Wednesday, 4 February 2015

"The Great Green Bubbling Liquid"

It was a young chap with deep brown curls, probably only thirteen or fourteen years of age, who appeared in the doorway. As he entered the dimly lit workshop, he blinked slowly--his large brown eyes to focusing on an elderly man bent studiously over his workbench.  "What are you going to blow up today, Uncle?" Questioned the lad in an unmistakable London accent.  
"Hmmm, blow up?" absently replied Uncle, revealing an equally strong English accent. 
"Yes sir, like the time you blew your eye brows clear off your face.  I do say, they are growing in rather nicely."  
"Now sonny," replied the weathered man, turning slightly to reveal perfectly round reading spectacles perched atop an awkwardly large nose.  
"I do say," replied the chap spotting the most mysterious looking vial of deep green bubbling liquid, "What in all of London are you going to destroy now, Uncle?"  
Ignoring the comment, Uncle paused, straightened slightly, and feebly sat down on a rickety old wooden chair.  Gazing wistfully into the young boys face he quietly cleared his voice and began.  "Sit down my boy, and your uncle shall give you a lesson that a good many scientist (and perhaps just as many clergy men) ought to hear.  What does this vial contain, you ask?   I shall tell you." Gazing at the small vial thoughtfully, he continued almost reverently, "This small vial contains evidence of one of the most powerful substances in all the world." 
"And you invented it!" broke in the boy joyously.  "Uncle, we shall be rich and you shall be famous!" 
"No, no, my son,"chuckled the scientist "I have not invented anything.  I merely found the formula, in here" he said picking up a small leather-bound book and holding it up for the lad to see. 
"Is it magic?" whispered the boy curiously. 
"Magic! roared the elderly gent, "My dear, who do you have me to be?  A witch?"  No, no it is not magic.  
"An ancient science text of some sort then?" followed the chap. 
"A science text, hmm, I suppose it could be called that, though promoting science is hardly its purpose.  Then too, it does not follow the laws of science in much of what it says, it is rather, supernatural -- but certainly not magical" 
"Now, enough questions, my dearest nephew, if you would hold your tongue but for a few moments I should tell you, enlighten you, of the affects of this precious substance." 
"Oh please do Uncle, I shall sit here, still as an owl, until you are through." chirped the youth as he climbed atop the work bench. 
Clearing his throat thoughtfully, the elderly sage began.  "This liquid, this substance that I am studying, has by many a learned man and many a studied scientist been mistaken as poison.  At glance it has incredible similarities, but never has man been so gravely mistaken, yea for many, fatally so." Truthfully, it has an affect on man that, in many cases, feigns madness.  It affects men in a host of different avenues, it has been known to drive men away from their homes, wandering aimlessly.  Some, under the influence, have built ridiculous creations.  Others have conceived solely because of this stout substance.  Still others, it has caused to be hated, to appear gullible, foolish, and quite frankly, stupid.  On the contrary, to some it has given extraordinary abilities of strength, leadership, even inflammability, knowledge and wisdom,  Many have died under the influence of this potential deadly substance, yet others have saved their lives by drinking of it."

"Oh, uncle, what a strange poison -- or  whatever you call it.  Have you drank from the vial?" Then sheepishly he added, "I do say, it seems to have affected you for the worse". 
"Oh yes, dear chap.  I drink deeply of it regularly.  I must.  I has become a sort of addiction for me.  To give up this would be to give up life itself.  Purpose would not mean purpose and Life would not mean life.  Oh yes, I have drunk and I will do so until the very day I die.  You see, my text says that for those who have drunk and then have stopped to drink, it would have been better had they never started; but of course, it is far far better to drink than to abstain."  
"Uncle," broke in the puzzled lad, "why have you called me to your workshop today?  It wasn't to try this experiment, was it?" 
"Sonny, I would never force you try it.  The substance would not let me. It would have absolutely no affect on you.  But it is here if you would like to try it, and I strongly recommend that you do." 
Pensively, the boy replied, "Dearest Uncle, though I fear the unknown, I think I would like to, but how can I try something that I do not even know its name?  What do you call this special formula?" 
Drawing in a deep breath the man thoughtfully contested, "The Ancient Greeks of centuries ago called it 'pístis' which in their tongue literally means 'to persuade or be persuaded' but in our day most English folk just call it "faith". 
Together, the boy and uncle kneeled upon the dusty workshop floor, and with the large weathered hand of the elder upon the shoulder of the younger, they drank.  First the man, and then the boy.  The boy did not merely wet his lips or sip as he would his afternoon tea.  Rather, in one great greedy gulp he drank, being sure not to spill a single drop.  
Triumphantly setting down the vial, he looked up beaming. He looked up past the tear-stained face of his uncle, even past the cob-wedded rafters.  He had tasted pístis and now he would live by it.

Monday, 11 November 2013

2+2= CHRISTIAN?

