A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 3)

This is the third in a series of posts with thoughts from Paul’s letter to the PhilippiansA Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 1). These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

I have always been captured by Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good pleasure.

These two short verses provide what I see as the best description of the mysterious tension that exists in our lives between God’s power and our effort. Paul is challenging his readers to obey God – and his teaching about God – even though he is geographically apart from them and in prison. He offers a kind, yet challenging, word to the believers to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

In essence, Paul is telling us that we need to put in hard work to work this all out. It will not just ‘happen’ without energy expended and effort given to the work. I cannot help but think of Paul’s encouragement to his young pastoral trainee, Timothy, to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). His comparison in that passage to physical training seems to echo through the current words to the Philippian believers. ‘Get to it! Don’t stop working at it!’ Paul says.

But the other half of the equation is the reality that “it is God who works in you.” This working out of our salvation is not something based in human effort alone. Our own efforts find strength and their source in the truth that God is at work within us. This should encourage us, but also give us that “fear and trembling” Paul references here. Right now and right here in our lives, the Living God is at work. He will do His work in our lives. That’s why Paul said that God will “fulfill His good purpose” in us or, as he wrote earlier in this same letter, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

So, we find ourselves resting in this mysterious tension that we are to work out our salvation, while knowing that anything that comes worth talking about is fully from God’s gracious work in us. We cannot wait for God to do something without putting some effort into it. Yet, we cannot believe our efforts will do a thing apart from the powerful working of God in our lives.

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

Barriers to Loving Your Neighbor

Neighbor Series GFX_16x9 Title This past weekend at Eastbrook, as we continued our series, “Will You Be My Neighbor?”, Dan Ryan helped us consider barriers we have to loving our neighbor. Touching upon the key aspects of what it means to be Modern, American, and Evangelical, Dan opened up some very helpful insights through story-telling and study of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. exploration of what it means to take the great commandment literally.

You can watch Dan’s message below, which I would highly recommend. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Listening at Morning: a prayer poem

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sunlight, splashing across
fresh-cut grass, leaving diamonds
affixed to each blade, like teardrops.
criss-crossing tree trunks and branches,
still Spring-bare with slightest buds,
interlace like fingers in prayer,
rising up from the earth.
dim, white-washed morning sky,
painted too thin across
the heavenly canvas, sweeps
away yesterday’s darkened thoughts,
as the birds cry out, “good morning!
good morning!” “heigh-ho! heigh-ho!”

in the morning stillness, the house
sighs with furnace blowers and
creaks with popping timbers.
no one else stirs beyond sleeping breaths,
and i wait for Your voice
and all the diamond-treasure graces
You bring fresh each morning.

A Prayer of Gregory of Nazianzus

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O transcendent, Almighty God,
What words can sing your praises?
No tongue can describe you.
No mind can probe your mystery.
Yet all speech springs from you,
And all thought stems from you.
All creation proclaims you,
All creatures revere you.
Every gust of wind breathes a prayer to you,
Every rustling tree sings a hymn to you.
All things are upheld by you.
And they move according to your harmonious design.
The whole world longs for you,
And all people desire you.
Yet you have set yourself apart,
You are far beyond our grasp.
You are the purpose of all that exists,
But you do not let us understand you.
Lord, I want to speak to you.
By what name shall I call you?

By St. Gregory of Nazianzus, 4th century bishop and theologian.

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 May 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

Equiano“Olaudah Equiano’s Argument Against Slavery Was His Life Experience” – Last summer I had the chance to participate in a study group with Dr. Willie James Jennings, walking through his book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and it changed me in many ways. One of the key voices in Jennings’ work is Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave who wrote of his life experiences in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Eric Washington recounts the life of Equiano in this biographical feature at Christianity Today. If you want to dig even deeper, read Jennings’ pivotal book.

 

Day at the River“Preserving Real-Life Childhood”Naomi Schaefer Riley reflects on the need for disconnection with childhood, but also the near impossibility of it in today’s world. “There is no doubt we have given away a lot more than privacy in the name of connecting people around the world. We’ve abandoned civility, trust, any sense of perspective, and we have lost a lot of sleep as well. In an effort to save their own hides, some social media heads have proposed technological and policy solutions to these problems….The only way around these problems is to remind ourselves continually of the tastes and temperaments that make real life enjoyable and meaningful, and to foster these experiences in our children, who would otherwise grow up with little memory of life off-screen. We can’t hope to improve our digital habits, including the way we talk online, if we don’t strengthen our capacity for non-digital interaction with the world around us. And if we don’t develop this capacity in childhood, perhaps we never will.”

 

students mental health“Students are increasingly turning to religious leaders for mental health support” – “High rates of mental ill health among students, including some tragic cases of suicide, have highlighted the vulnerability of many young people facing the pressures of higher education while away from home for the first time. University leaders have affirmed their commitment to strengthening student support, and counselling services are busier than ever. But one resource is often overlooked: chaplaincy. Chaplains are representatives of religion or belief organisations who work within universities to support the religious and pastoral needs of the communities.”

 

Burkina Faso“Another Sunday Church Attack in Burkina Faso Kills Six” – From last week: “For the second time since Easter, a church in Burkina Faso has suffered a terrorism attack during Sunday services. This time, the target was a Catholic church in Dablo, where the priest and five worshipers were killed. This prompted a series of déjà vu headlines among global media outlets as the death toll matches last month’s attack on an Assemblies of God church in Sirgadji, where the pastor and five worshipers were killed.”

