The Weekend Wanderer: 6 June 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.


Esau McCaulley“A Nation on Fire Needs the Flames of the Spirit” – One of the voices I would encourage you to listen to very closely in this moment is that of Dr. Esau McCaulley, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Here is a recent sermon he delivered on Pentecost that ties together the fires of the Holy Spirit and the fires of the current protests. You may also enjoy Ed Stetzer’s 4-part interview with him here:


vidar-nordli-mathisen“5 Ways Your Predominantly White Church Can Work for Racial Justice and Reconciliation” – From Pastor Rich Villodas of New Life Fellowship in New York City: “As a pastor of color who leads a very multi-ethnic and multi-cultural church, I often get asked by other pastors and leaders around the country how white, homogeneous churches can embody the gospel’s claim that a new communal identity is possible in a setting not given to reconciliation. I want to suggest that while not every church is going to reflect multi-ethnicity, predominantly white churches in predominantly white neighborhoods can still do their part in connecting the gospel to race.”


Chotiner-FrustrationBehindProtests“Bryan Stevenson on the Frustration Behind the George Floyd Protests” – Some of you may be familiar with the book or movie Just Mercy, featuring the work of Bryan Stevenson, a civil-rights lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.  Here is an interview with him by Isaac Chotiner helping explain what is going on underneath the protests happening around our cities and nation. He says: “We need to reckon with our history of racial injustice. I think everything we are seeing is a symptom of a larger disease.”


LCMS Black Clergy Caucus“Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Black Clergy Caucus Statement on George Floyd” – My maternal grandmother always prayed that I would become a minister in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. She would often mention to me as I was in training for ministry, “The Lutheran Church could use some nice young ministers.” Because of that, I’ve always had a fondness for the LCMS which fits quite well with being here in Milwaukee where I currently serve in a non-denominational church (sorry, grandmother!). I must confess I did not know there was a black clergy caucus for the LCMS rooted in the south. This statement by that group in relation to the killing of George Floyd captured my attention.


Armenian_woman_kneeling_beside_dead_child_in_field“What Turkey Did to Its Christians” – Gabriel Said Reynolds at Commonweal: “A traveler in Ottoman Turkey in the mid-nineteenth century would have discovered a robust and diverse Christian presence of different denominations and ethnicities, including Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians. There were between 3 and 4 million Christians in what is now Turkey—around 20 percent of the total population. They were spread throughout the area, from Thrace in the northwest to the far-eastern regions of Anatolia beyond Lake Van, where Armenians likely outnumbered Turks. By 1924, through three successive waves of massacre, deportation, abduction, and forced conversion, Christians had been reduced to 2 percent of Turkey, and almost all who remained would depart in the following decades.”


President Trump Bible“American Bible Society leader: Don’t use the Bible as a political ‘prop'” – The Bible has served as an important symbol in many contexts beyond the church from swearing oaths in court to public readings of Scripture at ceremonies. This is because the Bible holds words that are powerful for our souls and meaningful in the public consciousness. This last week President Trump received a lot of attention for using the Bible in a photo shoot at St. John’s Church near the White House. Here are a few other reactions at various points along the opinion spectrum from evangelist Franklin Graham,  presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry, and Kate Shellnutt’s reporting on the range of Christian responses to the event. Regardless of your opinion, this is probably the top news story featuring the Bible in the past week, and also raises significant questions about the interface of faith and the public square.


family“Facing A Crisis Of Family Formation” – From Yuval Levin, author of The Fractured Republic and A Time to Build: “The idea that the family is an institution at all is hard to deny and yet difficult to comprehend. This is in part because the family occupies a distinct space between two meanings of the term “institution.” It is not an organization exactly, but neither is it quite a practice or a set of rules or norms. In a sense, the family is a collection of several institutions understood in this latter way—like the institution of marriage and the institution of parenthood. The family arranges these institutions into a coherent and durable structure that is almost a formal organization. It resists easy categorization because it is primeval. The family has a legal existence, but it is decidedly pre-legal. It has a political significance, but it is pre-political too. It is pre-everything.


Greek Orthodox“Greek Orthodox Church rules yoga is ‘incompatible’ with Christianity” – In other news, here is this from another part of the world. From time to time, I am asked interesting questions as a pastor about what I think about certain issues, popular practices, or cultural phenomena. These issues can be tricky to speak to because of the nuances of applying Scripture to contemporary issues. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. This one caught my eye as the Greek Orthodox Church reacted to yoga during the pandemic.


