Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hudson Taylor on Asking for Donations

My pastor recently used 19th century British missionary to China Hudson Taylor as the subject for a sermon.

Hudson Taylor is one of my heroes, and I like the two volume biography by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor the best.

Here is one of my favorite Taylor stories.  May the Lord raise up more men with his attitude toward money!

Just then, on the 2nd of May, he was due in Hertfordshire for an important meeting. Colonel Puget, brother of the Dowager Lady Radstock, being his host and Chairman. To this new friend it seemed a peculiar arrangement to have a missionary meeting without a collection, but understanding it to be Mr. Taylor's wish the announcement had been made accordingly. When the time came, however, and the speaker proved unusually interesting. Colonel Puget realised that people would give generously if only they had the opportunity. Rising therefore at the close of the address, he said that interpreting the feelings of the audience by his own, he took it upon himself to alter the decision about the collection. Many present were moved by the condition of things Mr. Taylor had represented, and would go away burdened unless they could express practical sympathy. Contrary therefore to previous announcements, an opportunity would now be given.

But at that point Mr. Taylor interposed, asking to be allowed to add a few words. It was his earnest desire, he said, that his hearers should go away burdened. Money was not the chief thing in the Lord's work, especially money easily given, under the influence of emotion. Much as he appreciated their kind intention, he would far rather have each one go home to ask the Lord very definitely what He would have them do. If it were to give of their substance, they could send a contribution to their own or any other society. But in view of the appalling facts of heathenism, it might be much more costly gifts the Lord was seeking; perhaps a son or daughter or one's own life-service. No amount of money could save a single soul. What was wanted was that men and women filled with the Holy Spirit should give themselves to the work in China and to the work of prayer at home. For the support of God-sent missionaries funds would never be lacking.

"You made a great mistake, if I may say so," remarked his host at supper. " The people were really interested. We might have had a good collection."

In vain Mr. Taylor explained the financial basis of the Mission and his desire to avoid even the appearance of conflicting with other societies. Colonel Puget, though sympathetic, was unconvinced.

Next morning, however, he appeared somewhat late at breakfast, explaining that he had not had a good night. In the study, after handing Mr. Taylor several contributions given for the Mission, he went on to say

"I felt last evening that you were wrong about the collection, but now I see things differently. Lying awake in the night, as I thought of that stream of souls in China, a thousand every hour going out into the dark, I could only cry, `LORD, what wilt Thou have me to do ?' I think I have His answer."

And he handed Mr. Taylor a cheque for five hundred pounds.

"If there had been a collection I should have given a five-pound note," he added. "This cheque is the result of no small part of the night spent in prayer."

Taylor, Howard, 1862-1946; Taylor, Howard, Mrs. Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission : the growth of a work of God (Kindle Locations 1235-1250). London : Morgan & Scott; Philadelphia : China Inland Mission.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Beautiful, Flawed Bible

Tyndale recently sent me a free hardback copy of their new Chronological Life Application Study Bible for review.  For someone like me who loves books in general, and the Bible specifically, this book is hard not to like.
  • It's beautiful.  Full color throughout: photographs of Bible places, paintings, parchments, charts.  It's not only a book, it's a work of art.  It is by far the most aesthetically pleasant Bible I have ever seen.
  • It's heavy.  If you like Bibles that feel solid (I do), this is definitely one!
  • It's helpful.  There are tons of notes, a concordance, color maps, etc.
  • It's unique.  The biggest selling point of this Bible is that it is arranged chronologically, not in the traditional canonical order.  For example, Job is placed between Genesis and Exodus.  The Psalms are interspersed with David's life in 1 and 2 Samuel.  Samuel and Kings are interwoven with parallel passages in Chronicles.  The four gospels are interwoven, making it easy to compare each gospel writer's account of each story.  The epistles are inserted in the appropriate places in Acts.
Having said that, there are several weaknesses in this Bible.
  • The very fact that it is arranged chronologically becomes an irritating slowdown if you are trying to find a particular passage.  Despite the extensive canonical table of contents in the beginning, it's not a Bible you would take to church or Bible study, where you want to be able to find passages fast.  I think I would enjoy this Bible much more if it were arranged canonically.
  • There are also disadvantages to blending the four gospels into one.  Each gospel writer aimed to bring out specific aspects of Jesus' ministry and character.  Each author's sequence and selection of stories from Jesus' life were not random, but carefully planned.  This gets lost in the "combined" version.
  • Tyndale has only released this Bible in the KJV and NLT, both of which are inferior for serious study to the ESV, HCSB, or NASB.  It has no cross references.  In this sense, it is not a true study Bible. 
  • While overall the commentary notes are accurate and concise, there are evidences of a bent towards evangelical liberalism.  The notes on Genesis leave room for theistic evolution, and the notes on the role of women in church lean towards egalitarianism rather than complementarianism.
So how would this Bible best be used?  Who should buy one?  A person who is seeking to absorb a lot of information about the Bible efficiently.  Such a person would gain a very broad and organized education by reading through the entire Chronological Life Application Study Bible from cover to cover.  It is not a Bible to keep on the shelf for occasional reference; it's a Bible to read through carefully, and then pass on to a friend.  If you would like my copy, let me know!

