Thinking Out Loud

September 18, 2017

Heroes

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

to read this at Aaron’s blog, Voice of One Whispering, click this link.

I had never been one to have heroes, or “idols/role models/etc.” My classmates in school would admire celebrities or athletes but I never really got that. I recognized good traits in the grownups around me and I would feel appreciation and respect but never anything like awe.

Such remained the case until last summer. I had just graduated university and I stumbled into the world of apologetics and I quickly discovered Nabeel Qureshi.

Nabeel’s powerful testimony was a bestseller and his personality and academic prowess strongly impressed upon me. I watched his debates and lectures, always admiring how he could be so firm and passionate in the truth and yet respectful and irenic at the same time (and the world of Christian apologetics can be rather deprived of irenic personalities.)

There’s a scene in The Hobbit where Balin, upon seeing the heroism of Thorin, says “There is one who I could follow. There is one I could call king.” My impression wasn’t quite that strong but I think I now know where Balin was coming from.

I felt rather insecure for a while. Perhaps I had put the man on a pedestal. Basically I felt as though I could never be content with myself until I had reached his level. There was a jealous corner of my heart that thought “I just have to be like him.” Specifically, just as smart as him.

Then, after only a few months of getting to know his work, he was diagnosed with advanced stage stomach cancer and given a grim prognosis. He vlogged his experience over the next year and his physical conditioned worsened. Then on the 16th of September, 2017 he passed away. Obviously this is to be taken seriously and his and his family’s experience of all this is what matters most, but I hope the reader won’t mind if I share my own experience of this.

In a year, Nabeel went from being someone I new nothing about, to being the person I admired the most ever, to being dead. So what happens to a man of such reserved admiration as myself when his hero suffers like this?

In my case, he only admires him more but that admiration changes. The hevel (the word in Ecclesiastes that is translated ‘vanity’ or ‘meaninglessness’) of health and academic achievement blow away and we see what really matters – a soul that loves God. Doctorates are hard but loving God is accessible enough a concept, I think. We also see a spirit that hopes and trusts in the midst of suffering which is a far more important (and more practical) lesson than anything taught in the halls of academia.

I wonder how Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion, having seen the great man they had followed and in whom they’d hope die.

As for my own experience, I now get how how unabashed childlike admiration for a person can transform you. I was drawn to Nabeel for his knowledge of books and histories and theologies, but he taught me (and I hope all of us) a greater lesson: He showed us what it looks like to love and hope in Our Father.

As for my envy over academic accolades, I now feel that disquietness lifted. While his mind was impressive, it is for his heart that I will remember him as being great. Perhaps that is the more effective apologetic. As the church does, remembering great writings from her history such as the letters of Clement or the 95 Theses of Luther, I hope we also remember Nabeel’s Vlog 43, his last public words to the world, as a pattern of conduct for how we are to share our faith.

If you allow yourself to admire a person you might just get hurt. You might just agonize over their suffering. But the strength of God is made perfect in the weakness of man and I cannot at all reflect on the life of Nabeel Qureshi without seeing the love and the power of God behind it all. The Spirit of God has not left us. And He just as might shine through us as well.

Choose your heroes well. I know I did.


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September 17, 2017

Remembering Nabeel Qureshi

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:52 am

On Saturday, this world lost a key Christian apologist. CBN News reported,

Ex-Muslim turned Christian apologist, Nabeel Qureshi, passed away Saturday after a year-long battle with stomach cancer.

The 34-year-old left behind a wife and two-year-old daughter.

The very man who led Nabeel to Christ, David Wood, announced his death on Twitter saying, “My beloved bother Nabeel, rest in peace and joy with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.”

…Qureshi made the official announcement of his cancer diagnosis August 2016.

“This is an announcement that I never expected to make, but God in his infinite and sovereign wisdom has chosen me for this refining, and I pray he will be glorified through my body and my spirit. My family and I have received the news that I had advanced stomach cancer and the prognosis is quite grim,” he said in a Facebook post.

Nabeel Qureshi was the author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Answering Jihad, and No God But One, and was a sought-after speaker and radio talk show guest.

In a thorough, lengthy, well-written tribute by Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition which I recommend you read if you didn’t know of Nabeel, this is but a small excerpt detailing his journey to Christianity:

In August of 2001, while a student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, Nabeel observed fellow student David Wood reading the Bible in his free time. Nabeel regularly read the Qur’an, but it struck him as odd to see a Christian reading the Bible on his own.

