A Prayer inspired by Hebrews 2

image 3 - Hebrews

Throughout our new series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I am writing prayers related to the text on which we are preaching each week. This prayer is drawn from Hebrews 2. The complete list of prayers from Hebrews is included at the bottom of this post. You could also view a message, “The Mystery of the Incarnation,” from this passage by Pastor Nic Fridenmaker here.

Father God, we praise You
for Your mysterious wisdom
in sending Jesus, Your eternally-begotten Son,
as our incarnate Messiah.

Jesus the Son, we are in awe of You,
the perfect human who restored our fractured glory
by taking the destructive way of the Cross
and making it the way that brings life.

Thank You for sharing the humility of our flesh and blood
by entering into human temptation and suffering.
Thank You for bringing divine balm for sin’s pain
and freedom from death by breaking the power of the devil.

Holy Spirit, we need Your presence and power
more than we understand within every moment of every day.
Strengthen us to receive divine grace through Christ’s sacrificial gift
and empower us to live our daily lives yielded to You.

All this we pray in the name
of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—
One God, from eternity past to eternity future—
to whom belongs all honor and glory both now and forever.
Amen.


Prayers from Hebrews:

The Weekend Wanderer: 25 April 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.


116902“We May Be ‘Safer at Home.’ But Many At-Risk Kids Aren’t” – Here’s Chris Palusky, President and CEO of Bethany Christian Services: “While most children in the country are dealing with the frustrations of missing their friends, a hiatus in sports seasons, and closed playgrounds, others worry about the very real possibility of homelessness, abuse, or neglect. Most of all, they face the fear and uncertainty of wondering if they are alone. This is a fear no child should ever endure. As we stay home to protect the medically fragile and elderly, we can’t forget this other highly vulnerable group. I won’t parse words: The number of children in foster care will dramatically increase because of the coronavirus pandemic.”


Beaty-GettyImages-1215355325-780-x-508“NYC Medical Ethicist: It’s Time We Learned to Talk about Death” – Katelyn Beaty in Religion & Politics: “Lydia Dugdale, director of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at Columbia University, is perhaps prepared more than most to face death….In addition to her medical degree from the University of Chicago, she earned a master’s in ethics from Yale Divinity School, and she co-directed the Program for Medicine, Spirituality, and Religion at Yale School of Medicine. Dugdale has also spent more than a decade recovering ancient wisdom from the tradition of Ars Moriendi, which translated from the Latin means ‘the art of dying.’ Beginning in the fourteenth century, as the bubonic plague ravaged Western Europe, the Ars Moriendi was a handbook on how to prepare for death. ‘A central premise [of the handbook] was that in order to die well, you had to live well,’” writes Dugdale in a new book, The Lost Art of Dying. ‘Part of living well meant anticipating and preparing for death within the context of your community over the course of a lifetime.'”


Kidd - tactile religion“Tactile Religion in a Time of Pandemic” – Here is Thomas Kidd, author of the recent acclaimed book, Who Is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis, on the impact of the pandemic on tactile aspects of our religious gatherings, such as hand-shakes, hugs, and passing the peace. “Whenever we are able to go back to some sort of normalcy, I don’t see those contact rituals coming back until an effective COVID-19 vaccine is available (sometime in 2021, Lord willing). That will mean that church will remain strange, because tactile religion is such a common feature of Christianity that we don’t notice it until it is gone.”


Kierkegaard Harpers“Difficulties Everywhere” – My first exposure to Søren Kierkegaard that I remember was through my sister-in-law’s brother, who was the same age as me and obsessed with the Danish philosopher when we met during our college years. It was only later that I really came to appreciate Kierkegaard’s unique approach to faith and Christianity, as well as being credited as the founder of existentialist philosophy. Kierkegaard is perhaps best known for advocating the ‘leap of faith,’ a phrase he never formally used, which refers to moving beyond mere rational understanding by engaging the will and trust in the crisis of decision-making and living. Christopher Beha’s review of Clare Carlisle’s Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard is well worth the read as a minor introduction to Kierkegaard.


