Thinking Out Loud

November 15, 2022

Tyler Staton: More Than Just Another Book on Prayer

I hear Jesus saying, “Pray with the heart of a lover and the discipline of a monk” – Praying Like Monks (p193)

If the Bible tells us anything about how to pray, it says that God much prefers the rough draft full of rants and typos to the polished, edited version. – Praying Like Monks (p21)

Review: Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton

Two years ago, when I reviewed Tyler Staton‘s first book, Searching for Enough, I commented that a book about the apostle Thomas was fitting since it is a recurring theme in Tyler’s preaching. Given the available instances online of Tyler speaking in his own church — Oaks Church Brooklyn and later Bridgetown Church Portland — and as guest speaker in various venues, that was an accurate reflection of his go-to theme.

In hindsight however, this sophomore book project, Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools: An Invitation to the Wonder and Mystery of Prayer (Zondervan, 2022) lands the plane on a topic that is more central to Tyler’s heart and by which his current ministry is more defined.

You could deduce this partly from the fact he’s done not one, but two teaching series on prayer in this calendar year alone; one series, Teach us to Pray in January; and a second “Vision” series which began in September. (Click here for Bridgetown’s teaching page.)

But you could also discern it from a look at Tyler’s life: Even before entering his early teens, prayer became a defining part of his spiritual journey, to the point of doing early morning prayer walks around his middle school to pray for the students in his year. Those prayers bore fruit. Today, he’s National Director of the United States chapter of the 24/7 Prayer Movement, an organization founded by Pete Greig.

Full disclosure: I am a somewhat rabid fan of Tyler’s teaching. It meets my current need for sermon content that is both informative, illuminating and pastoral. I would start to read a fresh chapter convinced I must have already read it the day before, because many of the illustrations had stuck with me; a sort of situation where you’ve read the book before seeing the movie, only the other way around.

I also deeply respect him not only for the breadth of sources and influences that shaped the book, but also for the personal anecdotes where the principles taught have been brought to life through interactions with people both in and outside the church, and on both coasts of the U.S. Honestly, I could write about prayer, but it wouldn’t emerge the same as someone like Tyler Staton who is practitioner of the things described; someone who lives the lifestyle taught.

For the cynics who say that there are already too many books about prayer in a crowded Christian publishing market, I would answer, “I agree, but you need to read this one.” I’m not overly emotionally, but several times I had to rub my eyes, if you know what I mean. At the same time, there are some more lighthearted references. In a podcast, I think Tyler referred to letting people breathe after particularly heavy moments.

Some churches end the sermon time with the pastor saying, “Today, for your homework, I want you to…” At Bridgetown, the language used is “practices” and each chapter of Praying Like Monks contains action steps you can take. The ten chapters lend themselves to small group study — I’d even say take twelve weeks — and it’s good if you can listen to a few sermons online so that you’ve got Tyler’s voice in your head as you’re reading.

It’s hard for new voices to find an audience, but I really hope you’ll take my recommendation and consider this one.


As an example of Tyler Staton’s writing style, I offer this short excerpt which I ran at Christianity 201 a few days ago.

Link to: Publisher’s book information page

 

November 13, 2022

A Worship Song I Can’t Edit!

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:46 pm

I’ve never been a fan of long worship songs. I know what it means to ‘lose yourself’ in a worship moment, but when ‘soaking songs’ started to become in vogue, I found the ADHD in me kicking in around the 5½ minute mark.

But then there’s this one.

I think that The Same God by Elevation Worship is a worship song we need in these times. This is the lyric version which clocks in at just over 8 minutes. You’ll find other versions online which run 11½ minutes.

Like the 11th chapter of Hebrews, it offers a catalog of people and events which serve as reminders of where God met people where they are.

And honestly, I can’t think of anything much I would want to take out to shorten this to the four-to-five minutes that many — especially non-Pentecostals or non-Charismatics — prefer.

So here’s my suggestion: If you don’t know this song, take the time now to just rest with it and let it speak to you. 

He is the same God today as he has been before.

