Movie: Stuck in Love [REVIEW]

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Redemptive Love Overcomes

Classic romanticism or just another love story? “Stuck in Love” tells the story of a broken family and their search of wholeness through romantic relationships. Directed by up and coming writer/director, Josh Boone (his next film “The Fault in Our Stars” to be released 6/6/14), “Stuck in Love” is a sincere treatment of difficult themes, divorce, coming of age, sex, fidelity, and meaning.

The film features a stellar ensemble of respected thespians, Academy award nominee Greg Kinnear, award winner Jennifer Connelly, Kristen Bell, young stars Nat Wolff, Lily Collins, Logan Lerman, and Liana Liberato, including a voice-cameo by Stephen King. Overall, the acting was superb. Very little was wrong with the cinematography. The soundtrack purred beautifully and fittingly throughout the film. There is not much to dislike in this film.

As a story, the film revolves around three main characters, divorcee and novelist Bill Borgens, his recently published, yet afflicted daughter, Sam, and smitten poet son, Rusty. Three writers with three different problems with love stemming from Bill’s divorce from his wife Erica.

Bill initially appears as the title character, since he seemingly is stuck in love with his ex-wife. Rusty, as Boone reveals in interviews, “is very much an alter-ego.  He’s a more handsome, cooler alter-ego, but he was very much playing me [Boone].  I just tried to take things that I wanted to talk about, from my life when I was younger, and just hang them on that family of writers to see if I could tell that story.”[1] While Rusty’s escapades with his girlfriend Kate figure prominently, their story fades into the background. As a character, Rusty changes very little (other than losing his virginity about halfway through). Even Bill’s character progresses only mildly.

Bill struggles to let go of his ex-wife, and the viewer discovers halfway through that he does not struggle with letting go but actually with remaining redemptively faithful to a promise his made his wife years before. As we come to find out, Erica remained faithful towards him when years before Bill had lost his way. The adulteress character Tricia tempts Bill to let go of Erica, but he continues to see his ex-wife struggling to live with her faulty decision, so he decides to hold on to hope.

Bill’s deliberations and Rusty’s romanticism and coming of age form the backstory for the development of Sam as a character. Of all the characters, Sam changes the most, transforming from a cold, sex-only-please, user of men into a forgiving, soft, understanding character. Whereas she hated her mother for emotionally and professionally harming her father, seeing her father as hopelessly broken by a ruthless violator, she later learned that her father’s dedication to Erica was not senseless desperation, but a loving, humble response to a long-past act of forgiveness. Through this revelation, Sam finds healing with herself, with her mother, and with boyfriend. This was the defining moment of the plot. Rusty’s dedication to the broken Kate was sentimental, as was Erica’s return to the family, but these were like extra gravy at the thanksgiving meal. Perhaps this is why some reviewers of the film thought the ending was too tidy, others thinking the characters were not fully developed. Developing three characters, all whose decisions and views on love feed into a central plot is a gargantuan task.

One of the more memorable lines from the film comes from Bill. Twice, including the closing scene, Bill quotes Raymond Carver—“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”[2] As we find out, this is Bill’s favorite author, favorite quote. How much are we to read this quote into the movie, one wonders? In Carver’s short story, two couples, all four persons previously divorced, lose their inhibitions over a bottle of gin and discuss the love they have truly felt towards each of their past lovers. From this short story, life, it seems, comes to us in a progression of good or bad experiences of human love. But love is just that, an experience of a feeling, nothing more, nothing less, a sort of romanticist nihilism. Perhaps Boone chose this quote because of how it sounded in the movie. It is unclear how it related to the plot, being as Bill’s love for his ex-wife was driven by something deeper, something Rusty held onto romantically, and something Sam began to understand. Or perhaps its an ironic, cryptic critique of the romantic love presented in the movie itself.

Given the redemptive transformation of Sam’s character, on the whole, the movie overemphasizes sex. Certainly love is more than sex, marriage is more than sex, coming-of-age is more than sex. The sexcapades of Sam’s character fit into her transformation. They communicate how far her parent’s divorce have driven her away from relational love, no skin required to demonstrate her issues. However, Bill and Rusty’s forays were clearly extraneous to the plot. Who cares if Bill is getting it, for instance? Artistically, while there is no full exposure during any of the sex scenes, there were too many such scenes, most distracting from the plot, and they were all too explicit verbally. The best art implies and nuances, thus making its communication stronger. Made explicit, even without exposure, the scenes are mere titillation, unnecessary. The concern here is not prudishness, but aesthetics and truth.

What then does “Stuck in Love” teach the viewer about love? One might argue that all we find here is a story, nothing more, nothing less. However, every story, especially those having plot, climax, and resolution, functions heuristically. The manner in which every human being views the world derives from foundational stories, root metaphors, worldviews. This is one reason why this movie should be taken seriously, because it takes stories seriously.

