Thinking Out Loud

December 6, 2018

Remembering Larry

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:44 am

Admittedly, readers here didn’t know Larry. In the paragraphs that follow I hope you get to know him. The turnout at his funeral astounded me. There were many other things I learned in that short hour. I’ll let Ruth explain.

Guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

A while ago, I posted on Facebook somewhat tongue in cheek that “It takes a village to raise a Larry.” Tuesday night, about 50 people gathered in a cozy room at the Salvation Army to say goodbye to Larry, a man I met when we were having weekly dinners at Greenwood Motel.

Larry was a pain in the neck. Messy, noisy, always drunk. He’d sit in his favourite seat nearest the buffet table and loudly hector other diners to the point where they’d lose their temper, and then he’d laugh. Every week he’d holler at me across the room to bring him a cup of juice, which I’d do. Every week he’d holler his thanks to everyone who’d brought the meal as he headed out the door. He couldn’t remember everyone’s name so he called us “Ruth and all you Ruths.”

But Larry loved Connie, and when she was hit by a truck while walking drunk across the road, it shook him loose from the bottle. He joined AA and did me the honor of inviting me to the meeting when he received his one year chip, and of acknowledging me in his speech as one who, in some way, contributed to that moment. That was cool.

Many of the people who gathered that evening were folks from around town, or from AA, or from one of 5 or 6 different churches whose phone numbers Larry had collected over the years. We’d all take our turn getting phone calls at odd hours, “Hey, it’s Larry. Could you give me a ride to…” wherever. The grocery store, the eye doctor, the sub shop, the bank, the hospital, to Connie’s house. And we all sometimes said yes and sometimes said no. He’d just say, “OK, well, thanks. That’s ok. God bless, eh?” And try someone else.

I remember driving him home from the hospital during a blizzard the first time he’d been in for some really serious respiratory problems. Pushing him down the hall and into the elevator with one hand and pulling the oxygen tank with the other. Getting him through the snow in his slippers from the chair to the car. Skidding a few times as we drove. Then out of the car, through the snow and up a full flight of stairs to his room in a run down house. With him thanking me and thanking me and thanking me.

His health got worse and worse over the last few years and he’d wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. Terrified of dying. People who knew him would reassure him that Jesus loved him and that because he’d prayed and asked Jesus to be his Saviour, he’d go to Heaven when he died. And he’d say, “Yeah, that’s right.” But as one speaker said, “Maybe he was afraid to die because he didn’t know whether he’d done enough to matter to anyone.”

He lost and regained his one year chip a few times over the years, but he never gave up. And the more he tried, the more we loved him. The more he mattered.

So I was glad, but not surprised, to see such a good turnout for his memorial on Tuesday. Connie hadn’t been sure how many would come, but she needn’t have worried. He’d built around himself a community of friends and supporters and even a few admirers who wanted to say goodbye.

Because maybe, sometimes, it takes a Larry to raise a village.


December 5, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Yesterday’s “doodle” on the UK Google site recognized the 153rd birthday of Edith Cavell.
“Guided by her strong Christian beliefs, her life embodied the service of others, and the need to love everyone, including her enemies.
“She was arrested on 3 August 1915, and was sentenced to death for helping 60 British and 15 French soldiers to escape.
Before her execution, she took communion with an Anglican chaplain, Revd Gahan, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the hymn Abide With Me.
“Moments before her death by firing squad, she said: ‘Tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country.’”
Sourced at The Christian Institute.

Putting this week’s link collection together I couldn’t help but notice that stories and articles dealing with what one person has called “pelvic” themes dominated the list. Further, if you think the two items dealing with “Transmania” don’t matter in North America because that’s an issue for the UK to deal with; I promise you, blink twice and it will be on our doorstep. Even elsewhere in the list, there was no getting away from LGBTQ issues.

This isn’t a particular positive collection this week, but hopefully by this time next week there is more to celebrate. Remember, you can contribute story and opinion-piece leads at any time.

♦ Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce, right? Actually, hold on… with closer examination the rate has never hit 50% or been even close. Never!

♦ From the roof you can see Disneyland! A look at the transformation process of Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral into a fully realized official Roman Catholic Cathedral.

♦ …And from the same blog: Ten things we can apply from John Chau’s death

♦ …Another article clarifies the mission agency’s position on John Chau’s mission to the natives of North Sentinel Island, which ended in his death.

♦ Sloppy language can lead to misinformation. “I remember in the 1980s taking a tour of the House of Commons in London. The tour guide pointed to a plaque on the wall in honor of a minister ‘who was killed by the Irish Catholics.’ Not the IRA, not the Provos, not the terrorists, but the Irish Catholics. Today we do the same thing when we say, ‘Muslims are killing Christians’ Saying that the Catholic church did not protect children is just as wrong. It was the bishops. It was the hierarchy.” The writer argues for the use of the word ‘hierarchy’ in place of the word ‘church.

♦ Out of the mouths of babes: “Wait, Dad. Are we for them or against them?” Kent Annan was talking with his eight-year-old son about the worldwide immigrant and refugee crisis. His son’s innocent question is one that many adults are asking. Kent Annan’s new book You Welcomed Me — his 4th with IVP — looks at overcoming fear to confidently answer that question.