August 22, 2022

Henri Nouwen and the Acrobats: Behind the Making of the Book

In late May I received a short note from the co-author of a book I had briefly mentioned on my Christian book trade blog. The book was Flying, Falling, Catching: An Unlikely Story of Finding Freedom (HarperOne, 2022) by the late Henri Nouwen and Carolyn Whitney-Brown. Both Carolyn and I thought that the story behind the book deserved greater attention, and months later, she sent what follows, which at this point, we have exclusively. You can learn more about her writing at this link.

by Carolyn Whitney-Brown

I first met Henri Nouwen at L’Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill [North Toronto] in 1989 when he drove me with my husband Geoff to a local pizza place for lunch. He was a terrifyingly inattentive driver. But we had a terrific conversation that day. Geoff and I were completing our PhDs in English literature, so like Henri, we were coming from academic backgrounds looking for ways to live the gospel more concretely in a diverse community.

As Gord, a longtime L’Arche member with Down syndrome, would encourage us, “Open your heart.” We lived with Henri and Gord and many others at Daybreak until 1997, learning to think and love and laugh and pray in new ways. Those were transformative years.

Carolyn Whitney-Brown with Henri Nouwen

Henri first saw the Flying Rodleighs trapeze troupe perform in 1991, and it hit him like a thunderbolt. He described a physical response that left him shaken, excited, in tears – a response of his body, not in words. Over the next five years, he got to know the trapeze troupe and they became close friends. His times with them were relaxing, inspiring and full of fun. He talked about them constantly.

I knew from conversations with Henri at the time that he wanted to write differently; something that would read like fiction or even a novel. He wanted his circus book to be different than any of his previous books, based not on ideas or insights, but offering a story that would draw readers into an experience and invite them to draw their own significances and connnections.

But he died suddenly in 1996, and the fragments that he left behind sat in his literary archives for decades.

In 2017, because I was a writer who knew Henri well, I was invited by the publishing committee of Henri’s literary estate to have a look at his trapeze writings and see if anything inspired me.

Immediately, I was hooked by two mysteries. First, why did his encounter with the Flying Rodleighs strike him so powerfully at that moment of his life? And second, why he did he not finish his book about them?

I started to read widely in the archives, trying to figure out what else was going on in his life and spirit in those years, what had prepared him to see, as he put it, “the angels of God appearing to me in the form of five trapeze artists.”

I couldn’t write the book that Henri would have written, but in Flying, Falling, Catching, I honour his desire to write a creative book that would be as engaging as a novel. I juxtapose his writings about his friendship with the Flying Rodleighs trapeze troupe alongside other significant moments in his life. Those experiences in Henri’s own words are framed by the true story of his first heart attack and his rescue out the window of a hotel in the Netherlands in 1996.

The book is in two voices, Henri’s and mine, with two typefaces so that readers know which writings are Henri’s and which are mine.

I had a lot of fun writing it.

After completing the book, I keep thinking about pedestals. It’s easy to put Henri on a pedestal: he was wise and brave even when he was demanding and anguished. He’s often called a spiritual master. But that elevates him to a unique and lonely place, and being admired like that was not a healthy place for Henri. The trapeze act involves a different image of a pedestal, as somewhere to launch from. You’d look silly staying on a pedestal. It’s a platform to allow you to take a risk. And trapeze performers are rarely on a pedestal alone: no one can do a trapeze act by themselves.

Henri Nouwen with The Flying Rodleighs
Photo: Ron P. van den Bosch

You can actually see some hilarious film footage of Henri on the trapeze pedestal on the online recordings of two book launch events, one with commentary by Rodleigh Stevens himself, and the other with L’Arche Daybreak. In that one, I tell viewers to notice that real friends will not only accompany you on a pedestal, but they will throw you off at the right moment! You can find links to both book launch events at:

https://www.writersunion.ca/member/carolyn-whitney-brown

It struck me recently that I am now the age that Henri was when he was so entranced by the Flying Rodleighs, and interestingly, so is Rodleigh himself, since he and I are close in age. At our age, Henri let his imagination be seized by a whole new adventure. He said,

On a deeper level, [my friendship with the Flying Rodleighs] has given me a sense my life is just beginning. I don’t know where it’s going but I’m only sixty-two so I may have another thirty years. The Rodleighs are saying to me indirectly, don’t be afraid to fly a little, don’t be afraid to take a few doubles or triples or a few layouts. If you really miss the catcher you fall into the net so what’s the big issue! After all, take a risk and trust, trust, trust.”

Henri cared passionately about building communities that honour differences, that work for justice, that seek God’s vision of peace on earth and goodwill to all. As you finish reading Flying, Falling, Catching, be open to the spiritual challenge: What seizes YOUR imagination? What excites you? What life of fun and creative energy does God imagine for each of us, not just alone, but in our communities?


Flying Falling Catching is also available in the UK through SPCK Publishing.


