Thinking Out Loud

May 29, 2020

Those Twelve Disciples Probably Asked, “What Have We Got Ourselves Into?”

During the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for those Bible studies, I do want to share them here from time to time. This one appeared a few days ago…

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed.

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have been so bold to suggest that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.



May 28, 2020

Michael Card’s Biblical Imagination: A Must for your Bookshelf

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:10 am

In September of 2014, I treated myself to two volumes in veteran Christian musician and songwriter Michael Card’s Biblical Imagination series, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement and Mark: The Gospel of Passion. You can read my original take on the series at this link.

After six years of hoping that this blog might gain the grace of InterVarsity Press (IVP) I gave up and purchased the two remaining titles, Matthew: The Gospel of Identity and John: The Gospel of Wisdom. (Each paperback also has a corresponding music CD which may be purchased separately; although I believe we do own one of them.) I’ve just finished reading John.

Recently I heard a pastor say that he struggles with devotional reading, but gains great benefit from reading Bible reference material and commentaries because it draws him into a focus on Jesus while at the same time satisfying his intellectual appetite. I think he put words to my own craving to be spending more time in contemplation of the Bible while at the same time meeting my self-perceived information deficit.

In my original review, I explained that the format is somewhat reminiscent of the Daily Study Bible series by William Barclay. The text is included in full; he used the HCSB as a base text. In the case of John, there are twenty-one chapters and most have at least three subsections, but reading a chapter at a time is most fulfilling. 

Card’s primary goal in approaching John’s gospel is to address the various misunderstandings that surround Jesus’ words. He bookends the book with deeper delve into the theme, wisdom, and alludes to the wisdom literature of the Bible, though not the book of Proverbs itself, which none of the gospel writers quote.

He uncovers what he terms “miracles in absentia” where Jesus pronounces a healing without being physically present. When Jesus questions the people’s motive for following him — the free lunch — he subtitles that part of the chapter “The Bread King” and suggests that the word manna can be literally translated as “? !” Card doesn’t spend time on traditionally taught themes in John, such as the “I Am…” statements, and has a different take on Peter’s restoration at the end of the story.

These are commentaries, but the series title ‘Biblical Imagination’ is to be remembered. While some of the remarks about key passages finds their roots in the writing of other commentaries, the series invites the readers to be drawn into the picture; to see themselves in the middle of the crowd listening to Jesus teach, interact with his close disciples, or performing miracles and also to learn “the backgrounds that make the stories come to life.” (p13)  

It’s the type of creative commentary you would expect a musician to write!

 


Sample: Here’s an excerpt from Mark: The Gospel of Passion which I posted in 2014 at C201.

 

 

May 27, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Needn’t Be Seen as Problematic

In the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for the other one, I do want to share these here from time to time. This one appeared earlier this month…

Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

 

May 25, 2020

My Problem with Zoom Bible Studies and Church Services

As more people become familiar with the pattern of house-to-house worship in the early Church, there has been increasing push-back against the idea of sitting in rows, basically fellowshipping with the backs of other peoples’ heads.

True, there are the times before and after the service that we socialize, and perhaps your church shares a friendship moment or a passing of the peace which is an interactive reminder that we gather with one another as a family.

But for the most part, the critics are right. Sitting in this linear form is not natural, other than in an academic setting; a major point made by Frank Viola and George Barna in their book Pagan Christianity.

It’s also a point often repeated by Andy Stanley when, promoting small groups, notes that “It’s easier to fall out of a row than to fall out of a circle.”

Which brings me to Zoom.

I’ve done several meetings in the last few months on Zoom and a similar service, Go To Meeting. It’s been quite helpful, though I miss the coffee and snacks when we’re together in person!

But I’ve also done two Bible studies.

Unlike the meetings, some people are using their phones, others are less familiar with the press-to-talk concept more embellished by those of us who were part of the CB radio craze a few decades past. It’s a bit of a cacophony.

But that’s not the thing.

When both of the Bible studies ended, I realized that in the Q&A format by which it was conducted, I only spoke to the moderator. I said absolutely nothing to the other people in the group, beyond very short quips added to my answer to the question on the table.

