Archive for the ‘Readings Got Me Thinking’ Category

God Moves Suddenly, Not Quickly

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Hope Naomi wrote a piece recently about how God works. It got me thinking.

She brings out the concept of God working behind the scenes for what feels like an eternity before anything HAPPENS. But then, when God DOES do something, results are immediate. This concept of how God works is something I’ve thought about a lot myself.  I believe the reality is God is working all along, the fruit just not obvious to the bedraggled soul facing the daily grind keeping his head above water. 

The Bible is full of these types of stories and Hope mentions several. Joseph is another perfect example; perhaps my favorite Biblical narrative. In the case of Joseph, events were churning away behind the scenes for many years before the situation suddenly climaxed and a reversal of fortunes occurred. The same is true of the amazing story Esther.

Aslan both Slow & Quick in Prince Caspian

In C.S. Lewis’s tale of Prince Caspian (the movie version), Aslan (symbolic of God) does not enter to save the day when everyone wants him. In fact, quite the contrary: Aslan hasn’t even been sighted for generations! The Telmarines have taken over Narnia and the talking animals are in hiding, many of them reverted back to their unintelligent non-talking ways.  Cair Paravel, the royal castle of Narnia, is in ruins.

But there is a prophecy that one day the High Kings and Queens of old would return… But who believes that? Then, one day, they do! But instead of imposing figures, they’re only kids. And instead of things getting better with their arrival, the situation goes from bad to worse. I guess it’s like they say, “It’s always darkest before dawn.”  Soon it becomes clear that help from Aslan is sorely needed above and beyond the help four royal children can provide. 

The tragic moment comes when Caspian loses all faith in Aslan’s assistance and orders the Narnians to make a preemptive strike on the Telmarine stronghold. This ends in disaster, many of the Narnians are killed and many more captured. The captured are consequently murdered, their heads lobbed into the Narnians redoubt via trebuchet as a gruesome reminder of their folly.

Eventually Aslan does intervene, but is grieved by their lack of faith… because that is what he was looking for all along: Faith.

God Seeks Those Who Have Faith (Mark 5)

Hope mentioned the story of the woman with the issue of blood who suffered for twelve years before Jesus healed her illness in an instant. Coincidently, I was reading that last night and noticing how it is a story within a story, both revolving around this issue of faith.

Jesus is approached by a synagogue ruler named Jairus who pleads with Jesus to come heal his daughter, who is dying. Enroute, Jesus is approached by a sick woman who believes if only she touches the hem of his garment she would be healed. She does, and is. Jesus then stops and takes the time to identify her in the jostling crowd.

The woman confesses to Jesus what she did and, "trembling with fear, told him the whole truth." Jesus responds, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace, and be freed from your suffering." So this lady has faith.

Meantime, some men run up and notify Jairus his daughter is already dead, then add, "Why bother the teacher any more?"  Where are these men’s faith?? They clearly don’t believe Jesus is capable of raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead.  Jesus ignores them and instead tells Jairus, "Don’t be afraid; just believe."

When Jesus reaches the house he is laughed at by the mourners. So they don’t have much faith either. But Jairus did, and that is what counted. Jesus raised his daughter from the dead.

Isn’t it interesting how emotions of fear were mentioned in both cases? The woman was "trembling in fear," and Jairus was admonished to "not be afraid."

Closing Reflections

Perhaps an order of progression typical for Christians might be: Suffering mixed with questioning, fear mixed with faith, uncertainty mixed with belief, acts of obedience mixed with hesitancy, all resulting in healing mixed with freedom.

So why does God not always work when we want Him to (i.e. sooner)?  I don’t know, His timing is not mine.  But from what I understand of his attributes from the Bible, it is not for lack of power or knowledge that he refrains.

Prince Caspian

Since I brought up Prince Caspian, I want to point out two other observations of that movie:

  1. It espouses the idea God never works the same way twice (which I agree with) and
  2. towards the end of the flick there is a stunning sequence (great CG!) which symbolically depicts the awesome power of God (represented as Aslan).

A Clip From Prince Caspian the Movie

I found the clip I referred above on YouTube. This is my favorite scene from the movie and depicts the power Aslan heralds against the evil Telmarine leader by “the word of his mouth.”