For more information, check out the video.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Jehovah Tsidkenu, by Robert Murray M'Cheyne

My mother recently discovered a powerful poem by Robert Murray M'Cheyne, the Scottish pastor who accomplished more before he died at age 29 than most men do in a full lifetime.

To understand the poem, you need to know that the key phrase, Jehovah Tsidkenu, is Hebrew for "The Lord Our Righteousness". It refers to how, through Jesus, God credits His people with righteousness, a righteousness they did not earn or deserve.

I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.

I oft read with pleasure, to sooth or engage,
Isaiah´s wild measure and John´s simple page;
But e´en when they pictured the blood sprinkled tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu seemed nothing to me.

Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu twas nothing to me.

When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.

My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life giving and free
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.

Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne´er can be lost;
In thee I shall conquer by flood and by field,
My cable, my anchor, my breast-plate and shield!

Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,
This "watchword" shall rally my faltering breath;
For while from life´s fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu, my death song shall be.
 If you'd like to try singing this poem, it can be sung to the tune Gordon, which is most famously sung to "My Jesus I Love Thee". 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Glory Has Departed

So then, those who had raised their hand were baptized, and there were added that day about three souls.
And they were occasionally devoting themselves to the pastor's sermon, and to cordial chit-chat, to a cracker and juice, and to prayers for healing and prodigal children.
And everyone kept feeling a sense of boredom, and many feverish labors were being done by the pastor's hands.
And all those who believed were busy, and had few things in common   And they began buying more property and possessions, and rented storage space for the extras. And those who had need were aided by the government.
And once a week meeting at the church building they were taking their coffee and donuts together with dissipation and distraction of heart, praising their sports teams and being unnoticed by most outsiders.
And the cool band and relevant messages were occasionally adding to their number those who were being immunized against the true gospel.  
This parody of Acts 2:41-47 is not meant to be humorous or even sarcastic.  Read it with tears, not with chuckles or smirks.  How far our American churches have fallen from the glory of Pentecost (or even the glory of the Reformation). I am thankful to be in a church that this parody does not describe.  But we too have a long ways to go.  May the Lord purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Lasting Rewards of Hospitality

My uncle, a Vietnam Vet, sent us this video about how President Nixon threw a dinner -- still the largest dinner ever held at the White House -- for former POWs.

What was touching to me was how meaningful this memory is to these men, even after forty years and Watergate.

If you want to change the world, invite someone to your home for a meal.  But not just anyone.
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  (Luke 14:12-14, NIV)
And that's a far greater reward even than creating warm memories.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Should Tozer Have Remained Single?

When Mom was in the nursing home, I used my time commuting back and forth (and time alone cooking at home) to listen to the recording of Lyle Dorsett's biography of Aiden W. Tozer, A Passion for God.

Two quick comments on the biography before I move on to the main point of this blog post.