This story in particular moves beyond naked realism, which is often purely meaningless, toward romantic idealism. Whether you agree with the Boone’s argument about love, you have to work through how he portrays love in the real world. Obviously he rejects the heartless, godless love of Sam early in the movie. She is a lost soul. He also rejects the heartlessness of Erica’s abandonment of Bill. He doesn’t fully embrace the romanticism of Rusty, Rusty is still portrayed as immature and finding himself. Bill’s redemptive love figures prominently, again, not in that it leads to his restoration with his ex-wife in the end, but that it leads to the transformation of his daughter Sam. She learns that love is a promise that is kept even in light of the messiness of the whole endeavor. She learns that no one loves perfectly and that it is worth the risk of being hurt. Love is primarily about redemption, forgiveness, faithfulness, and dedication, even in the face of great pain. Aspects of the plot distract from this view of love, but this view remains nonetheless.

Could we trace this view of love back to Boone’s Christian roots? He may not consider himself a Christian now, but traces of the Christian worldview may indeed persist in his dedication to the ideal of faithful, redemptive love.

In short, Christianity, when true to its roots, teaches that God, eternally existing, who in essence is love, created humanity to be able to love Him and to love other people. God created humanity with the ability to choose, originally reflecting His goodness and His love. However, human beings of their own free will chose to love themselves and other created things above their creator.  Since this turning-in-upon-oneself, and every human being has been born with brokenness. This brokenness is reflected in human relationships as in everything humans put their minds and hearts to.

Sometimes, we still taste the goodness of God’s creational purpose in love, but often self-love, seeking one’s own pleasure and happiness at the expense of others, destroys human relationships. Not only is this relational evil individual, it is also systemic. We devour one another. Few find what is true, beautiful, and good, as they endeavor to love other human beings.

Nonetheless, God did not leave humanity to its own devices. God showed His redemptive love by crushing His own Son Jesus upon the cross to reconcile and redeem us from our brokeness. He did this because as the creator, He holds the right and authority to judge His creation for its rebellious self-love against Him. Instead of obliterating His creation, He placed the judgment for human rebellion upon His son, who valued us all above Himself. He demonstrated such love for each of us. This love is made perfect through the restoration of all things through His Son, Jesus.

Christianity teaches that Jesus physically died within human history, and was physically brought back to life from the dead (three days later no less). In Jesus, human love is restored through redemption.

Whereas humanity was not faithful towards God, God has remained faithful towards humanity. All God requires is that we, as the wayward spouse, return to his table, turning away from our adulterous abandonment, and put our full-life allegiance in His Son Jesus. This is a grand love story, from which all other love stories get their effect, power, and meaning. Insomuch as love looks like this, it reflects that which is True, Good, and Beautiful.

Reviewed by Wesley L. Handy


[1] Christina Radish, “Writer-Director Josh Boone Talks STUCK IN LOVE, Its Autobiographical Nature, Getting Stephen King Involved, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, and More,” Collider.com, [Accessed 10/28/2013] http://collider.com/josh-boone-stuck-in-love-interview/

[2] Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories,” (New York: Vintage, 1989), 154.

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Bosch on Paul’s Missionary Partnership with Churches

David Bosch was a missiological beast. In his chapter on “Mission in Paul” from Transforming Mission, Bosch identified three aspects of Paul’s missionary strategy. First, he argued that Paul targeted the cities. Eckhard Schnabel in his study of Paul concurred, noting that Paul’s “burden” was “to reach as many Jews and Gentiles as possible with the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, wherever they lived” (Paul the Missionary, 282). Second, Bosch showed that Paul’s strategy meant utilizing dozens of coworkers drawn from the churches he planted or encountered. Finally, Bosch argued that Paul set himself up, as an apostle, as an example of following Christ, as a life indistinguishable from the gospel itself. Such as example required a close relationship with local churches in the mission. Thus, close, personal partnership with churches being established in highly populated city centers was a key aspect of Paul’s missionary strategy.

The following is a salient quote from Bosch on Paul’s partnership with local churches in mission (Note: I have removed parenthetical references within the quote):

In his fellow-workers Paul embraces the churches and these identify with his missionary efforts; this is the primary intention of the cooperative mission. Where members of the community are chosen for this work they put their charisma for a certain period at the disposal of the mission, and through their delegates the churches themselves become partners in the entire enterprise. The role of the co-workers only becomes transparent if seen in relation to the churches. This ministry demonstrates the coming of age of the churches. The foundational relationship between the co-workers and their local churches has to be taken into account at all times. Theologically this signifies that Paul regards his mission as a function of the church.

What are some implications of this Pauline strategy for the local church in mission?

