This past Monday night for our quarterly Leadership Community gathering at Eastbrook Church, I led us in an interactive seminar on learning to pray with the psalms. A few people asked if I could upload the slide deck from the night, so I’m including that as a PDF here.
“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.
“The Cosmos Is More Crowded Than You Think” – Tish Harrison Warren in Christianity Today: “For close to 15 years, I forgot about the existence of angels. I didn’t exactly decide I no longer believed in them. I simply didn’t think about them, and if I ever did, it was a passing thought about how corny the depiction of angels usually is. I rediscovered angels by putting a baby to sleep at night. When my first child was a newborn, I realized one night, to my surprise, that without really noticing I had developed a habit of asking God to send his angels to protect her. Back then I worked at Vanderbilt University and became a regular at a Greek Orthodox cafe and bookstore near campus. I loved its quiet beauty, its ancient books, and its veggie chili. I got to know Father Parthenios, an Antiochian priest, and his wife (known to all as simply ‘Presbytera,’ or ‘priest’s wife’), who ran the place together. One afternoon, late in my pregnancy, Presbytera handed me an icon of an angel and told me it was for the new baby. I appreciated her kindness but wasn’t particularly spiritually moved. I’m a Protestant, after all. At the time I felt no particular skepticism toward icons or angels, but I didn’t feel a deep connection either. Still, I hung the tiny wooden icon on my daughter’s wall.”
“Christmas Celebrates a Historical Event, Americans Say” – Aaron Earles at LIfeway Research: “Christmas is a celebration of a real event, according to most Americans. Just don’t expect them to know exactly why Jesus was born and came to earth. A new study from Lifeway Research finds close to 3 in 4 Americans believe Jesus was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. Even more say Jesus is the son of God the Father, but less than half believe Jesus existed prior to being born on that first Christmas. ‘Most Americans consider Jesus’ birth a historical fact,’ said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. ‘It can be easy to only evaluate Jesus like you would any other historical figure—thinking about when He lived and what He did. However, the Bible also describes Jesus in a way that one must evaluate who you believe He was. Most Americans believe His origin was from God the Father, but half as many believe He existed before His birth.'”
“Christianity Today’s 2022 Book Awards” – Compiled by Matt Reynolds at Christianity Today: “As a books editor for a Christian magazine, I think I’m contractually obligated, every so often, to mention that verse from Ecclesiastes about there being no end to the making of books (12:12). (Though I can’t help wondering whether an updated version might instead remark on the relentless production of podcasts, that contemporary magnet for ‘everyone and their cousin’ barbs.) The ‘making of books’ verse carries the same world-weary tone that pervades much of Ecclesiastes. And we have to admit some truth here. Consider the investment of mind, body, and soul involved in writing books few may read or remember, and ask yourself: Why do so many people, across so many eras and cultures, willingly empty themselves in this way? Even so, you’ll never catch Christianity Today pronouncing ‘Vanity of vanities’ upon the whole book-making enterprise. Recall that God himself speaks to us through a book—as does the author of Ecclesiastes. Sometimes, you can’t tell the truth about the world with anything less.”
“Bonhoeffer on Holy Weakness and the Victory of the Suffering God” – Chris E. W. Green in The Intersection Journal: “One Sunday evening in the late Spring or early Summer of 1934 Dietrich Bonhoeffer delivered a sermon to St John’s German Evangelical Reformed Church in London, one of two small Lutheran congregations he pastored at the time. He spoke in English because many of his younger parishioners were not fluent in German, and he took as his text one of the most familiar passages in the New Testament: ‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me’ (2 Cor. 12:9). Bonhoeffer’s sermon began with what could easily have been taken as an unnecessarily philosophical question: ‘What is the meaning of weakness in this world?’ But if anyone considered the question too academic, Bonhoeffer quickly broke the illusion, insisting that ‘our whole attitude toward life, toward humanity and God depends on the answer to this problem.'”
“The Hidden Costs of Prenatal Screening” – Sarah C. Williams in Plough: “The ultrasound technician put her hand on my arm and said the words every expectant mother hopes she will never hear: ‘I’m afraid there is something wrong with the baby.’ Within an hour it was clear that a skeletal dysplasia would claim my daughter’s life either at birth or shortly after. It was also clear that everyone expected me to have a termination. Hardly anyone in Western culture disputes the wisdom of prenatal screening. It is a practice that most of us take for granted. But what are the long-term effects? As a social practice, prenatal screening is framed as morally neutral. Scans are voluntary. It is the informed and consenting parents who decide how to act on the basis of the information they receive. At twenty weeks there were only two things I knew about my daughter, both of them scientifically derived facts: her physical abnormality and her biological sex. These facts were discovered simultaneously in a routine scan in which only two questions were asked as if they were of primary importance: Does this child have a healthy body, and is this child male or female?”
