Thinking Out Loud

May 31, 2009

Jonah: Preferring Prophesying To The Converted

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:33 pm

This week in our family Bible study we studied the story of Jonah.   Since this is very familiar territory, we were looking for new insights into the story.    We came up with a few, with a little help from the ESV Study Bible.


Chapter One
There is a great deal of bigotry that plays into this story, but not in the way we often think.   We tend to assume that Jonah simply didn’t like the people of Nineveh and simply didn’t want to go on that basis.   But it’s more accurate to say that Jonah was afraid of the success of his mission.    Do we do that?

  • What if that terrible family down the street become Christians and start going to our church?
  • What if that guy where I work became a believer and started expecting me to mentor him in his faith journey?
  • What if so-and-so in our extended family got serious about reading the Bible and started asking me why, if I’m also a Christ-follower, have I done some of the things I’ve done?
  • What if those poor people I prayed with downtown and left my phone number expect us to help them out?
  • What if all the people who put up their hands at the movie our church showed start coming ever week… there would be more of them than us?
  • Everybody knows the terrible things that _____ did; now that he’s been a believer for two years, is he going to expect a leadership position?
  • That’s the woman who hit our car in the parking lot last Christmas.   What’s she doing at our small group meeting?

Chapter Two
The ESV Study describes the four chapters of Jonah as containing seven episodes, with the first three paralleling the second three.   Jonah speaks to two similar audiences in the story.  The crew on the boat heading for Tarshish were each praying to their own God, but then after Jonah explained to them what was causing the terrible storm, they prayed to Jonah’s God.   Success!   Just as he will experience in Nineveh. His ministry as a prophet was constantly bearing fruit.   But inside the great fish, Jonah’s prayer is mostly thankfulness for his own safety and deliverance.   There’s no mention of the sailors or the people who he was originally sent to.   A rather egocentric prophet, don’t you think?

Chapter Three
Jonah shows up several days (or weeks) late for his assignment and delivers his message, albeit halfheartedly.    Today we have preachers who read powerful scriptures and then deliver messages containing great truths — even if ‘borrowed’ from the internet — and yet don’t realize the power of the Word they are handling.    It’s just a job.    The people of Ninevah may matter to God but don’t matter to Jonah.  He’s apparently quite disappointed that God doesn’t destroy the city.

Chapter Four
Maybe God will destroy the city after all.   He’s already changed his mind once.   So instead of taking the first train, boat or great fish out of town, Jonah hangs around to see if anything develops.    The closing phrase of the story shows how out-to-lunch his priorities are, as God’s final appeal is basically, “If I destroy the city, think of all the animals that would perish.”  Since Jonah has a thing for houseplants, God figures he’ll appeal to Jonah’s sense of nature.   Not a good ending for Jonah really.    Final score:  Ship passengers and crew – 1; People of Nineveh – 1;  Jonah – 0.

We ended our week reading the story from The Street Bible by Rob Lacey, known in North America as The Word on The Street. He devotes almost half of his writing to Chapter Four.    Maybe someone should re-tell this story for kids, using the last chapter as the basis for the story, and then recreate the opening scenes backwards in light of the closing.    Call it “Jonah and the Plant;” or “Jonah and the Worm.”   Or instead of pitching this story for kids, it should really be part of Church Leadership Lessons 101.

Graphic: Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006; from the website Artist Trust.   Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.


May 30, 2009

Increasing Your Blog Stats: The Cheap and Easy Way

Our post a couple of Days ago about Robert A. Schuller’s TV Ministry announcement was about the eighth or ninth mention we’ve had of him and his ministry on this blog.   My wife and I have joked about how the traffic spikes when there’s some fresh news.   It’s almost a tabloid journalism frenzy when there’s a new development in the story, which began last fall with his departure from the Hour of Power TV Show and the Crystal Cathedral.   In fact, a couple of times, this blog has been among the first to carry the story.