♦ A Case for Catholic Worship: A brief list of 15 things the authors believe Jesus would recognize as familiar were he to visit a traditional Catholic mass.

♦ A University in Western Canada is demanding a pro-life group put up a $17,500 security deposit in order to hold a meeting on campus.

♦ Can James MacDonald be fired from Harvest Bible Chapel. No. Not ever. Not according to this Tweet: “Just read the Bylaws of Harvest Bible Chapel: Bylaws: 803. i.e. 804.b everything we need to know about his leadership, control and grip on the Elder board; he can’t be fired. EVER.” (A wise move on his part, looking back from how things are today.)…

♦ …Meanwhile the initial legal defense fund on GoFundMe (for the bloggers being sued by James MacDonald) has exceeded its $10,000 goal. (However, if the case drags on, possibly as much as 24 months, legal costs will be in “the high six figures.)

♦ Trans groups in the UK have been targeting children between 11 and 16, including coaching them online on what to say to the doctor to get hormone prescriptions. “The group has been highly active at Dorothy Stringer School, which now has 76 gender-confused students…”

Jane Galloway, parent and women’s rights campaigner, concludes: “I fear greatly that in 10 to 15 years’ time, we will find ourselves with a slew of young adults with mutilated bodies, no sexual function, who will turn round to the NHS and ask, ‘Why did you let us do this?’” …

♦ … This isn’t a one-off item online, One writer compiles eight stories in a single week that are part of Transmania. One article notes:

When I ask whether it can really be true that children could be sent off to consult with gender clinics without the parents’ knowledge, she explains that, currently, “the confidentiality of a trans child actually trumps everything, including a parent’s right to know. And if a school believes a child is mature enough to understand the implications of what they’re doing, they don’t need parental consent.”

While another writer observes:

It isn’t only the still small number of kids who are trans-diagnosed who are impacted upon by the transgender ideology. All kids are. The problem here is not some all-powerful trans lobby – it’s the unwillingness of institutions to withstand the transgender worldview. Schools are embracing the new religion of gender-neutrality and are encouraging their charges not to prejudge people’s gender and to believe that sex at birth is irrelevant in comparison with what you feel. The binary that has traditionally allowed children to negotiate an otherwise confusing world – between female and male, mother and father, girl and boy – is being erased, leaving kids socially bereft, uncertain, and re-engineered to think in the way the new elite thinks they should.

♦ Ongoing Story Department: An update from the ex-wife of Saeed Abedini

♦ The future of the church is young(er) leaders: “Don’t wait for a strategy. Just start inviting young people into opportunities to lead alongside you. In your next leadership gathering or board meeting, have you invited a young person in to experience what leadership looks like?

♦ Back to the U.S., Attacks on churches or a tax on churches? Russell Moore writes,

A little-noticed provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 now looms over faith communities in America, raising serious questions about religious freedom and the First Amendment. While this provision is a relatively small piece of the overall package, the effect of the policy it created will be felt by the faithful around the country. This change is a new policy to tax nonprofit organizations—including houses of worship, like the Southern Baptist churches I serve—for the cost of parking and transit benefits provided to employees. This effectively creates an income tax on churches…that has never happened in U.S. history.

♦ After his son was shamed for his African American hairstyle by a Christian school, the father announced last week he’s decided to pursue legal action.

♦ A worldwide group of 20 feminist Bible scholars have released a book of commentaries in order to address “the lingering patriarchal readings that have justified numerous restrictions and bans on women.”

♦ More on Nadia Bolz-Weber:

Before … 31,000 teenagers at that [Evangelical Lutheran Church] Youth Gathering, she altered the set of renunciations that parents or godparents are expected to answer at a baptism: “Do you renounce the devil and all his empty promises?” She rewrote that question: “Do you renounce the lie that Queerness is anything other than beauty?” To which the crowd dutifully replied: “I renounce them!” According to Bolz-Weber then, those Christians who held classic views about homosexual orientation and conduct are purveyors of the devil’s lies.

♦ A 3-year old is sexually molested at New Spring Church in South Carolina. “The North Charleston police are going after this big time.”

♦ Two board members have quit Azuza Pacific University over the drift of classroom teaching toward a more LGBT friendly environment. One said, “My solemn fear is it may be too late to save the university.”…

♦ …Meanwhile the President of another California Christian university, John MacArthur made a speech back in August defending Master’s College after a terrible accreditation review. The substance of that speech includes attacks on other colleges.

♦ Lauren Daigle can’t say for sure if homosexuality is a sin. “In a sense, I have too many people that I love that they are homosexual. I don’t know. I actually had a conversation with someone last night about it. I can’t say one way or the other. I’m not God.”

♦ Free: Read the first three pages of a new book from WestBow Press, Jesus’ Stenographers: The Story of the Red Letters.  Author Ben van Noort says “Jesus was followed by speedy writers and stenographers who used to make records after the events. The gospels are compilations of these early records.”

♦ What If Department: What if your last year of Facebook posts became the substance of your eulogy?

♦ A way to ease into the week: Happy Monday celebrates its 300th blog post.

♦ Finally, Jon Crist films inside The Creation Museum and promises a special blessing to those who made it through all 5-minutes of the cellphone video.