"The other thing that is becoming more and more achievable are complex simulations. [ScanlineVFX] created the water god [seen at the end of the film]. It was a really masterful effect: to control water like that is incredibly difficult. They told us they’d been waiting do a shot like that for 10 years." Adamson recalls the earliest days of CG animation when water and fur were two of the hardest textures to simulate. "Now we have wet fur." (source)

Is The Perfect Family Size Really 3 Kids?

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Here’s a question for you, “How many children would you like to have?”

This question was asked by Rick and Jan Hess to a group of singles in a survey they gave to four evangelical churches (Berean, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Evangelical Free, and General Conference Baptist) and one Bible College. 

The average answer?  3.2  (note that four out of five choices were for two, three, or four children) 

From my unscientific observations I would say the belief that three kids is best (if not too many) is fairly widespread. Considering the average family size is 3.1 in America, I would say my unscientific observations aren’t far off.

Back to the Hess’s survey:

  • How many hoped to get married?  98%
  • How many planned using birth control?  92% 

Ironically, in the 8% who didn’t plan on using birth control, the average number of children desired was only 2.5.

So, who would be missing from the halls of history if everyone in the past decided only to have 3 children?

This is random, but let’s start with classical musicians:

  • Bach (8th born)
  • Mozart (born last of 7)
  • Aaron Copland (last of 5)
  • Robert Schumann (last of 5)
  • Richard Wagner (last of 9, though I don’t care for his music)
  • Edvard Grieg (4th of 5)
  • William Steinway – yes, the Steinway (7th of 7)

Other well known composers came from large families.  For instance, Franz Hayden was one of seventeen and Franz Schubert was one of fourteen. 

Let’s turn a corner and look at American presidents. 

Who would you say was the greatest president?  I vote for George Washington.  Well, if Washington’s parents had stopped having children after 3, (as the majority of Christian’s in America aspire) there would have been no George Washington!  Because he was born 5th of 10.  We would also be missing 11 other presidents…

Some like to say the greater the number of children in a family, and the shorter the spacing between them, the less the children’s intellectual capacity.  Well, it is instructive to note that 3/4’s of American Presidents have come from families with more than 3 children, and many from much more. 

For instance, James Madison came from a family of 12 kids, Ulysses S. Grant from a family of 6 kids, Dwight Eisenhower from 7, Kennedy from 9, and Monroe, Adams, Buren, Johnson, Nixon, Bush, and myself from families of 5 children.

Turning another corner, what influential Christians would be missing?

  • Augustine (born 4th of 4) 
  • Dietrich Bonhoffer (born 8th of 8 )
  • Oswald Chambers (born 4th of 9 )
  • Jonathan Edwards (born 11th of 11)
  • Charles Finney (born 7th)
  • Dwight L. Moody (6th of 8 )
  • Andrew Murray (at least 4th)
  • Nate Saint (7th of 8 )
  • Corrie Ten Boom (born 5th)
  • Cameron Townsend (born at least 5th)

And I find the folowing two most incredible:

So Charles birth is pretty amazing!  And Charles’s work is equally astounding: Did you know he wrote over 9,000 poems? Many became hymns, including:

  • Rejoice, the Lord is King
  • Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
  • And Can it Be
  • Christ the Lord is Risen Today
  • Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

In the Old Testament there is a story about a shepherd boy who slew a giant named Goliath, became King of Israel, wrote the book of Psalms, was in the lineage of Jesus, and was promised to have one of his descendants reigning on a throne for all eternity.  Of course I’m talking about none other than King David, who was a youngest born and eighth child.  If Jesse has stopped at seven sons, how would history be different?  At the very least, we would be missing most the Psalms. 

Wrapping up, let me point out that Jesus Christ came from a large family:

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?  Isn’t His mother’s name Mary, and aren’t His brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?  Aren’t all his sisters with us?”  (Matthew 13:55-56)

From these verses, it can be inferred Mary & Joseph had at least seven children.  Perhaps this isn’t surprising though… isn’t seven the number of perfection?  Of course, let’s not forget that in a spiritual sense Jesus has the largest family: He was the firstborn among many brothers, of whom I am one, along with all believers.

I don’t have a point to this post.  I just find these facts interesting and challenging to the status quo of birth control and the perfect family size of two/three children we take for granted.  Heck, nowadays it’s not uncommon for married couples to have zero children.