Back in high school, I loved business class.  I dreamed of one day being an entrepreneur who took the business world by surprise by filling a market niche that nobody even guessed existed.  I was captivated by managing.  Enthralled by marketing.  Exhilarated by the possibilities and challenges.  I was entranced by the blended necessities of belief in a product, knowing a product and actually having the best product available.  I was setting myself up to be a business man.  To me, business was the ultimate combination of math, science, history, logic, wit, PR, and pure willpower.      

I loved to play the numbers game.  Projecting, predicting, and planning entranced me.  I would build spreadsheets of mock businesses, plug in numbers, and gratified myself by watching one become two; and two become three.  Statistics were my game and calculating my pastime.

Then something changed.  I’m not really sure what, and I can’t really say exactly when.  However, I likely never will end up with a college business degree or mashing through the business world with some new “must-have” thingamajig.  Now don’t get me wrong, I still am intrigued by marketing, PR, managing and all those good things, but no longer do I see myself being the business entrepreneur that I dreamed myself to be in my high school days.

Instead of building my own business plan, I jumped on a bandwagon.  God has a business plan which does not fill some cramped niche but rather a gaping need.  He has a product that requires no lying and accepts all unemployed.  His basic plan is so simple yet so impossible, “that none should perish but all should have eternal life”. 

In many ways, business and missions are very similar.  Both require a quality product, a firm belief in this product, a marketing scheme, PR, logic, wit, and pure willpower.  Business is like missions because missions is God’s business.    However, there is a difference.

God is not a God of numbers.  In business, numbers tell the story.  If my numbers as a vacuum cleaner sales man are five vacuum cleaners sold one year and fifty the next; that spells the ridged difference between success and failure.  However, God is not like that.  Or perhaps I should say God does not measure our success numerically.  His business plan of wanting ALL to be saved is a mathematical statement.  “All” is a mathematical term.  But God does not pay us by commission.

We do this to much.  We get really excited that we have large churches and generous offerings.  Growth is measured by bodies and bills rather than truth and sincerity.  Kids clubs are measured by the attendance cards rather than hearts that are changed.  We “businessify” something that really is not just a business, it’s a war, raging battle, and we add one to one and call two success.  Percentages and statistics are nullified.  In war it either is or it isn’t.  You win or you lose.  Numbers are a triviality.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t claim to be the first to shout this cry, I’m not.  It’s an old battle call.  Neither do I minimize the importance of large churches and generous offering.  Acts says that three thousand were added to the church in one day and by generous offerings the awesome temple of God was build.  However, two mites and a measly dozen of thrown together vagabonds are what Jesus really praised.  Two mites. Why not a million?  A dozen apprentices.  Why not a hundred?  Because numbers aren’t in his game.   

Taking it to the Good Book I think of the prophets who laboured tirelessly calling God’s Chosen back to him.  They were met with a variety of “success” in their work.  Jonah, the prophet by force, had Bill Gates-like success.  His half-hearted preaching and sleazy attitude was greeted by the entire city of Nineveh repenting and falling in desperate repentance in sackcloth and ashes.  However, a hundred years later in the same city the frantic work of the prophet Nahum was met with stone cold resistance.  Could it be that Jonah succeeded?  Could it be that Nahum failed?  The numbers tell a story.  Jonah saves a city of hundreds of thousands of people, everyone from the smallest to the greatest.  Nahum reports not one.  The numbers tell a story but God’s business is not a business of numbers.

So look yourself in the mirror.  Stop grading yourself.  Godliness is not gained by the amount of tracts you hand out, the amount of people you lead to the Lord or the size of your kid’s club.  Two plus two does not equal Christian and each dollar you give will not paint another star on your celestial crown.  He is not a God who is most impressed by millions and hundreds, he is a God who praised two mites and taught twelve apprentices. 

      

Friday, 16 August 2013

“What is Truth?”

The question was screamed across the overflowing Jewish courtroom.  Not waiting for an answer the judge spun around, royal robes swishing at his ankles as he briskly exited the noisy law room.  But even though his question lasted only a moment in the angry ruckus he was leaving, it rang down loudly through the centuries.  Echoing through schools, courtrooms, homes and prisons, “What is Truth?”.

It’s a profound question.  Many have claimed to have its answer though obviously, not all have found it.  It’s a question that all persons ought to desperately want to answer and to be undoubtedly sure of it.  Without it, what more matters?  Truth is purpose.  Truth is fact.  Truth is reality, actuality, and certainty.  No one can afford to not know it.  


That fateful day the question left Pilot’s lips and bounced back at him from the heavy concrete court walls begging an answer.  TRUTH personified, sat bloodied and bruised waiting to be sentenced.  And had the judge waited for an answer, through the uproar of the mob, he may have heard the soft reply coming from the Accused Himself, “I AM”.  The Answer was seated right in front of him.   

Friday, 29 March 2013

“Caught Red-handed”

-to be caught in the act of committing a misdemeanour, with the evidence there for all to see.