Nabeel challenged David’s belief in Christianity, beginning with the charge that the Bible had been corrupted over time. Wood aspired to be a Christian apologist, and the two young men formed a friendship and engaged in debate that lasted for several years.

In working through David’s arguments and examining the evidence for himself, Nabeel eventually became convinced of the general reliability of the New Testament.

He next raised the objection that Jesus never claimed to be God. After being shown this was untrue, Nabeel challenged David that Jesus had never died on the cross. Again, by being willing to investigate the evidence, Nabeel changed his mind.

It was now two and a half years later, and Nabeel raised the greatest stumbling block for accepting Christianity: how could one man die for another man’s sins? And how could the one true God be a Trinity? He was now reading the Bible and considering Christ’s claims for himself.

In return, David began to challenge Nabeel’s confidence in the claims of Islam. Intellectually, Nabeel held to Islam for several subjective reasons (like the kind of life it produced), but objectively, the central claim was that Islam was true because Muhammad was a true prophet of God. But after studying primary sources and biographies, Nabeel eventually concluded that he could not reasonably hold to the idea that Muhammad is the greatest of prophets and history’s most perfect man.

From December of 2004 to April of 2005, Nabeel experienced three vivid dreams that strongly suggested to him that Christianity was true and that Christ should be followed.

Later that year, he traveled to Washington D.C., Canada, and England to search out knowledgeable Muslims who could answer the arguments against Islam that he had encountered. “I heard various replies running the gamut from terribly unconvincing to fairly innovative, and I encountered people that ranged from sincere to condescendingly caustic. At the end of my research, the arguments for and against Islam still hung in the balance, but one thing was abundantly clear: they were far from approaching the strength of the case for Christianity.”    continue reading at TGC

Nabeel was a longtime friend of the ministry of Ravi Zacharias, and Ravi personally as well. This was posted yesterday at the RZIM website:

…September 16, our dear brother in Christ Nabeel Qureshi went to be with the Lord following a year-long battle with cancer.  We received this news with deep sadness and yet profound hope that he is finally and fully healed in the presence of his Savior.

Please join the RZIM team in praying for Nabeel’s wife, Michelle, and his daughter, Ayah, as well as for his parents and extended family.  We know this is Nabeel’s gain, but a tremendous loss for all those who loved him and were impacted by his life and testimony on earth.

We are reminded today of what Ravi Zacharias wrote after seeing Nabeel back in May for what would be the last time in this life. To Nabeel he wrote,

You will be freed to the joy of life where there are no more fears, no more tears, no more hate, no more bloodshed, because you will be with the One who has already shed his blood for you, where love is supreme, grace abounds, and the consummate joy is of the soul. The smile of God awaits you: ‘Well done.’

‘Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them that love him,’ 1 Corinthians 2:9 promises.

Your eyes will now see and your hands will now touch that which is the only Real estate.”

We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support shown to Nabeel and his family over these past several months, and we ask that you continue in prayer in the days ahead. May God bring comfort as we cling to our eternal hope in Jesus Christ.

Tributes continue to pour in on Twitter. A GoFundMe campaign started four months ago will now continue to provide support for Nabeel’s wife and daughter.  To read my son Aaron’s reflection on how the life and death of Nabeel personally impacted him, click this link.

September 1, 2017

The Problem of Reviewing The Problem of God

There is so much going on in this book. I feel like I’ve been handed an impossible task, somewhat akin from being dropped off a metropolitan core for a few days and told to write a review of the entire city. Every person. Every business. Every park and school.

Canadian Pastor Mark Clark has set himself to answer ten of the major objections to faith raised by outsiders, skeptics and seekers. It’s a tough assignment, even if you’re leaning heavily on the writings of Tim Keller and C. S. Lewis. Not as tough for Clark however as it would be for you or me, in part because this is his own story; the book is as much testimony as it is apologetics text.

I think that’s what make this one different. Until his later teens, Clark was camped on the other side of the border of faith. Partying. Drugs. Disbelief. So he has those still there clearly in view as he writes this; these are the type of people who made up the nucleus of Village Church when it was founded in 2010. Today they are in three locations on Canada’s west coast with satellites launching in Calgary and Montreal. Mark is part of a new generation of pastors and authors who really does his homework before speaking and writing and his passion and energy rock the house each week.

