Putting on the Character of Christ in Divided Days

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)

In Ephesians 4:1, Paul urges the Ephesians—and us, through them—to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. The unity of the church in divided times is tied into putting on the character of Christ. The verb here is “to walk.” We need to walk worthy. We’re to walk it out. Live it out daily. What does that look like? Well, Paul tells us in verses 2-3.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

We are to put on the character of Christ. What is that character? Well, let’s just walk through it slowly with some application to our current moment.

“Be completely humble”

Paul urges the believers toward complete humility and this is a very challenging word. Who has arrived at that? None of us. The sense of the phrase is that believers are to have a wholly humble opinion of themselves. And when we think about the way we live together in the church, we must remember that if we are quick toward a high opinion of ourselves and lack humility, unity will be destroyed.

“and gentle”

Gentleness is a strange word to us today. Who has ever heard a political leader or a CEO start their campaign or new job by saying their agenda would be gentleness? It would not usually be well received. Now there is a related word to gentleness, which we encounter in the Beatitudes, and that is “meekness.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Our experience tells us that is not true, but Jesus shows a different way. In fact, this first phrase of Paul in Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle,” may remind us of Jesus’ own description of Himself when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:28-29) If we forsake gentleness and meekness, we do not look like Jesus. If we forsake gentleness, the unity of Christ’s people will be destroyed.

“Be patient”

If the first two words didn’t get you, this one will. Patience means long-suffering. One additional shade of meaning on this word is that such a person is slow to take vengeance. This is good because the Lord has said that vengeance is His, not ours. But if you didn’t notice, we live in a vengeful culture. Be careful of what you say or what you do. It may come back to haunt you. In fact, you may be crucified by those who accuse you. But don’t worry, the accusers usually become the accused in a culture cycling through vengeance. But the body of Christ is to exhibit a different way. We are to be patient. If we forsake patience, if we are quick to anger and swift to revenge, then unity will be destroyed.

“Bearing with one another in love”

The image here is to hold something up as one stands erect, sustaining something or, here, sustaining one another. Believers are, in a sense, to stand shoulder to shoulder, upholding one another. How do we uphold one another? In love. I really appreciate how the New Living Translation renders this: “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Have you ever seen another person’s faults in the church? Have you ever seen your own? Make space…bear with one another. When we do, unity is sustained and upheld.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

And to cap it all off, Paul says that we have to exert ourselves to keep unity. Here is an important idea: unity does not happen by accident. The natural tendency of human existence is toward disunity and disorder. Just look at your apartment or house over the course of a week. It does not become cleaner on its own, but it does become dirtier. In like manner, the gravitational pull in human relationships is toward disunity and disorder. Unity happens only through focused exertion toward that end. But also notice how Paul emphasizes the exertion is partnered with the Holy Spirit. This is not merely a human work; it is a spiritual work of God within humanity. If we do not work at it, relying upon the Holy Spirit, unity will be destroyed

These days have been hard for everyone. Churches are feeling the tension during these days. But the church is supposed to be a diverse community, with young and old, local and international, rich and poor, many professions, many ethnicities, and many opinions. We must make space for one another around Jesus and the Cross, but also choose to put on the character of Christ in our relationships.

Please pause and consider some personal reflection questions about this in the midst of the divided days:

  • how does our character match up with Paul’s exhortation here?
  • how is our humility, gentleness, patience?
  • how well are we bearing with one another in love?
  • are we exerting ourselves toward unity…or are we hoping someone else will sustain it if we speak or act impatiently, live with pride, open our mouths in gossip, and generally lean into our flesh?

May God help us to walk with Christ and in Christ as one.

The Weekend Wanderer: 29 May 2021

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. Disclaimer: 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.


7 Books for Pastoral Care“7 Books for Your Pastoral Care Library” – Kelli B. Trujillo compiles this helpful list of recent pastoral care resources at Christianity Today. I have read two of these books (A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson by Winn Collier and The Beautiful Community:Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best by Irwyn L. Ince), have two of them on my to-read list (Soul Care in African American Practice by Barbara L. Peacock and The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart by Harold L. Senkbeil), and have not heard of the other three. It’s always a joy to find new recommendations to learn and grow as a pastor. “Pastoral care has many expressions, from joyful visits with an elderly parishioner to painful conversations with an adolescent having suicidal thoughts. From the tough work of addressing division and disunity to the tender work of shepherding over the long haul. Here are seven new and recent books that engage and equip pastors for the deep and multifaceted ministry of pastoral care.”