Sayings like this intrigue me.  We all know what they mean but most of us have no idea where they came from.  We all know that “caught red-handed” can be defined as “caught in the act” or “guilty” or “sloppy painter”.  Where really did the phrase come from?  Sifting through the fact and fiction of European history, “caught red-handed” likely originated from the land of kilts and bagpipes, Scotland.  Scottish documents of parliament use the term as early as the fifteenth century simply to describe the deed of being caught in the act.  A murderer caught with blood on his hands was quite literally “caught red-handed”.

What the Scots don’t know is that some guy named Isaiah had referred to the term “red-handed” several thousand years before they ever wrote their documents of parliament.  Look what Isaiah has to say.
 
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:”
-           ISAIAH 1:18A

This verse comes in the middle of a chapter where God is lamenting the blatant wickedness and unfaithfulness as well as the hollow sacrifice worship that his beloved nation offered him.  God was disgusted and frustrated, for good reason.  He, after all, was and is the definition of perfection and he was in a love relationship with an adulterous generation.  But look what we find there, the Lord proposes a debate to judge the people.  He says “let us reason together” this word means “dispute”.  So God proposes a debate of sorts.  A debate is 100% about reason.  Who best presents the soundest logic, wins.  Our courts and judicial systems are built on the cornerstone of reason.  A debate is 100% self-focused; to push your own agenda and beliefs.  A debate is to find truth, or prove truth, for the purpose of enforcing truth.  So it all sounds so legitimate, so democratic and fair.  Nevertheless, God is not a God of strict legitimacy; and certainly not a God of democracy and fairness.  Look what God’s opening statement is to the debate;

“…though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they be red like crimson,
they shall be as wool.”
-           ISAIAH 1:18B

Isn’t that mind-boggling?  Israel was caught red-handed.  They had been caught in the very act of defying God’s law.  In fact, every sin committed is caught red-handed by an all-seeing God.  But God’s reason is absolutely stunning.  Caught with blood splattered hands and faces, God offers to clean them; to wash them white.  He recognizes the facts.  To be caught red-handed is to stand no chance at all in the court of law.  Hard evidence like that is nearly impossible to defend. 

Fellow sinners, we too are caught red-handed.  The evidence smeared all over our hands.  Blood dried and caked on; running, always running, trying to not be caught.  If we just let the Judge judge us, we will find ourselves clean.  Washed whiter than snow; and whiter than wool.

               

Friday, 16 November 2012

On Writing

As the title indicates, this is a dialogue or debate on the subject of writing.  It is written by my brothers, Joey, Jamie, and yours truly.  When I came to Nicaragua six months ago, one thing that I missed a lot was the friendly debates that would take place 'round the Shantz supper table.  This is the improvised replacement for those discussions.  The discussion long, and is not finished; it is on going.  So perhaps it is better to begin reading with the mindset of a book, instead of a blog.  If your have an opinion you wish to add, by all means make yourself be heard!  I believe that the topic is of utmost relevance.  How do you, as a literate follower of Christ view literature?

On Writing

*NOTE: This is written with the hope of a rebuttal.  I love to write – and hope that my writing, if the Lord wills, is not only justifiable, but also up building. 

1.   Jason       
In the past several years, I have thought on, considered, meditated and prayed about no other career more than that of writing.  The irony of writing about writing.  Further still, the irony of writing on why not to write.  Though the subject of writing has consumed many of my waking moments, not all thoughts have been for writing.  Some have been antagonistic.  Why not write?  Let me antagonize writing. 

Down through the ages of history, no other form of communication has been more timeless than writing.  In fact, no other comes close.  The vast majority of what we know about ancient Egypt, Maya, Rome, Israel – every people group, is from the written word.  The Bible, Koran, Apocrypha, and Rosetta Stone, as well as the writing of Plato, Aesop, Aristotle and all the other greats from the past are virtually timeless.  Long after all other forms of communication fade, writing stands. 

The written word is how we learn history.  To a writer, that is sobering.  The words of the writer are the sketching of the face of a culture hundreds of years from now.  Yes, we learn from architecture, drawings and folk lore.  But the real core of our knowledge of a culture is from its writing.

Consider our schooling system; though loaded with various forms of communicating information accurately and effectively, is nearly entirely based on the written word.  Not only is writing timeless, it is effective and accurate as well. 

What I mean by effective is that it can be read and reread by thousands of people.  In English, with only 26 characters, pictures can be painted, stories can be told, people can be informed and emotion can be expressed.  By accurate, I mean that in a drawing or carving, ideas can be conveyed but nothing exact or definite.  For example, you can have a picture of a fat man.  But only by words can you know that he is 360 pounds.  Or in folklore, a story can be retold, but we all know how unwritten folklore changes over time. 

God knows this.

He chose to share his story and plan in a book form.  Remember, Timeless, Effective, and Accurate.  The fact that God wrote, should scare the pens out of the hands of all writers.  Does it not seem that every book written by man is like giving a strong, freshly brewed mug of hot coffee to a dehydrated man in the desert, when in the other hand we hold a glass of cool (living) water?  When the man is already dehydrated we hand him a dehydrating beverage.  What I mean, is that every minute spent reading a man-written book, is a minute potentially spent in the Word of God.  Personally, I know for a fact how much more difficult it is to find meditation and fulfillment in the Bible when my reading time is split with another book.  Nearly without fail, I pick up the “other book” as my pleasure reading, and then I pick up the Bible, for a few minutes, as my “swallow without chewing” meditation (or medication) for the day. 