Furthermore, those were all public interactions. There wasn’t the smaller gathering subset which would normally take place in person where two or three people might be in a corner and interact without the involvement of the whole group.

I wanted to speak with those people individually (which I’ve done via email) and talk to them, not just the person moderating the Bible study. It reminded me of parliamentary procedure where everyone addresses, ‘Mr. Speaker.’

There wasn’t any opportunity to make tangential remarks, or just engage in some banter. I felt that we’d gained a Bible study, but lost the heart of what makes them special.

Maybe that’s an issue with our group, but if you’re leading one of these things, don’t be too formal. Don’t lose the chance the loosen the format and allow for greater interactivity.

 

May 20, 2020

Remembering Ravi Zacharias

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:35 am

Then I shall end my sad complaints
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Savior’s praise.
-Richard Baxter*

It’s difficult to add anything to what other voices have been sharing in the past 24 hours, but it also strikes me that silence isn’t appropriate. This, the passing of Ravi Zacharias, is probably the most significant passing of a Christian statesman since the death of Billy Graham. (For a full biography, click here.) The outpouring of tributes online has been nearly overwhelming.

Having recently reviewed a book Ravi co-wrote, his voice is fresh in my mind. (One comment on Twitter yesterday noted that he is so well known, one need just say Ravi, without the necessity of a last name.) His approach to apologetics was far more pastoral than most you see writing and speaking in this genre. He searched for ‘the question behind the question’ and it was most often there, hidden in the background.

I also think of him as a type of Renaissance man, frequently quoting hymns, classical poetry and pop songs which illustrate the human soul searching for God. His recall of history, facts, philosophers, scientists, etc., was astounding.

He would often close his eyes when delivering an address or answering a question in the many Q&A events he hosted at major colleges and universities; those closed eyes allowing him to formulate a deeper revelation of an appropriate answer.

From my perspective, no memory of Ravi is complete without thinking of the other apologists his ministry, RZIM International has brought to the foreground including some which have impacted my own life: Abdu Murray, the late Nabeel Qureshi, Michael Ramsden, Vince Vitale, Logan Gates, John Lennox, and others.

Though the last several years brought some distractions, I am confident history will remember him as one of the great Christian people of the last century. In some respects he wrote his own biography several times in his various books, but his life leaves no doubt his life story will be included in the collections of great Christian biographies.


photo image: 100 Huntley Street

*from a poem Ravi recited in January; remembered by daughter Sarah Davis in this tribute.

May 18, 2020

‘Worship Leader’ Should Never Have Been Made a Paid Position

Today we have a guest post in which I agreed to allow the author to remain anonymous. Agree or disagree? Comments are invited. (Where the author responds, it might appear in the comments as a forwarded email under my name.)

The other day, a Facebook user on a worship music user group (there are several out there) posted a rather long-winded, tritely worded and somewhat repetitive rant on how modern worship music songs are getting longer and longer. The writer had, with quite deliberate irony, was illustrating (cleverly, some thought) how it may be a problem. In the rant, they had cited some worship song on YouTube from a prominent ‘song-mill’ that was about 15 minutes in length.

The irony was apparently quite lost on most, as I couldn’t help notice that it wasn’t long after the post that the majority of the post’s readers came at the writer with knives, daggers and claws out! I watched as the comments began to mount, one atop the other, calling him/her out as a ‘Karen’ (slang for a privileged white woman in her middle age who also happens to possess a cheesy bobbed haircut) and slagging him/her for such a negative post.

I think the writer had had enough of the responsive negativity, because when I went to comment, the post had been pulled.

I feel for this person, as I too am a worship leader who has been watching popular Christian worship music shift toward longer and leaner (light on originality and variation) songs, seemingly in attempts to foster a true ‘worship experience’ for attendees, esp. in the larger churches and gatherings. (If you’re reading this in the COVID-19 era ca. 2020, it’s even further irony that none of the above-noted protracted worship services can even be considered or thought of as reasonable for online church services as most social gatherings are suspended or restricted.)

Because ‘the times, they are a changing’ (showing my age much?) my team and I were ‘passed over’ for worship leadership in our former church when the pastor decided to go with this new model, figuring it would attract the younger generation. Hymns and songs older than 10 years? Out. Long ‘basking sessions’ of post-rock style worship with choruses that repeat over and over again til eye-rolling commences in even some of the young in attendance?  In.

