Thinking Out Loud

December 17, 2017

Four Reasons Why CBS Wanted to Write Off the Peanuts Christmas Special

This year marked 52nd airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 52 years of the same show in an endless repeat. But according to a 2011 story (no longer online) in the National Review by Lee Habeeb, the show almost didn’t happen:

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a groundbreaking program in so many ways, as we learned watching the great PBS American Masters series on Charles Schulz, known by his friends and colleagues as “Sparky.” It was based on the comic strip Peanuts, and was produced and directed by former Warner Brothers animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for Snoopy.

We learned in that PBS special that the cartoon happened by mere serendipity.

“We got a call from Coca-Cola,” remembered Melendez. “And they said, ‘Have you and Mr. Schulz ever considered doing a Christmas show with the characters?’ and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ And it was Wednesday and they said, ‘If you can send us an outline by Monday, we might be interested in it.’ So I called Sparky on the phone and told him I’d just sold ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ and he said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘It’s something you’ve got to write tomorrow.’”

We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn’t make the network suits very happy. First and foremost, there was no laugh track, something unimaginable in that era of television. Schulz thought that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at its own pace, without being cued when to laugh. CBS created a version of the show with a laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. Luckily, he didn’t.

The second big battle was waged over voiceovers. The network executives were not happy that the Schulz’s team had chosen to use children to do the voice acting, rather than employing adults. Indeed, in this remarkable world created by Charles Schulz, we never hear the voice of an adult.

The executives also had a problem with the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. They thought the music would not work well for a children’s program, and that it distracted from the general tone. They wanted something more . . . well . . . young.

Last but not least, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.

The CBS executives saw what they had as, at best, a tax write-off.

I couldn’t help but think that actually parallels the original Christmas story in more ways than one.

John the Baptist was sure that Jesus was the Messiah on the day that Jesus stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized. But later, in the isolation of a jail cell, he wondered if he had backed that wrong horse. He thought he a flop on his hands.

Certainly there were people in the crowd who loved the miracles and the multiplication of the fish and bread that fed 5,000 men and countless women and children. But when he started turning his remarks to the “hard sayings” and spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the crowd thinned out considerably. Having seen other Messiah figures come and go, they figured that, once again, they had a flop on their hands.

Judas Iscariot was one of the original twelve, and no doubt entered into that select group with enthusiasm and optimism. But into the third year of apprenticeship with the this particular rabbi, dreams of political conquest and liberation from the Romans turned into disillusionment when the talk turned to a Messiah that would suffer and die. Like the parliamentarians of today who ‘cross the floor’ to join the other party, Judas figured he had a flop on his hands.

Time exonerated the decision and vision by Charles Shultz, and the events in Acts 2 showed the world that something new and exciting was beginning; that instead of a flop, the disciples had a hit on their hands.

And today, there are those who complain that the Christian faith and worldview is foolishness. They have a checklist of things that they would change about the Christ story. They think we have a flop on our hands.

But the ratings have yet to come out on that one. The ultimate scene in the play has yet to appear on stage. Stay tuned…

We do know how the above story ended, though:

To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.

Linus’s recitation was hailed by critic Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram, who wrote, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”

charlie-brown-christian-content-warnings

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December 2, 2017

Short Takes (6): Forgiveness

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

Forgiveness.

Over the years there have been some great resources on the subject of forgiveness. It’s a popular theme in Christian books:

  • Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall
  • Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman
  • The Gift of Forgiveness by Charles Stanley
  • Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  • Choosing Forgiveness by John and Paul Sandford
  • The Revolutionary Guide to Forgiveness by Eric Wright
  • The Power of Forgiveness by Joyce Meyer
  • The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness by John McArthur
  • Forgiveness: Breaking the Power of The Past by Kay Arthur et al
  • How to Forgive When You Don’t Feel Like It by June Hunt

If you are of a certain age you remember this song lyric:

Love means you never have to say you’re sorry

which is taken from the 1970s movie Love Story and a hit song of that era. You can read more about that here. The song went:

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Love means without a word you understand
Hold me and let the pressures disappear
Kiss me I only need to know you`re here

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Ahh… Isn’t that just sooooooooo romantic? (Bonus points if you can name the artist without help.)

But life isn’t like that. Sometimes you want to hear that apology. You want to hear the words. You want to sense that the other person has a sense of regret, of contrition.