Beyond this, to be a writer, is to put oneself in the public coliseum.  Every single writer has critics.  I know and understand that we should not let what others think and say about us determine how we act or what we say, but really, writers are put through the mill.  Take C. S. Lewis as an example.  By many, considered the elite Christian author of the century, Lewis is likely the most quoted Christian in the last one hundred years.  When I scan a page in nearly any genre of Christian writing and see the capital letters C. S., I know, nearly for a fact, that we have another Lewis quote coming.  However, Lewis has critics; lots of critics.  Many consider him a mixer of Protestantism, Catholicism, Greek mythology and whatever else he pleases to put into his Narnian fantasy.  I’m not writing to defend or condemn Lewis – or I too, would gain a host of critics.  Ironically, what I write here is essentially critically of all writers.  Yet it seems that when pen touches paper the critics stand. 

Permit me to make one more argument to ensure I do have critics.  Is there not enough Christian books written already about every legitimate and not so legitimate subject?  What more is there to write?  What is left to say?  What has not been covered by the Christian author greats of today and yesterday?  Or more, what is not covered in the Holy Bible?  Is not our book shelves packed with books by “excellent Christian authors” merely a candy coating attempt to write truth, when Truth himself has authored a perfect script? 

What better way to close this writing than with something that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is true, a Bible verse.  Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” 

Doesn’t that have “Bible” written all over it?  What other book and author dare compete?
                    
2.   Joey and Jamie
Wowee brother,

You know how to make a guy think!!! I enjoy when we disagree, no matter how minute (sometimes we don't even disagree- one of us just argues the other side for a while for strict enjoyment) because without fail an all-out debate ensues, in which many spiritual and deep matters get touched upon and brought in to support our view or decry the others. Much, much fun!! I only wish that this discussion could take place over the kitchen table and a coffee rather than over these newfangled computers.... :) here goes, o yes, and Jamie got sucked in to the debate already to because as soon as any debateable topic comes up than the rest of us seem to smell it out and get involved. Jamie emailed some thoughts that he had and they're included.

You started your article with several paragraphs of pros to writing. These boiled down into 3 words: timeless, effective, and accurate. I won’t bother expounding on the truth of those as being pros to writing because you obviously already see them as that.

The first line that I actually disagreed with was in the paragraph starting with the line "He chose to share his story..." In there you say how man’s writing is like coffee to a dying man when what he needs is water. I don't think that’s quite accurate. If a claimed Christian authors work is "coffee" than that person is not writing Christian work. Jamie put it this way- it’s more like giving them a cup of water, not the well. I hope that it is leading them to the well, pointing the way to the well. It better be refreshing or its not Christian work.

See the Christian writing is not taking away from the Bible. It also is not adding to it. It is merely speaking about the Truths of the Bible in another way, quite possibly showing Biblical Truth in a story form. Man learns so much from stories. Hard concepts and ideas are understood when expressed through a story that the individual reading can identify with.

The article ends with the verse from Philippians, and I believe that this verse can actually add to the argument to write Christian literature. The writing must be about things that are true, honest, just etc... Writing, whether it be story, admonition, blog, etc. etc. that exudes these qualities is living out Philippians 4:8. It’s expressing these very things that we are supposed to! It’s not detracting from it because it is the fulfillment of thinking on these things.

The example of us being drawn to the "other" book rather than the Bible is not a problem with the author of the book but rather the reader. 

This may come across as heresy so I'll need to hear your thoughts on it. But do we possibly have a slightly wrong impression of Truth... Truth is God, which is way bigger than Words. This is why the KJV is not the only way. Truth can be said in different ways as long as the Truth does not change. See the words in the Bible spell out Truth. What Truth is, what it looks like, and how we can know it. So if that Truth, the same Truth, not in the same words, but still that same Truth is presented in a book other than the Bible is it not still Truth. I mean, just because it is no longer between two black covers doesn’t somehow not make it Truth. It does put an incredible amount of responsibility on the author to make sure that their writing is still Truth. It’s not adding, not taking away, just presenting Truth again and again and again in different stories, in different songs, in different blogs, in different newspaper articles and essays and speeches and messages.... Read Mark 9:38-41 if the book is for God and its pointing to Him and its showing Him off, I believe it’s blessed by Him.

Here are some of Jamie’s thoughts the way he wrote them:

1) Jesus himself used stories or parable to explain things. I do not
know that he actually wrote these but it shows that stories can be
instructive in a good way.