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Newbigin on Missionary Partnership with Indigenous Churches

Here is an important quote from Lesslie Newbigin, originally penned in 1958, on two principles that must govern the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. This comes after his very important section “The Homebase is Everywhere.” His argument is that the church has spread globally and that the church must be united in the task of global evangelization and that for this to happen the church itself must be seen “as the mission.” The kingdom spreads as the church embodies the gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

A missionary may fully acknowledge that his work must be in complete fellowship with the church in the area and yet his vocation is to preach the Gospel to the non-Christian. Does the church – which may be but a tiny fraction of the total population – have the right to say that it needs no more missionaries, and that it is not prepared to make it possible for missionaries from abroad to work as evangelists in its area?

There are certainly no ready-made solutions to these problems; they need continued co-operative thought. But certain convictions may be recorded and certain suggestions for further action made. If we accept what has been said about the missionary responsibility of the whole Church for the whole world, certain principles will follow

  1. No part of the Church ought to be denied the right to take such share in the total missionary task as it is capable of. It ought never to have to be said to any church which is eager to engage in foreign missionary work: “We do not need your help.”
  2. Such help can only be rightly given if it is so given as completely to respect the integrity of the church in the area as truly the Body of Christ in that place.

These principles seem to be absolute. It is not, I think, an absolute principle that a mission should never go unless it is invited by the church in the area. It should certainly be a normal principle. To engage in missionary work in the area of another church in such wise as simply to by-pass that church is surely to take upon oneself an exceedingly grave responsibility. It must mean either that the church in the area is judged to be no true church, in which case the warnings of our Lord concerning judgement will have to be fully faced: or else that there is no understanding of what the Church is – in which case missionary work is likely to degenerate into mere proselytism.

From – One Body, One Gospel, One World: The Christian Mission Todaypg. 36.

Would principles of missionary partnership would you add?

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The Martyrdom of John and Betty Stam

The following is a transcription of a letter written by Frank H. Connely, missionary with the North China Mission, S.B.C., that he wrote to friends from Jining, Shandong, China, on Feb. 15, 1935, after having met Helen Priscilla Stam with her grandparents, Dr. & Mrs. Scott. Connely’s nephew, Stockwell, also an orphan, was a distant cousin to Mrs. Scott. In this letter, Connely recounts the martyrdom of the Stams as related to him by the Scotts. John and Betty Stam were put to death by Chinese Communists on December 8, 1934.

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Dear Friends:-

A few days ago I had one of the most inspiring visits it has been my privilege to make in a long time. I went to Tsinan [Jinan], the capital of our Province, to assist in the ordination of two new pastors for our work in that section, and while there wen to call upon Dr. & Mrs. Scott. She is a cousin of Stockwell’s (our orphan nephew who lives with us) mother. Their daughter and her husband, Rev. & Mrs. John Stams [sic; here and throughout he wrote Stams instead of Stam] were brutally murdered by Communists shortly before Christmas, as you doubtless read in the papers. Their baby, Helen Priscilla, was miraculously saved and was brought to her grandparents to be cared for. As I gazed into the face of that beautiful happy baby, my heart was stirred as it has never been stirred before. I could only think of the many horrible experiences through which she had passed and yet had not suffered one bit of harm, for the protecting arm of our Father was over her.

We stood there enjoying her smiles and gurgles and watching her kick her heels in the air, while her grandparents told of the many miracles in connection with her rescue and showed us the tiny garments in which she was clothed all those days. Truly this is still a day of miracles. We gazed upon the last letters written by John as they were being led away captive by the communists, and again the next day as the two were being led out to slaughter. Not a care nor a fear seemed to have entered their hearts. With a smiling face, he was able to look at the Postmaster as he delivered his last earthly message to be sent out to his fellow Missionaries, and calmly replied to the query as to where he was going, “I am going to Heaven”.

A year or two before a Chinese woman, wife of Evangelist Lo, went to the Missionary Hospital at Wuhu to give birth to her baby. As she had no milk to feed her baby, she was carefully trained by the Missionary Doctor in the art of feeding a baby with dried milk bought in cans from foreign countries, and shown how to properly care for a baby.

A couple of weeks before the martyrdom of this young couple, Evangelist Lo received instructions from his superiors to go to the village of Miao Shao, fifty or a hundred miles from his home, and there await the arrival of Missionary John  [Stam], who would join him in that village for his first Evangelist tour of the surrounding villages. Evangelist Lo also took his wife with him, a thing seldom done by a Chinese Evangelist. Truly God’s hand was in that planning to send the two to that particular village.