“Character in Crisis: The Challenges of Moral Formation in Higher Education” – Michael Lamb and David Henreckson in conversation at Comment: “This past year was devastating for many institutions of higher education. Jobs were furloughed or lost. Departments shuttered. Many educators were forced to re-evaluate what is really central to our chosen vocation. With all this impermanence, it seems a luxury to talk about ‘moral character,’ or the old trifecta of truth, beauty, and goodness. So, in these austere days, is there still a central place for moral formation in the university? Or is that a peripheral concern when you are living in survival mode?”


28corbinembedleaves“The Abyss of Beauty: The Art of Seeing the Natural World” – Ian Marcus Corbin in Plough Quarterly: “One afternoon last summer, I was sitting on a bench in a small urban park, my youngest son Leonard asleep in his stroller. I’d consciously chosen to leave my iPhone at home, determined to look around me as I went. It’s an ongoing ethical project, a way of life I aspire to and too rarely achieve. I have a running suspicion that I could really, deeply love life, or a day or afternoon at the very least, if I could just be quiet and look, stop the incessant scheming and worrying and mental grappling. When Gerard Manley Hopkins sits still, he finds that the natural world is ‘charged with the grandeur of God,’ and exults in the knowledge that its ‘blue-bleak embers’ ‘fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.’ That’s what I want. I want to see embers, blue-bleak and dying, to see that when they fall and gall themselves, gold-vermillion gashes out into the visible world. How different would that be from my current life of cars and sidewalks and text exchanges, of long nights in my restless, thought-infested bed? Perhaps we can see ourselves to life.


Screen Shot 2021-05-27 at 3.27.50 PM“For Cosmopolitan Christians, Secular Approval Is a Common Temptation” – Justin Giboney at Christianity Today: “A few years ago, I was asked to speak about the gospel’s justice imperative at a local Christian high school. Upon arrival, I was escorted through campus by a young administrator, who thanked me for coming to engage a topic the school’s elders had ignored for too long. With Dietrich Bonhoeffer–like resolve, he and another young teacher confided that they were subversively trying to change the culture at the school. I immediately, and perhaps hastily, commended their efforts….Without a doubt, the young educators’ concerns were legitimate. Deep, disruptive change was necessary, but the more we talked, the more I grew concerned that their approach was misguided. They were espousing a plainly secular progressive framework, unrefined by the truth and moral order of the gospel. They had an infatuation with trending secular theories, without guardrails to keep them from taking concepts like intersectionality and inclusion into unbiblical territory. Those ideas can be helpful. But they should never be followed uncritically, because they can lead to identity idolatry, which would have us embrace broken aspects of ourselves. There’s a difference between celebrating parts of our identity and centering or exalting identity to the point where it naturally justifies some and condemns others. These brothers correctly identified an old problem, but their solutions were generically pop culture oriented and flat.”


Tulsa Race Massacre“How 24 Hours of Racist Violence Caused Decades of Harm” – A good friend of mine first made me aware of something I never remember learning in history class: the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, race massacre. In the span of twenty-four hours, a thriving African-American community in Greenwood (sometimes called “Black Wall Street“) was decimated following the arrest of a young black man on suspicion of assaulting a white woman. While the charges were never proven, the impact on the African-American community was not just in lives and economics for a brief time, but sent ripples that effected generations. Jeremy Cook, a labor economist, and Jason Long, an economic historian, both at Wheaton College (IL) explore the wide-ranging impact in this powerful article in The Atlantic.