 

Music: Common Hymnal (featuring Dee Wilson),Rose Petals,” from Common Hymnal

[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.]

This Is the Perfect Time to Draw Near to God

bible-study-notes

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

The last couple weeks all of our lives have been disrupted. National, state, and city leaders have called for limited social contact and, in many cases, issued orders to stay at home. We are forced to slow down, to limit our activity, and some of us have more time to fill than we are used to.

We are forced to draw away. We are, in many ways, forced into solitude. This is the perfect time to draw near to God.

Yet, maybe you, like me, find that there are so many more distractions than ever before.  There are more news pieces to chronically pay attention to, more Zoom calls to join for work, more Netflix or Amazon Prime shows to binge, more kids doing their schooling in otherwise vacant home spaces…and the list could go on.

The truth is that we struggle to make space for what is most important. But here it is. This is the perfect time to draw near to God. So, will you join me in taking the necessary steps to do it? We can do this by taking time in solitude with God, by reading His Word daily, by seeking Him in prayer, and by being still and knowing that He is God. It will not happen by accident. It will only come by focused, intentional preparation of the space of our lives to draw near to Him.

The wonder of James’ promise is that when we draw near to Him, God will also draw near to us.

 

The Key Nutrient of Blessing [Psalm 1, part 3]

Psalm 1

When Kelly and I were newly married we had a knack for killing the house plants we had in our apartment. One day, we saw one of our neighbors, an elderly woman named Elsie, digging a plant we had killed out of the dumpster. We watched as she took it back in her apartment, left to wonder what she would do with the pot or how she might reuse the soil. It was only later that Kelly discovered that Elsie’s apartment was filled with house plants that she had carefully nurtured back to life. Every plant needs healthy nutrients to experience life. Without those required ingredients, it will die.

The same is true in the spiritual life. The first two verses of Psalm 1 set the tone of how God brings blessing – life – into our lives. Pay attention to verse two with me for some insight into the nutrients required.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.

If the environment for growth is related to our relationships and our activities or choices, then the psalmist shows us that the essential food for growth is the Scripture or, as stated here, ‘the law of the Lord.’

The word here is literally the ‘Torah of Yahweh.’ The Torah could refer literally to the law of Moses, or the first five books of the Bible. It is more likely here, however, that the phrase refers to the instruction God gives to human beings for their guidance and livelihood. It does not seem like too far of a stretch to include the entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, as relevant to this Psalm.

The Psalmist tells us that, in contrast to one who takes up wicked and ungodly relationships that slowly drag them down into a life of ruin, the truly ‘blessed’ person – the person who experiences the full joy of God’s plans for humanity – is the one who takes delight in and meditates upon God’s instruction.

There are some who come to the Bible with a sense of weariness day by day. Surely, there are times when it is hard work and discipline to get focused on reading the Bible, but the writer’s description here is quite different.

The psalmist says this reader of God’s instruction finds delight in it daily.  Because the Scripture is the powerful and truthful instruction of God, it is not just something we have to read but it is actually a source of deep joy and life for us. It is the place where blessing is found. If we really believe that the Bible contains the instruction of God, we will soon be able to exclaim words similar to those found in Psalm 119:

I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches….I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:14, 16)

Secondly, we come to the Scripture to meditate upon it. Meditation doesn’t mean that we hit some gongs and sit in the lotus position. What it means is that we consider it deeply. We do not simply read it and pass on, but we take time to mull it over. We read it and chew on it, as one author says, like a dog chewing on a bone or like a child who could read the same short book over and over again. We allow our minds to be deeply shaped by the instruction of God instead of by the foolishness of the wicked, or sinners, or mockers mentioned in verse 1.

When we take delight in and meditate upon the Scripture it becomes the food by which we grow in experiencing the blessed life with God. It becomes the source by which, as Paul writes in Romans 12:2, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Like a plant, we were made to grow. But we need to have the essential food for growth or we will not grow at all.

Would you say you are getting the right nutrients for blessing in reading Scripture regularly?

What hinders you most from finding delight in reading God’s word?

What might it look like to take a step forward in reading Scripture regularly?

[This is the third in a series of posts on Psalm 1, which began here.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 9 February 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.