I wonder though, who will not be around 100 years from now because of our beliefs that small family sizes are ideal?  The pragmatic philosophy of today cheerfully dismisses this line of musing with, “Who cares?  We won’t be around to see or care.” What do you think?

Material from this post was taken from A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ by Rick and Jan Hess.

Can I Recommend Irresistible Revolution?

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The book, Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne challenges nearly every aspect of American "churchianity."

The revolution Shane describes is nothing less than a call to follow Jesus literally in the way He lived and taught. Shane’s interpretation of what it means to be a Christian looks far different than we (normal folk) know it. He is one of the founders of The Simple Way community in Philadelphia. I may need to go visit this community someday. 

Shane is a young man, zealous, idealistic, and 100% activist. While reading his book, sometimes I wanted to yell "Amen" while other times I groaned as he took extreme positions for what I perceived to be shock value.

If you’re leaning toward a more literalistic view of following Jesus, reading this book will:

  1. Probably reinforce those tendencies and
  2. Probably challenge preconceptions you may not have yet struggled through

Irresistible Revolution has been on my shelf for a year; I’ve put off reading it that long. I thought Shane was on the weird side. After reading it, I’m glad I finally did, though my suspicions were confirmed… Turns out he’s a good egg though, I do like him! I’m sure Noah, Isaiah, and John the Baptist were all considered weird too.

His personal journey and questioning were what I found most interesting. Many times I thought, "Wow, I can’t believe someone else asked this question, or wrestled with that issue, or been annoyed by those attitudes." If I’d read it several years ago I wouldn’t have identified near as closely, so it’s good I waited.

Having said that, I do hesitate to recommend Irresistible Revolution as there are plenty of things I don’t agree with.

The most serious issue I had with this book was not even with what was written, but what was not written. There is barely any talk about our sinful state or our need for a Savior… this I found exceptionally sad. Shane never talks about his own neediness. I understand from personal experience it’s easy to fall prey getting carried away following Jesus to the exclusion of knowing Jesus.

Additionally, very little was written explaining how we’re to integrate this "radical" stuff into the local church and our normal, everyday lives with jobs (the point of this blog, by the way). All of us living homeless, mooching off others’ hospitality (or squatting in gutted buildings in downtown Philadelphia) is not a practical extrapolation for all Christendom to follow.

Over and over again Shane points out Jesus was a homeless man, implying we should be too. But Jesus only lived that way for a season of His life. We’re all called to die to ourselves (that’s clear) but we’re not all called to be homeless (that’s silly).

Pros

  • Shane stirs the pot, pointing out glaring inconsistencies in the American Church
  • He challenged my thinking on what it means to be a Follower of Jesus – Shane thinks far outside the box
  • It’s chock full of captivating stories, regardless if you agree with their point – Irresistible Revolution is perhaps worth reading for the anecdotes alone
  • The reader gets to live vicariously through Shane’s Christian journey, challenging everything mainstream
  • Meet up with diverse personas including Rich Mullins and Mother Teresa
  • Get carried along to such varied locales as the Deep South, volatile Iraq, and the Inner Cities of U.S. and India
  • Be entertained by Shane’s quick wit as he pokes fun at everything (including the sacred)
  • Jump into your imagination and dream big… ‘cus Shane dreams big!
  • Get hit between the eyes, there are loads of quotable gems
  • Plus, it’s an easy read

Cons

Before I get to the cons, let me say I love Shane’s zeal. Sure, I don’t agree with everything he says, but I have to hand it to the guy: he’s doing something, he’s thinking, he’s pushing the envelope. He’s an example of the attitude we should all have of seeking God with our whole hearts, minds, and souls: of moving beyond mediocrity. Shane is genuine and lives what he preaches.  Ok, now the cons…

