Following the Spirit and not our Feelings: Evelyn Underhill on Calling and Desire

Evelyn UnderhillJust a few days ago, I came across this extended quotation from Evelyn Underhill from her fine little book, The Spiritual Life. Underhill speaks to the interface of our calling and our desires, and the challenge our feelings can bring to truly following God’s call upon us. I had originally read these words about three years ago while on sabbatical, but reading them again was incredibly helpful for me. I hope you benefit from her words as well, regardless of where God has you stationed right now.

So those who imagine that they are called to contemplation because they are attracted by contemplation, when the common duties of existence steadily block this path, do well to realise that our own feelings and preferences are very poor guides when it comes to the robust realities and stern demands of the Spirit.

St. Paul did not want to be an apostle to the Gentiles. He wanted to be a clever and appreciated young Jewish scholar, and kicked against the pricks. St. Ambrose and St. Augustine did not want to be overworked and worried bishops. Nothing was farther from their intention. St. Cuthbert wanted the solitude and freedom of his hermitage on the Farne, but he did not often get there. St. Francis Xavier’s preference was for an ordered life close to his beloved master, St. Ignatius. At a few hours’ notice he was sent out to be the Apostle of the Indies and never returned to Europe again. Henry Martyn, the fragile and exquisite scholar, was compelled to sacrifice the intellectual life to which he was so perfectly fitted for the missionary life to which he was decisively called. In all of these, a power beyond themselves decided the direction of life. Yet in all we recognise not frustration, but the highest of all types of achievement. Things like this – and they are constantly happening – gradually convince us that the over-ruling reality of life is the Will and Choice of a Spirit acting not in a mechanical but in a living and personal way; and that the spiritual life does not consist in mere individual betterment, or assiduous attention to one’s own soul, but in a free and unconditional response to that Spirit’s pressure and call, whatever the cost may be.

[Evelyn Underhill, The Spiritual Life (Atlanta: Ariel Press, 1937, reprint 2000), 23-25.]

Joel [God in the Ruins]

God in the Ruins Series GFX_App SquareAs we continued our series, “God in the Ruins: The Message of the Minor Prophets,” this past weekend at Eastbrook I walked us through the prophet Joel. Joel is an often overlooked book of the Bible, although a couple of passages are fairly familiar because of their connection with historic markers in the church year: Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:12-17) and Pentecost (Joel 2:28-32). Still, Joel’s message speaks to us of the gospel, where both the judgment of God and the grace of God meet. Joel is one of the most difficult of the minor prophets to locate chronologically, but due to name usage and references to other parts of Scripture it seems most likely that it falls in the time after the exile.

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 Joel

To you, Lord, we call,
seeing the challenges in the world around us
as the nations rage
and the challenges within us
as our souls often rage.
We turn to You, Lord,
not with outward shows,
like rending of garments,
but with the humility
of broken and contrite hearts.

We turn to You, Lord,
because we have heard
that You are gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and One who relents from sending calamity.

May Your Holy Spirit come upon us freshly,
that both men and women,
young and old,
might be saved and healed,
strengthened and sustained.

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

The Weekend Wanderer: 25 January 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.

 

gettyimages-527604357_custom-e2d96b35f284dfaaaabdf4c688bf48114e889b15-s1400-c85“Most Americans Are Lonely, And Our Workplace Culture May Not Be Helping” – There is an epidemic of loneliness in the United States that has been well documented for several years, but has reached a crisis point recently. Many point their fingers to technology or social media, but it may be that our work context, specifically relationships or lack thereof at work, are contributing to loneliness as well.

 

Pieter Brueghel - Tower of Babel“From context collapse to content collapse” – From Nicholas Carr: “Context collapse remains an important conceptual lens, but what’s becoming clear now is that a very different kind of collapse — content collapse — will be the more consequential legacy of social media. Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance. As social media becomes the main conduit for information of all sorts — personal correspondence, news and opinion, entertainment, art, instruction, and on and on — it homogenizes that information as well as our responses to it.”

 

114757“Kristie Anyabwile: When Women of Color Write, the Whole Church Gains” – “Over the years, Kristie Anyabwile has found herself returning to Psalm 119 during her daily devotions. ‘The psalm itself is full of reminders of the beauty and the benefits of God’s Word,’ she says. ‘It has always drawn me in. It not only encourages me, but it helps to whet my appetite more for God’s Word.’ It was during one of these times of personal study that she birthed the idea for His Testimonies, My Heritage: Women of Color on the Word of God. The multiauthor book—which received an Award of Merit in this year’s CT Book Awards—explores the 22 stanzas of Psalm 119 through exposition, essays, and poetry.”

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-24 at 8.28.57 AM“Beyond charity: How churches are helping food deserts” – Our church has been involved at different times and in different ways with trying to help with food security in our part of Milwaukee. We have a long way to go and have tried various methodologies, and are always looking for new ways to develop. I was encouraged to read this article about churches stepping beyond simple forms of help into more systemic approaches to resolving food deserts.