2) By writing you can preserve God’s work in you to the next
generation. By this I mean that people can learn from your writings
what may have taken you years of experience to figure out. Even though
you are not creating something new, your unique perspective may
benefit others in the future. (I particularly like this one because I like to do this all the time in my classroom. Tell my kids about something that I've learned so that hopefully when faced with a similar experience (i.e. respecting my parents when they don't want me to play in that hockey tourney) that they'll know better how to respond)

3) By writing something such as a blog you may be inspiring someone
else to a deeper relationship with Christ. Writing with biblical
principles can be a way to guide someone toward God. Perhaps this can
be compared to listening to a message. What you are being taught in a
message is from the Bible yet it has many thoughts in it that are not
necessarily taken directly from scripture. What you hear may inspire
you and likewise a well written story or blog may inspire someone
else.

Beyond this I think too that there is something, and I'm not sure I can capture the idea and explain it correctly, but that we have the mind of Christ... Think about that for a minute, when Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 2:16 that we have the mind of Christ and then again in Phil 2:5 that we're supposed to have the mind of Christ, what did he mean?? I remember Collier Berkshire speaking on it at the tent meetings... He meant exactly that -- that we would love like he does, hate what he hates, show compassion, give and give and give... And so when we write we have this amazing opportunity to engage in something God did! Not coming up with new Truth, just writing about Him and what He wrote because He has given us the mind of Christ- we now think like Him. It’s like art- that’s so amazing that we can express beauty on a canvas, similar in small ways to how God expressed beauty when He created the world. And I really think that God puts these different desires and dreams into His people to be glorified by them discovering them and then performing these little pictures of God and His abilities and His attributes here on His earth. 

I really wish we could be talking rather than writing...

Can’t wait to hear back!!!

God bless bro, love ya

3.   Jason
A most excellent and entertaining rebuttal, who knew that the topic of “writing” could produce such an excellently debateable topic?  Yes, excellently written and thought out to the both of you.  However, I have a few “cranial puffs” which I wish to engage you in.  So let’s enter the ring for Round Two!
That idea of writing being a vehicle or avenue of expressing truth is a classic, epic truth.  You can’t make more truth, just like you can’t create or invent another element.  The Periodic Table of Elements isn’t growing.  My cellphone, the ground in the garden, and the toenail on your big toe, are all made from elements found on the Periodic Table of Elements.  You can’t make more elements.  You can, however, arrange the elements in a new way to create a “new” product.  The Bible is our Periodic Table of Elements.  It is Truth.  You can’t make more truth; all you can do is rearrange the “elements” of Truth to create a new perspective, a new story.  It is a different method, but still the unchanging Truth.  Yes, an excellent point.  As one wise old sage put it, “The Truth is the Truth is the Truth!”

You very easily and smoothly brushed away one of my better points!  You said, regarding what I said, that “the example of us being drawn to the "other" book rather than the Bible is not a problem with the author of the book but rather the reader”.  I think that I understand what you’re saying, and maybe even agree, but I am compelled to mention something on the subject.  Yes, it is true.  First and foremost, we are responsible for ourselves, but notice what the Bible says about our responsibility to our brothers.  Rom 14:21 “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine (or write books!) or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”  Yes, I know that many books are intended to bring a person closer to God and not farther away, but consider what I read recently, ironically, in a book, “(In) many of these books, your mind can remain in neutral.  The author carries you along from exciting event to exciting event, always tantalizing you and tempting you to continue on.  But the Bible is different.  It demands that you get involved.  It requires you to analyze your life and make hard choices.  It isn’t always easy to understand and requires time for meditation.” (Gary Miller, “Charting a Course” pg. 87) 

I think to analyze and illuminate the truth of this whole discussion is that writing MUST cause the reader to THINK!  I agree, writing as a whole, is not – no, cannot, be wrong.  However, I question the validity of reading, or writing, solely for the purpose of pleasure.  Is not “pleasure reading” solely putting the mind into a pathetic state of neutral dormancy?  Writing must cause the reader to think, to get involved; to work!  The reader must become a part of the story.  He needs in some way to see himself in the characters or plot of the story.  John Bunyan was an expert at this; consider his works, “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and “The War against Man Soul” (not sure if that is the right title).  These timeless books can hardly be read without the reader seeing a shocking image of one’s self from page to page.  I’ve heard it said too, that a writer must write to bring change.  To inform is good, but what is information without reformation?     

Something more that I recently read on the topic of writing that I thought is most definitely worth mentioning; is a reaffirmation of its timelessness.  In his book “Don’t Waste Your Life” John Piper says this of C. S. Lewis, of all people.  “He has made me wary of chronological snobbery.  This is, he showed me that newness is no virtue and oldness is no vice.  Truth and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist.  Nothing is inferior for being old, and nothing is valuable for being modern.  This has freed me from the tyranny of novelty and opened for me the wisdom of the ages.”  (pg. 19, “Don’t Waste Your Life”)

I think that is valuable wisdom.  I fear we sometimes get caught up in the “new best seller list” mentality, when some of the best literary minds lived long before “best seller lists” ever existed.  The best of writing can scarcely be confined by time.   

This is definitely not conclusive, but there are a few more thoughts.  Would love to hear more from any of you on this!