Related: At Christianity 201 — Henri Nouwen quotations

August 18, 2022

Skye Jethani Adds 3rd Title to “Serious” Series

Book Review: What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church?: A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended (Moody Publishers, 2022)

Two years ago I was able to review the first book in what we now know has become a series, What if Jesus Was Serious? At the time, I mentioned that the use of “napkin doodles” therein was foreshadowed in one of Skye Jethani’s older books, With. I was unable to get a review copy of the follow-up, What if Jesus Was Serious About Prayer? but when the subject-at-hand for the third book was the modern church, I knew I wanted in, and despite the publisher’s great reluctance to grant review copies, was able to request one.

The reason I wanted to own this one in my personal collection is because this is a theme on which Skye is most outspoken when talking to Phil Vischer or interviewing guests weekly on The Holy Post Podcast. As a former pastor himself, and a former writer for over a decade with Christianity Today, Skye is able to articulate the challenges faced by the capital “C” Church worldwide, the small “c” church locally, and those whose vocational employment is church-related.

The podcast for which he is quite well known fails (in my view) in one respect, in that it is far too American-oriented. If you’re reading this review in the UK, or Australia, or Canada, and you’ve sensed that as well, you’ll be happy to know that the book casts a wider perspective beyond the U.S. I promise you’ll only roll your eyes once or twice.

So for those who need to play catch-up, as with the first two books, this one consists of short — never more than four page — chapters, each of which commences with a little drawing which might be a chart, or a diagram, or a cartoon, or a meme. It’s hard to describe them. Hence the reference to “napkin doodles.” The thing you would draw on a napkin (or blank paper place-mat) in a coffee shop when trying to explain an idea. (Again, the book With is must-reading to see how the concept evolved.)

This one has 51 such chapters, grouped in five sections; The Family Reunion, The Family Meal, The Family Gathering, The Family Business, and The Family Servants.

I immediately shared the second part with my wife. I find that I can never read enough about the Eucharist, Last Supper, or Communion Service, and our need to keep its centrality in the modern worship service. It and the third part, about the manner in which we worship are the longest two groupings in the book and include subjects that are important to the author.

Skye Jethani is so forthright and authoritative on these subjects, and I feel he is a voice that everyone in Evangelicalism needs to be hearing.

Because I tend to gush about the books I review — I choose them and don’t get books sent automatically — I do have a couple of criticisms. One is that for those who obsess over page counts, the 232 pages in this one include about 45 which are essentially blank. That’s a product of the way the book is formatted, and in balance, one needs to also consider this digest-sized paperback uses color process throughout.

The other thing was the ending. For me, there wasn’t one. The 51st article ended abruptly, which I expected given the concision that Skye employs throughout. But then I turned the page looking for a conclusion; something that would tie everything altogether, and there wasn’t one. No closing statement. Perhaps, as with the podcast for which he is known, there is a bonus chapter only available to Patreon supporters.

Those complaints aside, I encourage you to consider this. It’s fairly quick reading, and if you or someone in your family is employed in ministry, it contains a number of great conversation starters. If you simply care about where modern Evangelicalism is headed, it contains even more topics to provoke discussion.

July 18, 2022

A Compelling Case for Christianity

The book we’re highlighting today is special to me because I’ve known the author, Clarke Dixon for a decade, and had read the material when it first appeared as part of his blog, now called Thinking Through Scripture and later re-blogged on our own Christianity 201 page, where, when not on sabbatical, Clarke is our regular Thursday devotional writer. He is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope is especially directed towards those who might be sitting on the fence regarding Christianity, or doubting its core claims, or having specific objections.

From the introduction:

The picture of the diving board on the cover was taken by one of my sons where we vacation. My sons have taken the plunge from this board many times. Me, not so much. I can understand reticence. However, despite my caution, there are good reasons to dive in from this board. The water is deep. There are no sharks. Jumping in can be great fun. Or so I am told. I tend to be a skeptical person.

There are many reasons people share for being skeptical of the claims of Christianity. In this short book I would like to introduce you to some reasons that we can lay aside our doubts and fears and take the plunge into a life of faith. It is beautiful. It is believable. And it can be great fun.

This book is presented in two parts. The first part gives reasons to believe in God and trust in Jesus based on the beauty of Christianity. The water is refreshing on a hot summer day. Jumping in is a beautiful experience. Christianity, when expressed well, leads to greater beauty in one’s life, and indeed the world.

