Thinking Out Loud

June 30, 2009

Persecution of Christians in China Continues Unchanged

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:01 pm

I gotta be totally honest with you.   Stories like this one come across my e-mail every day.   Yet I’m not moved to a mixture of anger and prayer as I was when I saw this particular one.    Nothing has changed in China.   They put on a good face for the Olympics, but now it’s back to business as usual.    Religious persecution as usual.    This is so wrong.    Do they even know what “wrong” means?

Shi WeihanBEIJING, June 30 /Christian Newswire/ — ChinaAid calls on the international community to pray and act on behalf of imprisoned Christian house church leader Shi Weihan. On June 10 the Beijing Court found Shi Weihan, age 38, guilty of “illegal business operation” and sentenced him to three years in prison and 150,000 Yuan fine (about $22,000 USD) for printing and distributing Bibles at no cost.

Photo: Shi Weihan

Six others stood trial together with Shi Weihan, and also received criminal sentences for “illegal business operation.” Tian Hongxia, who worked for Shi Weihan, was fined three years in prison and 150,000 yuan. The other five sentenced were Li Fengshan, Zhou Xin, Cheng Xiaojing, Lű Yuequan and Li Zong, all shareholders and employees of Xinshu Printing Company Ltd. of Beijing, the printing company which printed the Bibles and Christian books. Their sentences range from one to two years with fines from 60,000 yuan to 120,000 yuan. ChinaAid recently received the Criminal Judgment from Haidian District People’s Court of Beijing Municipality for Shi Weihan and the other six who were sentenced. Click here to read.

ChinaAid president, Bob Fu stated, “Most of the books Shi Weihan published were Bibles and Christian books. He distributed them free of charge, because the Chinese government does not permit Bibles to be sold in public bookstores, and there is a great need for them. We call upon Christian book authors and those who placed orders for printing Bibles and Christian literature to speak out for Shi and his family.”

Shi Weihan’s wife Zhang Jing and their two daughters, 12-year-old Shi Jia and 8-year-old Shi En Mei, are under tremendous pressure from authorities. Shi’s wife has hired Christian lawyer Li Fangping to represent him and to appeal the verdict. The appeal process could take up to one year.

Contact the Chinese embassy and request that Shi Weihan and the other six sentenced be immediately released, and that government authorities allow Bibles and Christian literature to be printed and freely distributed in China.

In Canada: Mr. Lan Lijun, Ambassador to Canada; Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China; 240 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5R 2N5. Tel: (416) 964 7260

In the United States: Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong; 3505 International Place, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008 Tel: (202) 495-2000
Fax: (202) 588-9760

ChinaAid grants permission to reproduce photos and/or information for non-fundraising purposes, with the provision that is credited. Please with questions or requests for further information.

July 1 UPDATE — Additional coverage on this story.


June 29, 2009

You Think You Know Us, But You Don’t

Filed under: Christianity, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 pm

  • “I know what Dutch people are like”
  • “I know what left-handed people are like”
  • “I know what red-haired people are like”
  • “I know what people from Arkansas are like”
  • “I know what French people are like”
  • “I know what lawyers are like”
  • “I know what landlords are like”

No, you don’t; you know a few, not all.

  • “I know what Christians are like”

No, you don’t; you know a few, not all.

We are a community of the broken.  We are fallen.  We are flawed.  So naturally you are going to see us at our worst as well as sometimes at our best.   You’re going to see us not living up to the standard we should.    You’re going to see us when we’re “moving toward the cross” and when we’re “moving away from the cross.”

Ideally, we are people of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness…   Ideally, we are people of grace.     Ideally, we reflect the character of the Christ we follow.   That’s what we call “positional truth.”   In terms of “practical truth,” we miss the mark, often by kilometers; by miles.   Just as suddenly, we sometimes get it right.

But we’re also not all the same.    We have good days and bad days.   We have people among us who are a real embarrassment to us, and people who truly model the life of Jesus in everything they do.

We are a community of faith.   You don’t have to be “pure” to get in.   You don’t have to “clean up real good” to join.    It’s a “come as you are” party.   And people do.

There’s no status, no seniority, no gender, no ethnicity; nobody can claim “spiritual dominance,” or “spiritual oneupsmanship” over any of the others.   It’s as long and wide and deep as any cross-section of the broader society.

In fact, there’s no generic portrait of a Christ-follower that captures us all.   There’s no homogeneity.    There’s no ‘Mecca’ to which we must travel.   No rites or rituals in which we must participate.   No prescribed term of missions service we must all complete.    No earthly head who speaks for all of us.   No secret mantra we all recite.