Russell Moore“Russell Moore to Join Christianity Today to Lead New Public Theology Project” – “Christianity Today is announcing the hiring of Russell Moore to serve as a full-time public theologian for the publication and to lead a new Public Theology Project. ‘We could not be more pleased with the addition of Russell Moore in this role,’ said Christianity Today’s president and CEO, Timothy Dalrymple. ‘Russell has established himself as one of the most significant evangelical voices of our time. He illuminates the relevance of the gospel to the whole of life, from everyday matters of faith to the great debates in our society and culture. Importantly, he does all of this in a voice that demonstrates what we at Christianity Today call beautiful orthodoxy, weaving together a deep commitment to the historic integrity of the church with a generous, charitable, and humble spirit.'”


Music: Max Richter, “1. Spring,” Recomposed by Max Richter – Vivaldi – The Four Seasons

The Weekend Wanderer: 20 March 2021

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. Disclaimer: 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.even sharing it with someone who you know struggles in this way.


Leland Ryken“Leland Ryken: Teaching Literature and the Bible as Literature” – As an undergraduate studying English literature at Wheaton College (IL), I had the privilege to study under Leland Ryken, an authority on John Milton, but also a man of God passionate about reading and teaching the Bible well. His 1984 book How to Read the Bible as Literature had a monumental impact upon me and continues to have great influence on many others today. I was privileged to serve with a couple others as a research assistant with Ryken and Jim Wilhoit on The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Here is Chase Replogle’s Pastor-Writer podcast interview with Ryken as he prepares to release a new book, Recovering the Lost Art of Reading: A Quest for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.


Li-Young Lee“A Conversation with Li-Young Lee” – With my undergraduate studies in literature, I find tremendous joy in both reading and writing poetry. Here is a fascinating interview of Li-Young Lee, one of our most powerful contemporary poets, by Paul T. Corrigan in Image Journal: “Li-Young Lee’s books of poetry include Rose (1986), winner of the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award; The City in Which I Love You (1990), which was a Lamont Poetry Selection; Book of My Nights (2001), which won the William Carlos Williams Award; From Blossoms: Selected Poems (2007), and Behind My Eyes (2008). His other work includes Breaking the Alabaster Jar, a collection of twelve interviews edited by Earl G. Ingersoll, and The Winged Seed (1995), a memoir which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Lee was born to Chinese parents in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1957. In 1959, the family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese persecution and lived in Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan before settling in the United States in 1964. Lee attended the Universities of Pittsburgh and Arizona and the State University of New York at Brockport. He has taught at several universities, including Northwestern and the University of Iowa. His awards include fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and Guggenheim Foundation, a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writer’s Award, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award, the I.B. Lavan Award, three Pushcart Prizes, and grants from the Illinois Arts Council, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Chicago. He was interviewed by Paul T. Corrigan.”


stanley-hauerwas“Peacemaking Is Political: An Interview with Stanley Hauerwas by Charles E. Moore” – Stanley Hauerwas is undoubtedly the most renowned, and at-times controversial, Christian ethicist of our day. His book, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Social Ethic, is a seminal work on Christian ethics in the contemporary era. In Plough Quarterly, Charles E. Moore interviews Hauerwas in what becomes an exploration of Jesus-centered ethics, peace-making and non-violence, narrative frames, how peace is political, and so much more. While we may not agree with everything Hauerwas speaks about, he will certainly provoke each of us toward deep thinking about Jesus and what it means to be the church and a disciple of Jesus in an age of violence, tension, and distrust.


spirituals“Black Spirituals as Poetry and Resistance” – From Kaitlyn Greenidge in The New York Times: “This imaginative leap is most on display in spirituals. These are the songs, born from rhythms of stolen labor, that enslaved Black people invented on the plantations. They are an early instance of the kind of doublespeak and double consciousness made famous by W. E. B. DuBois. They served, on the one hand, as a testament to the Christian experience but also, on the other, as a way to articulate a resistance to slavery. Spirituals, like many other musical genres across the African diaspora, draw on traditions from West Africa. But spirituals are unique to the experience of the enslaved in the United States — the same artistry and craft that birthed them here produced recognizable, but decidedly different, music across the Caribbean and South America.”