The ten “problems” form ten chapters:

But to say just that is too simple. Each one of these breaks down into several other subsections. These issues are complex and we’re given a look at each through several different lenses.

To repeat, the book stands somewhere between academic apologetics textbook (for its thorough treatment of each of the issues) and biography (for the times Clark references his own story.) It is the latter that makes this book what it is; an apologetics resource which wears a face and a name, and that makes it accessible to all readers. That last factor is important especially for potential as a giveaway to someone who is asking questions. (Read more about Mark at this CBC-TV story.)

I know I say this a lot — I choose my review books carefully — but this is definitely another of those “go back and re-read” and “keep handy for reference” titles.

The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity | Zondervan | 272 page paperback | September, 2017

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for an opportunity to read this!

March 19, 2017

Case for Christ Movie Opens April 7

Last night we were able to watch a preview screening of the movie The Case for Christ which opens April 7th. While I will offer a full review of the movie closer to the release date, many of you have read the book by Lee Strobel, or one of the many others in the series: The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus, etc.

Like some others who have leaked bits and pieces of this online, I also was struck by the authenticity of the two primary characters in the movie, Lee and Leslie Strobel. While the theme of the movie is very obviously evidentiary apologetics there is also a sub-theme dealing with the time when Leslie was a Christian and Lee wasn’t. It’s probably no accident that their 2002 book Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage is now in re-release by Zondervan.

With those two themes in mind…

  • Think of friends you could invite to see the movie; and
  • Plan to see it, if at all possible, during the first weekend of release.

I’ll have more to say about it in a few days.  Use the following image on your Facebook page to make more people aware of this significant film.

January 27, 2017

Contextualizing Your Message for Different Worldviews

GoodseedMany years ago at the MissionFest event in Toronto — a sort of trade fair for domestic and foreign mission agencies — we encountered representatives from GoodSeed Canada’s Quebec branch, who introduced us to four rather unique products. They were essentially the same book but each edition was tailored to a particular audience: People who grew up aware of traditional Christianity; people whose influences were largely Eastern; people whose background was more atheist, agnostic, pantheist or New Age; and children. As a lover of apologetics, I probably would have bought just about anything they offered, but the shared characteristics of all four books intrigued me.

the-stranger-from-goodseedThe Stranger on the Road to Emmaus is aimed at adults and teens who have been primarily influenced by Christianity, whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, but are not necessarily believers. It’s published in ten languages, with optional workbooks available in six languages. There’s also an audio book available in English and Spanish, and an interactive DVD curriculum.

All That the Prophets Have Spoken is aimed at adults and teens who have been primarily influenced by Islam, but are not necessarily Muslim in belief.  It has 25% different content than The Stranger and is available in five languages with workbooks in two.

By The Name is aimed at adults and teens who have been primarily influenced by polytheism, pantheism, atheism, agnosticism or animism; or see themselves as a post-modern, post-Christian or secularist.  It is available in English and French.

The Lamb Story is a picture book hardcover is aimed at children age four and up from different backgrounds. It is available seven languages, with PowerPoint and DVD, CD audio, and DVD versions in English.

These aren’t new titles. So why share them here today? I think the idea behind this set of books is exactly what’s missing right now in Christian publishing. We generally publish books for Christians. The already on-side. Preaching to the choir. Imagine having a resource that you could place in the hands of two vastly different acquaintances which was written specifically for each of them. Consider the idea that instead of publishers establishing a brand through doing regular, large print, student versions and study guides, they pursue the title along the lines of different worldviews. Everybody in Christian publishing should be copying this concept to some degree.

Check out the graphic image below which also lists the various languages in which each is published. GoodSeed has branches in Canada, Australia, Scotland, Germany and the U.S.  You can learn more at the ministry headquarters home page, or link to find the store in the country nearest you. Even if you’re not in the market for this right now, take a look at the concept and remember these the next time you encounter that person for whom the existing catalog of Christian products is insufficient.

good-seed-titles

 

December 6, 2016

Where We Left Off Yesterday

post-truth


Post Truth: Part Two

post-truth-bannerSo as you remember from yesterday, I was starting to write a piece for C201 — it was really going to be more of a scripture medley — on the concept of truth which is timely right now since the Oxford Dictionary people proclaimed post-truth as their “Word of the Year.” Previous year Oxford winners, going back from 2016 include: emoji, vape, selfie, omnishambles, GIF and at Global Language Monitor (some randomly selected words): microaggression, fail, hashtag, Olympiad, drone, meme… You can find more words in this Wikipedia article.

