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.”

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July 22, 2013

Fresh Insights into Jesus’ Encounters

Encounters With JesusThrough the Willow Creek “Midweek Experience” teaching videos, I’ve gotten to hear a number of messages by Wheaton College professor Gary M. Burge. So I was due to read one of his books, especially when I stumbled over a sale-priced copy of Encounters with Jesus: Uncover the Ancient Culture, Discover Hidden Meanings; published in 2010 by Zondervan. Clocking in at only 128 pages — and filled with pictures — finishing this book on Sunday afternoon was no major feat.

Before I continue, two observations. First, I’ve noticed a pattern developing lately in the people I’ve been watching/listening-to/reading online and all I can say is that if I were a high school student considering a Christian college, Wheaton College would be at the top of my list. Be sure to check into this school, okay?  (Oh, to be young again, and know what I know now about the direction my life is headed.) Second, I’ve noticed a pattern where despite my access to the latest review books, some of the best finds lately have been among the backlist titles picked up from a variety of odd sources, including scratch-and-dent titles, remainders and items on sale.

With Gary Burge’s voice audibly sounding in my head as I read the book — an advantage to having watched him teach on video — I thoroughly enjoyed his take on five specific encounters Jesus has with:

  1. The woman who was hemorrhaging
  2. Zacchaeus the tax collector
  3. The centurion with a slave who is ill
  4. The thirsty woman at the Samaritan well
  5. The Gentile woman with a sick daughter

…though I have to say that since the historian in me and the anthropologist in me are both entirely non-existent, I did not look at a single one of the color photographs. I was too engrossed in the text.

In the case of Zacchaeus, I once again found myself in the position of having to potentially un-learn something I had been taught from infancy in Sunday School. Surely anyone who has an encounter is immediately changed, right? Maybe not so much in this case. If the interpretation here is to be considered, then Zacchaeus doesn’t have so much of a before-and-after transformation; rather, Jesus is affirming the person who Zacchaeus has always been, and the “salvation” that has come to “this house” refers more to the saving of Zacchaeus’ reputation in the wider community.

I always thought that Zacchaeus’ speech is a pledge or promise of something he is about to do to make things right, however…

…This is not what Zacchaeus says. His comment to Jesus is in the present tense. “Look! I give half of my possessions, Lord to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I repay them fourfold.” Greek has what we call the “future use” of the present tense and interpreters sometimes apply it here. But this is not demanded. Generally these uses imply some immediacy or certainty…

…But many scholars refuse to use it here in Luke 19. We have no suggestion that Zacchaeus needs to repent, nor does the story imply any conversion on his part. He even refers to Jesus as “Lord,” a mark of high honor and discipleship in Luke. As Joel Green remarks, “On this reading Zacchaeus does not resolve to undertake new practices but presents for Jesus’ evaluation his current behaviors regarding money.”

This would be a great revelation to the electrified audience standing on the street in Jericho. Zacchaeus is not what everyone has assumed. He has been honest; he is collecting what is demanded without corruption and abuse, and he is generously giving away large portions of his wealth. The law required that if there was financial fraud, the original amount had to be returned plus 20 percent. (Lev. 6:5)  Here Zacchaeus practices fourfold reimbursement…

When word of this emerges outside, the crowd that thought it had seen one shocking scene for the day now witnesses another. Their notorious tax farmer, who has colluded with Romans, is a man of principle. Rumors of his corruption are evaporating like a mist… (pp. 67-68)

This approach is entirely new to me. And the above excerpt is just a small portion of the insights into this story.

Got you wanting more?


Other books in this series include: The Bible and the Land, Finding the Lost Images of the Desert, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, Jesus the Middle Eastern Storyteller, and Finding the Lost Images of God. If anyone at Zondervan is reading this, you have my address, right?

July 14, 2013

Jesus Calls Us to a High Standard

I mentioned in the Wednesday Link List that I really wanted more people to see this and would probably reblog it. The author is Eddie Becker and you are encouraged to read this at source, Relevant Magazine, where it appeared under the title, 8 Things I Wish Jesus Had Never Said.

It’s the commandments. It’s His treatment of the ones I deem unlovable in my own mind. It’s the drawn out parables used to teach lessons that cut to the very core of my heart and soul. It’s the not only difficult sayings of Jesus, it’s the ones that frustrate us, that confound us and convict us.

As I struggle through the red letters of my NIV Study Bible, I see numerous statements from Jesus that perplex me. To be blunt, there are several things I wish He had never said. For example:

1. That I’m blessed when I’m persecuted at for my beliefs. (“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11)

If we can all be truthful, we find some things Jesus said difficult.

