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Today in Thai Church History (August 23): Gutzlaff and Tomlin Arrive in Bangkok

The history of Chrisitan and missionary work in every country has a beginning, and August 23, 1828 marks the beginning of Protestant work in Thailand (formerly Siam).  On that day, German doctor Karl Gutzlaff and Jacob Tomlin of the London Missionary Society arrived in Bangkok.  They are remembered as the first resident Protestant missionaries to work in the country, although small numbers of Roman Catholics had been in Thailand for many years.  
 
Early Missionaries in Bangkok: The Journals of Tomlin, Gutzlaff, and Abeel, 1828-1832 book coverGutzlaff and Tomlin's ship arrived in Bangkok on a Saturday evening, and they went on shore the following day.  I always find it fascinating to hear someone's first impressions of a place and have included below Jacob Tomlin's account of their first two days in Thailand, drawn from his personal journal, as found in Anthony Farrington, ed. Early Missionaries in Bangkok: The Journals of Tomlin, Gutzlaff, and Abeel, 1828-1832. Bangkok, Thailand: White Lotus Press, 2001, p.8-10.
 
Saturday August 23rd, 1828. In the afternoon run up to Bangkok before a fresh breeze. Opened the city suddenly at 2 or 3 miles distance. In approaching the capital the scenery and dwellings on each side become more varied and beautiful. A temple somewhat like a village church standing on the bank with a few light elegant houses, half shaded by the foliage of trees, has a very rural and lovely appearance. Canals or small rivers branch off from the river at intervals running into the country, each opening a beautiful vista with its grassy banks and bamboos waving over the stream. A lively busy scene appears now on the river — hundreds of boats of all sizes moving in every direction. A long line of junks on the left side just on entering the city, with a range of Chinese smiths' and carpenters' shops, behind a splendid pagoda literally blazing in gold, the Romish Episcopal Chapel standing close by in a rural sequestered situation. Our crew being now hailed by their friends on board another junk ringing a gong, one of our men mounted the poop and returned a merry salute, which was repeated several times, each responding to the other till we got well into the city.
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Is There More Demonic Activity in the Non-Western World?

I have never encountered a demon (that I know of), but from people who have, I have heard that there are ways to distinguish demonic activity from other things, such as epilepsy, bi-polar disorder, etc... although sometimes it is not easy .  People whom I consider reliable have told me stories that sound legitimate.  However, many stories that I have heard or read about second-hand sound like the product of an overactive imagination.
 
In the life of Jesus, there are numerous accounts of demonic possession.  But there are extremely few reports of demon possession in the United States (or other Western countries).  Why is that? Some more charismatically-minded Christians might suggest that demonic activity in the West is just as prevalent as it is in other places around the world, but many Western Christians are blind to that because they are influenced by secularism and are not open to that possibility.  There is probably some validity to that perspective, but I wonder if there are less reports of demonic activity in the West because the Devil knows that that attack strategy doesn’t work very well in the Western context, given the fact that the scientific-rational culture dismisses such manifestations as having other natural causes.  Therefore the Devil uses other tactics to decieve and destroy (secular humanism, atheism, religious pluralism, etc).
 
But in Thailand (and many other non-Western nations), I think we probably hear about demonic and/or supernatual activity more because
 
  1. Many people have a supernatural / animistic worldview already, therefore they over-report spiritual activity, and
  2. There is actually more genuine overt demonic activity in those places because it is a working strategy for Satan to keep people away from the true God. 
 
The Devil is a pragmatist, and since fear of spirits and supernatural power work in many contexts, that’s one of the winning strategies that he often employs. 
 