Austin Kleon prayer“On praying, whether you believe or not” – I have really enjoyed Austin Kleon’s work on creativity. A fun father-son highlight for me with one of my kids this past year was seeing Kleon when he visited Milwaukee and gave a lecture at Boswell Books. In this post, Kleon reflects on prayer from a very interesting perspective. Describing it as “the best proselytizing I ever heard”, he shares Mary Karr‘s advice on prayer: “Why don’t you pray for 30 days and see if your life gets better?” I think you’ll enjoy Kleon’s thoughts here, regardless of whether you believe or not.


Ideas_Art-Crisis-Productivity-200020298-001-“Productivity Is Not Working” – Our culture is frenetically busy and often assesses value based in terms of what we can produce. The nature of our faith reminds us that we are more than what we do, but we still wrestle with it. In WIRED magazine, Laurie Penny offers a refreshingly honest depiction of how the pandemic heightened her struggle with the need to produce. “There has always been something a little obscene about the cult of the hustle, the treadmill of alienated insecurity that tells you that if you stop running for even an instant, you’ll be flung flat on your face—but the treadmill is familiar. The treadmill feels normal. And right now, when the world economy has jerked to a sudden, shuddering stop, most of us are desperate to feel normal.”


AP-immigration-trump-cf-170126_12x5_1600“World Relief on the White House’s Proposed Immigration Restrictions: ‘This Is Unacceptable'” – Some of you may know that, after a short stint working at a bookstore, I began my working career with World Relief, working with the Africa Regional Director for several years. I am aware that a lot of attention has been given to the topic of immigration in recent years with vastly different opinions on the topic. However, I do agree with President of World Relief, Scott Arbeiter, who writes: “World Relief is supportive of the administration’s efforts to manage and prevent the further spread of COVID-19, but urges the government to reconsider measures that contradict both public health advice and the principles on which the U.S. is formed.”


Gerhard Richter: <i>Birkenau</i> (installation view), 2014“The Master of Unknowing” – Two years ago, when Kelly and I traveled to London in celebration of our twentieth wedding anniversary, we meandered our way through many of the museums in the city. While visiting the Tate Modern, we stumbled into a room displaying the work of Gerhard Richter. I wasn’t familiar with Richter’s work, but it was stunning in person. I enjoyed reading more about Richter and his work in this feature by Susan Tallman in The New York Review of Books. One quotation from Richter just captured me: “It is my wish, to create a well-built, beautiful, constructive painting. And there are many moments when I plan to do just that, and then I realize that it looks terrible. Then I start to destroy it, piece by piece, and I arrive at something that I didn’t want but that looks pretty good.”


 

Music: Ludovico Einaudi, “Night,” from Elements

[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.]

What Happens When Christians Aren’t Afraid of Death?

image 6 - Amphitheatre of El Djem.jpg

Some of the most striking stories of the early church after the New Testament come from times of persecution by the Roman Empire. In North Africa, the church was strong, but suffered greatly.

In the early 3rd century in present day Tunisia, a noblewoman, Perpetua, who was a Christian, refused to take the oath of allegiance to the emperor. That oath implied not only allegiance to the emperor over any other loyalty, but also acknowledged him as a kind of god. Perpetua’s commitment to Jesus as Lord and God flew in the face of that oath, leading her to a radical decision, which came at the price of her life. She and her household servant, Felicitas, both of whom were committed followers of Jesus refused to take the oath. They ended up being thrown into prison and then cast in the gladiatorial ring with wild animals who quickly overcame them, tearing them to pieces. They chose that horrific fate rather than forsake their faith in Jesus Christ.

How could these women be so unafraid of death? When we largely seem motivated by avoidance of death and suffering, what was it that could set them free from the fear of death?

I don’t believe it was because death was less scary to them, or that they were so much more courageous than the average person. Instead, there was a greater reality, something that seemed even stronger in their eyes, which overpowered the all-consuming fear of death. That overpowering reality is Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So many of us live our lives afraid of pain and the finality that is death. Others of us scurry through life knowing we won’t get another chance, feeling the urgency of our days. We all live under a universal death-sentence where the question is not “if” we’re going to die, but “when” will we die. Death tries to keep us in its grip, apart from God’s best for us as human beings.

But it is not the end of the story.

The resurrection of Jesus tells us that the power of evil and the prison of sin have been overcome. Even more we are told that the sting of death has been destroyed by Jesus Christ at the Cross. Paul the Apostle, wrote about that in this way in a letter to an early church in the city of Corinth:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

The empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection tell us there is hope in the midst of death. We do not have to live in fear of death because Jesus could not be held back by death. It is not His Master, but rather He is the Master of all things.