There is respect for elders, yet sometimes “a little child will lead them,” and truths are spoken “out of the mouths of babes.”   Younger brothers — even youngest brothers — are sometimes served by older brothers.   Newcomers can make as viable a contribution as seasoned veterans.     The next generation is free to reinvent the wheel.   The generation after that is free to rediscover the ancient practices and classic disciplines.

It’s an upsidedown kingdom.   An insideout kingdom.    It’s a family.   It’s “two or three gathered together” in a living room Bible study; it’s a multitude of people on a grassy hillside listening to a summer conference speaker.    It’s elegant cathedrals and small country chapels.  It’s quietness and solitude.   It’s the making of a joyful noise with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

There’s the doctrine — what is believed.   There’s the ethics — how that belief is lived out.   There’s the experience — what happens to us when we believe the orthodoxy and live out the orthopraxy.  There’s the ‘macro,’ big picture version of Christ-following; and there are people hung up on the ‘micro’ issues, or a number of individual ‘micros.’

There are those who have locked in for life.   There are those who will leave and then return.   There are those who will leave.   There are those who will look in, but as one looking through a window from the outside.

Some will give tirelessly to this — in every waking hour.    Some attend services at Christmas and Easter.    Some give substantial parts of their income.    Some give the minimum required to stay on a membership list.    Some grew up with this faith.   Others came as adults.     Some nurture their children in their beliefs.   Others feel their kids need to choose, to ‘take ownership’ of their concepts about God.

Personalities are factored in:  While one person may be demonstrative about their faith, another might be reticent about their personal beliefs.    Whereas one person might be given to an emotional, relational kind of worship;  another might prefer a formal liturgy, a quiet, controlled worship environment.


…do you still think you know what Christians are like?

I’m part of this, and I don’t.    I just know that I’ve joined myself to a company of people who are trying to live a new life in a new way; a group of people who I otherwise would have nothing in common with.

Now, we have everything in common.

June 28, 2009

Moments That Leave You Longing For Heaven

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:29 pm

clay roadIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, and also a regular reader of the comments, you already know Cynthia aka TwoFinches aka Girl in a Glass House.

Yesterday on her blog, she shared a story for the first time about a vision she experienced one night while a student in her Bible college dorm.

You can read “Standing at Heaven’s Door” here; and I hope you will.    Here’s a paragraph that struck me as a musician, but don’t forget to read the whole piece.

The music is what I remember. Even though thousands of people were playing different songs on different instruments and even though everyone was singing their own words of praise, it all blended into one harmonious melody that took my breath away. I sang too, making up the words to express how I longed to see Christ, and my song became part of that magnificent seamless chorus. But then something happened that hushed us all.

The enormous gates that were before us opened just a little. I strained to see what was in there, pressed on every side by others who were waiting just like me. I saw a multitude of people inside and felt a wave that felt like absolute joy come blowing from the opening. And then it was as if all the longing within me, the heart and the soul of me, went right through those gates into heaven and I was desperate to follow…

June 27, 2009

Affinity Fraud and Ponzi Schemes: Everything You Need to Get Started

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:06 pm

ponzi-scheme-for-dummies1With various reports coming in of different people in the Christian community being victimized by Ponzi schemes and Affinity Fraud, we figured, ‘hey, if you can’t beat them, join them.’    Here’s an inventory checklist of the kind of person you need to be and the devices that need to be in your toolkit:

Powerfully Persuasive – It helps if you can really ‘sell’ people on your ideas; if you have a proven track record of being able to convince people to get on board a project or event.   Take good salesmanship and mix in a dash of charm.

Outrageous Claims – If the banks are only offering 2-3% and the investment brokers are only suggesting returns of 4-8%, don’t offer 12% or 14%;  go big — around 20%.   What difference does it make if you’re not going to be paying anybody anyways?

Self Delusion – If you believe in the project enough, you can do more than just project a genuine sincerity, you can possibly even fool a polygraph machine.   This is where the eternal optimists have a distinct advantage over the rest of us.

Pathological Lying – You won’t get this gift overnight, so start soon.   My wife recently dealt with a couple who came up with four different stories in five minutes as to someone’s whereabouts; so I suppose it’s good to get your story straight ahead of time.

Criminal Intent – This is where it gets nasty.   You’ll need to start small and work up to what we’re describing here.    This might be a good day to start with a CD or some lipstick at WalMart and then if petty theivery works for you, set your sights on bigger game.

Spiritual Spin – Once you’ve arrived at your moment of triumph and you’re out selling the actual scheme, be sure to mention how this investment program is “God’s instrument,” how it will “benefit the Kingdom,” and if possible credit God with “revealing this method and opportunity” to you.