At about that same time, John and Betty [Stam] moved to the city of Ching Teh to establish their new home and center for Christian work. Before they were settled in their new home, word was sent them by the Magistrate that the city was in danger from an attack by Communists and that they should flee to a safer place. But they would not flee from danger. Shortly before the Communist hordes poured into the city bringing death and destruction on every hand. They entered the home and were courteously received by John and Betty and given tea and refreshments. Finally the Communists demanded money. John went to the money box and gave them all there was in it, a few tens of dollars. The Communists were sure that all foreigners were immensely wealthy and that they must be secreting more money elsewhere. On being assured there was nor [sic] more, they took John off with them as a prisoner. Later they came back and told Betty that if she would give them more money, they wouldn’t bother her; so she took the few bills which she had secreted on her body for emergencies and gave them all she had. They were still not satisfied, so carried [sic] her off with them. She took her little three months old Helen Priscilla in her arms and followed them. Before leaving the city, they allowed John to return home to attempt to find some tins of dried milk for the baby, as she was being fed that. On arriving at his home, he found their faithful cook still there, but not a thing remained in the house, not even one tin of milk. The brokenhearted cook told the story of how everything they possessed was looted. He was distressed because there was no food left for the baby, but John, his face wreathed with smiles, comforted him saying, “Don’t worry, our God will provide for her”, and went off as though he hadn’t a care in the world.

Thus there were led out of the city, to which they had just come to bring the “Tidings of Peace and Goodwill to all men”, as prisoners. Part of the time, Betty was allowed to ride a horse, but the rest of the time they walked, traveling about fifty li [a li was approx. 1/3 of a mile, though it was not an exact measure at the time]. They stopped at the village of Miao Shao for the night. The two prisoners were locked in an empty house, formerly, the home of a wealthy Chinese family, and kept there bound.

Sometime during the afternoon, the Communists, to further torture the young parents, started to kill the little baby, but one man, a convict just released that day from prison, remonstrated, and begged them not to kill the baby. The Communist leader called out, “Then who will give his life for the baby?” The convict stepped forward and replied, “I will”. So he was ordered killed and the baby’s life was saved.

The next morning, John and Betty were led out to be executed as common criminals, even as their Lord before them. On the way, they passed the Post Office. John having penciled a note on thin Chinese paper, handed it to the Postmaster as they passed and asked him to send it to fellow Missionaries in Wuhu, several days journey away. Seeing the Postmaster talking to him as an old friend, the Communists asked him, “What is this foreign devil to you?” He denied knowing him, even as Peter denied the Master of old, but as soon as the Communists passed on, he hastily attached special delivery stamps to the letter and sent it off so the word would get to his friends.

At the outskirts of the village, with a few villagers who had not fled looking on from afar, John and Betty were forced to kneel. The last words of John were to beseech the executioner to spare Betty’s life and let his be a ransom for her’s, but all to no avail. The heavy sword came down on the back of his neck and his head fell to the ground. The next instant a second stroke fell on Betty’s neck and she fell across the body of her beloved husband. Her head wasn’t quite severed from her body.

When word had first reached Miao Shao that the Communists were coming, most of the people of the village, Evangelist and Mrs. Lo included, hastily fled to a nearby mountain top for refuge. The next day word sifted up the mountain that the two foreigners had been executed in Miao Shao. All wondered who they could be. Evangelist Lo was led to leave the safety of the mountain top to investigate the rumor. Arriving at the edge of the village, he beheld the head and body of the beloved Pastor whom he was to meet in this spot to commence an Evangelistic tour of all that region. Little did he ever dream that he was to commence his preaching standing over his dead body. As he gazed upon the lifeless forms of the two martyrs, his heart was stirred as never before and the Power of the Holy Spirit came upon him. Crowds gathered around and that preacher preached on that other whose death on the Cross brought forgiveness of sins to ALL who would believe. Hearts were stirred.

With the help of an old woman, the only Christian in that village, he secured two coffins, washed the mutilated bodies, carefully sewed the heads back in place and tenderly laid them in the coffins. The coffins were at first left there outside the village, but later they were led to secret them in the home of old Mrs. Wang. Just a short while after they had hid them in her home, a band of communists returned, looking for the bodies to further mutilate them. No one in the village would give away their hiding place, however, so they were safe till government forces arrived, who later sent the bodies back to Wuhu to their Missionary friends.