190201-syria-church-mc-451_d751479b6750bbbdaa140bb3e7ebd1b6.fit-1240w“Life under ISIS led these Muslims to Christianity” – NBC News reports on this not entirely surprising movement. “Four years have passed since the Islamic State group’s fighters were run out of Kobani, a strategic city on the Syrian-Turkish border, but the militants’ violent and extreme interpretation of Islam has left some questioning their faith. A new church is attracting converts. It is the first local Christian place of worship for decades. ‘If ISIS represents Islam, I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore,’ Farhad Jasim, 23, who attends the Church of the Brethren, told NBC News. ‘Their God is not my God.'”

 

cool_christians_lead_3t.0“The rise of the star-studded, Instagram-friendly evangelical church” – At Vox, Laura Tuner explores the recent trend, for lack of a better word, of stars turning toward Christianity. What does this mean about our culture and about our Christianity? “Pratt, beloved doofus turned hot dad, is part of a growing trend of celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Selena Gomez, Hailey Baldwin, and Kevin Durant, who are vocal about their faith. The churches many of them flock to — Zoe, Hillsong, and Churchome are the prominent examples — may look like they offer something different and more progressive than traditional evangelicalism but are actually quite consistent with evangelical teachings. In an era when religious affiliation is on the decline for young people, these churches can only gain from this proximity to stardom. But how are these “cool” new rising churches different from other churches? What is it about Hillsong and Zoe that attracts this star power?”

 

baby.jpeg“Statement on the New York State Abortion Law of 2019” – Likely you have heard of the recent passage in the New York State legislature of the “Reproductive Health Act,” which allows for late-term abortions, even up to the moment of birth, with some somewhat confusing limitations. If there is one place that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics can agree it is in relation to statements about life. That is why the group “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” produced this recent statement, published in First Things, on this appalling and disastrous piece of legislation.

 

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“The Abortion Wars: What most Christians don’t know about the history of prolife struggles” – In light of that, this 2003 article re-posted by Christianity Today, Tim Stafford offers historical perspective on abortion from the context of the early church in the Roman Empire until today. Here’s a peak into it: “From the first, Christians were outspokenly opposed to abortion on the basis of the child’s right to life. The Didache, an early second-century document summarizing Christian belief and practice, declares, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion/destruction.” Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Jerome, Basil the Great, Ambrose—all pronounced against abortion.”

 

commongood“The Church and the Common Good: Can we equate the church’s eternal mission with temporary politics?” – My wife gave me some of the best gifts possible this past Christmas: loads of theological books. A good percentage of those books are related to ecclesiology and political theology. Why? I am wrestling with the meaning of the common good and what it looks like for the church to interact as a polis – a political community – in the midst of the prevailing political community around it. This is exactly what Brad East is trying to do in this article at Comment. Give it a read.

 

johnson_birgitta“Birgitta Johnson on Praise and Worship Music” – From the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship: “Birgitta Johnson teaches world music, African American music, African music, and ethnomusicology at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. She publishes widely and for years has researched music in black megachurches and the rise of praise and worship in African American congregations. In this edited conversation, she addresses stereotypes about praise and worship music.”

 

johnstuartmill“A (Not So) Secular Saint” – In The Los Angeles Review of Books, James K. A. Smith writes an insightful review of Timothy Larsen‘s new biography of John Stuart Mill. “To both his progressivist heirs and his conservative critics, John Stuart Mill is a secular saint, a priest of the triumphant modern moral order….The real story of this Victorian character turns out to be more complicated, and Timothy Larsen’s brief new biography challenges such caricatures without devolving into polemics.”

 

StJohnBible“A Series on the Saint John’s Bible” – “Transpositions is delighted to kick off an eight-week series on The Saint John’s Bible. For those unaware, The Saint John’s Bible is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible of its scale in over 500 years. The Bible gets its name from the Benedictine abbey and university which commissioned it: Saint John’s Abbey and Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The abbey founded the university and its graduate school, Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary, and is surrounded by the campus.” [Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this link.]

 

Leith Anderson“Leith Anderson Retiring from National Association of Evangelicals” – Leith Anderson, former pastor of Wooddale Church, announced his retirement from the role of President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) after serving in that role for the past 13 years. Anderson served as interim leader for the NAE during challenging seasons with financial decline in 2003 and after the resignation of Ted Haggard from the role of President amidst scandal in 2006. Most recently, Anderson attempted to bring clarity to the meaning of “evangelical” in light of confusing political connotations of the word after the most recent presidential elections.

 

Liturgical Folk LentMusic: “Liturgical Folk, vol 4: Lent” Enjoy some good listening this week with Liturgical Folk‘s fourth volume of work focused on the upcoming season of Lent. [Thanks to Ryan Boettcher for sharing this link with me.]

 

[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.]