So we laughed when yesterday, when a news feed from Boulder, Colorado was reporting that the house owned by Tim Milner and his wife, Carol Schuller Milner, the same house where the body of JonBenet Ramsey was found, once belonging to John and Patsy Ramsey was up for sale for $1.05 million (USD). . Milner is Robert Sr.’s daughter and Robert Jr.’s sister.

For bloggers who like getting traffic, this convergence of JonBenet Ramsey and Robert Schuller is a gift. A birthday gift in this case, since today is my birthday. A cheap way and easy way of driving traffic that becomes meaningless statistics, since few, if any, will become regular readers of a blog focused on spiritual issues from a Christian perspective.

But alas, I decided this was too easy.   I would never sink to this.  However, if you want to read the history of the Schuller stories carried here, here are the links.

Related post in this blog – Robert A Schuller Purchases Cable Network (May 27/09)

Related post in this blog – Donna Schuller’s Blog: Web and TV Ministry Announcement Pending (May 1/09)

Related post in this blog – Mark Driscoll at Crystal Cathedral (April 30/09)

Related post in this blog – Another Voice Speaks (Feb 7/09)

Related post in this blog -Crystal Cathedral Has Round of Layoffs  (Jan 24/09)

Related post in this blog – Crystal Cathedral Selling Office Building (Jan 5/09)

Related post in this blog – Robert A Schuller Resigns (Dec 17/08 )

Related post in this blog – Robert A Schuller Removed From Telecast (Oct 26/08 )

Which brings me to the subject of my birthday.   What I’m really hoping for is large checks, as in:

Large Check

But the last time I asked for large checks, I ended up with this:

Large checks

Note to readers in more civilized parts of the world: This attempt at humor (humour) is a concession to my American readers, who form the bulk of my stats — and this post is about stats, remember?   Everywhere else, the joke doesn’t work in print, since the first item would be large cheques not checks.    Verbally, however; the joke works and you’re welcome to use it.

Besides this post needed some graphics, and I decided against JonBenet Ramsay, as tempting as that might have been, because it would have brought comments I was making light of it; that her’s was a tragic story; which is true.    And we wouldn’t want to do things just to get comments, either.

But if you want to comment, here’s a question:  Do you think the Schuller Saga has a tabloid kind of fascination among Christians?   Does that make us no better than people who read the newsprint periodicals sold at the grocery store checkouts?  Or people, many years later, still sniffing around for fresh takes on the JonBenet Ramsay story?

May 29, 2009

Summer Missionary Without a Net (Network)

Camp Iawah Banner

~~ Camp Iawah – – Kingston, Ontario, Canada ~~

So…we’re trying to help our oldest son raise some money for a summer work opportunity at a Christian camp.   They’ve promised him a base rate which is about a third of the minimum wage here, though he will also get room and board.   Given that he’ll be working in the kitchen and now has four kinds of food services experience, I was hoping they’d offer him a bit more than they did.   If he wants more — and he’s starting university in the fall — he has to raise the support himself.  That’s how mission organizations do things.

So armed with an e-mail contact list that contains over 1,000 names, I started to focus on the two or three hundred people that I know personally enough to ask, and made an interesting discovery:  Most of them are also involved — or have someone in their family circle involved — in some kind of mission activity, also.   An added challenge is that despite his exhaustive Bible knowledge, computer skills, and fluency in a second language, some people don’t see the kitchen as frontline ministry position.

Some well-meaning person once told me that if the friends I have can’t help me out, I should get new friends.   Seriously.   But it’s true that many people we know are ‘tapped-out’ financially with a variety of church and civic concerns constantly knocking at the door and asking for help.     Still, I also know that a number of people we know aren’t tithing to their local church right now because they don’t have a local church.   So given that I had nothing to lose, I sent off about 60 e-mails at the start of the week.   At first, replies were few, and we were only at about 20% of the maximum fundraising permitted.   But as the week went by, we were feeling more optimistic.

How about you?   Do you have discretionary funds available for special projects, or is your philanthropy relatively locked in?   I know that in future, when I’m asked to help out people — especially young people — in a similar situation, I’ll be looking at it rather differently.   And what about the many who are in-between churches and have been for many months or years now?   To whatever extent the “tithe” concept extends into the New Covenant era, do they still have a responsibility to give; and if so where should they direct those funds?  For those in that situation, these are actually hard questions.