The second part gives reasons to believe in God and trust in Jesus despite the warnings of the people who say it is foolish to do so. According to the evidence, the water is deep, there are no sharks. Faith is not a blind leap, but a reasonable step.

If you are skeptical, I understand. However, I invite you to discover how Christianity is both beautiful and believable. I invite you to join me on the diving board, maybe we might even take a step . . .

The chapters are short — this is a great title to give to a guy, since some men have trouble staying on track while reading — and Beautiful and Believable is printed in a very clear, readable font.

Your local bookseller in Canada and the U.S. can order through Ingram, using ISBN 9798836457112 for the print edition, or of course, the usual (!) online source for books for both book and eBook, or from Apple Books; currently the print MSRP has been set generously low for the 142 page paperback.

February 1, 2022

John Mark Comer on Culture Non-Conformity

The phrase has grown antiquated.

The seven-letter phrase was standard in Evangelical preaching in the mid-20th Century: “The world, the flesh, and the devil.” It was the stuff of spiritual warfare seminars, revival meetings and Pentecostal preaching. And then, like some other words and phrases, it became outmoded.

That is, until Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace by John Mark Comer (Waterbrook, 2021), though this time around, the order is reversed and Comer considers “the devil, the flesh and the world,” and in ways the seminar leader, revival leader and Pentecostal preacher of days gone by might not recognize.

Like his previous work, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer is all about awakening people to recognize the ways in which they have become conformed to popular culture. Or trapped by it. Or enslaved to it. As much as I wanted to review that book when it released, as a regular listener to online sermons at Bridgetown Church in Portland where, until recently, Comer was lead pastor, I’ve heard much of the sermon material which gave birth to both books and the link between them is so strong, I can’t help think there’s got to a third book to complete the trilogy.

But Comer’s methodology is always somewhat subversive. What if you, while taking a firm stand against popular culture and the hold it has on people, were to quote the culture’s own poets, authors, playwrights, and spokespeople? It’s not a new idea, Jesus and Paul walked that road before, and unless you’re extremely conversant on things written by academics, trend-spotters and cultural analysts, you’re going to indirectly hear from voices which are new to you.

But what if you don’t believe in the devil?

Comer is very charitable toward readers who are in a different space. He’s created a book that you could hand to that non-church-attending neighbour or coworker or relative and say, ‘Check this out and tell me what you think.’ The use of the aforementioned ‘secular’ pundits and experts helps facilitate that type of book-giving. The Bible is also generously applied to the discussion, but the book’s primary text is devoid of chapter and verse scripture references which can only be found in the endnotes. There are also quotations from Christian writers ranging from the Desert Fathers to Comer’s mentors and contemporaries.

In calling us to resist the pressures of the dominant culture, Comer seems to include both an individual and corporate response. In other words, a mixture of ‘What can I do?’ and ‘What can my Christian community do?’ in observing and reacting to the world in which we live.

For the ADHD readers among us, each of the three sections contains a two-page recap with key points on how we fight and overcome the devil, the flesh and the world in this cultural moment.

Live No Lies is not however a spiritual warfare manual in the sense of other books you’ve read before. It’s more of a manifesto, seeking to challenge and inspire readers to build a different type of kingdom.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource (distributor of Waterbrook Press titles to the Canadian Christian bookstore market) for an opportunity to finally get my hands on a book I was dying to read!

December 29, 2021

The Philip Yancey I Never Knew

This was not the book I was expecting. It was also the book I almost set aside without finishing. Where the Light Fell: A Memoir (Convergent Books, 2021) is the sometimes gut-wrenching story of the early life of one of today’s most popular Christian authors. It is not a pretty story.

Raised in an ultra-conservative Bible Belt family by a single mother, it’s a story of hardship on every level. Having read nearly half of Yancey’s two dozen books, I thought I knew some of the backstory, but nothing prepared for me for these revelations.

After reading the first forty pages just before turning out the lights for the evening, I set the book down and that night, sleep just didn’t come. It would be a week before I would pick up my copy and continue, and with some of the worst of the timeline behind me, I more eagerly continued to the end.

But the end was not what I expected. I knew of Yancey’s work with Campus Life magazine and co-editing The Student Bible, and co-authoring three books with leprosy doctor Paul Brand. But only two of those three surface for a fleeting mention toward the end. The focus here is on earlier times; younger days.