And sometimes all of us have a way of dancing around actually having to say those words, “I’m sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.”

Christ followers are forgiven people. Freely we have received; now freely we need to give.

Here’s Matthew 6:12 —

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
(NLT)

Pardon our offenses as we also ourselves pardon such that offend us. (rough translation from the French Louis Segond version)

Forgiveness: Easy to discuss. Hard to do.

November 19, 2017

Emotional Inventory: A Sunday Confessional

A few years ago at church service we attended, a well known couple in the church — the pastor called them a “power couple” — shared a little of their journey through marriage counseling earlier in the year. It sounds like they were facing some rough challenges, and it would be easy for someone to be smug and say, “Boy, I’m glad our marriage never got to that.”

But then I got thinking about the whole idea of counseling. Some very high profile pastors go to counselors on a regular basis and are very public about it. I’ve never been mostly because I can’t afford it; it would be an expensive luxury given our budget.

What would a counselor find?

As I thought about this I realized that my emotional life is characterized by a number of negative things. I mentally listed seven yesterday, but can only recall five today. I’m going to be very honest with this confession, and this on a blog that tends not to get personal. For simplicity, these are alphabetical:

  • anxiety, apprehension, fear, worry — about health, finances, the children, the health of extended family members, business, etc. (This one concerns me the most, as worry and trusting God are spiritually incompatible.)
  • indecision — not that I can’t make decisions, but I feel like I don’t have a good track record, and therefore I don’t trust myself to make good ones (This one makes it hard to move forward; I tend not to plan things.)
  • isolation — for most of my life I’ve been flying solo in business and ministry projects; it would be nice to play on a large team sometime (This one flares up at the oddest times.)
  • regret — not that I spend a lot of time looking back, but as the song says, “Regrets, I have a few…” (This one probably brings out the greatest sadness, reminding me of another song, “If I Could Turn Back Time.”)
  • rejection — with a common thread to the isolation mentioned above, a lot of projects I’ve tried to start just haven’t clicked with the Christian community (This one just makes me angry, I feel like it’s other peoples’ loss.)

I could flesh these out in greater detail, but basically, these are some things I have been dealing with over the years, and it’s not a very happy list.

But I think it’s a very accurate picture of what lurks beyond the superficial, and while I don’t expect to resolve all these today, by sharing them here, you just saved me a few of the initial counseling sessions! I should also add that my days are not spent focusing inward; I don’t see myself as a candidate for depression, rather, these are themes that are lurking in the background. 

Furthermore, I am a great believer in transparency. I would never want my readers to think that I am something more than I am, or that I have everything together spiritually. James 3:2a notes that “Indeed, we all make many mistakes.” Proverbs 24:16a reminds us that “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.” The conceit of appearing spiritually superior is much more dangerous than confessing one’s inadequacies. I’d much rather write a blog post which says, “These are my spiritual weaknesses;” than write one boasting that “These are my spiritual strengths.”

So now that I’ve left myself emotionally naked and vulnerable today — can’t wait to see what the search engines do with that phrase — does this resonate with any of you? You guys don’t leave a lot of comments, but this would be a good day…

Scripture quotations NLT at BibleHub.com

November 12, 2017

5 Ways We are A Living Sacrifice

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
– Romans 12:1 (NIV)

“The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.” (source unknown)

Today we are joining with Christianity 201 as part of its weekly Sunday Worship series. To read the entire series, click this link. Our key verse reminds us that worship is something we do, but rather worship is something we are. Years ago, Christian musician Chris Christian wrote,

We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering1

I really try to eschew pithy illustrations and stories here at C201, but I find this one most appropriate:

A chicken and a pig were discussing how they could do something for the farmer. Finally the chicken said, “He loves a good breakfast; why don’t we give him bacon and eggs?”

To this the pig replied, “That’s easy for you. All it demands of you is an offering, but for me it demands total sacrifice.” 2

Here are some things I think will help us remember what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. Each starts with the letter ‘s’ followed by a different vowel.

Sacrifice

If we are to judge it, the measure of a sacrifice is not the size of what is given, but the size of what is left over.

A sacrifice will cost us and it will be consumed. There is no taking back the investment of our energies, gifts or material possessions given up in the service and pleasing of God. The last distinction is important. In service we see tangible results. But God is sometimes pleased by our giving up of things. Ask yourself: How much cash would you put on the offering plate if, as it was in Old Testament times, what was giving was then burned? That’s what our Old Testament predecessors did with the best of their grain and animals.