After the bodies were cared for, then the thought occurred to Evangelist Lo, “The Pastor and his wife have a little baby, what has become of it?” His first inquiries failed to elicit any information, but later a person told him that different ones had heard the cries of a baby from a certain building. Going to the place mentioned, he found, just as her mother had left her twenty nine hours previously as she was led out to be executed, the little baby Helen Priscilla, warm and snug, seemingly no worse for the cold weather or the long fast. Inside the little baby bunting bag in which she was wrapped, were clean clothes, and among the clothes, a ten dollar bill carefully pinned. Evangelist Lo hastily sought out a Chinese mother with a babe that age, and baby Helen Priscilla was allowed to break her long fast. As soon as arrangements could be made, he and Mrs. Lo started out on foot for the distant Missionary center at Wuhu. Two baskets were hung from the two ends of a pole. In one end was placed Helen Priscilla while in the other end was placed their own little child, and Evangelist Lo thus carried them on his shoulders as they trudged the weary miles day after day. Every three hours, they would stop at a village and search out a Chinese mother who was willing to divide her milk between her own child and the orphaned foreigner. At one village, to their great delight, they discovered one lone tin of the dried milk which Mrs. Lo had been taught to use in the hospital, so, using the money provided by the mother before her death, they purchased this precious tin, and the food supply for the baby was thus assured for the rest of the journey. Arriving in Wuhu, they turned Helen Priscilla over to the doctors and nurses in the Hospital, the baby being in as perfect health as if she had spent all of those days in the arms of her own mother, eating her regular food. Not one bit of harm had come to her from the long exposure to the cold, the hours and hours without food or attention nor from all the changes of food as she was carried from one mother’s breast to another or fed from the tin of dried milk.

Truly her salvation was a modern miracle, or I should say ‘MIRACLES’, for many miraculous things took place. The one Chinese mother out of millions, who knew just how to care for such a baby, was sent miles and miles from her home, to be ready for her divinely appointed task. Evangelist Lo was sent to the very village out of the thousands of surrounding villages, to meet his foreign Pastor, days before the martyrdom, to care for the martyred bodies and save their orphaned baby. A convict was released from prison that very day, who would offer his life as a ransom for the baby’s life, though he had never seen nor heard her before. One lone tin of powdered milk, the brand on which the baby was raised, was placed in a small village shop far from all centers of civilization, but on the road which Evangelist Lo and his wife traveled with the precious load, ready for the baby’s use. As her grandfather remarked, “When God performs a miracle, He does a thorough job of it.”

I write about this incident to you because we have known Betty Scott [Stam] since she was a little girl and felt that she was surely one of God’s anointed. The tragedy of her life, the loss of her life to the cause of Christ, comes close to our own hearts. We feel in a peculiar way attached to little Helen Priscilla and pray that God may use both the death of her parents and her own life to greatly glorify his name.

We who are left feel so much less worthy than they, to carry on the work of the Kingdom here. Pray for us that God may use us more richly in carrying His Message of Salvation to the people of this land.

Most Sincerely,

Frank. H. Connely

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For more on this story, with references to other primary source documents, see http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/s/stam-elisabeth-betty-alden-scott.php

[photo taken from the link just provided]

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Revival Testimony: A Chinese Prisoner Set Free

The following is a transcription of a handwritten document that gives the testimony of a Chinese believer in the Shandong Province of China in the 1930s. This was preserved as part of miscellaneous missionary correspondence of the North China Mission, S. B. C, in the archives of the IMB in Richmond, VA. In all likelihood this was originally written in Chinese and translated into English, though that is not certain.

Mr. Ka Chung Sheng’s Testimony

-written by Mr. Lu Shih Kiang as told to him

My native home is Chui Kwan Chen, Pingtu County, Shantung Province. My naame was Ka Yen Ch’ing. I am now twenty-five years old. Formerly I was a soldier connected with the Pingtu city yamen. Later I went home and worked on the farm. I was not only a non-Christian, but an enemy to Christianity and did all I could as an enemy of Christ. My sister, Wen Kuei Lan, was a member of Ma Chang church. When she came home after joining the church, she plead with me to believe on Jesus also. I shut her outside the gate and told her never to come into my home again.

My brother, Ka Fu T’ien, had placed a sum of money in the hands of two friends, neighbors, to keep for him. My brother died, and the money was still in their hands. My father went and asked them for it. Instead of giving it to him they murdered him by using nine strokes of a knife at his heart. They then fled for their lives.

After five years they thought it safe to return and did so. I went immediately to the head military official of the county and reported them. But the men had already been to him and bought him over. He told me that I was reporting good men. He had me handed over to the head county official who sentenced me for five years imprisonment. This big, proud me found myself bereft of all freedom now. They put very heavy chains on my legs. It all made me angry enough to die, as I realized my position: my money was gone, that was in the hands of my enemies as quickly as a stroke of a pen; my father, though innocent, had been murdered; I had attempted to get justice and here I was imprisoned; I had to leave my mother and wife at home unprotected and with no means of support; and day after day I was in company with bandits, opium smokers and other law breakers. They more I thought of my helpless position and the injustice of it all the angrier I grew and the more I suffered mentally! I can’t express just how I felt.