We’ll keep you posted on how it goes, but I can tell you right now, we’re not well networked and we’re not gifted fundraisers.   But when you’re passionate about a ministry, like we are about this camp, and when it’s your own son on whose behalf you’re appealing, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.

As to the advice I received:  We like the friends we have and we’re not getting new ones just so we can ‘use’ them.   I’d rather hang out in a social circle where everyone has mission opportunities that they are excited about than have friends who are materially rich but lack ministry passion.

If you live in Canada and want to help out and receive a receipt for your donation, contact us at the address in the lowest box on the sidebar at right.   If you’re the one-in-a-million person who is looking for a major project to which to direct your giving, I don’t know anything — outside of some third-world projects — better than this particular interdenominational camp organization.  Write us at the same address and I’ll tell you more!

May 28, 2009

The King James Only Controversy: Still Going, 15 Years Later

Filed under: bible, Christian, issues — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:34 pm

king james only controverseyIt’s a rather pathetic indictment against Christians that the arguing of the ‘secondary anointing’ on or ‘divine inspiration’ of one particular translation — and one only — continues to drag on.   When James White first released The King James Only Controversy (Bethany House) in 1995, he probably expected the debate to die down; the KJV-Only camp to mellow out, move on to weightier spiritual matters, or disappear altogether.    He probably never figured there would be a need for him to be releasing an updated edition in 2009.

My take on this book probably differs from others in that I see the book as having value beyond the stated subject.   It’s a great window in the Bible translation process and it’s also an excellent study on key scriptures, many of which are widely known and taught from as they appear in the KJV.    So you don’t have to have a friend or co-worker who is KJV-Only to appreciate exhaustive study that went into producing the original work and its updated edition.

(I should add here that I’m a huge follower of Bible translation issues.   Counting two complete reads of the original, this marked my third trek through this book.)

But the book also exceeds its mandate by leaving us with the questions,

  • “Why do some people in the church spend such great amounts of energy on topics which always produce dissension and are often preoccupied with peripheral concerns?”
  • “Why do some people bring their presuppositions to the table instead of being open to the exchange of logic and facts?”
  • “Why do people with extreme views have to compound their offensiveness by engaging in extreme rhetoric?”
  • “What damage has been done to Bible-reading by incorporating verse numbers that isolate sentences and phrases, losing the flow of extended passages?”

Although the average layperson may be intimidated by Greek and Hebrew words, most of the book can be appreciated without formal theological study; though there may be times when one needs to simply pause to take in the finer nuances of the various translation comparisons.   White himself is very balanced and fair in this treatment, admitting that sometimes the KJV serves us well, but pointing out where more recent translations have provided us with greater clarity.    He resists the urge to retaliate against the KJV, though later on devotes a shorter chapter to some familiar KJV passages which are cause for concern.

Though I don’t think he says it blatantly, much of the KJV-Only argument resides in the treatment of individual versus as opposed to gaining the meaning from the context of a larger passage.   The verse numbers, in this case, do us a disservice.

The new edition mentions newer translations — particularly the ESV —  and the update also cites many online sources in the expanded footnotes.  It also discusses the challenges to the Bible’s authority that have come from the intellectualism of groups like The Jesus Seminar or the fiction of books and movies like The DaVinci Code.

While the book is clearly not for everyone, those drawn to this topic will be well-rewarded, though many may have already acquired the earlier edition.

~ Part of Baker/Bethany House bloggers book review program.

Footnote:  Another publisher had a small booklet on the King James Only movement which came out in the mid-’90s as well.   It was published as part of a series, all the rest of which deal with various cults.    Seriously.

…If you check out this book, you may also enjoy How To Choose A Bible Translation For All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss.