So I got to the point where I was ready to post some scriptures from TopVerses.com; verses like:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” – John 18:37

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – John 1:8

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” – John 15:26

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. – John 4:23

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. – John 14: 16,17

It gave me great joy to have some believers come and testify to your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:3,4

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. – 2 John 1:4

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6

…and that’s when I start to notice that most of the verses posted — I had a few more yesterday — are all sourcing from the writings of the Apostle John in his gospel and his three epistles.  At that point I felt I should acknowledge this detail:

This isn’t all the verses on the page which contain the word truth in the NIV. You can read the entire list at this link. However, it’s interesting to note the number of occurrences of this word in the writings of John. Many of the above texts are from his gospel and the word occurs in each of the three epistles we have in our Bibles.

Traditionally, John’s is the gospel given out for evangelism purposes. It is consider an apologetic argument for the divinity of Christ. In a post-modern — and now we can add post-truth — world, there is no objective truth. I have written elsewhere that if you want to reach post-moderns with the person of Jesus Christ, perhaps the synoptic gospels are a better way to go. Now I’m rethinking that. Perhaps we need to continue, as the Apostle John does, to wave the banner for truth.

Seriously, I was indeed leading the charge for Christian publishers to rethink the convention of making John’s gospel the only gospel sold separately as an individual scripture portion. (The exception being the American Bible Society and its worldwide associates.) If we’re going to reach the Millennials, it would seem that Mark, Matthew or Luke would be the better choices.

Now I’m not so sure.

Which of course led me to yet a second postscript in yesterday’s article at C201, namely the whole similarity between the post-modern mindset and the post-truth mindset. I don’t want to sound like that old preacher who shows up at the end of the summer while the pastor is taking a week off, but it does all sound like ‘the same old lies being recycled over and over again.’ (Maybe you actually have to be an old preacher to have witnessed a sort of life cycle of worldviews.) The lies that truth is subjective; that there is no objective truth to be found.

So I wrote:

I can never write on a topic like this without thinking of the song One Rule for You. I looked at that song 4½ years ago and typed out the full lyrics at this article at Thinking Out Loud.

But today, just for you, I’ll save you the need to click:

One of my all-time favorite songs is by 80’s UK mainstream band After The Fire (ATF) which also happens to be a Christian band.  Since we changed the rules here to allow video embeds, I realized it’s never been posted on the blog.  This song basically expresses the frustration that many of us feel when trying to give testimony to what Christ has done for us around people who grew up in a postmodern mindset.

“That’s good for you, and I’ll have to find something that works for me.”

But truth, if it is truth, has to be truth for all people. There cannot be a “truth for you” and a “truth for me.” The postmodern condition is, if anything, a quest to deny the existence of absolute truth. But if you’re flying from New York to London, you want a pilot who believes that 2+2=4, not one that believes that 2+2=5, or that there are many different answers.

That’s what this song is all about.

What kind of line is that when you say you don’t understand a single word
I tell you all these things, you turn around and make as if you never heard

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

Too many people try to tell me that I shouldn’t say the things I do
I know that you would only do the same if it meant as much too you

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

They say believe in what you like as long as you can keep it to yourself
I say if what I know is right, it’s wrong if I don’t tell somebody else

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

written by Peter Banks & Andy Piercy

 

May 28, 2016

Theology in Story

Clear Winter NightsRather unexpectedly yesterday, I found myself devouring all 160 pages of a 2013 novel by Trevin Wax Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After (Multnomah). What attracted me to the book, besides some familiarity with the author’s many years of blogging, was the concept of using a story to teach.

As a huge fan of three novels by David Gregory which use this format — Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, Day with a Perfect Stranger and Night With a Perfect Stranger — I see the value in a genre for people who would never pick up a more commonplace ‘Christian Living’ title, let alone a book on basic theology. This is a book which has a storyline, but at the same time is using the plot at the front door to allow a lot of truth to enter through the back door.

Two words come to mind here, the first is didactic. The storyteller is truly the teacher. But the second, better word is the very similar dialectic, using a conversational style to impart knowledge, as did writers like Plato. This can also be called Socratic dialog or the Socratic method.