I thank the Lord when the way before me was dark and I had no hope He sent my sister, Wen Kuei Lan, to me constantly to tell me of Jesus and His love and to plead with me to accept Jesus as my Savior. She also gave me a New Testament. The Lord also sent Mrs. Kia with her one day and she had me read all of the 41st Psalm and Psalm 51:5-10. After I had finished I was so impressed that I became a Christian. I burned all the non-Christian books I had with me. Afterward, the Lord led in opening the doors of Pingtu prison to the preaching of the Gospel. The men in charge wrote a letter to the church inviting the Christian leaders to go and preach to the prisoners. They went two afternoons each week. Then I began to give all my many sins to Jesus. As I realized them, I was truly born of the Holy Spirit, justified before the Father, and given the place of a son. Hallelujah, all glory to Jesus! This chief of sinners was saved!

In a few days the order came for all prisoners who had been sentenced to three years or under and who had shown signs of repentance to be released. All in for more than three years if they showed a change of heart to have their terms shortened. But I knew my God was all powerful because He had saved me. Therefore out of no hope I sought a way of escape. My sister said, “‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.’ You have only to really believe and you will receive.”

The night before my freedom I prayed all night. About 4 o’clock a.m. I felt a little sleepy and was almost asleep when I heard a voice say to me,” Tomorrow you will be permitted to leave this prison.” Surely enough that morning the keeper came in and said, “Ka Yen Cheng, Congratulations! I want to drink to your health, because yours has been made a special case and you are to go free.” They heavy chains were taken off my feet then. If there had not been a gracious forgiving God who had heard my prayer, how could I have been released from prison? He not only delivered me out of “so great a death” but truly releases this prisoner from prison. His name is worthy to be praised.

The time of my imprisonment was the time when my entire family was saved. I was in prison nineteen months and ten days. As I look back over those days I feel God planned or allowed me to spend that time in prison. His purpose was to save me and my family. How I thank the Lord my family was saved. “All things work together for good” is surely true.

I was saved, no longer Ka Yen Cheng, but Ka Chung Sheng or Born Again Ka, but I had not learned by great lesson on forgiveness. I was to learn that before being released and the last month there. I learned that lesson God surely searched men’s hearts. There was a feeling, like a fire that would rise up within me that of seeking revenge on my enemies. I thank God He knew I had that in my heart and kept me another month in prison. He wanted me to know clearly that He forgives our sins even as we forgive those who sin against us. If I could not forgive He could not forgive my sins. When I thought of this, I prayed thus, “Lord, you have forgiven me. Who am I not to forgive others. Lord, forgive them for they did not know they were being led by the devil.: There fore, my first step after being released was to become reconciled to my enemies, and to plead with them and their families to accept Christ as their Savior. I will not think of the past again. If the Lord doe not remember my sins and I am at with with Him, and He has entrusted to me the Gospel of reconciliation, who am I not to become reconciled to them?

While I was yet a sinner, Jesus delivered me from the power of darkness, and hath translated me into the Kingdom of His dear Son, and is permitting me to be in the Bible Class in Pingtu City where I can learn more of Him and how to serve Him. Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, please pray for me. Pray that I may be kept from evil and that I may “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

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Happy 251 Mr. Carey!

Last week (Aug. 17) marked the 251st birthday of the famed father of modern missions – William Carey. I knew this because a friend posted a link to this great article of a year ago written by Timothy George and posted on the Gospel Coalition blog celebrating his sestercentennial birthday (cf. this earlier article by George). In the blog post, George lists seven great lessons derived from William Carey’s life and ministry (in bold font below):

  • Missions is founded on the sovereignty of God
  • The finality of Jesus Christ is central to the gospel
  • Translation work is essential due to the authority of Holy Scripture
  • Carey’s interaction with Indian culture is a model for contextualization
  • The work of Carey and the rest of the Serampore Mission exhibited a model for holistic missions
  • Christian unity and cooperation was sought after by Carey
  • Carey exhibited lifelong faithfulness to the Christian mission that “was a catalyst for a great missionary awakening throughout the church.”

Beyond this post, George has written an important biography on Carey that you should consider reading/owning.

Below are links to that biography and some other helpful resources  (you can also check out this great blog post for more on Carey):

Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey – Timothy George’s excellent biography

Candle in the Dark: The Story of William Carey – a film on Carey’s life

Primary Resource: An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens by William Carey

Primary Resource: The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey edited/compiled by Terry G. Carter

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Church Planting Thought of the Day: Be at Peace with All Men

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with allRomans 12:18
I think this verse is well-applied to church planting. As much as our lives are a platform for the gospel, whether locally, regionally or abroad, it is our disposition towards other men and women that make our lives salt and light to the world. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God, Jesus said. Genuineness, sincerity, love, humility, bearing with others’ faults and overlooking others’ sins are all characteristics of the Christian who is a witness of the gospel. If this is something we lack, if we are quick to point out faults, to gossip, to become angry and contentious, let us repent and ask God to fill us with His Spirit once again, and turn away from our sin and seek peace. Seminary, education, knowledge, books all may lead us to exalt ourselves, to think ourselves as right, and to anoint ourselves apostles of truth; rather, let us obtain knowledge with passion for God, considering ourselves as nothing and as servants of all. If we are to be apostles of the gospel, let us seek peace with all men. As we seek peace, not only will we open doors for the gospel, we will truly and sincerely grow in love for others.