Set-Apartness

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

In a world that values conformity, no one wants to be the odd duck. Yet the book of Leviticus is essentially God wanting to insure that his people could maintain a distinct identity. It was all about showing yourself to be different.3

Sinlessness

Jerry Bridges has written,

Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. 4

Sovereignty

“There is a God. You are not Him,”

Jesus himself deferred to his Father on many occasions; providing us a reminder of who is in charge. We choose to forget this because we are driven to be in control.

Surrender

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice is only son, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.5

Although we speak very different languages, two symbols are universal throughout the worldwide church. One is the word “Hallelujah” which I’m told is rendered the same in most languages. The other is lifted hands as a sign of surrender.

A writer at Charisma points out that our fingers, hands and arms are also most associated with human strength, power, creativity; both in a human sense and if we examine the Biblical record of God’s actions presented in a way we can best understand them. 6

 


1 Full video at YouTube.

2 This story is often used by leadership coaches as well. Here’s a longer version with the punchline contrasting contribution and commitment.

3 We looked at maintaining a distinct identity in this March, 2017 article.

4 We included more quotes from Jerry Bridges on this topic in this article.

5 This is excerpted from a fuller look at Abraham’s trip up the mountain with Isaac at this link.

6 See the full article about lifting hands at this link.

October 30, 2017

Setting Your Agenda as You Start the Week

I started the day thinking of the great contrast which exists between the American ideal of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and the words in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

I started thinking how I could frame my week in such a way as to render all the individual tasks and goals flowing out of a desire to glorify God, rather than working for the things that would grant me happiness.

The full phrasing in the Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Twelve years ago, fellow Canadian blogger Tim Challies wrote about the phrase from the Catechism and noted an internal potential conflict for some Christians:

While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created in order to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling…

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. It seems to me that many churches would say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord…

His own doctrinal perspective surfaces when he states, “this belief is based on Arminian assumption” but he does come close — without actually using these words — to the idea that a balance is to be found between the activity of a Martha and the sitting at the feet of Jesus of a Mary.

The notion of life, liberty and happiness avoids both.

Perhaps it’s no accident that Jerry Bridges’ most enduring work is titled The Pursuit of Holiness, not happiness.

So instead of asking myself on Monday morning what will best drive my personal pursuit of happiness, I need to ask myself what will glorify God and cause my mind to dwell in all his attributes and delight in him? At the end of the day, each of us must answer individually for how we’ve used our time, talents and resources.

Footnote: While we have listed some national mottoes below, the provincial motto of Newfoundland in Canada is “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Perhaps that best sums up what should be the goal of the Christian, for then and only then will “all these things” — the necessities of life — “be added on to you.”

Clarification: In fairness, given the appendix which follows, the national motto of the United States is “In God We Trust.”


National mottoes (translated) of selected countries:

Antigua and Barbuda: Each endeavouring, all achieving
Bolivia: Unity is Strength
Brazil: Order and Progress
Denmark: God’s help, the love of the people, Denmark’s strength
Dominica: After God, The Earth
Ecuador: God, homeland and liberty
Fiji: Fear God and honour the Queen
Florentine Republic: Fall, you kingdoms of luxury, for the cities of virtue shall thrive
Gambia: Progress, Peace, Prosperity
Guatemala:Grow Free and Fertile
India: Truth alone triumphs
Iraq: God is the Greatest
Kenya: All pull together
Liberia: The love of liberty brought us here
Mali: One people, one goal, one faith
Panama: For the benefit of the world

…continue reading more at Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 19, 2017

Hospitality

Most Christians would affirm the Bible teaches that we should “practice hospitality.” A look at various translations of 1 Peter 4:9 shows that only the NLT suggests that this be directed at “those who need a meal or a place to stay;” though it’s unclear why this one version adds those extra words.

However, the NLT rendering raises an interesting consideration; namely the relative socioeconomic status of hosts and guests in each situation.

Peer Hospitality

This is probably what we do most often. Our guests are often people just like us. We invite them, and a few weeks later we’re invited to their place. Perhaps we’re frequent guests in each others’ homes. Maybe their names is Jones and they are the ones others are trying to keep up with. Or maybe you are the Jones family and you want to show off the widescreen TV you just obtained.

