The Weekend Wanderer: 22 February 2020

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.

92299“Polyamory: Pastors’ Next Sexual Frontier” – Here’s a topic you may not have thought we would have been talking about in the church, but Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler help us consider an issue pastors may encounter more in days to come. “For many Christians, polyamory seems so extreme and rare that there’s no need to talk about it. But it is much more common than some people think, and it’s growing in popularity. According to one estimate, ‘as many as 5 percent of Americans are currently in relationships involving consensual nonmonogamy,’ which is about the same percentage as those who identify as LGBTQ. A recent study, published in a peer-reviewed journal, found that 20 percent of Americans have been in a consensual non-monogamous relationship at least once in their life. Another survey showed that nearly 70 percent of non-religious Americans between the ages of 24 and 35 believe that polyamory is okay, even if it’s not their cup of tea. And perhaps most shocking of all, according to sociologist Mark Regnerus in Cheap Sex, roughly 24 percent of church-going people believe that consensual polyamorous relationships are morally permissible.”


Burkina Faso attack“Gunmen massacre 14 Christians during Protestant service in Burkina Faso” – If you haven’t paid attention to the religious tensions in the West African nation of Burkina Faso in recent years, this is a good time to pay attention. There have been increasing attacks against Christians by Islamic militants, including this past week. “Gunmen launched yet another attack on a church service in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, killing 14 people and wounding several others in the small eastern town of Hantoukoura. Sunday’s massacre follows attacks by radical Islamist insurgents on military posts, a mining convoy and places of worship in the restive countryside that the army has struggled to contain. The assailants fled on motorbikes after spraying bullets into the Protestant congregation, authorities said.”


Fasting“The Most Neglected Spiritual Discipline” – I have a love-hate relationship with fasting. I love it because when I fast I encounter my self-will and find ways to meet God in that place in a very tangible way. I hate it because…I encounter my self-will and, let me be honest, I just get downright hangry. With some slight exceptions, I have found that difficulties with a spiritual practice often mean that we really need it. However, as we draw near to the beginning of Lent, Thomas Christianson’s exploration of the significance of this spiritual practice is right on time.


115488“We Need to Read the Bible Jesus Read” – As I continue preaching through a series on the minor prophets at Eastbrook Church, I am reminded of just how significant the larger biblical context is for our understanding of the nature of Jesus as Messiah, the kingdom of God, the gospel, and so much more. In this article Brent A. Strawn, Professor of Old Testment at Duke Divinity School, explains why the Hebrew Bible is so important for us to understand as Christians.


Russell Moore“Trump critic Russell Moore, ERLC to face scrutiny by Southern Baptists” – “The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee will launch a task force to examine the activities of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the convention’s public policy organization headed by the theologian and author Russell Moore. Southern Baptist leaders fear controversy over Moore could lead to a drop in donations. Moore, 48, who has been president of the ERLC since 2013, has been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump since the president began campaigning for the White House. In 2016, Moore called Trump ‘an arrogant huckster’ and wrote an essay for the National Review citing ‘Trump’s vitriolic — and often racist and sexist — language about immigrants, women, the disabled and others.’ In response, Trump attacked Moore on Twitter, calling him ‘a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for.’ The same tweet called Moore a ‘nasty guy with no heart!'”


1776“Sorry, New York Times, But America Began in 1776” – One of the most notable journalistic achievements of 2019 was that of the New York Times‘ “1619 project.” It would be mild to say that project generated a lot of conversation about both the content of the project and the nature of the journalistic approach. Now, this past week saw the launch of a non-partisan black-led response to the “1619 Project” called “1776.” Wilfrid Reilly, a participant in “1776,” outlines the three core goals of this response project: “(1) rebutting some outright historical inaccuracies in the 1619 Project; (2) discussing tragedies like slavery and segregation honestly while clarifying that these were not the most important historical foundations of the United States; and (3) presenting an alternative inspirational view of the lessons of our nation’s history to Americans of all races.”


Flannery O'Connor“Flannery O’Connor’s Good Things” – When I was in college, my wife, Kelly, took a class on the writings of two southern novelists I knew very little about at that time: Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy. I am forever grateful that she took that class and patiently introduced me to these two authors, who have become a couple of treasured voices in my life. James Matthew Wilson introduces us to a recently edited collection of O’Connor’s previously unpublished letters, including some with Walker Percy, that is aptly titled Good Things Out of Nazareth.