-Jason

4.   Joey
Once again some interesting and wise thoughts!

To the point about causing our brother to stumble, I don't think that Bible would say that we should stop doing good when our brother says it is causing him to stumble... What if I were to say that my spiritual life took a hit when you left for Nicaragua... would that than mean that you going was wrong? Not necessarily, in my opinion. It does have to make you pause and consider, but neither should our brothers perceived "stumbling blocks" stop us from God's plan for our life. Mr. Lichty made me think once when we were talking about keeping the Sabbath… ((((Another huge debate topic right there :))))) And we were discussing along the lines of how the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. And then I tried saying the "don't want to make our brother stumble" line. And his comment to that, was who are we making to stumble?? Are we causing newborn Christians to stumble and get a distorted picture of God and His Word?? In which case, it would be completely wrong. OR are we shaking up some old traditionalists who are perhaps spiritually weak of their very own accord and are doing nothing to change their state – for which it then should not be considered causing to stumble, since they are very well in need of thinking a little more about their walk anyhow.... All of this to say that I'm convinced that not all books draw away from the Bible, and that the problem of choosing the book over the Bible lies far more often with the reader than the writer. This is assuming that the book is one that points to the Bible and reiterates its Truth.

I definitely agreed with your point about "good" books needing to cause you to think not just slip into a dormancy state. However, I may challenge that slightly as well.... :) I don't think I would go so far as to say that every book that we read must be of a deep spiritual nature causing one to philosophize during each read... The book must be appropriate in that it does not draw away from God or detract from Him in any way. However, does an afternoon nap bring any more or less glory to God than reading a book that is completely amoral??

And so I 100% agree- books written to bring change (the #1 being the Bible) are of much greater importance and thus should be of highest importance in our lives. Other books as many other things in our lives must align themselves and fall in place behind....

Very interesting....

-Joey

5.   Jason
I really appreciated what you said about causing our brother to stumble.  I find it difficult to know how responsible we actually are to our brothers.  Perhaps it is a case by case situation. 

I would like to think a bit on Paul’s stated creed.  “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”  I Cor. 8:13 (KJV)

I think that we often use the word “offend” differently that the KJV Bible definition.  I think the Bible speaks of an “offence” as a sin, while modern society defines “offence” as an act contrary to someone’s personal desires.  Or perhaps this verse is speaking of an offence (the “act against personal desire” type) against God, which in turn would be sin, because anything against God’s wishes is sin.

You spoke of a book that is entirely amoral.  Amoral; whenever the word comes up in debate or discussion my brain is awash with a mixture of confusion and apprehension.  What does “amoral” actually mean?  Does it not mean that something is neither right nor wrong in and of itself?  It is a cute definition, but perhaps slightly shallow.  Should not a so called “amoral” subject or thing be defined by the moral aspects that make it up?  Certainly, the “amoral book” of which we talk will have moral topics and issues play into it, hence making it moral; morally good or morally bad.  This all sounds pretty good until you use this philosophy in the afternoon nap example.

Here is how the “nothing is amoral” reasoning would be applied. 

The afternoon nap seems amoral, but is it?  What if there is something that God wanted us to do instead isn’t it morally wrong to nap?  Or maybe God wanted us to be rested for something coming up, so wouldn’t it be morally wrong to not have taken the nap?  Wait a minute, morally wrong to not take a nap?  Did I just say that?  I kind of like this idea! 

Clearly, I am confused.  Can you expound on the meaning of amoral?  I believe that the topic of moral vs. amoral is of utmost import when speaking On Writing.   
-Jason

6.   Jamie
I do believe that there are things in this life that are amoral.  Not EVERY single little decision in life is a moral decision. As Joey's example was: whether or not I wear black or white socks makes no difference to God. It is an entirely amoral decision with no consequences.  

However, I would say that in something as big as a book (at least a book of any reasonable length) there will always be either good or bad morals presented in it. To write a book that would have no good or bad morals presented would consist of a book with almost no plot as there could be no big decisions made.  So I would say that every book will present good or bad morals.  

In worldviews class we talked about it a bit how worldly books and movies often present a worldview as an underlying theme or promote things such as abortion or other issues as being ok even if the book or movie does not directly state that.  Morals are sometimes hidden almost in the background of a story yet can cause us to think that maybe this sin or issue may not be so bad after all. It's something that we must watch for in worldly literature. This being said, I would also believe that a book that presents good morals is a perfectly fine read.

You, Jason, are familiar with the story of Lord of the Rings. In this story there is a fight between good and evil. The good side wins and the evil that is displayed in the story is condemned--not glorified in any way.  A book must have evil in it for good to be triumphant.

This is seen all the time in the Bible. There are countless stories--particularly in the Old Testament where good is displayed because of the evil that has been condemned. The Bible does not ignore the evil, because that part of the story is necessary for us to see just how great God's forgiveness and goodness are. Back to Lord of the Rings; I believe that a book such as this is a perfectly fine read because it presents good Biblical morals. Evil is not glorified but is present so that we can see just how good, the good really is. So in my opinion, books are not amoral, but a book that condemns evil and exalts good, is fine for a Christian to read---or write.
The question that I cannot answer; is how much evil may a book contain – even if it is condemned – before it is no longer a worthwhile read.  If a book is causing you as a Christian to focus too much on the evil and the evil in the story is affecting your thought life then it is time to stop reading that book.  