Death is not the end of Jesus’ story. And, by faith in Jesus, death does not have to be the end of our story.

10 Reasons Holy Week Can Become More Powerful during the Time of the Virus

Rembrandt - The Three Crosses

Holy Week is the pinnacle of our Lenten journey, drawing us into the Passion of Jesus. This year, our Holy Week journey finds us simultaneously facing into one of the worst crises of our lives with the COVID-19 pandemic. This past weekend I reflected on the significance of this intersection of Holy Week and COVID-19, leading me to write these ten reasons our Holy Week journey can become more powerful during the time of the virus.

  1. Stripped – In this time, our activities and lives feel stripped of so much that seems normal. We can fight against this, or we can enter into it with an openness to what God may want to do with us during this time. I think of the physical reality that Jesus was stripped of His garments (Matthew 27:28) speaking to His complete yielding to the Father’s will. May we, too, enter into this Holy Week with humble openness to God. This is no passivity nor resignation, but the living trust in God as our Good Shepherd these days.
  2. Helplessness – During this time, we encounter our helplessness more clearly than ever before. We are put in touch with one of the central realities of the Lenten journey, which is that we are helpless in life apart from God.  We can more deeply cry out to God, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).
  3. We all will face death – Lent teaches us about the fragility of life, and the truth that we will all face death. Death is unavoidable for all human beings, even if we do believe that there is hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ journey to the Cross brings into sharp focus this great reality, while also reminding us that “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
  4. Consolation removed – Because of public health considerations, we face the removal of many of our normal consolations in life, such as friendships, meals with others, and many of the normal pleasures of life. In Holy Week, we see Jesus stepping beyond the consolations of human experience into the place of desolation. He loses His dignity, His clothing, His friendships, and eventually His life. As we let go of many of our own consolations, it reminds us of everything that Jesus lost during His Passion.
  5. Forsakenness – The ultimate desolation is Jesus’ forsakenness from the Father, and the isolation that results. Some of us  may feel abandoned in this time, even forsaken by God. Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the Cross shows us how great the sense of abandonment was between Jesus and the Father as He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In our own forsakenness and isolation we experience some measure of the weight of Jesus’ forsakenness for us.
  6. Suffering surrounds – In the news and in our lives, we are suddenly surrounded by human suffering. We cannot shelter ourselves from it, as some of us have had the luxury of doing in times past. When insulated from the suffering, we often wonder why Jesus’ suffering should be necessary. However, when we face suffering so clearly, we are put in touch with the reality of Jesus’ suffering on the way to the Cross. This makes us more aware of the cost of Jesus’ Passion in Holy Week.
  7. Mental anguish – When praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Luke tells us that Jesus experienced such anguish that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). As we wrestle with mental pressure and struggles with anxiety because of COVID-19, we are able to have some sense of the weight of the world pressing in upon Jesus during Holy Week.
  8. Tears for those in need – Because of the pandemic, we now see the suffering of others so clearly that it becomes heartbreaking to us. Often times our hearts are hardened to others, but this is softening us to the reality of human need. As Jesus looked at Jerusalem after the triumphal entry, He “saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Our tears meet with Jesus’ tears over those in need for humanity as we journey through this week.
  9. Hungry to belong – Our hunger for belonging is high in this time of physical distancing. We miss shaking hands or giving hugs. We miss having grandchildren sit on our laps to read a story or passing dishes around the table with friends. We want to experience relationship, and we can do that thanks to technology, but the barriers are high. This leads us into an encounter with our own needs and loneliness that we often try to avoid. We realize that underneath this is not just our longing for God, but also the God who longs for relationship with us. His longing is so high that He will suffer anything to bring reconciled relationship and belonging.
  10. Longing for hope – Our longing for hope – for life after this death – pulses like the beating of our hearts. We cannot wait for this to “be over,” so that we can return to “life as normal.” We all know that life will not be the same normal that we experienced before, but we still hope for it. How much more meaningful is the resurrection of Jesus Christ than in these days where the longing for hope rises up more sharply than ever before?

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 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.