The banter is between two central characters, Chris Walker a disillusioned church planter whose job promise and engagement have both been broken; and Gil his grandfather, a retired pastor. You could call this Weekend with a Perfect… oh, never mind; that doesn’t work here; it’s a different dynamic.

Without giving away too much, I couldn’t get over how many of the topics Chris and Gil cover resonated with me. The book isn’t afraid to tackle some tough issues facing the church collectively and individual Christians, yet does so with tact, humor and grace. The key characters being male also makes this an ideal gift for men, something that is rarity in the world of Christian fiction, though I still prefer the dialectic label to override the fictional nature of the story.

While Trevin Wax and I are from vastly different tribes — he writes for The Gospel Coalition and works for LifeWay — I didn’t allow that to influence my reading and it doesn’t stop me from giving this book my full recommendation. In fact, a couple of times my eyes watered as the conversation unfolded. Clear Winter Nights works on many different levels.


Another author who writes in this genre is Andy Andrews. We reviewed The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer.

Another fiction title that used the dialectic method was Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron.

My review of Dinner With A Perfect Stranger by David Gregory was more of an explanation of the DVD series which came from the first two books. He did the first two books with Waterbrook, part of the same publishing group as the title by Trevin Wax we’re reviewing today; but the third was published by EMI Worthy, who wouldn’t send a review copy, so I did the write up of Night With a Perfect Stranger in bullet points.

Apologies to UK, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand readers for spelling dialogue the American way. I know. What are we going to do?

April 16, 2016

Rethinking Church Growth Metrics

Whenever Saturday rolls around, I always check out who the guests are going to be on Canada’s sometimes controversial Drew Marshall Show, which airs 1:00 to 5:00 PM EST and can be heard at this link.

Today I came across the name Luke Cawley who has written a new book for IVP titled The Myth of the Non-Christian: Engaging Atheists, Nominal Christians, and the Spiritual but not Religious and decided to check out his blog. In the process, I came across this 2014 article. His ministry context is probably different from yours: University Campuses. But there are some broader ideas contained here. You need to click the title below to read this in full:

Accountability for Evangelistic Fruit

…Lots of people feel caught in a similar dilemma. They want to hold themselves and their communities accountable for their evangelistic practice and fruitfulness. But it’s difficult to figure out quite how you do that without falling into the twin traps of either reducing evangelism to pure human effort or overlooking our role completely. It’s no wonder that senior leaders in several major Christian organizations have told me that they stall on implementing any kind of internal accountability regarding evangelism. If we don’t control the outcomes, they reason, then how can we make any meaningful judgment in this area?

Accountability and Evangelistic FruitMaybe you’ve had similar thoughts. If so, then I have some bad news for you: I’m not really going to resolve the tension for you. Assessing our individual and corporate evangelistic performance is tricky. There’s no simple way to do so. Yet we still need to try. One reason it’s so important is the consistent New Testament theme that when we regularly invite people to follow Jesus there will be some positive responses. Paul describes “the gospel” as “bearing fruit and growing throughout the world” (Colossians 1:6), and urges his readers to speak to others about Jesus in the expectation that these conversations will trigger more of the same. He asks:

“How can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them?” (Romans 10:14-17 MSG)

For Paul, the very point of telling others about Jesus is that they decide to follow him for themselves. If such individual decisions are not taking place—and if the gospel is not “bearing fruit and growing” in our local context—then we need to stop and ask why. Is there something we are doing wrong which needs to change?

He then goes on to give three possible directions:

1. Count Conversations, Not Just Conversions.

 
People trust in Jesus because they have heard about him. How many people on your campus are actually getting to hear—and talk—about him? Keep some stats on how many people stop and chat at Proxe Stations, how long they stay for, how many people attend invitational events, and how many are in GIGs. Figure out ways to increase all these numbers.
 

2. Conduct an Internal Survey.

 
Find out how frequently chapter members have an opportunity to speak about Jesus. Then, work out how you can help them develop those conversations into something more. A few years ago, I interviewed 20 students from our chapter and discovered that they each have a meaningful conversation about Jesus at least once every couple of weeks. They all felt that many of those conversations offered natural opportunities to invite their friends to read the Bible with them or join a GIG. They never offered this invitation, though, because they weren’t confident in leading GIGs themselves. This simple discovery helped me shift my focus to training the students in leading seeker small groups. As a result, a number of GiGs were launched within months.