“A World Ablaze, Caught by AP Photographers in 2021″ – The Associated Press: “‘Some say the world will end in fire,’ wrote the poet Robert Frost — and for much of 2021, Associated Press photographers captured scenes of a world ablaze, amid rumblings of ruin. In New Delhi, a man sprints amid the funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims — too many fires, too much heat, too many victims. On a beach near the village of Limni, Greece, the horizon is lit by the flames of wildfires raging across the eastern Mediterranean. And at La Palma in the Canary Islands, the inferno is in the Cumbre Vieja volcano. But more than 10,000 million cubic meters of ash turn the world into a negative, with black ash taking the place of white snow. Not all of the combustion is so literal.”
“In tornado’s wake, a church and pastor turn to God, service” – Holly Meyer in The Associate Press: “After riding out the violent tornado that devastated their town in a tunnel under their church, the Rev. Wes Fowler and his family emerged to devastation stretching for blocks: Crackling power lines, piles of rubble and calls for help they couldn’t pinpoint in the darkness. Later, safe back at home, his daughter had a question that left him stumped: ‘My little girl asked me, “Why would God let this happen?”‘ said Fowler, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Mayfield. While he believes God did allow the tornado to happen, he had no answer as to why the western Kentucky community where he was baptized, grew up and chose to raise his family wasn’t spared from the Friday night storms that left dozens dead and communities reeling across at least five states. But he felt he knew what to do next: glorify God amid the suffering, and serve those in need.”
This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our new series entitled “The Messiah’s Mission,” based in Matthew 8-12. This weekend I explored Matthew 8:18-22, where Jesus encounters two would-be disciples and rebuffs their apparent commitment to Him. These two case studies reveal a lot about what discipleship is all about. In some ways this message echoes an earlier message, “Real Response,” from the end of our series, “Becoming Real,” on the Sermon on the Mount.
You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.
“But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me.’” (Matthew 8:22)
Discipleship Practice: Drawing Away with Jesus (8:18)
The distinction between disciples and the crowd
Disciples draw away from the crowd
Disciples draw close to Jesus
Discipleship Case Study #1: Reorienting Stability (8:19-20)
What is stability?
Where do we find it?
Reorienting stability in Jesus
Discipleship Case Study #2: Reorienting Societal Norms (Matthew 8:21-22)
What is normal?
Who gets to define it?
Reorienting societal norms in Jesus
Entering the Disciple Life
Hearing Jesus’ call again: reading Scripture
Choosing Jesus: Baptism
Following Jesus: Daily Obedience
This week dig deeper into Jesus’ teaching on our response to Him in one or more of the following ways:
Depending on which one captures you more, consider memorizing Matthew 8:19-20 or 8:21-22 this week.
Set aside some time this week to pray about this week’s passage. Ask the Lord if there is anything that stands in the way of your absolute following of Him? Journal about this or talk with a friend and pray about it.
Read several passages where Jesus calls disciples. As you do, identify different aspects of Jesus’ call and people’s response (or lack of response): Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11; John 1:35-51; Matthew 8:18-22; Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 10:17-27; Luke 14:25-35.
When I conclude a sermon series, I usually share resources I utilized in my study and preparation for sermons. Here is the bibliography for our recent series, “Becoming Real,” which is the third part of an extended walk through the Gospel of Matthew, focusing on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7.
Bibliography for “Becoming Real: The Sermon on the Mount” [Gospel of Matthew, part 3]
Manlio Simonetti, editor. Matthew 1-13. ACCS. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001.
G. N. Stanton. ”Sermon on the Mount/Plain.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, 735-744. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.
It’s no secret that one of my favorite theologians of all time is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His book Life Together is, in my opinion, the best book written on the nature of true community in the church. It is a must-read for many reasons, but one of the most important is the way that Bonhoeffer directly deals with something all of us face with the church: disillusionment. If you have not experienced disillusionment at some point in your involvement with the church, then you probably have not been that involved. At a time when people struggled with living their faith individually and together, when the church was rent apart by conflicting allegiances and hypocrisy, Bonhoeffer stepped forward to train young pastors to serve Christ’s church.
Here are 5 must-read statements on the Church by Bonhoeffer from Life Together. I hope you find them as challenging and encouraging as I have over the years:
“Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.” [26-27]
“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” 
“Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.” 
“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is not great experience, not discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” 
“A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men….Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren.” [29-30]