But relatively speaking, it’s an even playing field.

Charitable Hospitality

This is what the NLT was getting at, I guess. Where that single mom and her kids could use a break from leftovers. Where you feel like taking a risk and crossing a line and inviting the guy from the soup kitchen over for Thanksgiving.

Jesus has this in mind when he says, “…When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  (Luke 14: 12-14 NIV)

He’s contrasting the first type of hospitality with the second.

A Third Case

But what if the above situation is reversed? This is a situation that struck me a couple of days ago, and was the reason for writing this.

Several years ago I heard a story about a very wealthy Christian man who along with his wife was invited to the home of the part-time Assistant Pastor and his family. The house was very sparse and not well-heated. There was water on the table, and the meal was somewhat basic.

Was there some other motivation? The wealthy man’s wife told me that she really didn’t know what to make of the invitation; the experience was simply unusual for them. (Yes, I’ll bet it was!)

I know there were times in our life when money was tight but we still tried to entertain. (Now our biggest problem is that the house is a mess!) However, it would have been unusual — that word again — for us to invite a couple from a much higher economic station, although in the very early years of our marriage, I can think of two times we did this more out of naïveté than anything else.

It is very much the opposite of the case Jesus described above, to know that money is tight and bills are due next week and yet someone of means is sitting at your table enjoying a roast beef dinner that represents a great sacrifice on your part.

Truly this is the hardest form of hospitality…

…And yet, this is what people do. Not here. Not in Western Europe or Australia or North America. But in third world countries. When guests comes to a village, a Christian family will invite them into their home (or hut or tent) and share their very last bit of food with them; and they will consider themselves honored to be able to do this.

They would agree with the verse in 1 Peter; we do need to “practice hospitality.”

Yet they are probably reading it completely differently than we do.

 

 

October 8, 2017

Being Good While Being Yourself

For several years Clarke Dixon has been a regular writer at our sister blog, Christianity 201. A year ago he wrote a piece about Islam just for readers here, and a few times we’ve cross-posted material from C201, such as this one about cremation, or this one about the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Two weeks ago, I accidentally formatted one of his C201 posts here and decided you were probably meant to read it. So without further introduction…


by Clarke Dixon

“Just be yourself!”

This is a message often heard in today’s society. “Be authentic, be genuine, don’t let anybody tell you that you need to change!” The Christian message seems to be the exact opposite with the instruction “be transformed” (Romans 12:2), a call to repentance, and testimonies of changed lives. It seems like acceptance of who you are clashes with needing change. Which is the better path? Romans 12:9-21 will help us figure this out.

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 (NRSV)

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHARACTER.

Notice that there is no call to change one’s personality in Romans 12. A change in character is what is called for. This is not a change in identity, so that you are no longer authentically you, but a change in character, so that you are a better you. I am, and have always been, a quiet, shy person. The Lord did not ask me to become a naturally outgoing person when He called me to follow Christ.

We want to be careful here not to mix up personality traits with character traits and so miss an opportunity for growth. For example, many people describe themselves as being impatient people, as if impatience were a mark of their personality and something that cannot change. However, anything that is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22,23) is something God can and will help us change. As we sort out which of our “quirks” are personality traits that make us unique, and which are sins that keep us from being like Christ, let us remember that being a Christian is not a call away from authenticity, but a call to character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT OUR MINDS BEING RENEWED (BUT NOT REMOVED) BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.

In Romans 12:9-21, Paul is fleshing out 12:1,2:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1,2 (NRSV emphasis mine)

The word behind “renew” has the idea of “making new again”. It is not a complete replacement, but rather a renovation. To renovate a home is a very different thing from demolishing it to build a completely different home. Take, for example, the apostles Peter and Paul. There is nothing to make us suspect that their personalities changed from before they knew Christ to after. We do see them change in very important ways, but they are still very much Peter and Paul. They are still very unique individuals. Discipleship in the Christian life is not like assimilation into the Borg in Star Trek, but rather becoming more like Jesus in our character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT RESPONDING TO THE TEACHING OF JESUS.