114749“Pastor Turns Terrorist Hostage Video into Testimony” – “A hostage video released last week by Boko Haram did far more than issue another plea for rescue from a Nigerian Christian. It revealed a modern-day Shadrach. ‘By the grace of God, I will be together with my wife, my children, and my colleagues,’ said Lawan Andimi, a Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN) pastor in the troubled northeastern state of Adamawa. ‘[But] if the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God. Be patient, don’t cry, don’t worry. But thank God for everything.’ It is testimony even to his Islamist captors, said Gideon Para-Mallam, the Jos-based Africa ambassador for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.”

 

william-farlow-IevaZPwq0mw-unsplash-1000x667“Can Spirituality Exist Without God? A Growing Number Of Americans Say Yes” – “The global research firm YouGov lists ‘being more spiritual‘ as one of Americans’ top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2020, and the icon used to illustrate that aspiration is a person meditating — not praying. And more than a quarter of Americans now say they are spiritual, but not religious, according to Pew Research Center. What does it mean to be spiritual outside the confines of religion? For some, both exist side by side. For others, even those who consider themselves atheists or ‘nones,’ the concept of spirituality might feel critically important. They say it has to do with how we interact with others, with living more contemplatively, and with appreciating nature and the natural world.”

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 12.40.30 PM“How I learned to curb my tendency to work too much” – Mike Monroe: “The first clue that I was a workaholic was my worsening health. The number on the scale was getting bigger. I started getting aches and pains. But my health wasn’t the only sign. I was checking my work email in church. My friends stopped inviting me to things. I would hear about bachelor parties that not only was I not invited to but I hadn’t even known about. You know you’re a workaholic when you feel scorned, and you think the best way to get back at somebody is to work harder. But once you’re willing to admit that you may have a problem, defeating workaholism—like any ‘-ism’—is a process. Here are the lessons that I’ve learned in my journey to do just that.”

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 12.30.45 PM“Songs That Prepare Us for Death” – Mike Cosper: “Saturday, January 15, marked the six-year anniversary of the sinking of The Big Valley, a crab fishing vessel lost in the Bering Sea. Of the seven crew members aboard, only Cache Seel survived. Gary Edwards, Danny Vermeersch, Josias Luna, Carlos Rivera, and Aaron Marrs all died. The bodies of Aaron, Gary, and Josias were lost at sea. Faithful fans of Deadliest Catch may recognize the name of the boat, as its sinking was covered in season one. My connection is much more personal. Aaron Marrs was one of my closest friends….At the time of the boat’s sinking, I was working on a recording project called These Things I Remember. It was our church’s attempt to embrace the language and emotions of the Psalms, exploring themes like confession and lament that were often absent from the praise choruses with which we’d grown up. Aaron’s death gave the project a whole new sense of urgency.”

 

114574“States to Trump: We Want Refugees” – “Forty-one states and 86 local governments have filed letters with the federal government telling President Donald Trump and the administration they will continue accepting refugee resettlements in their jurisdictions, according to a list compiled by the Refugee Council USA. Trump signed an executive order in September requiring state and local governments to opt-in to refugee resettlement, an additional layer of bureaucracy that Christian ministries to refugees feared could make it harder to ‘welcome the stranger.’ The deadline was thought to be Christmas Day, but there has been a lot of confusion around that detail. Resettlement organizations, most of which are faith-based, have until January 21 to file the letters with the federal government. In the meantime, Church World Service; Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; and HIAS (a Jewish-American nonprofit group) are taking the Trump administration to court to stop the executive order.”

 

Christopher Tolkien“JRR Tolkien’s son Christopher dies aged 95” – “Christopher Tolkien, the son of Lord Of The Rings author JRR Tolkien, has died aged 95, the Tolkien Society has announced. The society, which promotes the life and works of the celebrated writer, released a short statement on Twitter to confirm the news. The statement said: ‘Christopher Tolkien has died at the age of 95. The Tolkien Society sends its deepest condolences to Baillie, Simon, Adam, Rachel and the whole Tolkien family.’ Tolkien, who was born in Leeds in 1924, was the third and youngest son of the revered fantasy author and his wife Edith. He grew up listening to his father’s tales of Bilbo Baggins, which later became the children’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit.”

 

Music: The War on Drugs, “Pain,” from A Deeper Understanding

[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.]