Critical Mass – The first few may be tougher sells, but once you’ve got a few people on board, the word will spread.    Be sure to allow some of your earlier investors to actually get their hands on some cash returns, so they can fully buy in to the self delusion; they may not be as good at this as you.

You’re now ready to begin. Come up with a good name for your project so that it sounds credible, and make sure your laptop computer has enough charts and graphs; they can be based on anything statistical since no one caught up in this is going to look that closely.

June 26, 2009

Personal Evangelism Versus Mass Evangelism

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:13 pm

Commercial Fisheries of Men

June 25, 2009

Sheila Schuller Coleman to Lead Crystal Cathedral

sheila_colemanShe won’t be given the title “senior pastor,” but Dr. Sheila Coleman, the daughter of Robert H. Schuller has been named to the top administrative post at the Garden Grove, CA Crystal Cathedral and its Hour of Power telecast.

Read the story at the USA Today Religion page here.

April 2010 Update:  For some reason this post is drawing a lot of internet traffic lately.   Here’s a more recent post on this blog on this subject… click here.

Celebrity, Fame and the Passing of Time

His death on November 22nd, 1963 was significant in many different ways, but the passing of British author and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis got pushed off the front pages by the assassination of U. S. President John F. Kennedy the same day.

Fast forward 46 years…

Jackson Fawcett 2

One national evening TV newscaster today clarified that the passing of actress Farrah Fawcett was to have been the lead news item, until, minutes before airtime, they learned of the sudden passing of pop music icon Michael Jackson.    At least Fawcett didn’t get bumped from the broadcast entirely.

We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture.    Tabloids are often the only contact some have with newsprint.   TMZ, Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight are often the only “news” shows that some people view on television.

The “fans” have an insatiable appetite for the latest gossip.   The “stars” love the spotlight.    The philosopher Tacitus said,

“Love of fame is the last thing even learned men can bear to be parted from.”

The Christian community is not immune to all of this.   What most astounds me is how preachers — not Christian athletes or Christian musicians — are the object of cult-like worship, even among people who should know better.   When some of them weigh in on an issue, You Tube embeds of their pronouncements are flying through the blogosphere faster than you can say ‘idol worship.’

We were downloading some sermon podcasts for an extended car trip on Monday, and my wife said, “I don’t want to hear anymore superstar sermons; I want to hear someone different.”   Good for her.

But our preoccupation with celebrity is not entirely limited to those of the ecclesiastical class.   We also have Jon and Kate Gosselin.    But maybe not for long.   With the announcement this week of a pending divorce, evangelicals will drop these two from their superstar ‘friends list’ like the proverbial hot potato.

That’s the price of fame.    Soon you’re forgotten.

I’m sorry everyone ignored Clive Staples Lewis’ passing on that November day in ’63, but in some ways, it’s like he never died.    He certainly lives on through his writing, though in a celebrity saturated culture, he lives on for many because filmmakers made ‘Narnia’ into a ‘brand.’     Sigh!

Graphic:  USA Today online page
Topic Irony:  Post appearing above this one

June 24, 2009

So Which God DON’T You Believe In?

Filed under: God, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:05 pm

bus sign generator

Today’s post was hijacked from Eddie and Sue Arthur who blog at Kouya Chronicle usually on issues dealing with domestic and foreign Bible translation.

Teenagers don’t believe in God

June 22nd, 2009

According to today’s Telegraph

Nearly two thirds of teenagers don’t believe in God, according to a study by Penguin books.

It also emerged six out of ten 10 children (59 per cent) believe that religion “has a negative influence on the world”.

The survey also shows that half of teenagers have never prayed and 16 per cent have never been to church.

This hardly comes as a surprise given other surveys which have come out in the past (for example, this one). All the same, I’d like to make a few comments…

As always, I’d want to take this with a pinch of salt. I just don’t believe that fifty percent of people have never prayed. They may not have said formal prayers or prayed in Church, but I’m willing to bet that a large proportion have called out to some divinity or power to help them at times of stress. Of course it isn’t cool to admit that.

The issue about religion being harmful is one that Christians do need to be responding to. It’s amazing how after fifty years of Hitler, Stalin Pol Pot and Kim Jong Il, wars are blamed on religious people. Yes, Christians are not blameless, but next to the atheists of the last fifty or sixty years we come out pretty good – yet we are losing the argument in the public square.

Lastly, (and to steal from NT Wright) I wonder which God these teenagers don’t believe in. I suspect that they don’t believe in some old man in the sky with a beard who is looking down waiting to disapprove of things. Well, I don’t believe in a God like that either. The tragedy is that these people have not had the opportunity to believe or disbelieve in the true Biblical God. It’s not so much a case of not believing in God, it’s never having heard about him that is the problem.