Romans 12:9-21 feels familiar. These are things that Jesus taught about, and demonstrated in his own life. It begins with love in verse 9: “Let love be genuine”. It includes non-retaliation, putting into practice turning the other cheek, which Jesus both taught and demonstrated. Someone might point out here that Jesus taught that we should deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow. Does that not mean giving up our individuality? In calling us to pick up our cross and follow, Jesus was not calling upon us to give up our identity as being unique in the universe, but to give up a desire to be the centre of the universe. In doing so, you will still be very much you, with all your quirks that make you interesting and unique. But you will be a better you.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHOOSING GOOD OVER EVIL

All of Romans 12:9-21 is framed by the the opportunity to choose good over evil as reflected in verses 9 and 21: “… hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. This is where “just be yourself” does not actually work. Such a sentiment must always be qualified. In watching the Emmy’s recently I did not hear anyone say anything like “Isn’t it wonderful how Donald Trump is comfortable in his own skin? Isn’t it great that he is just being himself?”. No one is saying that about Kim Jong-un either. At the end of the day, all people want everyone else to be good and not evil. All people want others, if they insist on being themselves, to be their better selves. Unfortunately, most people want to go with their own definitions of good and evil. However, the Christian life leads us to God’s definitions of good and evil, plus God’s empowerment to choose to do good rather than evil.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING COUNTER-CULTURAL.

Romans 12:2 does not say “no longer be conformed to your own identity” but “do not be conformed to this age”. Simply put, be yourself, but be your better self, and so stick out like a sore thumb. Those who live the kinds of lives that reflect Romans 12:9-21 will surely do so.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING SALT AND LIGHT IN SOCIETY.

While there is disagreement on how to get there, people naturally long for a better society. Romans 12:9-12 gives some very practical ways of getting there. Just imagine the impact if people were to live like these verses describe. The effect of a renewed mind is much better than the effect of being conformed to the current age. As our relationship with Christ leads to our minds being renewed, people will take notice. How could anyone not respond positively to genuine love (verse 9), hospitality (verse 13), being blessed instead of being cursed (verse 14), care for the downtrodden (verse 15), non-retaliation (verses 17 and following), and being with people who are peaceable (verse 18)? We should note here that we are to think on “what is noble in the sight of all” (verse17). The world is watching, even longing for, a changed people to show the way.

CONCLUSION

Society does not actually say “just be yourself”, it says “be yourself, unless we don’t like you, or there is something about you we think should change”. Jesus says I love you, no matter what you are currently like. I have already demonstrated that love by bearing the cross for you”. Now that is true acceptance, and by Someone whose acceptance of us really matters! When you experience acceptance by God, get ready to be changed, not that you are no longer you, but that you are a better you. Not only are you transformed by the renewing of your mind, but the world around you will begin changing for the better too. So be yourself! But be a God-filled changing-in-great-ways self!


October 5, 2017

What You Don’t See Just By Looking at the Amish

I don’t know offhand if the Amish permit what’s called here “Agritourism” — in other words farm tours — but I have something that would be of greater interest than seeing the hay lofts or furniture making workshop. I’d like to sit down with an Amish elder and discuss the underlying faith, specifically their faith and how it informs their customers. It beats driving around Lancaster, PA and going, “Over there! It’s another one!” and then snapping camera-phone pictures of these precious people simply trying to live their lives in peace.

This week, I got a bit of an insight into the type of information I’m seeking. I work two days a week at a Christian bookstore that my wife and I coincidentally happen to own. When an audio book came in missing the shrink-wrap usually found on audio products1 I considered the idea of listening to a few minutes of it as, despite the various podcasts and sermons I listen to constantly, I have no personal experience with audio books.

Then I discovered the book was voiced by none other than Christian Taylor, one of the regulars at The Phil Vischer Podcast.2 I decided to see (or hear) what her vocational labor produced.

The audio was for the book Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World by Susanne Woods Fisher.3 Interspersing Amish proverbs with anecdotal stores would make this a fun read, but it was probably a bit of a challenge voicing a reading of the book.

Putting it as simply as I can, there is a world here which, while it may seem strikingly different to observe as a tourist, is actually more different than you think in terms of the underlying principles which guide everyday life in an Amish family and an Amish community.  They live out an ethic which is certainly rooted in the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus, but in many respects almost goes beyond that high standard in terms of everyday life.4

Even if I could embed myself in an Amish family for a week, I don’t know that I could ever expect to fully get it without having spent a lifetime being educated and shaped by their community values, passed on from generation to generation. They live in a world without electronic media and yet possess a wisdom many of the rest of us cannot imagine. Their formal education ends at Grade 8, yet they have better literacy rates than in other neighboring rural areas. Their children are given responsibilities that would boggle the minds of parents who bubble-wrap their kids in the cities, such as driving a team of mules to plow a field.5 And their pace of life means they see things which the rest of miss while driving Interstate freeways at 70 mph.