Through ridicule and brutal persecution, we are to feel … lonely? Depressed? Angry? Bitter? No, Jesus says we are “blessed.” It’s hard to think of that especially when we hear stories like what happened at the Zirve Publishing House massacre in Turkey. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that our “momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory.” In the end, all of these evil things many Christians world wide face will truly be blessings.

2. That I’ve cheated on my wife when I check out an attractive woman. (“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28)

When do you think the moment of adultery occurs? To many men it’s when a spouse has sex with someone outside their marriage. Many women think just an emotional relationship on any level with someone other than a spouse is cheating. Jesus says the tipping point starts when we simply lust after someone who isn’t our spouse. Crushing to the core at the end of the verse is one word: heart. Our lustful affairs don’t stop at our minds. We’re temporarily replacing our spouses with someone else in our hearts. That convicts me greatly.

3. That I can’t love God and money at the same time. (“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24)

I think Jesus brings up money here because if there is one thing that distracts us from full dependence on God, it’s money. How much time do we spend on it? Thinking about it? Worrying about it? Working for it? Spending it? Saving it? Wasting it? Stealing it? After all, as Kanye West says, “having money’s not everything; not having it is.” If we could just make a little more of it, we’d be okay. If I can just use it to buy this and that, I’d be fine. If we save enough this year, Christmas will be great. Maybe we need to start seeing all of our money and possessions as gifts from a gracious Giver, and not just means to survive and the source of our pleasure.

4. Not to worry. (“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear … “ Matthew 6:25)

$300 billion. That’s roughly the amount of money spent annually by employers on work missed and health care costs related to stress. In America, it’s almost uncool to not have some form of stress or worry in your life. Yet Jesus says that if the birds and flowers are okay, how can we have anything to worry over? I feel sometimes He’d understand my stress better if He sat down with me as I pay bills. I’m sure He would ask me why I don’t ask Him more regularly for help in paying those bills.

5. “Why did you doubt?” (“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,’ he said, “Why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:31)

It’s fairly easy to follow Christ’s commands when the balance of the world is swinging in our favor. It’s when the bumps in the road come, the heavy storms, that we seem to waver. Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, so he got out of the boat to go to him. But he got distracted. The wind blew. The lightning flashed. Waves crashed. Cancer struck. Feelings got hurt. Tragedy hit home. Wars started. Pain happened. Yet through it all, Jesus expects us—as He expected Peter—to trust him, even in the midst of impending disaster.

6. To take sin so seriously. (“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” Matthew 18:8)

All I can do is wonder if the things I wish Jesus hadn’t said are really the things He wanted me to hear and do the most.

Jesus doesn’t play with sin. He goes as far as to suggest that any part of our body that causes us to sin needs to be removed. Those are drastic measures. He doesn’t recommend a self-help book or program. He wants total amputation of the things that are causing us to seek pleasure away from Him.

7. To pay my taxes and tithes. (“Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Matthew 22:21)

Be honest: you don’t like paying taxes. You don’t scrape couch cushions at home to gather extra money to donate to the IRS. Why? Because we don’t always feel like the money goes for our own personal wants and needs. We treat our tithes the same way. Jesus commands us to honor our leaders, both civic ones and church ones. In our age of anti-government rage, Jesus shows us we all come under the authority of someone else. We’re to honor that.

8. To love my neighbors the same way I love myself. (“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39)

Jesus has apparently never met some of the neighbors I’ve had over the years. Not just neighbors but people in my community, church and workplace. Many of these people are hard to love in general, let alone to love as much as I love myself. All that should matter to us is God created us all in His image, and He loves everyone He created. We’re not only asked to do the same, we’re commanded to.

If we can all be truthful, we find some things Jesus said difficult. We can debate over the cultural applications of many of the statements He made. We can add to and take away, twist and rearrange the phrases so they fit our own selfish purposes. I’m as guilty as any other at doing these things. Yet all I can do is wonder if the things I wish Jesus hadn’t said are really the things He wanted me to hear and do the most.

Eddie Becker works in sales but has a passion for writing. He is married to a beautiful wife and has two beautiful daughters. Read more at his blog or follow him on Twitter

July 13, 2013

Insights into Jesus Parables and Prayers

Filed under: books, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:39 am

What I’m doing here is considered most uncool. Book reviews are supposed to focus on the latest releases, not past titles. Obviously, I disagree. In the rush to be first to offer an opinion on the latest manuscript, there may be some treasure buried on the bookstore and library shelves which shouldn’t be ignored.