 

bonhoeffergandhi“Read the Letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer Wrote to Gandhi” – One of the most influential seasons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and ministry came while he was studying in the United States at Union Theological Seminary. It was not necessarily the studies there that influenced Bonhoeffer, but his exposure to the African American community in Harlem and Abyssinian Baptist Church. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bonhoeffer was also influenced by Gandhi. A recently discovered, unpublished letter of Bonhoeffer to Gandhi reveals some insights into what Bonhoeffer was looking for in this figure from across the globe.

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-24 at 8.21.10 AM“Ian McKellen’s unearthed Lord of the Rings set diaries will take you there and back again” – While I am not always a fan of great books turned into movies, our family has a deep love for the The Lord of the Rings trilogy both Tolkien’s original writings and the movies directed by by Peter Jackson. Ian McKellen’s role as Gandalf is a stand-out, which shouldn’t surprise those of us who know McKellen first as a Shakespearian actor and later as a film star. I hope you enjoy these glimpses into McKellen’s journals while on the set of Lord of the Rings.

 

Music: Nils Frahm, “A Walking Embrace,” from All Encores.

[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.]

Hesed: the lovingkindness of God in Hosea

hesed

In the purposes of God, Hosea’s life was a message to God’s people about the ways God would show love to His people. With Hosea’s life as a reference point, God tells the people He will relate to them like a faithful and loving husband relates to his wife. In particular, God will steadfastly love His people, even though they have become like a wife who strays in her heart and actions. This is how Hosea describes that love, speaking on behalf of God to His people:

“I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.” (Hosea 2:19-20)

The love of God is undeserved and extravagant. God’s love is beyond our understanding and enduring.

In the midst of those verses there is one little word that I want to give more attention to in this post. It is the word translated as “love” here in Hosea 2:19, and it becomes a theme throughout the prophecies of Hosea. That word is, in Hebrew, hesed. It is one of the most significant words in the Hebrew Bible. Hesed speaks both of the reality of God’s character and the ideal of His people’s character.

It is sometimes translated as ‘love’ or ‘steadfast love’ to convey the persevering love, tender affection, and ongoing care one person has for another.

It is sometimes translated as ‘mercy’ to convey an undeserved kindness or passing over of deserved judgment.

It is sometimes translated as ‘covenant faithfulness’ to convey the loyalty of one partner to another in promises made. Hesed speaks of fulfilling the promises fully in action and attitude.

Hesed is the sort of thing we see in the best of friendships, in the most-enduring marriages, in athletic teams that band together to achieve a goal, in soldiers who stick together through hell and high water, and partnerships in business or non-profits that attain their highest goals while upholding honorable relationships.

In Hosea 2, we’re told that God’s hesed is so great and strong that He will not ultimately forsake His people but will faithfully love them forever and loyally care for them based on the promises of His covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Even though Israel is a faltering and weak partner in those promises, God will be faithful. In fact, God is saying that because of Israel’s inability to exhibit hesed, God will pick up the slack, so to speak, and bring it all to fruition because He is a hesed sort of God. He is merciful. He is faithful. He is loving.

God shows us what true love is like, what faithfulness is like, what mercy is like. It begins with Him and it changes Israel – and all of us who encounter God.

Perhaps you know what it is like to be loved with an enduring, tender, faithful love. Perhaps you have had a friend who has stuck with you in difficult times. Perhaps you have had a family member – a daughter or son, a father or mother, a brother or sister, an auntie or uncle – who has been there for you when no one else has. Perhaps you have experienced unwarranted mercy from a colleague at work, a teacher at school, a business partner, or neighbor. All of these experiences of love, mercy, and faithfulness change us. When you have that on your side, it helps you stand up again, get going, and feel supported in whatever may come.

So, too, when we encounter the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God, it changes us. The story of Hosea begins, as we even explored last weekend, with the powerful love of God.

God’s love – his hesed – is so strong for His people that He will do whatever it takes to recapture them with His love. And when we begin with that love, mercy, and faithfulness of God it should change who we are and how we live.

“How Do You Know Me?”: Nathanael and real knowledge

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. (John 1:48a)

NathanaelThe most astonished and revealing question of the first chapter of John’s gospel comes here from Nathanael’s lips. His encounter with Jesus reveals Christ’s knowledge of each person: their background, their identity, their desires, their habits and practices.

Philip finds Nathanael near Bethsaida and tells him about his encounter with Jesus, exclaiming, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Nathanael scoffs at this, derisively mocking Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Philip sustains his wonder, inviting Nathanael to “Come and see” (1:46b).

When Nathanael follows Philip to where Jesus is found, something powerful happens. Jesus names Nathanael and describes him with such great depth and accuracy that Nathanael is shocked and overwhelmed. He responds with such a dramatic shift from his earlier comments that we know a deep chord has been struck within his life: “Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel'” (1:49). Jesus promises that the shock Nathanael has experienced in this initial encounter will be surpassed by what he will see in the future.

Nathanael is shocked by Jesus’ knowledge of him into a shocking knowledge of who Jesus is. These two perspectives go together. It is not that our self-knowledge arises merely through pursuit of ourselves – knowing our personality, proclivities, temperament, past, or desires. It is that Jesus the Christ brings us true knowledge of ourselves while concurrently leading us into that which we need more urgently than self-knowledge: knowledge of God in Christ.

May we be like Nathanael today as we allow Jesus to meet with us, speak to us, and reveal both who He is and who we are more clearly.