Old-Vintage-Books“Reading Old Books: C. S. Lewis’ Introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation – In his introduction to St. Athanasius’ On The Incarnation, C.S. Lewis shares his extended reflections on the importance of reading widely, but always reading deeply, in terms of reaching deeper into previous eras to converse with ancient voices, whose different contexts and different issues can help provide perspective on our own context and issues. If you’ve never read Lewis’ fine words in that introduction let me encourage you to read it here. While you’re at it, you may enjoy reading the work Lewis is introducing itself. Athanasius is one of the most important theologians in the history of Christianity.


Christ Church Melaka Malaysia“Malaysia High Court rules Christians can use ‘Allah'” – From the BBC: “Malaysia’s high court has overturned a policy banning Christians from using the word “Allah” to refer to God, the latest in a decades-long legal battle. It comes as part of a case brought by a Christian whose religious materials were seized as they contained the word. The issue of non-Muslims using “Allah” has in the past sparked tension and violence in Malaysia. Muslims make up almost two-thirds of the population, but there are also large Christian communities. These Christian communities argue that they have used the word “Allah”, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their God for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights. Malaysia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion. But religious tensions have risen in recent years.”


Music: John Tavener, “The Lament of the Mother of God” (1988), performed by Solveig Kringelborn, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Winchester Cathedral Choir under the direction of conductor David Hill.

7 Ways to Lose Our Saltiness as Disciples

This past weekend I continued our series on the Sermon on the Mount by exploring our “Real Identity” as the salt of the earth and the light of the world from Matthew 5:13-16. In verse 13, Jesus says, “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” In our small group on Sunday afternoon, we discussed what it might mean to lose our saltiness. I’ve continued to think about this over the past few days and decided to compile a list of seven ways we can lose our saltiness as disciples. So, here we go.

Seven ways we can lose our saltiness as disciples:

  1. Stop reading Scripture. Scripture is a vital guide for the Christian life. It is “a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). When we stop reading Scripture, we can easily lose our way, thus faltering in the disciple-life. Without Scripture’s guidance we lose the salty savor of God’s life in and with us.
  2. Stop praying. If Scripture is the guide for our life as disciples, prayer is the lifeblood of our disciple-life. Prayer is our communication with God, but it is also the way in which we abide in Christ. The same way that branches abide in the vine, our discipleship is rooted in the life of God through prayer (John 15:1-17). If we want our lives saturated with the flavor and preservative of God’s life in us, then we must be people of prayer.
  3. Live so close to the world that no one can tell you’re a disciple. We sometimes talk of disciples as in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-15). While we understand that Paul wanted to become all things to all people so that he might bring people to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20-22), this did not mean he hid his distinctiveness as a Christ follower. Salt becomes less salty by being diluted. So, too, if no one can tell we’re disciples of Christ, then we may be on the pathway of losing our saltiness.
  4. Lack integrity and Christlike character. Disciples of Jesus are called to look like Jesus. We are to resist sin and exhibit the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:13-26). Peter said that the godly behavior and character of disciples will lead people to an encounter with God (1 Peter 2:11-12). If our daily lives does not point to Christ, then we may lack saltiness.
  5. Never talk about Jesus. Jesus called His disciples to be witnesses to Him (Acts 1:8). While we want our lives to be a witness to Christ, we also want to give witness to Him with our mouths. If we never say a word about Jesus to anyone else, then we lack what Paul describes as grace-seasoned speech: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
  6. Think only about your own needs. We lose our saltiness when we stop thinking of others’ needs and only think of our own needs. When Jesus was asked how He would summarizeGod’s law, He said it was loving God with all of who we are and loving our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:36-40). Salty disciples are aware of others’ needs, both material and spiritual, and reach out to care for those who are in need, both within the church community and beyond.
  7. Let other interests become more important than God and His kingdom. Just as love for neighbor is part of the summary of God’s law, so, too, is love for God for all of who we are—”all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). If people know more about the hobbies, sports teams, foods, political allegiances, causes, or even family we love, but never know our love for God, then there may be a lack of salt evident in our lives. Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

The Weekend Wanderer: 20 February 2021

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. Disclaimer: 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.