Eighteen months ago, referencing the translator of The Message Bible, I wrote this:

For several days at Christianity 201, I’ve been sharing my excitement over discovering that Eugene Peterson The Message bible translator is also Eugene Peterson the author. For those of you who’ve known this secret for some time, I apologize for arriving late to the party.  I’m reading The Jesus Way (Eerdman’s) and spreading the reading out over several weeks, which is really what is needed to take it all in.

Well, that was then. But more recently I picked up a copy of Tell it Slant. I love the titles he chooses. Others in this series include Practice Resurrection and Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and Eat This Book. The full title — which begins with a borrowing from Emily Dickinson — is Tell it Slant: a Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (Eerdman’s, 2008).

Tell It SlantThere are two parts to the book. The longer section deals with what he calls Luke’s travel narrative, the teachings of Jesus ‘on the road again’ that fall between the end of Luke 9 and the end of Luke 19. The prayers are selected from a wider variety of texts.

Why, for example, read another book about the parables? The thing I like about the book is that Peterson doesn’t attempt to teach everything you need to know about the parables and prayers in question. He’s offering his insights, and is, I believe, assuming you’ve heard other teaching on these sections before. He recognizes the multifaceted nature of scripture and is willing to tilt the scripture toward the light and allow us to catch some fresh reflections and refractions.

The beauty of scripture is most evident when someone points out something that was there all along, but you had never considered it before.

Now, having read two of the five books in the Conversations series, I find myself wanting to complete the set. I might even do the uncool thing and review them here.

…In a world where recent Bible translations have involved upwards of 130 people, some will ask where Eugene Peterson gets the authority to write his own Bible.  I think if someone questions The Message, instead of dismissing Peterson, they need to read some of his other writings like this one. To me, it’s clear that his depth of understanding of the text most certainly gives him the clout to complete his own translation.

April 12, 2013

Why Jesus Came

Filed under: Jesus — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 am

One of the most innovative and fastest growing church movements in Canada in the last decade has been The Meeting House, based just west of Toronto in Oakville, Ontario.  The teaching pastor is the somewhat unconventional Bruxy Cavey author of The End of Religion (NavPress).  This appeared on a new section of their website under the title Jesus at the Center

For us at The Meeting House, It all comes down to the life and teachings of the historical Jesus. His mission was simple: to show us his love, save us from sin, set up his kingdom, and shut down religion.

Show us his love: We believe that no one has taught and modeled love more clearly than Jesus. He brought people together from all backgrounds and social castes, teaching them to love their neighbors and even their enemies. In this, Jesus not only shows us how to live, but reveals who God really is — unconditional, life-giving love.

Save us from sin: We all know that no one is perfect. However, we learn from the teaching of Jesus that God is ready to forgive all those who trust him. No ritual or penance is needed. Forgiveness is free to those who ask regardless of how bad the failure or sin is. Forgiveness tears down the walls we’ve erected between us and God, ending the self-destructive cycles we sometimes find ourselves in.

Set up his kingdom: Jesus had a vision of a different kind of kingdom. Rather than a political empire with borders to defend, he cast a vision for a people that would follow his love ethic and live as servants and peacemakers wherever they found themselves in the world. The idea of the “kingdom of God” on earth was central to Jesus’ teaching. His message was most commonly summarized as “the Good News of the kingdom”. At The Meeting House we return to this theme regularly from a desire to live into it fully.

Shut down religion: Both in his day and our day, many think that God won’t accept people unless they clean up their lives and become religious. They think they have to climb a kind of stairway to heaven by following all kinds of religious rules, regulations, rituals and routines. In contrast, Jesus came to say that trying to be changed from the outside-in through religion simply doesn’t work. In fact, he taught that religion itself needs to be shut down so that he can change us from the inside-out through his presence and love.

During Jesus day, the religious authorities saw this subversive message as a threat, but it was enthusiastically embraced by common people and those on the margins. God offers us freedom, forgiveness, and love through a person – Jesus – and he’s the one we are trying to follow. When you get to know us, you’ll find that we’re not into fighting cultural wars or taking political sides. Rather, we simply want to do what Jesus called his followers to do. We want to follow his example in our daily lives, share his message and do our best to extend his peace around the world.

February 27, 2012

Living the Red Letters

Before beginning a review of the actual content of this six-session, small group DVD by Tony Campolo, I need to take a paragraph or two to wave the flag, for this is a homegrown production.

In the Canadian Christian bookstore environment, about 90% of everything of everything on offer is U.S. produced. True, Canada is the point of origin for a number of Christian music artists; and a number of top Christian authors have a Canadian birth certificate; but many of these products turn up on the label or imprint of U.S. record labels and publishers. Material produced for domestic consumption is rather rare, though The Word Guild is always reminding me that we do have quite a few talented people who haven’t made the leap to the American market. Yet.