But the post questioning the present state of Christian worship music and the visceral reactions from several worship leaders forced me to remember something.

Being a worship leader (particularly in the U.S.) for very many, especially in the very large mega-churches, is a paying gig.

Now I’m well aware that in the New Testament the itinerant or local preacher was paid for his pastoring (and ancient documents like the Didache back that up) but are we supposed to continue in this present millennia with the Jewish traditions of the Levite tribe for that which should really be volunteer work? Didn’t the apostle Paul – a roaming preacher of the Gospel – also have a regular job to cover his expenses to set an example and to never give the church a reason to say, ‘Well, if he weren’t getting paid, he’d not be teaching this newfangled doctrine!’ Yet, he affirmed that the ‘ox shouldn’t be muzzled while treading out the grain’ as well. But worship leaders? Where does it affirm in Scripture that worship leaders are to be paid for their singing/playing songs in a church?

I strongly feel that because many worship leaders are being paid (sometimes ridiculous amounts – I have a chart someone made somewhere that shows their average salaries), they are beholding to their craft, their worth and probably feel impelled to stretch out their song-playing – make the worship ‘experience’ a huge thing in order to justify or validate their salaries or church’s budget.

And maybe this is why Christian music now is so redundant, repetitive and long-winded in character. It was quite interesting to see how some of the folks who blasted the Facebook writer for questioning song-lengths and incessant stanza repetitions ran to Psalm 136, because it clearly shows the repeated phrase ‘His love endures forever’ and which, of course, justifies their 10-20 minute song audience-winder-uppers. The thing is, I can read/recite that particular Psalm in about 2 minutes flat reading aloud at an easy pace!

Another defense tossed about was, “You gotta go with the Spirit. If the Spirit moves, you gotta keep on going.” I am looking for a reference that occurred in the later days of the early church that shows that song-worship went for extended lengths of time. Nope – found nothing. The disciples prayed while awaiting Pentecost. I’m sure they sang songs too, but prayer was the big thing going on and that was BEFORE the Spirit moved on them in a special anointing. Afterward? I see a lot of ministry and amazing signs and wonders at their hands, but no protracted singing sessions, except maybe for Paul and Silas in their jail cell. |(I guess if your hands and legs are bound and you can’t serve the Lord in any other way, you’d be apt to sing a lot too to both praise God in your difficult circumstances and to keep yourself from going mad from the isolation. But it’s worth noting that their songs we’re being heard by their fellow prisoners who were not saved Christians.)

Another justification many Facebook Worship leader group members came up with for their hyper-extended worship songs and praise sessions was, “Well, buddy, you won’t like heaven then – cause you’ll be worshipping God all the time there!”

“Well, okay then”, I would have retorted had I the chance, “let’s work toward not spending more time in service to the suffering and poor or attending to the needs of our families while living on this often demanding earthly plain and just dance before the throne 24/7 right now.” Nope nope… that’s not what worship is. Romans 12:1-2 tells us what real worship is. Songs, hymns and spiritual songs are to be integral to our lives in Christ, but the whole worship scene … tainted by cash-in-hand paid-for-performance worship leaders who have too much invested in their own net worth.

Lastly, with paid worship leaders, another serious issue can arise: the salaried worship leader will oft be inclined to do whatever he or she can to protect his or her gig. When this factor is in play it affords little opportunity for incoming talent from within the local church (or from churches elsewhere) to be utilized in the church for worship leading. The salaried individual holds all the cards, can get possessive or even jealous and feels threatened by abilities that rival his own. And what’s worse, the rival doesn’t want to be a burden to the church by getting paid for their musical offerings. What a racket!

Maybe Luther (if it was him who said it) was right when he said, “The devil fell from heaven and ended up in the choir loft.”


Image sourced uncredited at Worship War Weariness in 2014; the artist may be Dan Nuckols.


Related article: Becky Goes to Church (June 2018)

May 16, 2020

How Exactly Do You Wish the Death of Your Enemies?