I enjoyed the (audio) book, but I find myself wanting more; more than I can get from simply packing up the car and heading off to Amish country or Mennonite country to simply look at them.6

I want to take a month and be them.7


1To my readers in other countries: For years records, tapes and CDs in North America have come plastic-wrapped, as we don’t want to get to get germs, at least that’s what a record vendor in England told me years ago.

2As in “…We’ll talk to Skye and Christian, too, but we’ve got no guest this week for you…” (Show theme song.) Christian is a voice actor. christiantaylorvo.com

3Oops! Fisher wrote Amish Peace in 2009. In an earlier version of this blog post, I identified the book as The Heart of the Amish which she wrote in 2015. This appears to be a different book, not a title update. My bad.

4The stories about forgiveness will break you.

5Full disclosure: The book admits this freedom results in a much higher rate of Emergency Room visits due to injuries compared to other children in rural areas.

6Pennsylvania or Ohio or Western Ontario would be the destinations of choice for such an excursion. The book notes the Ohio Amish have a lower percentage of people living in farm communities.

7I would probably not be able to give up my phone or internet connection. Today, several houses share an outdoor phone booth of sorts which is for making calls, not receiving them. That would be somewhat insufficient.


Christian responds:

Related: A 2010 article I wrote about the Amish and the concept of being separated from the world.

Photos: Daily Encouragement by Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

June 22, 2017

Christian Leaders Have Feelings, Too

Have you ever received a letter or an email where you could acutely feel the pain of the person writing? It happened to me about a week ago, and not for the usual reasons that people experience hurt. This person had unexpectedly come out on the wrong side of a business dealing some other Christians. Though the letter wasn’t written particularly to evoke an emotional response, but it really affected me and has stayed with me throughout the week.

Interestingly, if I am to be perfectly honest I don’t particularly like this person. Circumstances necessitate a relationship that would not exist otherwise. Really, that’s how it is in the body of Christ. Look around your church on Sunday morning and ask yourself how likely you would otherwise be to interact with this set of people. Would you have another context to make their acquaintance? Would the ones you count as friends have ended up so through some other means?

Meanwhile, all’s fair in love and business, right? Tough luck. Easy come, easy go.

Ruminating on this continually however, I’ve been reminded that people in Christian leadership are not immune to hurt and pain. Years ago I was at a crossroads where I could have gone into pastoral ministry. “Don’t do it;” a mentor advised; “You’re not thick-skinned enough.”

But who is thick-skinned enough? We’re human. We bleed. Electing to choose a ministry that must be, by definition, compassionate means that pastors may be more sensitive than many of us. We all have different degrees of sensitivity, but I think pastors bear the biggest brunt of this. They are particularly vulnerable on Sundays, especially right after the sermon. If you want to bring someone down a notch or two, that’s the perfect time. As an aspiring Bible teacher, I had just finished a Sunday morning sermon at a Christian conference center that was transitioning into a summer camp; so adults from offsite were still in the habit of driving there for services. I don’t remember the topic, but I felt it had gone reasonably well until the director called me into his office immediately after.

“You really think you’re hot stuff, don’t you?”

I stood there not quite sure how to respond. It turned out later that there was a enormous political power struggle going on in this organization, and he didn’t want me feeling in any way empowered.  The rest of that conversation is a bit of a blur.

Christian leaders have feelings. Some no doubt pursue ministry not realizing the emotional price they will have to pay. This undoubtedly leads to the rather high attrition rate in this profession. But heads of missions, parachurch organizations and other Christian charities could be included in this, as well as lay-leaders who may have a role in the life the church which is quite a contrast to their primary vocation.

It’s important for the rest of us to bear that in mind.

Don’t cause hurt. If you need to confront an individual, do it lovingly. If you think something needs to be done differently, make a suggestion, not an order. If you feel someone is going astray, scripture tells us to lead them gently back.

Watch for leaders who are hurting. They’re all around you. In the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, you can be a pastor’s pastor. They need to talk, too. Remember them in prayer.