But a DVD curriculum? There have been a few, but nothing that takes on the production and packaging ambitions of The Red Letters featuring “progressive” Christian Democrat and social activist Tony Campolo, with Colin McCartney of UrbanPromise Toronto playing the role of interviewer.  That Tony’s blog is called Red Letter Christians and Colin’s book is titled Red Letter Revolution makes these two a natural pairing.

The six sessions deal with: What it means to be a red-letter Christian; consumerism and materialism; compassion, especially as it applies to three hot button issues — homosexuality, poverty and the environment; religion and politics; personal spiritual discipline and prayer; and the Christian life as a joy-filled life.

The DVD clips run between 8 and 17 minutes. Our normal family Bible study doesn’t use prescribed questions, and so this was somewhat foreign, but we used the small group guide and went through the five sets of questions for each episode. At first I tended to approach each set as a single question, but soon realized you could take hours to properly consider each discussion subject.

The DVD was a multi-camera production filmed at Toronto’s Church of the Redeemer whose auditorium and chancel actually serve as background. Knowing this was produced primarily for the Canadian market — though available in the U.S. on A-zon — I was significantly impressed with the camera cuts and editing.

Colin McCartney is extremely relaxed as an interviewer and Tony is… well… he is, as always, uniquely Tony Campolo. If he can’t get your small group going on some of these subjects, then nobody can. There is no denying his personal conviction that to claim to be a Christian is to make living out the red letters part of daily life.

The Red Letters DVD curriculum was produced by World Vision Canada and Colin’s organization UrbanPromise Toronto. A review copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a Canadian based agency providing enhanced marketing support to Christian authors and publishers,who are also rolling up their sleeves on this one to facilitate distribution to Christian bookstores in Canada.

This is a product I can recommend with confidence, and on a personal note, if you live nearby, I’d be more than happy to walk your small group through all six weeks of this excellent series. If it’s a weeknight meeting, I prefer decaf. Here’s a short preview:

December 6, 2011

Will This Be a Hit or a Flop?

For our American friends, last night was the occasion of the 47th airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 47 years of the same show in an endless repeat. But according to this National Review story, 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.     […continue reading…]

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.”

August 2, 2011

Churches Aren’t Always Great Equalizers

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

When the Apostle Paul said, “There is neither slave nor free,” did that mean that the slaves and the free men actually mixed with each other in the early church, or simply that both were welcome to attend?

Everything in me wants to believe that they mixed in together.  I so desperately need that to be true.  But the capital-C Church today doesn’t always reflect that.  Some local churches are located so far away from the city core that their membership reflects an affluent upper class or upper-middle class group of suburbanites who are largely professionals or equivalent.  While it was once true that 11:00 AM Sunday represented “the most segregated hour in America,” today, if black and white mix in church it’s usually because they are linked in terms of socio-economic status. 

But what about small(er) town, middle-America?  Minus the America part, I live in a small(er) town and have recently come to realize that in terms of certain people in certain churches, my wife and I represent a lower class.  Our two cars — yes, two; that should count for something, right? — are sadly 2000 and 2004 vintage.  Our clothing is mostly from the rack that is named after some designer named Clarence, though they seem to often spell his name with an extra ‘e.’  We’re still using the couch and coffee table my parents bought us a quarter century ago, and I’m typing this on a table that my wife’s parents gave us which is too low to put your legs under, so every single blog post you’ve ever read here was written with me sitting side-saddle to the keyboard and screen.

And somehow, even though we do laundry on a regular basis, the upper class members of our local church community get wind of this — maybe it’s the holes in our clothing left by the staples where we removed the Salvation Army Thrift Shop price tags — and respond by not returning phone calls or emails.  Because we’re not worth it.  Because we have nothing to offer.  Because we don’t fit into their social circle even though our relative poverty was more by choice than chance.

And this isn’t a new development.  But as in all such circumstances you smile and hope that perhaps things will change.  And then, suddenly it just gets to you.  You might even go so far as to question the reality of the faith that such people profess. 

I gave a ride today to a guy who is experiencing rejection of a different kind.  His family doesn’t want anything more to do with him, even though, relatively speaking, he’s come a long way in the past three years.  And today it just got to him.  Really got to him.  Rejection is hard to take.

But in the church — capital C or lower case c — these things should not be.  Our oneness in Christ should transcend barriers of ethnicity, class, gender; however cliques do form and they tend to form on the basis on the economic status.