  • Making disciples was never brought up that I remember. How could that get left from a book like this, a manifesto on how Christians ought to live? I understand love is the main thing, but love tells others the gospel: the truth regarding their spiritually sick condition and need for a doctor. I was disappointed by this omission.
  • Shane throws out the baby with the bathwater, in my opinion. Judgmental of American Christians to the point of scathing (at times)… He confuses "poverty" with spiritual.
  • I felt exegesis of Scripture was on the sloppy side. Of course we need to wrestle through the Bible and Jesus’ words for ourselves anyways, but I felt Shane, in the process of keeping the book readable, did so at the expense of not treating Scripture carefully.
  • Homelessness and poverty are Shane’s hot buttons. Important hot buttons sure, but God is into all people, not just subsets. I was frustrated that homeless people were made into saints.
  • Many of the ideas, particularly in the second half of the book, were "half-baked." I wish Shane would have split Irresistible Revolution into two or three shorter, more polished books. He had the beginnings of many good ideas and models, but most – in the second half particularly – were still in the formative stages. I know it’s easy to play arm-chair critic, but I do think he has good ideas and look forward to reading future books by him.
  • Occasionally Shane’s sarcasm borders irreverence
  • Shane is pacifist to a fault, be prepared. He blasts the war in Iraq, President Bush, et al. Nonetheless, he does make thought provoking points regarding war. No, I’m not a pacifist.
  • At times, the book sounded like a Liberal left-wing political playbook. I know God cares about things like the environment but it got frustrating as he kept throwing more and more issues into this one book.
  • It can be difficult splitting the true Christian element from the Hippy element. Not to be too harsh, but is God calling me to live out of my van down by the river, grow plants in broken out computer screens, all while wearing homemade clothing that looks pretty silly? Nothing wrong with all that, but it’s not Biblically prescriptive for sure. Neither is driving a diesel bus around that’s been converted to run on used veggie oil.
  • Some places it feels Shane is wading into waters over his head. I think it’s good advice to, "not knock down fences before we know why they were put up.” For instance, regarding Economics, Shane knocks down the fence of capitalism without – I felt – understanding why it was put up in the first place or providing a satisfactory replacement model.

Conclusion

All in all, a good read, challenging, witty, inspirational. His zeal is contagious. His stories are touching. Chew up the meat, spit out the bones.

The first half is better than the second.  Therefore, my answer to the question posed in the blog title (can I recommend this book?) is, “I recommend the first half.”

Seth Barnes put together a review that included a YouTube video of Shane (and a bunch of quotes from the book), check it out.

Missional Small Groups

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Missional Small Groups by Scott BorenThis past summer I read a book entitled Misisonal Small Groups by Scott Boren.  I would recommend the book to anyone mission-minded as I thought Scott made some excellent observations, particularly in breaking down what he sees as four types of groups. 

Having been involved in multiple small Christian groups myself – some structured, some unstructured, some in the capacity as a leader, some as a follower – I would say none of them yet have been necessarily missional.  In case you’re not familiar with the buzzword “missional,” Wikipedia has a pretty good definition.

One theme in Scott’s book is that missional small groups cannot be formularized. You can’t formularize how God is going to work or how he will choose to use his servants to help accomplish his work. However, there are principles… though the principles may not be convenient or popular.

Scott writes:

“This book does not provide a program, plan, or method for group success. Instead it points to a way of life together that makes a difference in the world.”

One recurring theme was being missional is being relational

Perhaps my favorite quote was his tip on the direction a small group should head when planning ministry:

“Refuse to simply add some kind of service project or outreach initiative to your group experience and call that missional. As an alternative, take a more relational route. Build relationships with some people who are under resourced and listen to their stories and their needs. Or befriend some people in your neighborhood without any secret motivation to get them to pray a prayer or come to your group. Simply listen to them, share life, and see what God is already doing in their lives.”

Are Short Term Mission Trips a Waste of Time?

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

The answer?  “Depends on the mindset of those going,” according to Noel Becchetti.  He provides an interesting break down of unhelpful attitudes Westerners often bring as they go to minister in other cultures.  Despite the title of his article, keep in mind he actually does promote short term missions.  If you’re considering taking a missions trip, I encourage you to read it:

Why Most Mission Trips Are a Waste of Time

Apparently, task-oriented rather than relationship-oriented is what gets Westerners into the most trouble.  Noel writes,

“One of the most common cultural collisions occurs between linear cultures (like ours) and nonlinear cultures (like Latin). Our culture is task-oriented; Latin culture is people-oriented. Our culture is time-sensitive; Latin culture is situation-sensitive.”

My assessment is this lack of relational focus gets us Westerners in trouble here at home too.  In light of this, my next several posts are going to have the following theme: Being Missional is Being Relational

“Relationship with [those you’re visiting] is far more important than money, buildings, and preaching. They will remember you for your love and friendship, not what you did!” (shorttermers.com)