Pray for Benjamin Elliott

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:46 am

Benjamin is an 18-year old who lives near London, Ontario, Canada who has been battling leukemia for most of the last year.    He and my son were in the same Sunday School class for a couple of years when they were four and five year olds, at the church where is father was the pastor.   He currently pastors in Stratford, Ontario.

Ben’s battle with this disease has been an extreme roller coaster ride both for him and his parents and family.   Yesterday, the news was not good.    Ben needs prayer.

You don’t know him.    But there’s a lot of you reading this every day.   If just some of you take a moment to ask God to do something special for this family, I believe we can make a difference.

If you’re on Facebook, you can learn more by going to “Prayer for Benjamin Elliott.”   There you’ll read the almost daily reports from a mother who is trusting and holding on to God, but is very much spent emotionally and physically.

I’ve never written a post like this on this blog.

Today, I couldn’t not write this.

Pray for Benjamin.

May 27, 2009

Robert A. Schuller Unveils Television Plans

It’s not just about a weekly church service, in fact it’s not about preaching at all.   It involves the purchase of an entire network.   Here’s the story from AP’s Gillian Flaccus:

robert a schullerThe son of famed “The Hour of Power” televangelist Robert H. Schuller Sr. said Tuesday he will launch his own show on AmericanLife TV after acquiring the network in a partnership with ComStar Media Fund LP.

The announcement by Robert A. Schuller Jr. ended months of speculation about his next move after a highly public split with his charismatic father and founder of the popular weekly televangelist program.

The younger Schuller said in an interview with The Associated Press that his new series will debut on AmericanLife in September and air once a week on TV and the Internet. He said he will appear on the show, along with other actors or characters. He declined to provide more specifics.

“It’s going to be like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” he said. “It will be very contemporary and modern and it’s not going to be a preaching show. It will be a show that shares the message without preaching the message.”

Schuller’s father said in a statement released through a spokesman that he wished his son well despite their recent dustup.

But that’s just the first few lines of a longer story, you can continue reading here.

May 26, 2009

Keep Your Eyes on the Skies

Filed under: Christianity, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:16 pm

looking upSometimes, if someone is expected to drop by, you occupy the time in a room with a window facing the front of your home, with one eye on your work and one eye looking for their appearance.    In a recent Ascension Day devotional at Daily Encouragement, Stephen Weber suggested that the early church functioned in much the same way.   Imagine literally going about your day but constantly looking up to see if anyone’s coming!   That probably explains a lot of what motivated the early church to accomplish all that they did.

May 25, 2009

Confessions of a Psalm 23 Fan

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:05 pm

I devoted an entire blog post to Psalm 23 back in January, which was actually an encore of a post from the July previous.   I guess I’m a fan.

Truth is, I have major sleep deprivation issues.   I fall asleep okay, but then I wake up after only three or four hours and simply can’t get back.    So I try various techniques — except for just taking a few deep breaths, which always works,  which I forget to do until about an hour has passed — including reciting memorized scriptures in my head such as The Lord’s Prayer, various Psalms and the chorus Paul quotes in Philippians which talks about Christ humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant.  (And last night, a new one, the five points of James MacDonald’s Downpour book and CDs.)

This of course raises the issue of the lost art of scripture memorization.   But we’ve dealt with that before here, also:

You’ve heard the saying, “A generation that does not impart its sacred texts to its children is one generation away from extinction.”  People are seeing this truth playing out in some communities and recognizing the need for some fine tuning.  Keep the media.  Keep the interactives.   Keep the cool music.   But we’ve got to bring back the memory verse, the memory chapter, and the memory Psalm.

The last few days however, I’ve been struck by the incredible complexity of the best known among the Psalms, the one we call number 23.    At three or four in the morning, there are little phrases of this psalm that seem to be nested in such a way that it’s hard to believe that so few verses can contain so many golden nuggets.

If I were not a Christian, I would still have to marvel at these short lines of lyric poetry for their intricacy and beauty.    How can they possibly be ignored?

It’s also the only passage in the Bible — longer than a single verse — that I have memorized two completely different ways.   I once thought that the music piece I knew as “The New 23rd” was taken from the Living Bible, but I now know it was actually written in 1969 by Ralph Carmichael.