~Eddie Arthur

…Agree?  Disagree?   This is a great place to mention the classic book, Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips, who deals with a number of mistaken pictures of God people have.   And if you haven’t heard of it, the book, The Deity Formerly Known As God, a more modern version by Jarrett Stephens (Zondervan).

June 23, 2009

Trinity: The Word Itself Isn’t There, But Ya Got a Better Idea?

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:35 pm

trinity 1trinity 2

Here they are:  The “trinitarian” verses of the Bible gathered together on one stage, one special time, at one low price,  for this special event!

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIRV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18  TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a  CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2  NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,  To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:  Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

The passage from Acts was on a poster in my bedroom when I was younger.   In the Living Bible, it read, simply, “The Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit.”

June 22, 2009

Family Bible Study aka Hangin’ Out Time

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, parenting — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:39 pm

Last night at 9:00 PM, we had our family Bible reading time, and tonight we’ll do it again, but my oldest son won’t be with us.    He’s off for ten weeks at a summer job with a Christian camp organization.   It’s a kind of mission venture, though he’ll get paid.   He just won’t make as much money as he would if he’d stayed in town, based on his experience.     Then he’ll return for a couple of weeks and then, Lord willing, he’s off to university in the fall.   Donations still accepted;  Canadian tax receipts available; and yes, they take credit cards. (Sorry, I just had to add that.)

Our nightly time together, which runs anywhere from 12 minutes to about 30 minutes was originally called “Hangin’ out Time.”   I still think of it as that.   He’d outgrown the crib, but was too young to be put in a single bed, so we set a mattress on the floor, and I just started walking in and laying down next to him and we started singing songs.    The first one, I don’t know the origin of.   I learned it as poetry and set it to music when I was very young.

See my candle burning
With a golden light;
Shining from my window
Out into the night.

I can light a candle;
God can light a star;
Both of them are helpful
Shining where they are.

And the John Fischer classic,

Love Him in the morning when you see the sun arising
Love Him in the evening ’cause he took you through the day.
And in the in between time when you feel the pressure comin’
Remember that He loves you and He promises to stay.

HurlbutThat one, plus “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”    Then we started reading The Beginner Bible. Then we graduated to Classic Bible Stories from Standard Publishing (when a customer returned one that was bound upsidedown.)    Later we got into meatier stuff with the NIRV Adventure Bible,  the NIV Teen Study Bible and Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible — the larger, very long, original version, not the shorter one available today.

My youngest son joined us at some point.    They never reached the point of protest, as I did when I was their age, so we just kept digging in deeper and deeper.   Lots of stuff from The Message. Lots of fun with The Kiwi Bible by Chris Grantham (from Penguin NZ) and The Word on The Street. The entire New Testament from the NIV Life Application Bible with all the notes for that day’s reading read by me out loud. Followed by bits of the Pentateuch, Wisdom Books, Kings, Samuel, Minor Prophets again delivered with both text and notes.  Several entire books by Stuart Briscoe.  More recently, repeating some Gospels, Epistles and Prophets with the ESV Study Bible.  (They love the notes, but not the text; my kids have become discerning translation critics!)

word on the streetAll kinds of other stuff as well.   Last night we did some more ‘binge’ reading of James MacDonald’s devotional booklet, Our Journey. We’ve also enjoyed stuff from David Jeremiah, Jeff Lucas, and a host of other devo-booklet writers.

My oldest still yells out, “It’s time for ‘story.'”  Conjures up an image of a bedtime story with little engines that could, guys named Harold with purple crayons, runaway bunnies and bunnies who say goodnight to the moon.   Instead, it’s a time that has taught them the very nature of God.   His ways and dealings with His people.    In all, my kids know a lot more Bible than I did at their age.  My oldest just got a new NIV Life Application for his birthday.   He wore out my copy.   He reads it daily.

They don’t know a lot of memory verses.   If that’s the standard of measurement, then I’ve failed as a parent.  I’m not so sure, though.   They seem, somehow, much further ahead of me even without the rote memorization that characterizes the western approach to education.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of  “Hangin’ Out Time” has been me.   I can’t tell you what it’s done for my spiritual life to walk with the kids through all these books.   Last night, I fought back the tears as I read three devotional selections knowing that, while it might not have been the last time, it was certainly the end of an era.   For my oldest, some new chapters are beginning.   My eyes are tearing up as I write this.

They have taken God’s word into their hearts.   I can’t wait to see what they do with it.   I know what it has done to me.

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