I’m sure he would agree with me that the memoir is a story of family dynamics, and from the outset it appears that the mother-son relationship will dominate. However, in later chapters — and this isn’t really a spoiler — it becomes more about the relationship with his brother Marshall Yancey, and the contrast between two boys who share so many things in common at the beginning, and then arriving at entirely opposite places. In a different world, it might be Marshall’s autobiography people were reading.

Over the years I’ve introduced dozens of people to the writing of Philip Yancey. If pressed, I often say that the draw for me is that as journalist and not a pastor, I am struck by the way he wrestles with scripture and theology.

Now I understand why. I understand why it’s necessary, why it’s imperative for him to fully work out anything he’s going espouse in print. He places a high value on raw honesty and transparency. He’s not always interested in providing the right answers as he is in the process it takes to arrive there. Only then will the answers suffice.

Living one country removed from the U.S., there’s so much of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s America that never touched my own experience. Still, our family’s yearly car trips to Florida meant driving through the southern states, and particularly in the years before the interstate highway system was completed, there were snapshots in the book — especially those portraying extreme poverty — that brought flashbacks to things I’d seen from the backseat of my parents’ car.

The guest speakers at Yancey’s summer camp were not entirely unfamiliar names, and the names of the Christian magazines his mother subscribed to also resonated. But my contact was fleeting whereas he was immersed in that milieu, and it had repercussions on every choice with which he was confronted and how he and his brother saw the world.

For those for whom this is a foreign experience, the book is a necessary tool for processing Evangelical history in the post-war, mid-20th century. No wonder that on book tours, he had said, “I truly believe this is the one book I was put on earth to write.”

It was on such a book tour years ago that I got to meet my favorite writer. I shook his hand and thanked him for all that his books have meant. He had just released What Good Is God? and the publicist had handed me a complimentary copy and I waited until all the purchasers of the book had left and then asked him if he would autograph mine. Being last in line, if I had known things about him that I now know, I might have extended our conversation by a few extra minutes discussing the Christian world which I got to see from a bit of a distance, and that he lived in every waking moment.

I also find now, I’m longing for a part two. How that upbringing shaped those experiences working for a mainstream Evangelical magazine like Campus Life or a publisher like Zondervan, with whom his books were released. Perhaps part two consists of re-reading some of those classics — What’s So Amazing About Grace, or The Jesus I Never Knew or even Soul Survivor — through the lens of what’s been revealed here in Where the Light Fell.

For those familiar with Philip Yancey’s previous works, this is a must-read. For those who have completed other recent books which deal with the history of Evangelical Protestantism in the United States in the past century, again a must-read.

Just be prepared to recognize this as the story not just of one person, but of a mother and two sons, because that’s the essence of what you’ll find.


Thanks to Martin Smith of Parasource, Canadian distributor for Convergent for providing a chance to read this when I’d given up hope of getting a review copy!

December 8, 2021

Jesus Taught 12 Students for 3 Years: What Was the Curriculum?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:24 am

This drawing first appeared at my devotional blog, C201, a year-and-a-half ago. I find it amusing looking back that the related article I wrote specifically mentions Matthias and Justus, the two nominees to replace Judas after the betrayal, but in the drawing it’s Matthias and “?.” (There’s a pun here somewhere about how sometimes there’s just no Justus.)

The two were mentioned toward the end of the article as an example of people who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. (Acts 1: 21b – 22a) in order to show that while “the twelve” were the “official” disciples, there were others such as the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus; Mary the mother of Jesus, two other Marys (a popular name; they must have been Catholic) and people like Nicodemus who appears at both the beginning and end of John’s Gospel, and John Mark, who might have been too young to be counted at the outset but is definitely part of the inner circle in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When I say, “official” disciples, I realize some are confused by the use of the term “the twelve apostles” and then there is the matter that we are all, today, disciples. And if we want to throw out numbers, let’s not forget the 72 (or as some prefer, 70) who Jesus sent out two-by-two. Casual adherents and visitors wouldn’t have been allowed on that missions trip.

The point of all this is to bring us to this verse:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. – John 21:25 NIV

Want an example?

In Luke 24:13-35, we have the story of Jesus appearing to Clopas and the other unnamed person on the road to Emmaus. The crucifixion has left them shattered, and they describe their sadness to Jesus and then Jesus responds.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. – v27

Of all the “other things” that John was referring to, most people I know would give their eye teeth to have a transcription of that small group discussion. The entire, big-picture story-arc of the Bible as taught by Jesus himself. Nobody knew it was happening, but for a brief span of time, it was the hottest ticket in town.