Next time you’re hanging out with one of your Episcopal or Roman Catholic friends, ask them if their denomination has a College of Prophets. With a “General of Spiritual Warfare.” Whose specialty is “Warfarecology.” (My goodness, this poster is the gift that keeps on giving.)


December 4, 2018

Mark Clark on the State of Online Discourse Among Christians

Mark Clark is the pastor of Village Church in Vancouver, Canada and is the author of The Problem of God, which we reviewed here in September, 2017. Yesterday evening he posted a thread on Twitter that probably few of you would happen to see.

Increasingly, Twitter is becoming a long-form medium, but experience teaches me that many may not bother to click through to see an entire series of posts. So, as we did with a Skye Jethani thread around the same time last year, I’m going to take the liberty of sharing it here. (A few things are softly edited because there’s no character limit.)

December 3, 2018

Christian: Reformed or Charismatic, left or right, get out of your own echo-chamber. Your naive, dogmatic, tribal and simplistic ideological ideas are painful to read over and over again. Straw men arguments are not respected. Dig deeper. Let’s work together around ACTUAL data.

No, pragmatics aren’t the enemy! No, good doctrine isn’t the enemy. No, passionate preaching is not empty. No, doctrinal preaching isn’t always boring.

No, that successful pastor in the States with the big house and big smile probably isn’t Satan’s servant. No, the local small church pastor of 200 isn’t less qualified for ministry. No, your non-educated self isn’t more organic or Spirit-filled than “educated” pastors.

No, that church’s view on women, or governance, or preaching or whatever isn’t the enemy; Satan, sin and death is. No, video preaching isn’t wrong. No, faithfulness to expository preaching isn’t wrong. No, fighting for experiential Christianity isn’t wrong.

No, big churches using methods you don’t aren’t WRONG. No, small churches aren’t better or more godly. No, God doesn’t love big churches more.

No, unhitching from the Old Testament isn’t a good strategy. No, ones who suggest it from a missional heart aren’t necessarily heretical or false prophets.

No, ‘those’ churches aren’t always weak and flashy. No, ‘those’ churches aren’t always boring and irrelevant.

No, celebrity pastors don’t always sell out and do it for themselves. No, small church pastors aren’t always humble and selfless.

No, your self appointed group is not the standard holding Modern Christianity ‘accountable’. No, the solution is not to dissolve all accountability.

With that, Mark suddenly breaks the thread. But there are a few more postscripts which follow individually:

No, systemic racism is not over or a made up myth. It’s real. No, the ‘white man’, or men in general, are not to blame for all our problems.

No, our government leaders aren’t Messiahs. No, they aren’t completely evil and incompetent.

No, atheists aren’t always smart. No, Christians aren’t always smart.

I hope that, like me, you were able to see some people or institutions — or most importantly, some part of ourselves — in what Mark wrote. All our online activity, from scholarly insight to common ranting, won’t in itself change the world or advance the Kingdom.

I’ll concede that as it stands, what’s above is a short essay in desperate need of a closing statement or paragraph. (Update: In a note to me on Twitter, Mark explained that his phone’s battery ran out! That got me wondering if Martin Luther would have gone past #95 if he had more paper.)

So where do we go from here?

That’s up to me and you.


December 1, 2018

Both Disgraced and Silenced

This morning I noticed in one of my “to-be-read-or-watched” piles a curriculum DVD by a pastor whose career was caught up among the #MeToo cases of the past two years.

The thing that struck me was that I had no desire to watch it now. I’m sure the teaching it contains is every bit as valid as the day it was recorded. It was vetted at the time by one of the top Christian publishing houses. No one has ever suggested he taught anything heretical.

However, I couldn’t help but think how in addition to the disgrace he suffered — and no doubt continues to suffer this very day — he has lost his voice; he has effectively been marginalized. Among the many voices competing for your attention his has become far less impactful; far less consequential. Though citations of his methodology and quotations of his messages might approach the one million mark online, for me to quote him now in an essay or blog article would simply lead readers to wonder, ‘Perhaps he hasn’t heard what happened.’…

…The whole #MeToo thing is a valid opportunity to examine your own life. In my 20s, I was known for an itinerant youth ministry that connected me to dozens of churches, a handful of missions, and a couple of camps. I found myself replaying events and scenarios in order to remind myself that fortunately, lines were never crossed. Blurred? The opportunities and motivation didn’t really present themselves. I can think of a couple of situations where a person could, if they so desired, misconstrue a couple of situations, but then that is true for all of us because anyone can pretty much make up anything.

Everyone reading this knows what follows (I hope) but here are some principles for anyone new to the game:

  1. Stay accountable. This was hard in itinerant ministry and without a board, but fortunately I had some people I could defer to for direction.
  2. Avoid being alone 1:1 with the people you’re serving. Always leave the door open to the office, or, as I did once, if you’re meeting in your car, park it right at the front entrance to the building.
  3. Avoid anything which could even contain the hint of something scandalous. This includes things done seemingly in jest.
  4. When working with youth, remember that a leadership role can be inferred (by the child/teen) even if it is not official. The same responsibilities rest with casual volunteers as rest with paid staff.
  5. Be ever conscious of your personal vulnerabilities to temptation. If you’re even thinking the thought, you’ve already started down a dangerous path.