Rebuke the person who causes hurt. If you know someone who loves to stir the pot, who loves to be ‘Brother Sandpaper,’ pull them aside and remind them that the Christian leader in question is human just like them.

Bear your own hurts well. If you’ve continued reading this far, perhaps you have some leadership role in the church and need to expect at sometime to have to manage the emotions which arise when the inevitable attack happens, because it probably will.

Make love your rule of life.

 

May 29, 2017

An Interactive Devotional Experience

Imagine for a moment that I’ve had a particularly frustrating and upsetting week. A praying close friend, aware of all this takes a moment to send me an email with the curious subject line, “A message through me from God to you.” With a sigh, I click and read:

My child, I know the past few days have been trying. Please be assured of my continued you love for you and know that in these times I have been as close, if not closer, to you than ever.

Not at all thinking it through, I hit ‘reply’ and type:

Really, God? It would have been nice to have a sign of that love. A change in circumstances. A good night’s sleep, even.

I no sooner hit ‘send’ and then it hits me. What have I done? My friend will be upset. Will I damage our friendship by not appreciating their effort in reaching out? Has my response betrayed a total lack of faith? Am I just going to get God mad at me?

Not 60 seconds later a message comes back:

A sign? Okay. How about an encouragement note from a close friend?

I sigh, but this time it’s a different sigh, one of resignation.

Sorry, God.

Book Review • The Listening Day: Meditations on the Way – Volume 1  by Paul J. Pastor (Zeal Books, 2017)

Have you ever wanted to talk back to your devotional book? I imagine myself saying, ‘That’s easy for you to write; you don’t know my situation.’ Perhaps I’ve already done that a few times.

The Listening Day is a collection of 91 page-per-day readings by Oregon’s Paul J. Pastor (yes, real name) who is also the author of The Face of The Deep, which we reviewed here. At first look, the book appears to follow the format of several popular titles in the same genre, where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always.

I am often wary of this format. I would not presume to say, ‘Thus says the Lord’ unless I were certain that I had heard from God in the first place, and so I have what I consider a righteous skepticism toward books which run with this format. I’ve read the criticisms, most of which were directed at a highly successful title by an author who was and still is generally unknown. For many, the format is reminiscent of God Calling by A.J. Russell which is often used in conjunction with the AA program and has been criticized for the process by which it in particular was written, something called ‘automatic writing.’ 

Those situations don’t apply here. The author is well known to readers of Christianity Today, his first book was published by David C. Cook, and I’ve listened to him teach at his home church in Portland, where he is a deacon responsible for spiritual formation.

The book is different. For two reasons.

First, although each page begins with two well-paired key scripture verses for the day, there are many scripture passages alluded to and embedded in most of the daily writings. The book is thoroughly anchored in Biblical texts. I didn’t encounter anything where I thought, ‘God would not have said that.’ Rather, with my discernment radar set to its maximum setting, I felt the plausibility of God saying such things — especially to me personally — was quite high.

Second, there was the interactive factor. This was, in one sense, a dramatic encounter with God. The interjections on the part of the reader — typed out on behalf of you and me — were the things I would say. This book got very personal very quickly. With further honesty, sometimes the interruptions were followed by apparent silence on God’s part. Been there, too.

The introduction came with an admonishment not to try to binge-read the entire book, but rather to take one reading per day. Good advice, but impossible for a reviewer who has to read every word of every page before composing a review. Slowing down to 15 entries per day over 6 days, I asked myself, ‘What if this were the only thing I had time for in the morning as I started my day?’ I think it would be a most appropriate beginning because the dialogue format is a reminder of God’s presence from the moment I awake, and this is critical in a world where many Christians are spiritually defeated between the bed and the breakfast table. 

A note about the “Volume One” in the title: Without giving away too much at this point, I’m assured that there is more to come. Stay tuned.

Climb the tree of life–
the branches are wide and strong enough for all.
Reach from beauty,
stretching to understanding,
pulling up on wisdom
until you come into sight of the place where I hang,
beyond words, above the healing leaves, high above the kingdom.
There you will know me, just as you are known,
at the crown and light of the listening day.


We ran an excerpt of one of the readings a few days ago at Christianity 201.

Zeal Books is a new company from the former owner and President of Multnomah Publishing and includes among it current roster a book by Bruce Wilkinson.

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