Still, not returning personal phone calls or emails is just plain rude.  Especially when you know that it’s the etiquette equivalent of waving off a troublesome house fly. 

May 23, 2011

Book Review: Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman

I believe what we’re looking at here is a book that has the potential to pick up where books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Radical by David Platt left off and move us to the next level of commitment.

Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman is one of those “Snakes on a Plane” type of titles; since once you’ve seen the cover, you know exactly where the story is headed.  There were people in Jesus’ day, just as there are in ours, who are fans but not followers.  End of synopsis.  The book consists in accurately delineating the difference.

But I am, in fact a fan — of the author, teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky and host of the brilliant but underrated H20 video evangelism series, Kyle Idleman; which is why I begged the people at Zondervan to toss me a freebie of this one, which, I can now say, I would have gladly paid for anyway.

Just as the ten short films in the H20 collection cut back and forth between teaching and story, Not a Fan cuts back and forth between Bible narrative and illustrations from people Kyle has known, including some very candid stories from his own life and family.

The book begins in an off-hand, light-hearted way, using occasional footnotes suggestive perhaps of an ADD or ADHD author who is his own worst distraction.  But there’s nothing light at all about the book, which sets the bar high in terms of what Christ followership implies.  If anything, the relatability of the author, including some rather self-deprecating moments, leave you totally unprepared for the moments where the hammer falls in terms of truly deciding if you’re a follower or a fan.

The first seven chapters include snapshots from the gospels of people at various levels of intimate relationship with Jesus.  The next four chapters are a superlative breakdown of Luke 9:23–

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

— while the last three chapters continue to explore the implications of that theme.  For the last seven chapters in total, it rolls out this way:

  • Anyone: No list of pre-qualifications or character references required
  • Come After: Pursuing God with passion; with abandon
  • Deny: What happens when it costs everything to be a follower
  • Dying Daily: Taking up your cross today, tomorrow, and the next day
  • Wherever: It’s probably not where you think
  • Whenever: Right here, right now, no excuses
  • Whatever: No second thoughts

Each of the 14 chapters ends with a testimony of someone who wishes to stand up and be counted as being “Not a fan.”  Honestly, if you can live out everything this book challenges us to do and to be, there ought to be button you remove or a sticker you peel off on the last page to demonstrate your desire to make that same commitment. 

I am giving this book my unqualified full endorsement as the book to read in the summer of 2011.  But I want to go beyond that; I want to suggest that Not a Fan is the book for house church, small group or adult elective study for the fall.  You can combine chapters one and two to create a 13-week curriculum out of this, if you have to stick to a quarterly schedule.  Others may want to take even longer to flesh out the implications of Luke 9:23 and what Jesus truly intended when he said, “Follow me.”

My name is Paul Wilkinson, and by God’s grace, and with God’s help, I am not a fan.

Read an excerpt of the book posted here on May 1st and another at Christianity 201 on May 11th.

February 11, 2011

Andy Stanley: Err on the Side of Grace

This blog post first appeared at Christianity 201

In addition to having my feet firmly planted in two local churches, I’ve also been “attending” Andy Stanley’s church online every Sunday at 6:00 PM for the past six months. This week, Andy preached from Acts 15:

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’–
18 things known from long ago.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

Verse 19, the last verse is one that Andy says he has posted on the wall of his office. In typical Andy Stanley style — you should listen to the podcast* if possible — he contrasted verse 19 with churches and organizations that try to put people in a box, or try to line people up with a specific church policy or regulation.

Or ask people to “clean up” first.

This is easy to say, but harder to do. Most of us are Pharisees at heart.

The Message Bible renders verse 19 as:

We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.

Do I agree with Andy’s take in this particular sermon?

I think this is an issue where, like so many other things in scripture, there is a balance point to be found somewhere in the middle. There is an equally compelling argument for calling people to weigh the price and launch out into something that is costly, or difficult. Consider John 6:

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

In Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9 we read these familiar words:

Luke 9: 23 (NLT) Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

And yet we are often so quickly reminded of Matthew 11:30

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Can both sets of verses be true at the same time? Or is each referring to something different?


One of the best articles I’ve ever seen that summarizes the contrast is a little booklet by Stuart Briscoe titled This is Impossible. If anyone knows where the text is uploaded I’d love to link to it here. In the meantime, here’s a short summary by Adrian Rogers.

UPDATE: The booklet is available as a free .pdf download from Stuart’s ministry, Telling the Truth.

*The Andy Stanley sermon is currently here as a free download for a few more days, it’s the February 6th message, which I think is part four or five of the “Big Church” series.

Verses cited are NIV2011 unless otherwise indicated.

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