November 30, 2018

In Christ Alone: 14 Countries and Hundreds of Hours of Editing


The Choir Whose Members Never Met Each Other

…Several years ago I introduced readers here and here to the music of David Wesley. We go to the same church, and on Sunday, David led worship, this time around playing electric guitar. Is it ironic that a guy who plays so many different instruments is best known for acapella videos? Also, if you read our Wednesday Connect columns, you’ll also know that I’ve linked many times to his NoPro Worship training videos for modern worship leaders.

This is David’s third time putting together one of these virtual choir videos. This time around there were 48 singers — a handy number if you’re putting them all in a single video frame — representing 14 nations. The Stuart Townend and Keith Getty composition is a favorite of David’s and the arrangement is his. You get to hear his instrumental arranging ability (which we get to hear locally during Easter Week when about eight churches combine for a single service) but you’ll also recognize the trademark rhythmic vocals which characterize his acapella performances. [Check out all his videos at this link.]

Support David on Patreon:
Twitter: @singdavidwesley
E-mail List:

Sub-headline disclaimer: Some of the choir members have met each other.

November 29, 2018

Book Review: Not Dressed for the Occasion

As more and more people are diagnosed with ADHD, and the internet erodes the attention span of the rest of us, I would expect books which offer smaller bites are an ideal reading retreat in a distracted world. Mart DeHaan did this a decade ago with Been Thinking About, but for the most part, if you want a quick read on your lunch break or before falling asleep, most of what’s out there is either fictional short stories or collections of news stories involving emergency responders performing heroic acts.

What if there were simply a collection of articles which — not unlike the blog you’re reading now — offered some thought-provoking insights into a somewhat random collection of topics? What if, in your own busyness you could consider a faith-focused subject with a three or four minute investment?

Not Dressed for the Occasion by Ron Harris (with Christine Winter) is one such book.

The 71 articles are gathered here in a form the author says, “has no beginning and no end.” You can jump in anywhere and read as many or as few as time permits. The articles are somewhat devotional in nature — think something 3 to 5 times longer than Our Daily Bread, The Upper Room or if you’re in the UK, Every Day With Jesus — which allows more space to anchor the reading in more than one scripture text reference. Each piece is clearly written from a pastor’s heart.

But the articles are also topical. Ron leads a congregation about 40 minutes east of Toronto and there are frequent references to current Canadian current news stories and organizations, though he has also ministered in England and South Africa. Although his church is Charismatic, I would argue that the writing gives the book a much broader appeal, as do citations of everyone from Tim Keller to Rick Joyner, along with the use of a wide variety of Bible translations.

Collections of this nature are also very suitable for older readers, though the publisher has inexplicably chosen to set the book in one of the smallest fonts of any Christian book I own, other than some Bibles. The book can also be used as springboard for topical discussions in a less formal small group setting.

Not Dressed for the Occasion is published by Word Alive Press and available throughout the U.S. and Canada through Anchor Distributing. (9781486616763, paperback, $17.99 US/Can.) The book is one of only a few in the Christian market belonging to a rather unique genre and I would argue it thereby fills a need.

November 28, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Welcome to another collection of news and opinion pieces you might not have seen elsewhere. The reading time of the list is about four minutes, to read all the articles is probably about 75 minutes. Consider yourselves challenged!

♦ Why They’re Dropping Out: No, it’s not research into Millennials leaving the church, but missionaries leaving the field. More often than not, the survey showed the reasons were family-related.

♦ More on I Kissed Dating Goodbye: Should someone as young as Harris ever been given a publishing contract in the first place?

…Did anyone in the chain of decision making consider the theological wisdom of letting such a young author (who was neither married nor a parent, the two most formative experiences possible in these questions) draw such deep lines in the sand? They may have, but I do wonder whether there was so much attention given to the wave-making potential of a child preacher that such concern rang hollow.

What Harris is saying today, via an apology tour, a documentary, and a pretty thick social media campaign, is that he spoke too soon. He’s not the same person he was twenty years ago, and he doesn’t believe the things he believed then. Should this really be an unsettling thing to hear? Is it even possible to go from 23 to 43 without radically refining our worldview, especially on those things that are so deeply intertwined with lived experience…?

♦ Provocative (to some) Headline of the Week: “God May Be Gender Neutral But He’s Still Our Father.” Sample: “The desire to de-gender God, especially by those who do not really accept the Bible’s teaching, is not prompted by a desire for theological accuracy but by a desire to blur human gender distinctions and to signal our equality and diversity credentials.”

♦ Story Finally Getting Attention: A Christian family hoping to bring an adopted son home from Africa is facing an unimagined nightmare as the adoption is delayed by bureaucracy in Ghana followed by a severe relapse of the mom’s Multiple Scoliosis. (If you research the name Kim Moran, you’ll find several links to recent coverage at the CTV and Global networks.) (Pray!) [Wednesday morning update: Kim has returned home for treatment while her husband remains in Ghana with the boy awaiting completion of paperwork.]

♦ Things continue heating up at Harvest Bible Chapel. If, as alleged, the figures in this article accurately represent salaries paid to the James MacDonald family in 2015, it involves one million U.S. dollars.

♦ A year after they gave asylum to an undocumented immigrant, members of a United Methodist Church in Durham, North Carolina feel they were betrayed by a government that chose not to play fair.

