do everything but “be spiritual.” (By the way, it’s not a generic “spiritual” we’re talking about here.  Spirituality must be “with” something or someone, just as much as romance or loyalty.  What my friend is referring to is a spirituality based on relating to God through Jesus.)

American church culture, generally speaking, does not encourage this sort of restfulness.  Quite the opposite, actually.  Instead of inviting people out of the exhausting storm of busy lives, we add to their loads.  We give them even more to do, or prompt them to feel guilty about what they’re not doing.

How do I know this? I’ve done it. I was good at it.

***

Mike was a smart high school kid in my youth group years ago, and very conscientious, too, which explains the question he asked me one day.  I think I’d just finished giving a lesson on tithing or something.  He earnestly asked, “So I get so confused with all this stuff.  Can you just make a list for us so we know we’re doing all the right things?”

“Great idea,” I said.  And that week, I made a very awesome pie chart called the “Discipleship Wheel,” broken into eight different parts, to distribute to all of them.

I used a computer.  I was proud. It was very professional looking.

“See, guys, just remember to do this stuff:  attend worship, do short-term missions, pray, evangelize, give your money to the church and the poor, study the Bible, be a part of youth group, and…”

I can’t remember what the other thing was. Something super-important.

“…and then you can know you’re doing all right with God.”

Mike said, “Thanks!”

I saw Mike – he’s now an engineer and a father of six – not along ago and I told him how sorry I was, and we had a good laugh. Thankfully, he now has a better picture of just how good God is.

He now knows that God did not call us into Pie-Chart Life, however smart-looking the chart.  God wants to know us.

Check out The Brant Hansen Show on these stations, enjoy the selected wisdom of Brant (and producer Sherri) in 20-minute segments on his Oddcast; or follow him on Twitter.

Unoffendable is available in paperback from Thomas Nelson.

January 12, 2017

Building a Bible Reference Library

The chart that follows was produced many years ago by Thomas Nelson. It may exist online now, but when I tried to track it down about a year ago I couldn’t locate it; so I was quite pleased to find it yesterday in a pile of papers.

Many of the suggested Bible reference tools listed below are now available online, to the point where it’s possible to need a particular nugget of information, and not necessarily classify it as to the type of information required. The internet probably blurs the distinctions below.

Look at the graphic and then scroll down for my comments on each element. Click the image to view full size.

bible-reference-library

Tier One The Bible itself is foundational and there’s no point building a library about it without actually owning several good ones.

Tier TwoConcordances — listing occurrences of particular words in particular translations — are somewhat obsolete with what our desktop computers and phones can do. Still, a dictionary of Bible terms is helpful, but you need to be careful you’re not using a theological or religious dictionary. For example, the term trinity isn’t found in scripture, so a Bible dictionary won’t necessarily contain it. However, that may be the very thing you wish to examine, so then you’d want to additionally own a theological dictionary, or find a Bible encyclopedia that combines both.

Tier Three – I think that every Christian should have some familiarity with an in-depth commentary; the type that focuses on a single book, or the one-volume kind. Again, if you’re doing this online instead, you need to know it’s commentary you’re looking for. I would also argue that a Bible handbook, providing summaries of each book, should be moved up a tier. It’s something that new Christians often find most helpful. Word Study is a challenging field referring the etymology (origin) of key words in the original (Greek and Hebrew) languages and not everybody is ready for it. Still it’s good to have experience seeing how these books are constructed, or online, knowing it’s word study you’re looking for.

Tier Four – Right now books on life in Bible times are very much in demand as people seek to better understand the context and culture which brings passages to life. The second suggested resource, a study guide is probably what you already use in your home church group during the week and I expect the suggestion here is that you would be collecting many of these as you work through particular books. Bible maps are something I never placed great importance in, but I’m now seeing the value of them more than I did in my early Christian experience. Topical Bibles are helpful; even if you’re doing a verse-by-verse look at scripture it’s good to pause and consider the themes the passage presents in greater detail. 

Omitted – The chart makes no reference to the devotional genre, which I believe is necessary to make the Bible personal; otherwise all these books are just about hoarding information. I would also contend that in building a library like the one envisioned here, a foundational book on apologetics would be good to own. Others might argue that a prayer guide, such as Operation World are fundamental to the realization that the Church of Jesus Christ extends far beyond our local congregation, our region or even our nation. For those who have pursued a formal Christian education, the lack of a book on systematic theology is probably the most glaring omission. There are some books which simplify this and help new believers see the various pieces of the puzzle.

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