It may be worthwhile for you to conduct a similar internal survey (face-to-face) with a sampling of students from your chapter. It could help you identify key areas for change.
 

3. Create a Story-Swapping Culture.

 
Make it a natural feature of chapter life that you tell one another when you’ve had a great conversation about Jesus. Swap stories about what happened. Then, pray for the person with whom you spoke. You could create a regular space to swap such stories during small-group meetings.

Each one of these can be equally implemented in a local church context and this subject needs to be top of agenda.

 

March 18, 2016

Doing My Evangelisitic Duty

This Yonge Street Mission fundraising album's cover shot sees the street in warmer days than described in today's article. See today's footnote for a song from the L.P.

This Yonge Street Mission fundraising album’s cover shot sees the street in warmer days than described in today’s article. See today’s footnote for a song from the L.P.

“A bunch of us are going downtown on Saturday night to hand out tracts? Wanna join us?”

The invitation seems so straight forward. I was a Christian youth leader and I should really not try to avoid these evangelistic opportunities. It was the 1980s and tracts were still considered a viable form of outreach. Plus, it was downtown Toronto and I was committed to urban ministry. I’d also been spending a lot of time preaching to the choir; it would be good to do some genuine outreach.

And so, on Saturday night at 10:00 PM, there I was, one of two lone figures standing on the corner of Yonge (pronounced young) and Dundas in the bitter cold. Looking several blocks north, the time/temperature sign flashed minus 20° and that was -20 Celsius, not -20 Fahrenheit. And yet somehow it was snowing. Usually in weather that cold you don’t get snowfall. Furthermore, it was downtown, so when the snow stopped falling from the sky it would start blowing from the office tower roofs.

Probably well over half of the passersby refused to take a tract. Some would take one and drop it a few feet up or down the street, but others, including those who had refused, would see the bright colors on the front and bend down to pick them up.

When it got too cold one of us would go to the Yonge Street Mission to warm up and someone else would take their place. Rob was a young Christian with zeal for Christ and a desire to get into conversations with people. Craig knew his Bible well, but was distracted by the prostitutes who used Ford Drugs as a base. (I think we were standing on their corner.) “I have a ministry to beautiful women;” was how he described it.

They weren’t that beautiful. They were career hookers; a plight made more pathetic by attempts to wear something skimpy on a freezing cold night. It was the only time in my life I really had direct contact with people who ply that trade, and they looked like the years of working the sex industry and doing drugs had taken its toll.

I should not have been out there.

I’m not saying that because of the weather, although this was a stage in my life when simply looking at the ice cube in a soda would mean catching a cold. I mean that I wish I knew then what I know now. (And will say that someday about what I’m writing now.)

I didn’t know the basics of apologetics. There’s no training course or prerequisite for buying some packages of tracts and launching out into the downtown core of a major city. I didn’t consider that you reason differently with a pseudo-intellectual than you do with a guy working on his doctorate in philosophy.  I didn’t know the basic objections people have to Christianity and how to respond to each. For that matter, I didn’t know my Bible all that well.

We also weren’t trained in the dynamics of people who frequent urban centers. The runaways. The psychotics. The addicts. The homeless. The wounded. We didn’t know what to say or what not to say. How to diffuse an argument. What to do when people asked us for money.

We also had no follow-up plan. I do remember some of the tracts being rubber-stamped with a phone number, or maybe it was an address. But I can’t remember — and this totally embarrassing to admit — who it was we claimed to represent, aside from Jesus. I know in one case it was a church, but one night the tracts were stamped with a different church, and we also encouraged people to go to the Yonge Street Mission to warm up or continue a conversation.

If someone had asked to be prayed for we might have been helpful, but if they said they wanted to accept Christ right then and there, you could probably knock us over with a feather. (Okay, we were better equipped than that, but it was a potential weakness which I had remedied in my own life one or two years after.) We weren’t trained to see the question behind the question, or know when they were sincere or when they were just baiting us.

It was a lot of zeal, a lot of desire, a lot of commitment (in view of the weather); but not a whole lot of anything else. We just showed up and went to work, oblivious to any other ministries working in the downtown or even the fact that our ‘spot’ on that corner actually belonged to the ladies of the evening.

So…good memory or bad memory?

It was part of my personal spiritual development. There are aspects of it that I can say I would do all over again, but certainly not without training, a better battle plan, and greater accountability. We’ll never know in this life what the fruit of that ministry was, but I think in the long run it was better to do something than to do nothing.