♦ Celebrating the season:

It’s hard to “keep Christ in Christmas” because for many he was never there to begin with. Christian believers need to focus on keeping Christ in our worship services, in our homes, in our hearts. Let the world have Rudolph, Elf on the Shelf, Coca-Cola drinking, red BMW driving Santa Claus. You can’t control what the Hallmark Movie Channel does from Oct 1 to Dec 31. You can totally control what verses you read, hymns you sing and prayers you say in your family devotions.

♦ Biomedical ethics: In what may be this week’s longest-impacting story, a scientist in China has “successfully” edited the genes of twin girls. Some say it’s just “human experimentation.”

♦ Best answer I’ve seen: Greg Boyd on tithing in the era of the New Testament. “We are not called to be a people that are shamed by a rule, but a people who are captivated by a vision.”

♦ A missionary responds to the John Chau case and the potential backlash on people serving in foreign countries.

♦ Article Title of the Week: The Santa Clausification of Christmas

♦ Our Entertainment Choices Department:

The problem is not that we visit the movie theater. The problem is that we feel more at home in the movie theater than we do with the gathered church on Sunday. The problem is not that we have Taylor Swift on a guilty pleasures playlist. The problem is that when a relationship crumbles, our gut instinct is not to turn to the Psalms, which are inspired by the Holy Spirit (the same Spirit that we claim is dwelling inside of us), but rather we try to quiet our souls by turning to a pop singer whose own relationship history would suggest that she is not the wisest and most reliable counselor.

♦ Christmas quotes from pastors and theologians: 12 of the best.

♦ The husband and wife duo Aaron Smith and Jennifer Smith cracked the Publisher’s Weekly Top 20 Religion non-Fiction chart in the summer of 20166, marking the first time self-published authors had ever made the list. In a recent 46-minute video, they share the struggles they had with sexual intimacy; an area of their lives which was the springboard for their ministry.

♦ Another response to Carey Nieuwhof’s article about mediocre churches — at least according to his standards — is this piece by Stephen Altrogge. Sample: The Early Church was seriously mediocre. If you’re laboring in a small, ‘mediocre’ church, keep at it. Don’t buy into the lie that you need to up your production value before God will bless your efforts. Focus on the things that matter and let God handle the growth of your church.”

♦ For the science nerds: “…the rate at which the universe is expanding may be different depending on how far back we look at distant stars and galaxies.” Why is this important? J. Warner Wallace explains.

Before our universe came into existence, nothing existed. Nothing. No time, no matter and no space. Nothing. This singular truth about the universe exposes an even greater mystery. The long-established (and accepted) Principle of Causality dictates that whatever begins to exist requires a cause. If our universe came into existence from nothing – and that certainly appears to be the case – it had a cause, and not just any cause will do.

The cause of our universe cannot be spatial, temporal or material, given that space, time and matter didn’t exist (according to scientific discoveries) until the universe came into existence. Whatever the first-cause, it cannot be described using the attributes we typically ascribe to the natural realm. It could rightfully be described as “extra-natural.” Or “supra-natural.” Or even “supernatural.”

♦ All your questions about Jehovah’s Witness answered. Well, most of them. This particular Q&A-formatted article is one of several about JWs which appeared this summer at Mama Bear Apologetics

♦ Evangelicals increasingly relaxed attitude toward alcohol.

♦ Breaking one of our rules here to include this review of a new book which looks at what is exactly new in the New Testament. (Please…look for alternatives to supporting Amazon.)

Beyond the actual use of the word “new,” there are also instances of obvious conceptual reference to new realities: new exodus, new Moses, new Israel, new people, renewed nature, new temple, new law, new priesthood, new high priesthood, new sacrifice, new descendants of Abraham, second Adam, and the dawning kingdom of God itself.

♦ For the authors among us: At what level of copy-and-paste do the quotations in your book constitute copyright infringement?

♦ Cassia’s Story: From losing the life she’d had, to reaching out for help. This is a promotional commercial for 2018 at the Salvation Army in New Zealand. A reminder at this time of year of the good that they do worldwide

♦ Parenting Place: A double-feature from the same blog. 

♦ KidMin: Download and print free Advent coloring sheets; up to 24 to choose from.

♦ Catholic Corner: A 13-minute fun call-in podcast on the meaning of The Liturgy of the Hours. (Personally, I think that’s about the right length for a podcast.)

♦ Last month, for National Coming Out Day, the creator of the popular The Brick Bible — which when released was carried in many Christian bookstores — came out as a lesbian transgender woman.

♦ That conservative preacher was actually right when he said the characters in Pokémon Go are “virtual cyber demons.” “Ghost monster” is how Japanese folklore might express it. [Good or bad might depend if you live up-river or down-river.] [Don’t watch the video just before going to bed.]

November 27, 2018

Grassroots Charity Offers More Bang For Your Buck

A few years back, when I told someone that our oldest son was helping out with an orphanage in Haiti, the person rolled their eyes and said, “Sure; right. In Haiti everybody is running an orphanage. But how many of the kids are true orphans and how many of the orphanages are legit?”