So how does this connect with “the twelve?”

The thing that separates those young men from the additional disciples is a rabbinical relationship between teacher and student. He was their rabbi, and for three years they followed him (literally, as he was itinerant, always on the move) as he did whatever might be expected of a rabbi, plus a few extras that probably weren’t.

So what was on the curriculum? What was in the syllabus?

I haven’t seen much written about this, but I would expect there would be teaching on ethics, on philosophy, on Israel’s history, and perhaps even a lecture or two about dealing with pesky parishioners or doing fundraising to support their ministry. Things that rabbis taught their pupils, necessary for advancement on the day they themselves became teachers, plus some of whatever elements would distinguish one rabbi’s teaching from another.

The point is, we don’t know.

Most of what we see and hear of his teaching happened in a public setting, leaving us with enough in terms of the “red letter” quotable quotes to advance the kingdom and change the world; but also leave us hungering for more, such as Clopas and the other person got to hear while walking from Emmaus.

At the site BibleRef.com, the point is made that because of the writing style in John, this observation about the volume of unrecorded actions and teachings of Jesus, is the only time the writer uses the pronoun, “I.”

Throughout the gospel of John, there have been overtly anonymous references to a particular disciple (John 1:37; 13:23; 18:15–16; 19:26; 21:23). The prior verse seems to confirm this person is John, the author of the entire work (John 21:24). John may have used a secretary to write down his words as he spoke, partly explaining why this writing ends with a specific claim to authorship. There appears to be an additional stamp of approval, possibly from a local church, attached to that statement as well.

Here, the “signature” concludes with the gospel of John’s only explicit use of a first-person perspective. It’s not entirely clear if this is still John speaking, or if this continues the note of approval which began with the phrase “and we know…” from the prior verse. Either way, it makes the point that Jesus’ earthly ministry could not be fully detailed in a single book. Further, to explain or understand those words would require immense effort. The existence of Bible commentaries—such as this very ministry—which are many times longer than the text itself is further proof of this.

Apparently John himself (or if you prefer, the writer of the Gospel of John*) is most emphatic on this; grammatically, it’s the crescendo in what has been, after all, a first-person account.

As Knowing-Jesus.com states,

John only related a fraction of the inexhaustible fullness of all Christ did during His 33 years on earth, which was spent going about doing good. He humbled Himself and only did those things He heard from His Father in heaven and He worked the works of God, through the mighty power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

…John’s gospel only touches on the fringe of inexhaustible fullness of all that Jesus did – for words are insufficient to capture the infinite riches of His unparalled life.

The site Heartlight.org sums up the passage well:

Jesus did many great deeds when he was here. He also is continuing to do those great deeds through his people and for the people of the world. But even though the world could not contain a book that recorded all the good things that Jesus did, Jesus did walk on our planet, look up at our stars, and face our mortal frailties so we could see God. Why? Three reasons are especially important to John:

  1. Jesus loves us, as does his Father.
  2. We need Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, example, message, and truth.
  3. The Father wanted Jesus to come and reveal himself to us.

We don’t know every single word that was spoken by Jesus on this earth, but we’re given enough that, if we can process and assimilate that, we can indeed transform our world.


Some of the teaching of Jesus that we do have recorded were indeed asides to the twelve. The public, including seekers, scribes and spiritual leaders were not present. But most of what we read is part of what is termed his “public ministry.”

If you want to delve further into Christ’s teaching, The Gospel of Matthew is your best bet, containing five (count ’em, five) of Christ’s discourses. Much attention is given to the first one, which we call The Sermon on the Mount, but if you want to read what we covered at C201 a year ago about the others, here are the links:

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Parables

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: End Times


* I included this phrase as a concession to those who believe and teach that the Gospels weren’t necessarily authored by the person whose name they bear. I’m all for advances in research and textual criticism, but the phrase, “the writer of the Gospel of John” is just an awkward sentence construction.


Warning: Speculation as to what all is contained in the things that Jesus may have said or done which are not recorded is a dangerous pursuit. To say it differently, this is how cults get started. We have enough solid content from the common canon of scripture without having to elaborate or focus on things which are pure conjecture.

December 4, 2021

Rachel Held Evans’ Wholehearted Faith

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:55 pm

There might have been moments as you’ve read this pages when you’ve felt frustration and even despair, because it has seemed as if I am asking you to do more, try something different, think in a way you’ve never thought before… (pp 173-4)

Fifty years from now, all things being equal, I can envision a world where the words of Rachel Held Evans are being studied, long after the works of many of today’s popular authors are no longer considered. In the face of criticism for her approach to Christian belief, she was always gracious, and to those for whom her writing fully resonated, it was as though she sparked an entire movement.