1. I wish the author had given a bit more description of Tozer's successes.  He describes Tozer as being popular and gifted, but he does not really make you like or connect with Tozer.  Tozer comes across as something of a theological nerd, an ascetic mystic, above and aloof.  There must have been something likeable or beneficial about Tozer's ministry or he would not have been so popular.
2. About Tozer's weaknesses and sinful tendencies, another review of the same book does a good job of summarizing them and I will not restate them here. Tim Challies' review is also good.

The question that I want to focus on is the biggest question that I was left with after this book was finished.  Would Tozer have been better off remaining single?  He loved to spend hours alone in prayer.  He loved giving sacrificially (about half of his not-too-high income, apparently).  Both of these habits did not endear him to his wife.  After his death and her remarriage to a Christian widower, she told someone, "I have never been happier in my life. Aiden (Tozer) loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me."

Tozer's reclusive tendencies also distanced him from his 7 children to some extent.  (Although all of them apparently followed him in the faith as Christians.)  Even with his congregations, Tozer was more prophet than pastor: he loved preaching and teaching but did not like one on one relational work such as pastoral visits.  He only agreed to take his final pastorate after the church promised that all he would have to do was preach twice a week; they hired another pastor to do everything else.

First Corinthians 7:32-33 (NASB) says:
"But I want you to be free from concern.  One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord, but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided."
Tozer seems to have failed to recognize how marriage should have changed his priorities.  If he had remained single, he could have spent those long hours in prayer and given those dollars away without neglecting family responsibilities.  On the other hand, his asceticism probably limited his pastoral effectiveness, and this would have happened (perhaps even more damagingly) even if he had not been married.  Marriage doubtless helped shave some of the rough edges off his personality and thus made him a better pastor than he would otherwise have been.  But if he was really cut out to be a prophet, perhaps he was also better off not being a pastor. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An (Extra)Ordinary Guy

Recently an acquaintance of mine, whom I don't know well and had thought to be just an ordinary Guy (his name is Guy) posted this to his Facebook wall:

I have been given the number12 of random facts about me to share.1.I am a sinner 2.I am left handed.3.I was an coach at indep. 1986 4.I enjoy listening to classical music.5.I went to a live concert of Pavarotti.thank you tippy.6.I did not experience the day of thanksgiving in 1967.Enroute to viet nam our plane took off from alaska the day before thanksgiving when we landed in japan it was the day after thanksgiving.7.My wife is my greatest living hero,she has all the qualities I admire and lack in myself.8.I performed on stage at Carnegie Hall.....french horn 9.I sincerely enjoy people but I dont like crowds and I am relationally deficient.....ask my family 10.I stuttered all throughout school and still do at times.11.I once ran an orphanage in mexico.12.I was a recreation director for 4,ooo cuban refugees single men.
I was amazed to learn some of these things about him. That led me to wonder how many similar things do I not know about my other friends. Does everyone have extraordinary details to their lives? Thinking back about my own life (albeit much shorter than Guy's) I have some equally unusual facts. Here are 13 about me:
1) I have lived in the Binghamton, NY area four times in my life (totaling 13 months). 2) I have been to Oklahoma City four times (totaling almost 5 months). 3) I have been in 43 of the 50 US states (but never to neighboring Nevada). 4) I've never spent a night outside the US (hoping to change that). 5) I attended Christian preschool for 2 years (and have many vivid memories of it). 6) Despite being raised by wonderful Christian parents, I did not become a Christian until I was nearly 19. 7) The hardest mental challenge I ever undertook was building an Access database when I was 20. In retrospect, it was pretty impressive. I have been to Wrightsville, PA four times (also totaling about 5 months). 9) my first computer was a used Eagle, which ran CP/M (a pre-DOS operating system). 10) I love milking goats. 11) I love Mennonite singing. 12) I love the doctrines of grace (aka the 5 points of Calvinism). 13) I once had a torturous sleeping disorder that was largely psychosomatic.
Perhaps you could use this as a relationship-deepening conversation starter with your friends.  Ultimately, I think we will see how God has given each person unique experiences, weaknesses, and strengths.  Don't let familiarity blind you to the gifts God has put around you.  Every person is a largely untapped mine.