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:19 pm

The last eight weeks have brought many to the point of discouragement, frustration, anger and bitterness. It’s so easy to see why. I can’t imagine too many people not wishing that this plague had never happened; wishing we could reset the clock and have things exactly as they were before.

During this time there has been an increased increase in the Psalms. David wrote at least half; though we have contributions from the Sons of Korah, from Asaph, from Solomon and from unknown sources. And David poured out his heart to God. We have to marvel at the transparency of his emotions.

But David also wished his enemies dead. He asked God to bring about their swift destruction. More than once.

Is that a model for prayer in the 21st Century?

Pouring out my own heart, I wrote a piece here a few days ago about unanswered prayer. At least that what it was intended to be about. I think we need to be especially carefully dangling that carrot in front of prospective believers or new believers. Offering answered prayer as a sure thing, when it’s really something that God isn’t necessarily going to deliver.

Some of that article was personal, describing a handful of situations, one of which would fall into that general category of enemy or enemies.

However…

Despite my frustration and anger, I can’t see myself wishing the death of someone else. I just can’t bring myself to pray that prayer, ‘Lord, kill him.’

Perhaps it’s the difference of a New Testament; New Covenant perspective; a post-incarnation era unknown to the Psalmist. Perhaps it’s living at time in history when the grace of God is the only thing we have to offer the world. Perhaps I have a hint of “God is not willing that any should perish” coursing through my bones.

Please recognize that I’m thinking of this in terms of a domestic situation; this isn’t about the larger just war versus pacifism issue. This isn’t about an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I just think that the God of the impossible is able to exceedingly beyond anything we could request or imagine. He’s capable of writing the scene so that it plays out with a creative twist we couldn’t have conceived.

I really believe that. It’s a testimony to the faith I still have.

In the middle of the doubt I increasingly wrestle with.

May 14, 2020

Root Causes of Cynicism and Doubt

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

Any commitment to follow to Christ is going have its basis in the truth of the resurrection. We know anecdotally that other foundations, valid as they might be, can crumble when tested. Some objections to faith recur more frequently to others and can be (a) barriers to entry, in terms of making a first time decision to be a Christ follower, or (b) the roots of doubt or cynicism which can cause even a long time faith to collapse.

A quick online search reveals some of these:

  • The Genesis / Creation / Evolution question
  • The problem of evil and suffering in the world
  • Things done, both presently and historically by Christians, often in Christ’s name
  • Things done to them personally by Christians, aka the Church at large
  • The authority and reliability of the Bible
  • Philosophical issues concerning the very existence of God

But there’s one thing I never see listed, and I can name that song in two notes:

  • Unanswered prayer

I would say this is more the case with situation (b) above, but it could also apply to the person who in coming to Christ brings with them specific petitions or to use the theological term, supplications.

It’s also something I find myself struggling with more and more.

There. I said it.

I’m not alone in this. I think of people with whom I’ve interacted over the last few years, and the long-time, ongoing prayers of their hearts have been for a son, or daughter or spouse to come (or come back) to faith, and those prayers have not been answered.

I think of two people I know who have dealt for years with intense chronic pain who in one case can’t sleep at night because of it, and in the other case can’t think clearly when it strikes with intensity.

I think of people who ache to be chosen for some type of higher activity in their workplace, or in their church, but are always ignored or passed over in favor of someone else.

I think of two couples who have special needs adult sons, who believe in a God of the impossible when it comes to healing (or even improvement) but are also resigned to the unanswered nature of their requests.

Finally, I think of people for whom outsiders would say, ‘Their lives seem okay;’ who aren’t facing world-shattering challenges but just wish some of their circumstances could be different. They ask God to simply give them something to put in the ‘win’ column…

…Apologists can spend energy coming up with answers to the first six objections, but also need to have an answer to the seventh one, ‘Why aren’t my prayers answered?’

I think of one such apologist, now reaching the end of his ministry, who never neglected to see the pastoral question when facing doubters and skeptics; to see the question behind the question.

Those are often at the roots of a faith-shaking that the theoretical, intellectual, or philosophical questions can mask.

A mature faith will recognize that not every request is granted in the affirmative. But when prayer has been offered as a means of touching the heart of God concerning our life situations, we do sometimes long for a response.