We live in a world that is automatically skeptical when it comes to charities. Compound that with further cynicism that in very poor countries, corruption means that aid doesn’t reach those who need it most. If only there was a way of meeting these objections and being able to give with confidence.

As it turns out there is. I want to share a bit of the story with you and also explain how it intersected with our son’s story, and some portions of what you read are taken (directly or loosely) from the Welcome Home Children’s Centre (WHCC) website.

We got to meet Camille Otum and her husband Sam for the first time a few days ago. She was born in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti, and raised in the town of Cabaret about two hours north. At the age of nineteen she left Haiti and chose to settle in Montreal, Québec, where she could better leverage her French language skills and familiarity with the culture.  After getting married, Camille and Sam and their family moved west to  Ontario, settling in a bedroom community small town outside of Toronto.

In 2004, a group of teenagers from her church were headed to Haiti on a short term missions trip, and Camille volunteered to be a chaperone and give something back to her country of birth. She went to connect with her old friends in her hometown of Cabaret but was quite distressed by what she saw. It was not the same place; not the village she had left many years ago. Instead, she was witnessing homeless children begging in the streets, desperate and malnourished.

With this image imprinted in her mind Camille began discussions with her family and friends about the situation in her homeland and her deep desire to help. With the support of her husband, and her church friends, their husbands and one other friend, she shifted into what my wife calls ‘entrepreneurial missions’ mode and decided to open an orphanage. Welcome Home Children’s Centre was incorporated as a non-profit entity in Canada. A hired agent now working for them in the country was instrumental in helping secure a three-bedroom home with fenced yard that could be rented and converted into a home for homeless children. (Fences and walls are a non-negotiable necessity in Haiti, since people will break in and steal anything that might have value.)

A few years in, with the lease running out, Welcome Home began looking for another property which would offer the possibility of greater expansion. They had about ten children but dreamed of being able to house up to seventy. They called Engineering Ministries International (EMI) for help designing a new orphanage on recently acquired land.

This is where the story first connects with our family. Our son Chris had graduated in Engineering and it would be several months before he would find his first job, so with a little bit of fundraising he signed up to do an internship with EMI in Calgary for four months. (The organization has about ten offices around the world.) As it turned out, one of their two projects for those months was the Welcome Home Children’s Centre and in February of 2015 he flew with a team of a dozen people from Canada to survey the land and help design the three phases of the new centre. He was one of only two people on the EMI team who spoke French with any proficiency and did his best to learn Haitian Creole.

As it turns out, language is a big part of the Welcome Home strategy for those they serve. Chris writes,

A big part of their education is learning the French language, which in Haiti is the sole language of business and politics. The vast majority of Haitians can only speak Creole, which makes it easy for the elite to exclude them from anything involving influence or serious money. The Welcome Home kids will have access to the upper strata of Haitian society because of their education, and it is my hope that they will hold onto their Christian values, continuing to acknowledge God in all their ways while wielding the privilege of education, and be a blessing to their neighbours and communities in adulthood.

With the exception of only a handful of EMI volunteers in the entire history of the organization, our son decided to get involved with the charity itself. He returned to Haiti with a group of WHCC volunteers three years later in February, 2018. He said, “It was amazing to go see the building we had designed on paper actually realized in concrete.”

Which brings us back to a few days ago, when we got to meet Sam and Camille. I don’t like to show up for meetings unprepared so I decided to do some research. In Canada, the annual financial statements — think of it as an organization’s income tax return — of churches and non-profits are posted online for the world to see. I couldn’t help but note that the line item for compensation (i.e. salaries and benefits) for WHCC was nil. Zero. Nada. That was refreshing.

Camille shared a story with us about a woman who had been giving to what I call a “blue chip” Christian charity and how appalled she was at the amount of compensation being received by its key personnel and staff. The woman then stumbled onto the same information I did, with the realization that this was the type of grassroots charity she wanted to support.

Part of this is possible because Sam and Camille have decent jobs in Canada. But if Camille isn’t there in person, she’s very much present, admitting to calling the orphanage for an update every single day.

The Welcome Home team conducted numerous interviews to be sure that the children they received actually were orphans. In some cases parents will see an opportunity for their child to have a better life and are willing to let their child go. This is a heartbreaking scenario that the team have seen played out over and over. To turn them away is difficult, but their commitment is to help the most needy orphans; children who have no other options.

It’s true that the overall financial scope of the organization is small. But the building referred to above is only part of what the EMI people designed. There is a Phase II, which involves another building that would dramatically expand the size of the operation to eventually include 70 children. The budget for construction is a half million dollars. (Labor is less costly, but building materials are expensive. The island has been deforested; so wood is extremely rare. Most buildings are formed from concrete.)

Right now, WHCC cannot issue tax receipts in the U.S. (I know there are U.S. readers here for which a receipt is not the bottom line.) For a grassroots charity, operating in Canada, with a very limited donor base to raise $500,000 is a daunting task, but in Christ, nothing is impossible. You can help plant the seeds for Phase II at this link.

I’ll let our son Chris have the last word,

I want to live in a world where everyone loves the place where they were born, where we don’t have people clamoring to get across borders because the country they were born in just isn’t livable. And I want to live in a world of rest and gratitude, not one of strife and pride. I believe the theory is true that the developing world will keep improving itself economically until the imbalance that has characterized the last three centuries levels out a bit, but we can help speed up the process.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, Welcome Home’s annual fundraiser is this Saturday night (December 1) at Halton Hills Christian School in Georgetown. See the “Latest News” page of their website for directions and cost and to RSVP. [Canadians can also donate via Canada Helps.]