However, many books do not do this and we see evil condemned and good glorified. Lord of the Rings is a good example of this. I really enjoy the Lord of the Rings series and though it was not written as an allegory for the biblical story, it contains many biblical truths that cause me to reflect on my own life and even on what Jesus went through to pay for the sins that I have committed. It's a wonderful read.  

Anyway, I went a little beyond the question of whether books are amoral or not with my opinions but I had to add my two cents to this debate sometime =).  I really want to hear what you think of this...  It is something that I have thought about quite a bit since your first email and I have used some of the thoughts from a book that we are reading in Literature class called Lit-A Christian Guide to Reading Books. 

Anyway, would love to hear all of your thoughts on this,

-Jamie

7.   Jason
Yes, thank you Jamie for adding your two cents!  You bring up some very relevant and interesting points.  What you have to say about “amoralism” I believe, is true.  Moral decisions are the making of a plot.  I also appreciated what you said about writers “hiding” their morality; it’s serious, dangerous, and true. 

What I’m not so sure about what you said, was how much credit you gave to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Yes, I am familiar with the story but I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to properly assess it.  This is my caution; you alluded to it, but I wish to expound.       

We must be careful that what we call “good” when we are reading is actually “good”.  For example, I could write a book about bank robbers and write it from the perspective of the robbers.  I could depict the detective as the antagonist.  I could make him ugly and intellectually challenged.  Then I could make the robbers funny, friendly and smart.  Without consciously thinking about it, the reader begins to “cheer” for evil simply because it was presented as good.  They find themselves rooting for the robber.  Just because something is presented as good in a book does not mean that it actually is good.  What is to say that “good” is actually winning in The Lord of the Rings?  Imagine the story written from the perspective of the middle earthlings, why could they not be good?  What did they do to be deemed bad?  At times, Satan is presented as the “angel of light”; beautiful, inviting, powerful but wrong.  He is a mirage of truth.   

You mentioned the question of how much evil can, and should, be present in writing.  Something to remember; good is not the absence of evil – evil, is the absence of good.  Or in other words, passivism is not good, it is bad.  It is evil.  Jesus wasn’t passive, and we shouldn’t be either.  Passivism mixes warm water with cool water and the Bible is clear that lukewarm water is bad. 

I wonder too how much “bad” can be present in a book without being inappropriate.  If I were to write a book and attempt to publish it by a Christian publisher, with some of the things that the Bible says in it, I would no doubt be considered vulgar and very likely asked to change my script.  What is the answer?  Why did God put some of seemingly sensual things in the Bible?

8.   Joey
Ok, I must stick my feet back into the fire. It's been awhile since I've thrown any extra fuel on so here goes. :) 

So going back to Jason’s second last email I must affirm a couple points! In your opening paragraph you say that as far as the causing a brother to stumble thing it is probably a case by case and I totally agree. 2 paragraphs later you make the point on the word "offence" that the Bible is speaking of, as being sin and what we commonly refer to as "offence" as being an act contrary to someone's personal desire. Again I couldn’t agree more. And I think that makes a huge difference in how we live our lives. Not that we try to go against peoples personal desires but... ya, you made the point why am I expounding on it????

The second last paragraph in that email is about the afternoon nap thing and I can't fully agree with the questions thrown out there. I do believe that there’s a point that a nap could be wrong at times or very necessary at others but I really don't think God wants us to live under a constant cloud of do I? Or don't I? Probably the colour of the socks makes it even clearer than the nap- can you imagine all of heaven cheering "he selected the white socks on today, Monday, Oct 29!!! Yeah!!!" or "O NO, he choose the black socks and the Father fully had in mind that today was the white ones with the grey tips.." Obviously not, in my world!  Freedom in Christ is a huge and necessary part of a mature Christian. Think of Paul radically eating "defiled" meat that had *horrors* been set in front of a block of wood!! That was ground breaking at the time and a sign that someone was actually feeling the heart of God; as opposed to someone hung up on a “do or do not” religion.

Jamie presented a great case as well in his email! And it was so good that maybe if both Jay and I take a bit of a run at a couple of his points we'll convince him to write again in defence :)

I agree with his point about evil needing to be present if redemption of any sort is to happen in the book. However, in my opinion, The Lord of the Rings is not an accurate picture of redemption... throwing a ring that has mystical powers into a burning mountain? Especially when you read the history about the rings and strange creatures involved and then the rings being forgotten for a while... and then also how Frodo seems almost unsatisfied at the end of the books too and decides to go to this otherworld... (Or do I understand the book wrong?) And on that note, why is it all these Christians who are trying to hold the book up and say it is "good" because of its Christian aspects, when the author himself says it has nothing to do with religion. I mean shouldn’t he be the guy that knows if he meant it to be or not?? Maybe after all it is just the thriller he meant it to be....