Wholehearted Faith (HarperOne, 2021, no subtitle) is in part the next book Rachel Held Evans was working on before her untimely death in 2019, and excerpts from her blog posts. That being said, I was expecting a rather disjointed collection of chapters, but honestly I have to confess I didn’t know where the book manuscript ended and the other material began. Her writing is just … so her.

Some of that continuity is owing to longtime friend Jeff Chu, also pictured, who assembled the final manuscript.

Sometimes in reviewing a book, unless you make notes, your final impressions are tied to later chapters, not unlike the situation where your most vivid memories of a loved one are those final days of old age and not the vitality of their youth. That’s how I was impacted when, toward the end of the book (pp 163-6) there is a detailed description of Rachel taking the hate mail she received electronically, printing out the worst of it, and then folding those printed pages into origami “swans and then sailboats, flowers and then foxes.”

You have to either laugh or cry as you read that.

Earlier in the chapter (p 159) she remembers her own words posted to Twitter on hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden; “Trying to keep in mind that how I respond to the death of my enemies says as much about me as it does about my enemies.” Forget the adage about lemons and lemonade; when the world seems full of hate, you make paper “birds and ships, flowers and kites.”

But why would anyone send Rachel hate mail?

I suppose there is simply something unsettling about someone who challenges our conventional lenses for looking at spiritual life; who states truths without falling back on the familiar words and phrases that have become clichés.

Or if they openly wrestle with doubts and misgivings.

…Most people live with some uncertainty in life, even with — especially with — complex religious and moral questions. Indeed, as I began writing about my experiences on my blog and in my books, a whole community of kindred spirits emerged. Many of them felt as lonely in their questioning as I at times have. They expressed through their letters, emails, and social media posts the affirmation that every spiritual wanderer and religious misfit deeply craves — that I was not alone in this. (p 37)

Later she writes that

…certainty isn’t faith. And faith is marked by the humility to let yourself question — which is not a shortcoming but an acknowledgement of one’s humanity. (p 56)

And that simply, is where some of the hate mail possibly originated. Many people in our churches simply crave a doctrinal system of belief that dots every ‘i’ and crosses every ‘t’ and ties a bow together on top. A faith that leaves no room for mystery; that doesn’t allow that, as Paul said in his famous ‘love chapter,’ presently “we see in part.”

But Rachel knew that need for theological tidiness all too well from personal experience.

This system was comforting in the way that math can be comforting, or the perfect creases, or a row of books neatly arranged. The quintessence of Enlightenment rationalism, the system had its own tidy, self-reinforcing, seemingly airtight and therefore undoubtedly divinely inspired logic. (p 70)

This up-ending of the theological apple cart will definitely produce some unfriendly mail, but the consideration of other possibilities is also what drew a greater number of people to Rachel’s writing and later conferences she helped organize.

She then modeled for her readers a more grace-filled approach to responding to the people who are theologically different.

After Christ’s departure, the first apostles allowed themselves to be changed by the goodness they encountered in the world. When law-abiding, kosher-eating, Roman -hating Peter encountered a centurion who feared God and gave to the poor, Peter, to his own astonishment, said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Then Peter even went so far as to share a meal, as Jesus might have, with his new friend. “You are well aware that it is against are law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile,” he said to Cornelius. “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (p 115)

As Jesus might have. Indeed.

If Peter had been closed to such God-shaped possibilities, we wouldn’t have Acts chapter 10. Early on in the book she allows for the possibility of cultivating a faith which occasionally, like the GPS on your car when you’ve turned two blocks too soon simply says, “Recalculating.” Those are my words, but I think Rachel would concur. Her description is,

…But like so many things, faith is best held with an open hand, nurtured by both boundaries and improvisation, tradition and innovation. What a gift my parents gave my sister and me in their blessing of holy exploration. (p 38)

concluding that

…as she [Anne Lamott] had chronicled the meanderings of the heart as well as anyone, and as she famously puts it, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”

When I read that I found it reassuring. If uncertainty is a marker of faith, then I must be pretty darn faithful… (p 40)

She adds,

I believe not in spite of all my questions but because of them. I believe not in spite of all the theological points that I undoubtedly have gotten wrong — and the ones I’ve gotten right — but because of them. I believe not in spite of my sins but because of them, just as I am — and just as all those saints and sinners who came before me. (p 47)

This is a long review, and I’ve excerpted far more quotations than reviewers are usually permitted, but I wanted you to get of taste of why Rachel’s words are so enduring and so transformational for so many. She’s all-in. Wholeheartedly.