 

190520_r34349“If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything” – James Wood reviews Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom as a valuable critique of religious faith and belief in eternity. It is worth knowing the arguments against our faith and being prepared to intelligently respond. “At a recent conference on belief and unbelief hosted by the journal Salmagundi, the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson confessed to knowing some good people who are atheists, but lamented that she has yet to hear ‘the good Atheist position articulated.’ She explained, ‘I cannot engage with an atheism that does not express itself.’ She who hath ears to hear, let her hear. One of the most beautifully succinct expressions of secular faith in our bounded life on earth was provided not long after Christ supposedly conquered death, by Pliny the Elder, who called down ‘a plague on this mad idea that life is renewed by death!'”

 

NAMM Fly-In For Music Education Briefing With David Brooks On 2017 National Political And Election Outlook“David Brooks’s Journey Toward Faith” – Of course, not everyone thinks about this like Hägglund, Wood, or Pliny, so perhaps it’s worth reading about New York Times columnist, David Brooks, journey to faith. His column writing is exceeded in value by his recent full-length book efforts, first in The Road to Character and now in The Second Mountain. In The Atlantic, Peter Wehner tracks Brooks’ journey toward faith, which is well worth the read.

 

theology matters“Theology Matters” – All of this should help us see why Tozer’s famous statement is so true: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Here is an interesting dialogue between Christian theologian Gerald McDermott and Jewish theologian Yitzchock Alderstein about why theology matters. “In all of this the formal intellectual work of theology can seem remote, even counterproductive. Until it matters. Perhaps good theology is a superadded benefit that true piety can do without. But bad theology surely matters, for it can have toxic effects.

 

Gordon College“Liberal Arts Cuts, Evangelical Edition” – “Gordon College, an evangelical Christian college outside Boston, announced that it will eliminate 36 faculty and staff positions and consolidate and cut a number of majors in a budget-cutting move. Among the changes, Gordon is eliminating stand-alone majors in chemistry; French; physics; middle school and secondary education; recreation, sport and wellness; Spanish; and social work, and it is merging political science, history and philosophy into a single department.”

 

christian burial“This Could Be England’s Earliest Known Christian Burial” – “Live Science reports that researchers have now identified what they believe to be England’s earliest known Christian burial, at a tomb near Prittlewell in Essex. The tomb was first discovered in 2003, but it was mired in more than a millennium’s worth of earthen crust, which blocked researchers from performing a properly detailed assessment. In this absence of evidence, there was even some speculation that the tomb may have been Saeberht’s own, but now we know better: It predates his death by anywhere from about 10 to 35 years, with researchers dating the tomb to between the years 580 and 605.”

 

Music: Vulfpeck, “Dean Town,” from the album The Beautiful Game.

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Daniel: A Prophet of Prayer

 

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“The handwriting’s on the wall…”

“We’re walking into the lion’s den…”

It might not surprise you to hear that these well-known English idioms trace their way back to the biblical story of Daniel. Daniel is best known for his journey into the lion’s den when he defied a monarch’s edict. The story of Belshazzar’s feast, where Daniel interprets writing that miraculously appears on a wall, has been recounted in numerous works of literature.

Enduring Prayer
But what catches my eye as I read through the book of Daniel is not the lions’ den or the miracle handwriting, but Daniel’s life of prayer. We see in the first chapter of the book that Daniel and his friends were dedicated to the Lord God of Israel by their commitment and behavior. When Daniel faced a challenge of interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, we read that he and his friends “plead for mercy from the God of heaven” (2:18). In answer to those pleading prayers, God miraculously provided when the pressure was on for Daniel. Clearly, Daniel was a man of prayer when faced with challenges.

Consistent Prayer
Yet as we read on, we find that Daniel was a man of prayer at all times, not just in times of challenge. In fact, it was Daniel’s consistency in prayer that provided the opportunity for him to be sent to the lions’ den. Out of jealousy for his position, Daniel’s enemies realized that they could not catch him up on issues of integrity or character but only if “it has something to do with the law of his God” (6:5). So, they trick King Darius into signing off on a law that prohibits prayer to anyone but the king himself for a thirty-day period. Undaunted by this situation, Daniel returned home and did what he always did: “three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (6:10). Daniel was consistent in prayer.

Humble Prayer
In chapter 9 of the book, we find Daniel poring over the Hebrew Scriptures of the prophet Jeremiah. There, Daniel discovered that a seventy-year period was decreed for the exile of God’s people (Jeremiah 29:10) and that the end of that time is drawing near. Daniel’s response is not to lurch into action and set up a strategy for returning the people of God to their homeland. Instead, his immediate response is to turn to God in contrite prayer. His heart is broken over the sin and idolatry of His people and, in Daniel 9:4-19, he offers one of the most moving and powerful prayers of repentance in the entire Bible. Daniel’s prayer eventually takes him into a time of deep repentance accompanied by a vision of God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel. Daniel was a man of prayer that took sin and wrong seriously. Action was required, but it was not actually to come through Daniel. God had that task for Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet it was Daniel’s humble prayer that catches the eye in Daniel 9.

So, who is Daniel? The un-eaten prophet of the lions’ den? The reader of divinely-sourced dreams for earthly kings? A person of integrity in the presence of great earthly power? Yes, without a doubt, Daniel is all of these things. Yet at the core of Daniel’s life is an intimacy of relationship with God that is birthed in the crucible of prayer: enduring, consistent, and humble.

[For more on Daniel, consider following through the Eastbrook Church preaching series, “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith.”]