And then this ties into what Jason was saying in your last email; I agree with the line that we must be careful that what we call "good" is actually "good". And that just because something is presented as good does not necessarily make it good. Consider that just as God is Truth, God is Good. Goodness does not come from anywhere else. And so in The Lord of the Rings case, in order for the book or any book to be deemed "good" it must than show God's character, right? Now I know I haven’t read the series, so someone fill me in... Does it show God's character?? Or is it rather a thriller where "bad" tries to conquer "good" and eventually after many heart pounding and emotionally traumatic sweat inducing climaxes "good" finally does prevail?? Like what characteristics of God are the "good" of the story? Is it the rings- surely not, rings are evil!! :) ok I put that in as comic relief :) but the basic story line, and I know I'm debating on grounds I should not be not having read the books, is that these rings which were made thousands of years ago with special powers and thus and thus and thus before finally being discovered by 2 dudes at the bottom of a river. Immediately the 1 guy kills the other so he can have the ring. Eventually the ring is in the hand of a good guy and the books revolve around that guy needing to destroy the ring by throwing it into the fires of Mordor or something... All of that to ask, what exactly is the "good" in this story?? Remember the definition. Or debate the definition- take your pick, I'm cool with either or :)

Now another aspect I have to comment on from Jason’s last email is the thoughts in the last paragraph about passivism. See I think there are times where passivism is fine, it’s irrelevant. It’s along the same lines as amoral. If you offer me an apple or a banana- and you say I may take my pick; then I say I really don't care, throw me one. Than what else could you describe that attitude than being than passive?? In my opinion, that decision is void of good and bad. It’s amoral. It’s not lacking good, nor is it lacking bad, simply because it doesn’t even have those characteristics... I think there has to be a realm of the amoral. Can a book be amoral??? ....I would probably lean towards yes.... for now :)

9.   Jason
To begin, I want to tackle the seemingly joint topic of passivism and moralism.  Perhaps for starters we need to refocus.  Passivism and a moralism are mute points when they do not have consequences of a moral nature.  Which socks or fruit are morally unimportant decisions.  However, at times, seemingly morally unimportant decisions take on gigantic moral consequences.  For Adam and Eve, the fruit that they ate was an extremely important decision.  However, that story is interesting.  Satan took an extremely important decision and made its importance look meniscal.  Satan does that.  He takes very important decisions and masks them appear as amoral everyday decisions.  He did it to Eve and he will do it to you.  And so, look out, beware!  Something that seems unimportant may actually be a decision that affects mankind.  Yes, I agree Joey, passivism is not inherently wrong, but we must not let it infiltrate moral aspects of our lives. 

Joey, you said that you believe a book can be amoral.  Therefore you must disagree with Jamie’s definition of such a book.  I quote Jamie, “To write a book that would have no good or bad morals presented would consist of a book with almost no plot as there could be no big decisions made.  So I would say that every book will present good or bad morals.” 

Also I would like to quote you, Joey, “in order for the book (Lord of the Rings) or any book to be deemed "good" it must than show God's character.”  So I believe what you are then saying is that for a book to be amoral it will not show the character of God or the character of Satan – who loves all which God hates. 

Again, to me, this thought process of a book being amoral is extremely dangerous.  A writer has extreme power.  A reader generally accepts his “pleasure books” as truth.  Yes, perhaps as fiction, but as basically good and reliable.  Pleasure reading is not first and foremost done with the purpose of criticizing.  The purpose, first and foremost, is pleasure.  This is big stuff folks!  The writer’s world view and view on many issues is hidden in his writing.  And we accept it as truth without mentally processing it.      
         
Take the popular comic book of Calvin and Hobbs as an example; if any book could be amoral this would be it.  But then think of his respect level for his parents, his non resistance level, and his relationships with his friends.  Folks is his life something we endorse?  I’m beginning to think not.  Why would you want your son pleasure reading about a boy who has relational problems with his dad? 

On top of all that, why do we teach our children all the Old Testament stories?  Many are bloody, gory, some even immoral and definitely not at all filled with the “New Law”.  Is it healthy or unhealthy for young children to be hearing these stories?  Obviously, God had a purpose for the Old Testament, what it was exactly I’m not sure.  The “heroes” in the Old Testament stories used methods that we would never consider using.  But without blinking we accept them as good stories and teach them faithfully to our children.  What in these stories, do we actually see that is a true picture of the mind and heart of God of the New Testament? 

Jamie, you tell me what you see in “Lord of the Rings” that mirrors the character of God.  Joey says that it needs that in order to be considered “good” (a good verse to back that philosophy up is Mark 10:18). 

And Joey, you tell me more about your amoral book.  Jamie says it needs morals in order to have plot, and I say that a story without plot doesn’t make it to the printer. 

And while you’re at it, tell me what you think about teaching Old Testament stories in our Summer Bible Schools and in our home, to our children.  In fact, please explain the Old Testament to me!

Look forward to hearing back!

-Jason