November 26, 2018

Let’s Talk Classical Music, If You Think You Can Handel It

Saturday night the choir in which my wife sings presented, a more or less complete performance of Handel’s Messiah. Despite being intimately familiar with some of the pieces either through playing or singing, this was my first time hearing everything in full context.

Handel‘s orchestral works are among my all time favorite classical pieces. Especially the Overture to the Royal Fireworks and the Finale from the Suite in D major of the Water Music. (Is it nerdy that I have favorite classical pieces? I don’t think so. Yesterday at church I was belting out the lyrics to Jesus Culture and Elevation Worship with everyone else.)

I knew some of the Messiah pieces well enough to spot some changes in interpretation that the new music director of the choir was bringing to this performance. I suppose this is how music critics get started, but even as a seasoned writer, I would find a choral concert review a rather daunting task.

So two thoughts here:

One is the same question I found myself asking when the same choir performed a Requiem by Fauré: How many of these singers and musicians truly know the One about whom they are singing? Do they believe that “the Lord God omnipotent reigneth?” Or let’s get really Evangelical: Does the Lord God omnipotent reign in their hearts? (Not a recommended opening evangelistic question.)

Exactly a week earlier, I had stood on a stage in front of a much smaller audience and sung the Andrae Crouch lyric, “No, it’s not just a story, but reality.” It was part of a larger, 3-night series of mini-performances involving people from across a wide spectrum in the community. I did wonder how many of the performers would be in a worship service that weekend. Everyone knows the lyric, “God and sinners reconciled;” but how many can tell you how that atonement process works? Or how they’ve experienced it?

Perhaps that’s asking too much. Students of classical music simply take the religious texts as a given. That was the music of the day. People went to church on Sunday, too; but that’s another discussion. In the choir were some of the best of the best musicians in our little town; people who themselves would be directing church choirs the next morning — being paid to do so — but the question would still stand; is this just another gig or do they know the Jesus of whom we speak? Let’s face it, musicians are the worst. The poster children for total depravity.

All this begs a greater question when it comes to the members of the audience: At a personal level how do they relate to the lyrics as they are hearing them? Are they simply captivated by the soloists vocal ability or the richness of the full choir harmony in a glorious crescendo? Or do they internalize the message that “He shall reign forever and ever.” (And ever and ever.)

We never really know the spiritual state of someone else. How God has worked and continues to work in their lives. Or what masks of pretension they don when walking into a church building. 

Messiah is about Jesus. He’s not in the choral work insofar as he doesn’t show up to turn water to wine, feed the 5,000 or raise Lazarus. But it’s all about him. It’s helpful to know that on a personal level.

Second, I marveled at the texts from Isaiah in a new and fresh way. They were almost… I don’t know… prophetic. (Okay, that was bad.) You grow up in church and you know that the writings in that section of your Bible are called ‘Major Prophets’ for a reason, but when your mind is awakened to the details of those prophecies — particularly the Messianic ones — it’s as though the writers were inspired. (Okay, that was also bad.)

…Messiah doesn’t end with the chorus ‘Hallelujah.’ There is a much shorter third part and then the climax is ‘Worthy Is the Lamb.’ provided below.

Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him!

► One of this blog’s all-time most popular posts is, Hallelujah Chorus: Should Audiences Still Stand? There are now 112 comments and they are far more interesting than what I wrote! (Yes, we stood on Saturday night.)



November 24, 2018

When Missionary Zeal Exceeds Common Sense

There are times when you’re thinking something, but you don’t say it. One of those times is immediately following someone’s passing, especially if it was under unusual circumstances. “She shouldn’t have tried to do that electrical repair herself.” “He really shouldn’t have taken off from the airport in that storm.” “He really shouldn’t have always been eating chocolate cake.”

And yet, hours after we learned of his passing, Christian Today asked the questions we were all thinking about the young missionary killed one week ago today (Saturday, Nov.17th) on an island east of India in the Bay of Bengal.

It’s impossible to look at a photograph of John Allen Chau, the young American killed by tribes-people on North Sentinel Island, without sadness. He is in the full glow of youth, with decades of life ahead of him. His friends and family have paid tribute to his gifts and his character: ‘He was a beloved son, brother, uncle and best friend to us. To others he was a Christian missionary, a wilderness EMT [Emergency Medical Technician], an international soccer coach, and a mountaineer’, they wrote on Instagram.

…But this tragedy raises questions that sadness cannot be allowed to silence.

The article goes on to describe the challenges:

North Sentinel Island is inhabited by a few – anything from few dozen to a few hundred – tribes-people who are among the most isolated in the world. Though rules appear to have been confusingly slackened quite recently, they are still out of bounds for tourists. The Indian government believes the best policy for the islanders is to allow them the isolation they clearly desire – they killed two fishermen in 2006 – and operates a ‘hands off, eyes on’ policy, patrolling the coast to deter anyone from landing. A key reason for this is the vulnerability of the tribes-people to modern diseases: their isolation means they lack the antibodies to protect them.