For those of you reading this on a tablet or desktop or laptop, here’s a challenge. I usually try to illustrate blog posts with an image, but when I did an image search using the phrase “unanswered prayer” it turned up an interesting collection of quotations. I decided against using any of them, but they bear checking out if you have the time. Feel free to share one in the comments if it strikes you as significant.

May 8, 2020

From the Image Files

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:11 pm

These all ran 7 years ago, in May, 2013. You’ll find attribution there for some of them, a few are source unknown. When I looked at the first one, it looked like a model for social distancing in the year 2020!

May 7, 2020

An Evangelical Look at Christian Relics and the History They Teach

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:18 am

Blogger Tim Challies has produced a book which truly does go where no man has gone before. Epic: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History (Zondervan) is equal parts travelog and overview of church history. Although the approach of this book is radically different than his two previous works for Zondervan (A Visual Guide to the Bible and Visual Theology) the size and shape of the book, as well as the dependence on visual imagery does, for now at least, complete the hat trick of books for visual learners.  (As a Canadian, Challies should appreciate the hockey reference.)

The goal was to look at objects rather than birthplaces, or memorial statues or plaques. As the intended reader is probably more Evangelical than not, this includes artifacts which are as much important to modern Evangelicals as relics are to Roman Catholics. It’s an approach not usually considered. When an ossuary dating back to the early Church was featured at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, I was not in line. It’s not something we do. Especially those of us who had a rather cursory high school education in history.

Instead, plotting an awkward course geographically, but a rather logical course chronologically, Tim Challies brought these bones to life.

Okay, there were no bones. But there was a jug, a hexagonal reading desk, a pulpit or two, several books and Bibles, and a small hydro-electric dam high in the Andes mountain range. Often the items featured were found in a collection of other related items, and the ones becoming the focus of the author’s close examination were not the most popular or most viewed by tourists, but ones which he allowed to speak to him. Considering his Reformed background, I was rather impressed by this revelation of his process.

The book was made possible by a group of patrons Tim Challies had never met, nor was he seeking sponsorship of this project, an idea he says only crystallized one day prior. Over a span of three years, he traveled by planes, trains and automobiles to 24 countries on six continents, and estimates the overall journey to be 180,000 miles. As with many tourists, he encountered sites that were closed — usually finding a way in — and curators that were late for appointments. With a knowledge of keyboard, he might have been able to play Charles Wesley’s organ. (For me that would have been the grand prize!) However any setbacks were made up for by serendipitous discoveries which weren’t part of the original script. This was indeed, an epic project.

Accompanying him on the journey was film director Stephen McCaskell who has created a companion documentary available on DVD. The book definitely whetted my appetite to experience the backstory to finding and visiting the various sites featured. Unlike the book, the film is divided geographically and contains ten episodes running 21-26 minutes each.

Tim Challies’ Calvinist leanings are present, even though he has tried to produce something of interest to all Evangelicals. I could have lived without Spurgeon’s cheap shot at an Arminian Bible commentary or the rather protracted explanation of how Pentecostalism is a latecomer to the Church history party. And there was the obligatory quote from John Piper. Sigh! 

The book is definitely personal and by incorporating details of the steps involved in reaching each destination, I was reminded of my all-time favorite author, Philip Yancey, whose writing is always partly subjective. I expect the DVD would yield more of this aspect of the journey.

There were also three areas where the book overlapped on one we very recently reviewed here, Eric Mataxas’ Seven More Men; those being George Whitefield, Martin Luther and Billy Graham. I didn’t mind the duplication, except that it served to alert me to the omission of anything related to The Salvation Army. Surely a mourner’s bench or a tambourine could have been dusted off for the occasion.

One feature I really appreciated was the flow between chapters. The concluding paragraph of each section — and none are more than five pages — is really a teaser for the chapter to follow. The book is about 170 pages including notes, and because of the presence of visual images, I did speed through it quickly and regretted reaching the end so soon.

This isn’t an exhaustive coverage of Christian history, but for those relatively new to the Church, it would be a great place to start. If you’re a reader of Christian literature, Epic is like nothing else in your library.


Again, thanks to Mark Hildebrand at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for this unique reading opportunity. Read more about the book and the DVD at Zondervan’s website.

 

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