Thanks again to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publications Canada (HCCP) for the opportunity to read and own a copy of Wholehearted Faith.

 

November 23, 2021

The Gideons in Canada Charts Its Own Course

Organization is now officially ShareWord Global

For ten years now, the ministry organization formerly known as The Gideons has been on a path to carve out its own identity; one separate from its U.S. counterpart. Recently, they completed that process with the official change to a new brand identity: ShareWord Global.

Recently, the Guelph, Ontario (about 45 minutes west of Toronto) based ministry celebrated the changes with a publication bearing a timeline of the changes which make it unrecognizable from its shape and form a decade ago. It’s an amazing tribute to innovative thinking, and how a Christian organization can reinvent itself to meet current needs and the challenges of a new century.

There were too many high points in that timeline to list them all, and I considered simply listing some in bullet point form to avoid a TL:DR situation, but I really wanted to embellish some, and therefore offer the list which follows. This is my own take, and it’s subjective, but the changes are all good, and having a positive story like this to share is something we need right now.

International Missions – In 2011, while the ministry was celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Canadian branch adopted changes further distinguishing it from the U.S. parent, under the name The Gideons International in Canada. At the same time it was busy forming ministry partnerships and that year sent its first international team to Peru.

New Living Translation (NLT) – Gideon print runs of the Bible were using the New American Standard Bible (NASB) when the decision was made to switch over to the NLT as the default scripture text.

Full Participation of Women – Up to 2012, in a situation analogous to the Roman Catholic Church where only a man can be priest, only a man could be a Gideon. The women served as part of an “auxiliary.” That changed.

Biblezines – While publisher Thomas Nelson had pioneered the format previously with a dozen different publications which were half magazine, half Bible; The Gideons in Canada updated the concept in 2012 with the release of Hope and the next year Redemption. With scripture portions paired with beautiful photography, and a full text copy of John’s gospel in the back, these had broad appeal, but were especially targeted for use in hospitals, prisons. In 2014, Light would follow.

Digital Bible – Ultimately, 2012 would prove to be a pivotal year, as it was also this year that saw the launch of the NewLife Bible smart phone Bible app, made available for free download. (In the picture at the top, from 2014, the app is represented by the pocket cards for giveaway to introduce the app to friends.)

ShareWord – In 2015, what would become the organization’s sole brand name was introduced, with both identities being used simultaneously. (The situation was similar at Wycliffe Bible Translators, with the addition of the OneBook brand; one division denoting the various translation projects; the other the support of the missionaries doing the actual work.)

Outreach to Children – In 2017, Spark, another smaller-format Biblezine was introduced. By this point, Spark included, the Biblezines were translated or being translated into multiple languages.

Expansion of Worldwide Ministry – Although we began our list with International Partnerships, it’s worth saying twice; by 2019 publications were being placed in Ukraine, China, Zambia, India, Kenya and countries in the Middle East. More recent inroads have been made in Cuba and Chile. (Pictured below are Spanish resources.)

Name Change – In the Fall of 2021, The Gideons International in Canada (TGiC) ceased as an operating name, and the ministry was fully branded as ShareWord Global.

At the outset, I stated that this is a positive story. If the organization was locked in to its original paradigm — such as handing out New Testaments to Grade 5 students, or placing Bibles in motel nightstands — it could have walked away defeated as it found itself shut out of schools or sharing (or pushed out of) hotel drawers by The Qur’an or The Book of Mormon.

Instead, some rather forward-thinking leaders decided to take the original goals and apply them the way the original founders, over a century ago, would apply them in our day.

At times like this I’m reminded of a sidebar in Acts 13 which references King David, “after David had done the will of God in his own generation…” (36a NLT) or “David had served God’s purpose in his own generation…” (NIV). While the Great Commission has never changed, the means by which is carried out will be chronologically and contextually specific to those times.

This is a great example of an organization understanding that and applying it.

This article was written independently of ShareWord Global and without their input. All these glowing reviews are entirely my own! Canadian readers: With year-end giving in view for tax purposes, consider a one time or (as we do) a monthly gift to ShareWord Global.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.