Consider the original if you were fortunate enough to memorize it, and then enjoy “The New 23rd” variation.   And try to get some sleep tonight, okay?

Because the Lord is my Shepherd
I have everything that I need.
He lets me rest in meadows green
And leads me beside the quiet stream.
He keeps on giving life to me
And helps me to do what honours Him the most.
Even when walking through the dark valley of death
I will never be afraid
For He is close beside me.
Guarding, guiding all the way
He spreads a feast before me.
In the presence of my enemies
He welcomes me as His special guest.
With blessing overflowing
His goodness and unfailing kindness
Shall be with me all my life
And afterwards I will live with Him
Forever and ever
In His house.

May 24, 2009

Our Visit To The Hare Krishna Temple

Yes, today we went to a Hare Krishna Temple.   No, it wasn’t an accident and there were actually two reasons why we wanted to take off our shoes — which is required — and visit.HK Temple Toronto 1

Reason number one had to do with the event, Doors Open Toronto, where this year about 160 normally off-limits buildings open their doors to the general public for formal or self-guided tours.   This is the tenth year for DOTO, as it’s now known, and our visit two years ago included a number of visits to houses of worship belonging to sects and faiths with which we were decidedly unfamiliar.

Reason number two had to do with the temple itself.   The one in Toronto is actually the former Avenue Road Church — yes, we get lots of jokes out of the redundancy of the street name “Avenue Road” — an Alliance Church where years previously, Charles Templeton preached.

We joined a guided tour already in progress where this connection was being explained.   I later explained to the tour guide — who pointed out that four years after a fire destroyed much of the building, Templeton became a rather outspoken agnostic — that it was Templeton’s unfinished mission that inspired a young American evangelist to pick up the ball and run with it; that young man being Billy Graham.   She wasn’t aware of that part of the story, which some of you know if you’ve read Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith (Zondervan).

HK Temple Toronto 2As we snacked over cauliflower deep fried in chick pea flour, she said she would include that bit of trivia in her next tour.    Actually, the tour information was long on establishing the history and architecture of the building and rather light on beliefs and doctrines.    I almost got the impression that they were trying to downplay their doctrine to establish more of a common bond between themselves and members of the public taking the tour.  Even our last stop, the bookstore and restaurant area, was described as “the former Sunday School part of the building.” Perhaps the DOTO organizers insited on, or strongly suggested that emphasis.

But in fairness, as with the tours we did two years ago, I was impressed with how normal and “nice” our tour guide seemed.   She could be your next door neighbour, or someone who works at the office cubicle next to you.   Not some zealot for a fringe religion. (And she did, when asked, discuss their beliefs by way of comparison with Hinduism which is polytheistic, whereas their faith is monotheistic.)

As with our previous visits to other places, I put on my sandals and considered how positive, warm and inviting it all seemed and wondered how our churches appear by comparison to people like them.    I also wondered how many people touring Doors Open Toronto this weekend would find the visit causing them to want to know more about this faith, or consider attending their Sunday night service.   And so it seems fit to ask questions similar to those the other blog post ended with:  (a) Are you open to visiting houses of worship of other faiths?  (b) What would people who had never previously set foot in a Christian Church think of your house of worship as you guided them through and told them what the different rooms are used for?

Pictured:  The front of the former Avenue Road Christian and Missionary Alliance Church as it now appears as a Hare Krishna Temple.

May 23, 2009

God Prints

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, God — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:11 pm
God Prints

You’d expect him to make himself known,
to appear at our party, you might say,
if God is really out there.
He wouldn’t travel the cosmos incognito.
And if he is at all good,
interested in our questions and needs,
for sure he’d step out of
the shadows, identify himself
and share his strategy for a better life.
Wouldn’t he have one, after all
if he were God?
Perhaps that’s why religions
of all major name brands
have always figured
God would somehow let us in on his secrets.
You’d just expect him to.
Maybe he would write a book.

~Jim Long

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