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Missionary Thought of the Day: Hearing the Gospel

In the following story, Miss Bertha Smith relates a story from her experiences as a missionary in China. This story is very important for the ongoing ministry of the gospel because it reveals an important venue for gospel ministry in the world. The least reaching people group in the world today are the deaf. Reaching the deaf is difficult not only because they cannot hear, but even sign language makes it difficult to communicate the metaphors and figurative language found throughout scripture. Not only are workers needed, so is much wisdom. Read along and may God grant you a burden for those who haven’t heard the name of Jesus:

The more I talked and smiled at her the more she smiled, and thinking that she was taking in what I was saying, I just waxed eloquent. In my eagerness to get across into her simple mind all the precious truth about the Lord that I could, and after I had talked several minutes, with a high shrieking voice she said, “I have not heard one word you have said, I am stone deaf.” Now you can imagine what it meant for that dear old woman who had never heard about Jesus coming into the world and taking her place in death that he might bear her burden and die for all that she  was and make is possible for her to spend an eternity with Him in His own heaven. My joy in eagerness to hear brought grief that made tears flow when I learned that I was talking to a woman who never in her life had heard the Gospel, and now never could hear it. She could not read, therefore there was no human way to get the knowledge to her heart.*

May we be as heart-broken over the plight of the deaf and the need to communicate with them the gospel, in this country and throughout the world!

*This particular story was among Bertha Smith’s papers preserved from the Peniel Prayer Center in Cowpens, SC. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has a microfilmed copy of these papers. The originals are located in the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.

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Reblog

wlh:

“I’m just asking Christians to brush their teeth.” Great point!

Originally posted on Mike Patz:

It’s the morning after the Chick-fil-A drama and I’m still chewing.

I remember the day I was sitting next to an incredibly nice gay guy, enjoying a really good conversation when he dropped the ultimate conversation-killer.

“What do you do for a living?”

I hate that question.  I hate that question because people can’t help but size you up when they hear the answer.  I hate that question because we’re already prone to think of ourselves as human doings instead of human beings.  I hate that question because of what it does to people when they find out what I do.

I’ve often tried to find ways around the question. I’ve told people I work with non-profit organizations (this is true). I’ve told people that I write (this is true). I’ve even told people that I am a spiritual guru that assists people in opening their third eye (I really…

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Missionary Thought of the Day: Subverting Culture

If context was absolutely king, then missionaries would never have started orphanages, hospitals, schools. They would not have educated women or provided universal education of any kind. They would not have preached the gospel publicly, certainly not to the poor peasantry.They would not have planted gardens or built any structure.  They would not have treated cholera, tuberculosis, or improved traditional medicine one bit. Anything they did that would have benefited the masses would have been subversive to the worldview and culture among which they were guests. While it is important to note the dangers of colonialism and ethnocentrism, there are certain things that grow out of a Christian concern for the prosperity of others, especially of strangers, fueled by love, that de facto attack the root metaphors and other structures of every worldview.

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Thought on Historiography of Chinese Christianity

I feel there will continue to be tension in the study of Chinese Christian history. The scholars of Chinese Christianity have been very generous towards the Three Self Patriot Movement. Like many in the studies of global Christianity, there is a healthy concern for the history of indigenous Christianity. I also sense a slight bias against the contributions of missionaries. I don’t want to create to great a division here, however it appears that the old dialectic posited the missionary as the synthesis between Christianity and Chinese culture. Now, the missionary paradigm seems to be the antithesis, with a new synthesis being sought in studies on global Christianity. The missionary paradigm has valued certain Christian movements among others, and in the case of China, has continued to value the independent, unregistered churches over the official church of the People’s Republic. Daniel Bays states this important point in the final pages of his A New History of Christianity in China (pp. 202-5).

The heroes of a sinological approach to Christian history seem to be those that both tossed off the imperialism of the missionary movement as well as embraced the official state church. Those that opposed the TSPM seem to be cast as either cantankerous or subversive. Those Chinese Christians who embraced a theological stance akin to the missionary are seen as the dogs of imperialism. Perhaps these accusations are not fair, hence, I use the language of appearance. Perhaps I am reading my expectations into history. Still, I think there should be room for extolling the universality of Christian experience, even if the medium for that initially in China was the missionary.