And then, the central part of the article:

He wrote to his parents: ‘You guys might think I’m crazy in all this, but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people.

‘Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed. Rather, please live your lives in obedience to whatever he has called you to and I’ll see you again when you pass through the veil…’

…One response, then, is to hail Chau as a martyr… But those questions won’t go away.

His landing on the island was illegal. Should his personal convictions allow him to override the rule of law?

Not only did he break the law himself – and there might certainly be cases where Christians would feel free do to that – but he implicated other people in his lawbreaking. Is that justifiable?

He was putting lives at risk – not just his own, but the North Sentinelese themselves, who lacked any immunity to any pathogens he may have been carrying. Suppose the price of his evangelism was the deaths of those he evangelised – would it really have been worth it?

He was going against their clearly expressed wishes and invading their territory. Why should he have thought they would welcome him, when others had been driven away or killed?

Who knew what he was doing, and to whom was he accountable?

How, when he didn’t speak their language, was he going to witness effectively to them?

Continue reading here. (Christian Today is based in London, and is not related to the U.S. Christianity Today.)

Each of the questions they raise could be fleshed out into further detail.

In discussion earlier today at Internet Monk, Robert wrote:

I see John Allen Chau as a victim of disordered Christian ideas of what constitutes evangelism. It is now historically known that Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire by the organic process of relational networks, not the heroic efforts of a few super-evangelists, for all intents and purposes parachuting into completely alien and unknown hostile territories and peoples.

Unfortunately, I think the Church came to glamorize and idealize the super-evangelist along with the martyr at a very early point; the two overlap in significant ways, and many early Christians seem to have intentionally sought martyrdom in an even more reckless manner than Chau’s attempt to evangelize the Indian tribe. Reading some of the accounts of the early martyrs, you get the impression that they are committing suicide by the hand of the pagan government, the way some people commit suicide by cop today. I see John Allen Chau as someone acting very much in line with that psychologically and socially unhealthy tradition and legacy. May he rest in peace.

The writer “Burro” adds something that some will find difficult to read:

The Protestant hagiography surrounding the deaths of the missionaries Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, and their compatriots to the Ecuadorian indigenous people is cut from the same cloth.

Although their mission was more anthropologically informed and ultimately successful, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between Jim Elliott’s mission and that of John Chau, except that Jim Elliott had a whip-smart and eloquent widow as a PR agent, and a less de-Christianized culture to receive the message.

Iain writes,

One more tragic thing about John Allen Chau, and the toxic mindset he was the victim of, is that it doesn’t seem to me to be about actually bringing people to Christ at all. It is all about the act of evangelism as a good in itself for the spiritual benefit (or if I am snarky the acquisition of divine brownie points) by the evangliser himself.

Apparently no-one even knows what language the people he was intruding on speak, and certainly no-one understands it, and from the extracts from his diary published he was attempting in fact to evangelise them in, of all things, English. The people he was interfering with apparently attack outsiders on sight because their last interaction with the outside world had a number of their people kidnapped and killed, and a great proportion of them wiped out by disease. There is no way he could possibly have successfully communicated anything to them, and arriving there could only have potentially done them serious harm. He must have known this, or at the best never bothered to find out but, and here’s the crucial bit, can’t have thought it mattered.

I don’t know if John Allen Chau deliberately wanted to be a martyr, or what he thought would happen, but it seems plain that someone has taught him that this is what he had to do to earn God’s approval, or save himself from wrath, or some such, and he died futilely because of it. Whoever taught him this killed him as surely as the guy with the bow and arrows, and without the justification that the guy who shot him had, that he was simply (and arguably not even misguidedly) defending his family and home.

I feel sorry for John Allen Chau and his family and hope he can find the rest and peace in death he clearly could not find in life, which drove him to this tragic and foolish death.

Jean writes,

…Mr. Chau had to hire someone to get him into space he was forbidden to enter, evade Indian patrol boats, risk (and ultimately lose) his own life, in order to reach a people who didn’t want to be reached, whose language he did not know, to “tell them about Christ.” He returned to the island after he had been injured by an arrow the day before. He seems, to me, to have been a man seeking martyrdom for his own reasons. He left behind a grieving family, a people possibly exposed to diseases to which they have no immunity, and seven Indian fishermen arrested for helping him break the law. What good did any of that do?

Lastly, some interesting food for thought from Christiane

…I know Mr. Chau wanted to bring Christ to them, but maybe they are already in His care, unbeknownst to Mr. Chau or to themselves. Such is the lack of humility that many who see such tribes as ‘the lost’ may not realize that our lives exist because of the breath of God in our nostrils. Those primitive people ARE in the hands of the Lord, and to impatiently cause them to wound, injure, or kill out of fearfulness seems more the action of a ‘lost’ person than of someone seeking to bring them salvation…

You can add your thoughts to the discussion at Internet Monk. (There is no specific article there per se; the comments were following a short link which appeared in the Saturday news roundup.)

In the end, I think that Christian Today and those leaving comments today at Internet Monk do need to ask the critical questions; if only so that valuable lessons can be learned and we can avoid repetition of this horrible tragedy.

That may be John Chau’s greatest contribution to world missions.

photo: All Nations (mission agency); map: Wikipedia commons

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