 

January 2, 2016

It’s Not Just a Story – Part Two

"Jonah Leaving the Whale" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600. Do our children treat the story as a record of a true event or do they mentally classify it with Jack and the Beanstock?

“Jonah Leaving the Whale” by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600. Do our children treat the story as a record of a true event or do they mentally classify it as fable, along with Jack and the Beanstock?

I didn’t set out planning a second part to Friday’s post here, but Bruce Allen put so much thought into his comment, I decided we needed to share it more visibly. This is a response to part one, however, so if you haven’t read that, click this link. He lives in Nova Scotia and owns and operates Time Zone Media which does communications work for a variety of ministry organizations and businesses.

••• Guest post by Bruce Allen •••

In our English-language-world, words come and go and even reverse their meanings, such as “wicked” which meant “wonderful” for at least a few years. There is a long list of English words reversed meanings or held captive. People who blow themselves up in crimes against humanity are called martyrs by their fellow zealots and the news media picks it up and repeats the word until the general population accepts the new definition: Martyrs are cold-blooded killers rather than those murdered. Older English speaking Christians may sort out those “reversed meaning” words but what about a younger generation that stares blankly at their cell phones while texting and doing “selfies?” How should Bible translators deal with a language in flux? Is a “wicked” king now an “awesome” king rather than an evil king?

When the time arrived for Christian leaders to jettison words from earlier eras, there was a lot of brain-storming by Bible orality ministries to figure out what would replace “Bible story.” For my work with the words Bible and Bible stories, I came up with Bible chronicles.

Dictionary: Chronicle – noun, a chronological record of events; a history.

Wow! History, events, and accounts all sounded serious enough words to be Christian so I bought the Bible Chronicles web address and launched my Bible story word revolution with positive vibes.

After using Bible chronicles for several years, I discovered that fellow believers could never remember our web address: BibleChronicles.org . Whenever I felt duty-bound to tell church goers that “Bible story” didn’t cut it in today’s changing world, they fretted and worried. After tiring of explaining, I abandoned the revolution and returned to using Bible stories.

When a word like story is so embedded in a language, it is difficult to suddenly abandon it for other words, especially when the general population is unaware of the Christian world of words and their meanings. As far as teaching our own children, maybe we could begin with not telling them that Santa is real. If Santa knows that we are naughty or nice, who needs God? And what about the Easter bunny and a host of other fables? Do we set our kids up to think we never tell the truth?

Whatever we parents are, our kids become. It may not be so obvious during the teen years, but give it a decade and they become like mom and dad. If they come to understand that we parents truly love them and that we love Jesus and believe his words, we are on solid ground.

Of course we need to teach by the example of lived day to day. We also need to teach them from the Bible and about the Bible. If we see on TV that ISIS just took sledgehammers to Jonah’s tomb in Nineveh, that is a good historical lesson. Who would put a tomb there if there were no Jonah?

Christian kids need to be taught by parents that the world of Christians and Jews is rooted firmly in history – and with the war in Syria and Iraq, history is right in front of our biblical noses. Recently, tens of thousands of Christians have been driven from the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plain by the ISIS murderers. Why not find out about those ancient Christian churches and why they celebrate the Jonah fast? Why not tell the story of those Christians and then read the Biblical account to anyone who will listen – including our children? We have the best stories ever – they are in the Bible and they are true.

From Wikipedia:

Nineveh’s repentance and salvation from evil is noted in the Christian biblical canon’s Gospel of Matthew (12:41) and the Gospel of Luke (11:32). To this day, oriental churches of the Middle East commemorate the three days Jonah spent inside the fish during the Fast of Nineveh. The Christians observing this holiday fast by refraining from food and drinks. Churches encourage followers to refrain from meat, fish and dairy products.

Here is a video of ISIS smashing the tomb of Jonah. Scroll down the page to view it. 


Bruce Allen is a Christian communications consultant to ministries using solar audio Bibles to reach an estimated 3 billion people who cannot read God’s written Word. He is also a software developer who has created ToucanChat for ministries and businesses. A simple installation of Toucan Chat helps ministry workers connect with visitors on their website in real time. Bruce’s personal opinion in the “Bible story” article is his own and does not reflect the views of any particular ministry. 

Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006. Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.

Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006. Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.

 

 

 

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