Is there a way forward that transcends a dialectical approach to Christian history? Is balance possible? Would expressing the universality of Christian history be unfair to local particularities? Does narrowing the scope to focus only on the particular distort the true universality of Christianity? In either approach, is there a danger of missing something important about a particular situation? In the case of China, does the history of the unregistered churches, more in line with the continued missionary engagement of the country necessarily conflict with the history of registered churches? How can both be combined into a single history? Can the historian reach the proper horizon for telling such story?

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Reblog

wlh:

On a recent post about a Trinitarian view of culture, I had a conversation with Andy Harker, who is serving the church in Kenya. We talked about understanding African music from the perspective of a theology of culture. He posted this on his blog “Watumishi wa Neno”. Please give it a read. SEE ABOVE 

Originally posted on Watumishi wa Neno:

We’ve said before that musicians and singers should be just as much servants of the Word as preachers. And on the last ministry training week we talked about how we’ve got to be careful about lyrics in just the same way as the words we preach – not just being careful whether they are true or heretical but thinking about how they are heard (e.g. what are people thinking when they hear “There is power, power, wonder working power in the blood of the lamb” especially when the chorus is sung without the verses). But what about tunes and beats? Do they matter? A brother I was talking to recently expressed concern about the influence of ‘secular’ music (e.g. from the nightclub) on Christian music and expressed the idea that certain beats are secular (even demonic) and putting Christian words to ‘secular’ tunes can lead to the singers being drawn back into the World. I put…

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Mentoring from a Father.

Henry Allen Tupper was Corresponding Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1871 to 1893. In the seminal biography of his life and contribution, Al James (my PhD mentor) includes this little tidbit about his education and the skills he learned that shaped the rest of his life:

Henry Allen Tupper considered his father to be a wise man although he was a man of few words. One of the words he did share with his son was concerning business. Tristam Tupper required that all business should be done carefully and systematically. He made Henry Allen withdraw from college in order to learn the skill of bookkeeping and did not allow him to leave the family business until he had become the bookkeeper. Years later, H. A. Tupper remarked that these were “the most important years of my education.” This skill would prove invaluable at the Foreign Mission Board.

Would that fathers take such an invested interest in their sons and daughters. The investment of a father into the life of their child is the wetting of the clay in the potter’s hand. What things the potter may do with pliable clay! What can we learn from these men of yesteryear?

-Source, Robert Alton James, “A Study of the Life and Contributions of Henry Allen Tupper” (ThD Dissertation, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1989) 13,

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Persons of Peace Preserving the Progress of the Gospel: A Historical Example

The years 1899-1900 were terrible years in North China. The Boxers, a group so-called because of their fighting methods, arose in opposition to everything foreign and in support of the Qing dynasty. They had formed a belief that their protecting deity would keep them from harm by foreigner’s bullets or swords. So enraged and emboldened, they murdered hundreds of Chinese Christians and foreigners, including many missionaries. The Boxer’s originated in the Shandong province and surrounding areas, why weren’t all the missionaries killed?

Because…there was a person of peace who intervened – the governor of the province, Yuan Shikai. There is no indication Yuan was a Christian. On the other hand, he had grand military and political aspirations. He later served as successor to Sun Yatsen as president of the Republic of China and also tried to resurrect the monarchy with himself as Emperor. Overall, he was a politically savvy fellow. In the Spring of 1900, though, he was a hero to missionaries:

…coming, as he did, in the midst of the development [the Boxer Uprising] to be governor of Shantung, practically saved the situation there. It was he who changed the edict from the throne “Kill all foreigners,” so as to read, “Protect all foreigners,” and transmitted it so to all the officials under him. The Shantung missionaries owe their lives to him.

- Taken from C. W. Pruitt, “The North China Mission,” in Southern Baptist Foreign Missions, by T. B. Ray and others, 1910.

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East African Revival – New Academic Resources

Any time I step into the library at Southeastern, I take a few minutes to peruse the newly acquired section. They have four shelves full of books that have been recently purchased or donated to the library. For a theological library, Southeastern is very aggressive in keeping its book selection up-to-date. Today I came across an academic resource on the East African Revival that I wanted to share with you.

The book is entitled “The East African Revival: History and Legacies” edited by Kevin Ward and Emma Wild-Wood. I haven’t read this yet, but it would be a great resource for any academic study of the revival.

This led me to discover another book to be released this Fall on the revival.

This book is entitled “Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival” by Derek Peterson. From the product description, this will be an interesting read, showing how the revival transformed persons view of tradition, tribe, and culture.

I have several posts on this blog about the revival. Some have received quite a bit of traffic from brothers and sisters in East Africa. Here is a link to all of my posts on this subject: Revival – East Africa. See in particular my post on “Looking for Sources” for the most interaction from African Christians.

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