Music: Herbie Hancock, “Watermelon Man” (1962), from Takin’ Off

[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.]

Standing Firm in the Lord: a reflection on Ephesians 6

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Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10-11)

What always captures my attention in these verses is the reality of our conflict and the source of our defense. Paul takes it for granted that the devil has schemes that work against the Christian community. The devil opposes  God and God’s people with efforts that are sometimes straightforward and at other times are wily schemes. As followers of Jesus, we do well to be on alert with watchfulness and ready at all times to take our stand against these attacks, regardless of what form they take.

The source of our defense, though, is not our own watchfulness or steadfastness. Instead, our strength is “in the Lord and in his mighty power.” We clothes ourselves not just with the greatest of human virtues but with “the full armor of God.” Our source is God Himself and the strength that He offers. Our defense is a God-birthed and God-like character of life: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvations, and the word of God. Armed by God to become more like God, we are well-equipped to stand firm in the face of attacks.

To take one’s stand in the face of attacks, particularly the schemes of the devil, is not easy. We all have encountered the power of gossip, falsehood, slander, distortions of truth, and more. These are the mere tip of the iceberg of the devil’s schemes. The moment you give attention to defusing one, another pops up unexpectedly.

It is in facing into these schemes with all their diverse nefariousness that standing firm is both so difficult and so powerful. It should come as no surprise that of all the exhortations Paul offers in Ephesians, this is one that he repeats several times. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13, emphasis mine). Again, Paul offers a similar exhortation to the church in Corinth because of the power of Christ’s resurrection. “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you” (1 Corinthians 15:58a). This is not the immovability of prideful stubbornness, but the persevering steadfastness of humble dependence upon God. When attacks come, and they will, the believer must stand firm in God.

Lord, give us grace today to stand firm in You. Help us not to be surprised by the attacks, but to turn to You for power to persevere. Save us from trust in fading hopes—”chariots or horses”—that often appear so powerful. Instead, we declare that we will “trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).

All Real Faith Involves Discipline: Albert E. Day on cooperation with God

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I encountered these provocative words from Albert Edward Day in Discipline and Discovery. While perhaps in some ways using exaggeration to make his point, Day strikes home the importance of cooperating with God in the process of spiritual growth.

True holiness is a witness that cannot be ignored. Real sainthood is a phenomenon to which even the worlding pays tribute. The power of a life, where Christ is exalted, would arrest and subdue those who are bored to tears by our thin version of Christianity and wholly uninterested in mere churchmanship

We have talked much of salvation by faith, but there has been little realization that all real faith involves discipline. Faith is not a blithe ‘turning it all over to Jesus.’ Faith is such confidence in Jesus that it takes seriously his summons, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’

We have loudly proclaimed our dependence upon the grace of God, never guessing that the grace of God is given only to those who practice the grace of self-mastery. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for god is at work in you both to will and to work his good pleasure.’ People working out, God working in—that is the New Testament synthesis.

Humans, working out their salvation alone, are a pathetic spectacle—hopelessly defeated moralists trying to elevate themselves by their own bootstraps.

God, seeking to work in a person who offers no disciplined cooperations, is a heartbreak spectacle—a defeated Savior trying to free, from sins and earthiness, a person who will not life his or her face out of the dust, or shake off the shackles of the egocentric self.

Real discipline is not vain effort to save one’s self. It is an intelligent application to the self of those psychological principles which enable the self to enter into life-giving fellowship with God who is our salvation.

In all Christian literature there is no writer who had a clearer conviction concerning the salvation provided only in Christ than has Paul. His self-despair ended in that marvelous, ageless insight, ‘I thank God, through Jesus Christ, my Lord.’ ‘I know whom I have believed,’ he cried in an ecstasy of gladness, ‘and am persuaded that he is able.’ Paul was a salvationist, in the noblest sense.