Tags: Evil Spirits
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Ben-Hur, a Reflection on the Novel and Upcoming Movie

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I decided to read Ben-Hur this year, not knowing that a remake would be in theaters on Aug. 12. I had seen the original classic in the 1959 version as a boy, which was mesmerizing, but going through the entire novel slowly as an adult impacted me at a much deeper level as I saw it afresh on the backdrop of the Bible narrative.  One passage that really hit home personally and for which I wrote about in a prayer letter to supporters on March 30, 2016 (5 years to the day from the passing of my wife due to cancer in 2011) was the following:  “In a recent reading of the novel, Ben Hur, I came upon a section where the Arab chieftan, Simonides asks his daughter what day it was…she affirmed it to be the anniversary of her mother’s death: "True, most true, my daughter!" he said, without looking up. "Today, five years ago, my Rachel, thy mother, fell down and died. They brought me home broken as thou seest me, and we found her dead of grief. Oh, to me she was a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-Gedi! I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey. We laid her away in a lonely place--in a tomb cut in the mountain; no one near her. Yet in the darkness she left me a little light, which the years have increased to a brightness of morning." He raised his hand and rested it upon his daughter's head. "Dear Lord, I thank thee that now in my Esther my lost Rachel liveth again!"

Five years ago this very day, my cluster of camphire, Paula, was received into glory. It is easy to identify with Simonides as he reflects on those five years with his daughter. Today I had the opportunity to reflect with my daughter, Amber, concerning this significant day. Amber reflects so many of the lovely traits that I saw in her mother. So, after talking with Amber I read afresh the words of Simonide, but changed them a bit, “Yet in the darkness she left me a little light, which the years have increased to a brightness of morning…Dear Lord, I thank thee that now in my ‘Amber’ my lost ‘Paula’ liveth again!"

 

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Book Notes ~ July 2016

July was a rather poor month for me in terms of book reading, only finishing 2 books out of the needed 4 in order to stay on target to reach my goal of 50 books in 2016.  But I would particularly commend to you the second of the two books I read, about revival in Thailand.

The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution 

I have mixed feelings about this book because I started reading it in order to better understand the course of the American Revolution. And eventually, in the last third of the book, the author did delve into the final stage of the war where Washington defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown. However, the majority of the book consisted of a detailed account of the European conflicts and naval histories of the 17th and 18th century in order to set the context for the American conflict. I learned more than I ever intended to learn about the Dutch fight for independence from Spain and the internal politics of the British Royal Navy. I nearly put the book down before I got half way through but I kept hoping that the author would eventually get into the American Revolution in earnest. My patience was rewarded but I came away with the feeling that it was not necessary to get into such gory detail about the conflicts between the European nations in order to understand the American Revolution. In the end though, I learned that perhaps the primary reason why the Americans won the war was because the British were arrogant, lethargic, incompetent, and internally divided.

 

 

 

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Furlough Fever

One of the odd phenomenon of missionary life is “furlough fever” or “home assignment fever.”   For missionaries who are away from their home countries for three or four years (or more) at a time, the symptoms of furlough fever often begin to appear in the last three to six months before their regularly scheduled return “home”.  
 
Symptoms of furlough fever are easy to detect if you know what to look for:
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Book Notes ~ June 2016

The end of June marks the half way point in my goal to read 50 books in 2016.  So far I have completed 24 books, which is almost keeping pace to finish 50 by the end of December.  This past month, I enjoyed reading about procrastination, George Washington, the Solas of the Protestant Reformation, and expectations and burnout among women missionaries.

The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing, or, Getting Things Done by Putting Them Off

I know that procrastination is one of my weaknesses and I want to improve my ability to focus on what I should be doing, so I was intrigued by the whimsical title of this book which seems to promise to redeem my wasted time in some way.  Could there be any positive aspects about procrastination?    
The book is written by a philosophy teacher who found the time to write this book as a means of avoiding doing other things.  His main point is that some people are structured procrastinators, meaning they avoid doing what they should be doing by doing something else which is also productive.  For example, you should be writing an important email but instead you organize your files.  This book is largely anecdotal and is extremely fun.  My family and I listened to the audiobook version while driving to our vacation recently and were enjoying listening to it so much that we missed our turn and almost ran out of gas.   If you have a procrastination problem, read (or listen) to this short book to get a new perspective on your (mis)use of time and to help you stop feeling like a useless excuse for a human being when you have trouble staying on task.