Multiethnic Church“The Multiethnic Church Movement Hasn’t Lived up to Its Promise” – Here is Korie Little Edwards, author of The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches, writing in Christianity Today about the failings and the potential of the multi-ethnic church movement: “The number of multiracial churches has risen steadily in the US over the past two decades. A recent study reveals that in 2019, multiracial churches made up about 16 percent of all congregations in the US, compared to 6 percent in 1998. While Catholics have consistently had the largest percentage of multiracial churches—17 percent in 1998 and 23 percent in 2019—evangelical churches showed the greatest increase, moving from 7 percent in 1998 to 22 percent in 2019….Multiracial congregations have gained a greater share of American churches over the past 20 years, but as my colleagues and I have found, they are not delivering on what they promised.”


Ravi Zacharias“Ravi Zacharias Hid Hundreds of Pictures of Women, Abuse During Massages, and a Rape Allegation” – This past year has revealed a series of moral failures of Christian leaders, but perhaps none has sent as strong of shockwaves as the recent revelations about Ravi Zacharias. When Zacharias died in May 2020 after a relatively short battle with cancer, many Christians offered praise for his impact upon their life and ministry, me included. But now it has become clear Zacharias lived a double-life. He hid a series of shocking and inappropriate activities, which led RZIM into an independent investigation and his publisher to subsequently remove all his books from publication. You can read the RZIM International Board’s open letter on the investigation and their proposed next steps, plus the detailed and often stomach-turning 12-page independent report from Miller & Martin PLLC (“Report of Independent Investigation into Sexual Misconduct of Ravi Zacharias”). Further reflections are David French’s personal and probing “‘You Are One Step Away from Complete and Total Insanity'”, James Emery White’s “The Crisis of Character,” as well as Christianity Today‘s reporting linked at the headline of this article. This highlights once again the urgency of a shift in the way we approach public ministry in North America, the importance of spiritual formation in leadership, and recapturing what it means to be the church.


Algeria“United Nations demands Algeria to explain its campaign against Protestant churches” – From Evangelical Focus – Europe: “The United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) has increased its pressure on Algeria, asking its government to clarify how it is treating the Protestant Christian minority. A letter signed by three UN HRC special rapporteurs (freedom of religion and belief, freedom of peaceful gathering and association, and of minorities) was sent in December 2020 to the President of the government of Algeria asking for ‘detailed information’ about the closing of Protestant worship places around the country. Now the United Nations has made the letter public. The 7-page long document summarises some of the latest developments that are a breaching of human rights in Algeria, especially those related to the ‘closing of worship places and churches affiliated with the Eglise Protestante d’Algérie (EPA) as well as the actions of discrimination against the members of the Protestant Christian minority’.”


Another Life is Possible“Review: A Deeper Way of Living” – Emily Esfahani Smith reviews a recent history of the Bruderhof movement for Comment: “In 1920, the German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident Eberhard Arnold gave up his comfortable middle-class life in Berlin to launch an experiment in community living that has endured to this day….To mark the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Bruderhof, Plough, the community’s publishing house, has released a beautiful book that collects moving stories and luminous photographs of today’s Bruderhof members. Another Life Is Possible: Insights from 100 Years of Life Together is a snapshot of the Bruderhof community today—and the yearning for meaning that has led its nearly three thousand members to exchange the liberties and luxuries of modern life for a deeper way of living.”


practicing-church“The Practicing Church in Shoreline, Washington, seeks to live out its faith in the neighborhood” – From Yonat Shimron at Faith and Leadership: “The Rev. Jessica Ketola is an old hand at doing church. Her parents were pastors. She served as a worship leader for more than a decade. She recorded Christian praise songs. She ran a church nonprofit that tutored low-income neighborhood children. But in her mid-40s, the Vineyard-ordained pastor decided to change all the rules. In January 2017, after a season of upheaval at Vineyard Community Church, where she had been serving as an associate pastor, she relaunched the congregation in her Shoreline, Washington, living room. Ketola called it The Practicing Church and explained her vision to the 25 or so members that remained: it would be a neighborhood-based church that would serve the community out of a commitment to Jesus’ way of love and a desire for God’s shalom, or peace.”


Music: Maverick City & Upperroom, “Remember,” from You Hold It All Together