But Paul was also a disciplinarian. ‘I beat my body to keep it in subjection.’ ‘They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.’ ‘So fight I, not as one who beateth the air.’ ‘Mortify therefore your members which are upon earth.’ ‘Laying aside every weight and the sin which so easily beset us.’ ‘No man that warreth, entangleth himself with the affairs of this life.’ These are not he words of a man who scorned discipline!

On might multiply such statements as these from Paul—all of them the almost spontaneous evidence of the disciplines which he, trusting in Christ, imposed upon himself in his eager effort to give Christ that co-operation without which not even Christ can save a soul and make a saint.

We must recover for ourselves the significance and the necessity of the spiritual disciplines. Without them we shall continue to be impotent witnesses for Christ. Without them Christ will be impotent in his efforts to use us to save our society from disintegration and death.

Why Did Jonah Run from God?

Jonah

1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Jonah receives a word from the Lord that he should preach to the people of Nineveh in the Assyrian empire that they might repent. Instead of obeying God, Jonah runs away from God. This is not the story we expected to find about one of the prophets.

We learn from 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah was from Gath Hepher. He was called by God to go to Nineveh, which is far to the north in the Assyrian empire; a city that overlaps with present-day Mosul in Iraq. Instead, Jonah hoofs it south to the port city of Joppa to catch a boat to Tarshish on the far side of the Mediterranean world, a city which is either in present-day Spain or Sardinia.

Clearly, it is not fear of travelling that keeps Jonah from obeying God, but something else. That something else is that Jonah knows something about the mercy of God. Jonah believes, as we find out later, that if he preaches to the Ninevites about Yahweh, the God of Israel, the Ninevites will actually turn from their wickedness and encounter the mercy of Yahweh God.

Jonah is afraid of this reality and will not obey God. Why?

Perhaps it was because Jonah was in thrall to King Jeroboam II. Jeroboam was a powerful king, who provided unequaled economic prosperity and political stability during his forty-year year. He was also one of the most godless kings of the northern kingdom of Israel. According to 2 Kings 14, Jonah prophesied favorably for King Jeroboam, and so perhaps Jonah did not want to defy the king and prophesy in another kingdom.

Perhaps Jonah’s disobedience was because the Assyrian Empire was threatening the people of Israel. We do know that later, in 722 BC, the Assyrians completely overrun Israel and the capital of Samaria, leaving nothing left. Perhaps Jonah was afraid of this larger, more powerful kingdom.

Or perhaps it was that Jonah simply did not believe that God’s mercy should extend to another people group, particularly one so wicked and violent as the Assyrians. Jonah may have wanted these wicked people to get what they deserved.

Whatever the exact reason, or perhaps the combination of reasons, Jonah has a problem in his heart that God needs to address. And that is really the driving theme of the entire book of Jonah.

Jonah [God in the Ruins]

God in the Ruins Series GFX_App Square

One of the hardest tasks of the preacher is to take a well-known part of Scripture and make it fresh for people again. This past weekend at Eastbrook, I tried to do just that as I preached on Jonah in our series on the minor prophets, “God in the Ruins.”

Unlike all the other minor prophets, Jonah tells a story about the life of Jonah instead of collecting messages from that prophet.

The prophet Jonah is mentioned one other place in the Bible in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet in the northern kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II. This tells us that, if taken at face value, Jonah’s story would have taken place chronologically during the 8th century BC, at a similar time as Amos, during the 40-year reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC).

Because the story of the book of Jonah is told so dramatically in the book of Jonah, there is a lot of debate about its genre: is it historical, is it a parable, is it a real story told in an imaginative style. Regardless of the outcome on those issues, the message of the book is clear:

We can run from it or we can receive it, but the mercy of God is greater than we understand.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series on the minor prophets here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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A Prayer inspired by the prophet Jonah

Almighty God,
You are the powerful Creator
of all the nations upon earth.
You are holy and wonderful
beyond what we understand.

We look at Jonah and we are startled
by his insolence in running away from You,
by his humility in recognizing Your rescue,
and his anger at Your mercy to those
he felt did not desire to receive it.

We are startled because we know
that same insolence, humility, and anger
run through our own lives and hearts.

Have mercy on us, our God,
and transform us from the inside out
that we might love what You love
and hate what you hate.
That our lives might overflow
with mercy like You overflow with  mercy.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
our Savior and Deliverer,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.