The Weekend Wanderer: 7 May 2022

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 these articles but have found them thought-provoking.


128209“As Pastoral Credibility Erodes, How Can We Respond?” – Glenn Packiam in Christianity Today: “Pastors do not hold the place of community esteem they once did. According to Barna’s State of Pastors report (2017), only about one in five Americans thinks of a pastor as very influential in their community, and about one in four doesn’t think they’re very influential or influential at all. The truth is, influential or not, many Americans don’t want to hear what pastors have to say. In 2016, Barna found that only 21 percent of Americans consider pastors to be ‘very credible’ on the ‘important issues of our day.’ Even among those Barna defined as evangelicals, the number only rises to slightly over half. Think about it: Nearly half of American evangelicals don’t see their pastors as being an authoritative voice for navigating current affairs. In a new study Barna and I did in 2020 for my book The Resilient Pastor, we learned that the picture might be getting worse. Only 23 percent of Americans said they ‘definitely’ see a pastor as a ‘trustworthy source of wisdom.’ Even among Christians, that number only rises to a mere 31 percent. Less than a third of Christians said they ‘definitely’ consider a pastor a ‘trustworthy source of wisdom.’ As you might expect, a mere 4 percent of non-Christians think of pastors in this way. That’s a pretty bleak picture.”


Supreme Court view“Overturning Roe v. Wade inches us back toward the arc of justice” – Karen Swallow Prior at Religion New Service: “Everywhere I look today — social media, news outlets, my email — people are discussing the SCOTUS leak. As a pro-life activist my whole adult life, I never thought I’d live to see the end of Roe v. Wade, if that’s what this is. Yet for me and others who recognize children in the womb as human persons whose lives are deserving of legal protection, overturning Roe doesn’t go far enough. The end of Roe will not bring back the millions of lives lost, heal the women and men and families harmed, or repair the damage done to our nation and our political life. But it is a step in the right direction. I really didn’t expect to see Roe overturned in my lifetime, but I always hoped. I know we can do better than abortion for women and children — and if Roe is overturned, we will have more than ever both the opportunity and the obligation to do so. Roe v. Wade forced abortion on the nation by inventing a ‘right’ to abortion on demand that was novel, unprecedented and unfounded on any common understanding of human life and human dignity. The most bizarre mental and linguistic gymnastics developed around this newly constructed constitutional right in order to justify, rationalize and shield ourselves from the obvious fact that abortion unjustly ends the life of a human being.”


candlelight“The Perpetual Flame of Devotion: How can we learn to pray in a way that pleases God? And what stands in the way?” – Richard Foster in Plough Quarterly: “By means of prayer we are learning to burn the perpetual flame of devotion on the altar of God’s love. I say “learning” because there is nothing automatic or instantaneous about this way of praying. Now, three great movements characterize Christian prayer. Each is distinct from the others but overlaps and interacts with the others. The first movement in prayer involves our will in interaction and struggle with God’s will. We ask for what we need – or what we want. Often what we want exceeds what we need, and our wants can be easily influenced by ego and greed. Most certainly, a substantial part of our inner struggle in this movement involves our own human rebellion and self-centeredness. But not always. Think of Abraham struggling to offer up Isaac. Or think of Job struggling to relinquish all human attachments. Or think of Paul struggling with a “thorn in the flesh” and learning that God’s grace is sufficient for him and that God’s power is made perfect in weakness….In time, we come into a second movement in prayer: the release of our will and a flowing into the will of the Father. Here we are learning to walk with God day by day. We are learning the contours of God’s character. And we are learning simple love for Jesus. Finally, we find ourselves entering into the third movement, what the great ones in the way of Christ have called “union with God” and the bringing of the will of the Father upon the face of the earth. Here we learn not only to love God, but also to love God’s ways.”


A Jacobs - not a server“You Are Not a Server: Nor are you finalizable” – Alan Jacobs in The Hedgehog Review: “That human beings understand themselves in terms of their dominant technologies has become a commonplace. Indeed, one could say that it was already a commonplace roughly 2,500 years ago, when the Psalmist wrote,

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.

So it is natural and indeed inevitable that we today think of our brains as computers, even though that is an inaccurate and woefully inadequate model. But I would like to suggest that, because there are many kinds of computers that perform widely varied functions, we should be more specific. I believe that we have been trained by social media to use our brains as servers—as machines designed to receive requests and respond to them according to strict instructions.”


D27017 Alexis and Prof. Watt 3-31-22“Afghan refugees start a new journey at UWM” – We’re glad to be connected to this. Kathy Quirk in UWM Report: “As they waited in their bus at the airport in Kabul last August, Samira and her friends kept watch out the windows in case someone might be approaching the bus with a bomb. That was just one moment in a long, harrowing journey from Afghanistan to Milwaukee for a group of young women now enrolled in UW-Milwaukee’s Intensive English Program. (Because of the risk of retribution against family members who remain in Afghanistan, this story is using only their first names and photos that don’t show their faces.) The young women, mostly ages 18-23, are part of a group of 147 students from the Asian University for Women (AUW) who fled Afghanistan together. Following a stay at Fort McCoy, a group of eight started class at UWM in January. Samira, the ninth young woman, is the sister of one of the UWM students. She is taking classes remotely at Arizona State University, but is thinking of doing graduate work at UWM. The younger students hope to stay and continue their undergraduate work at the university in the fall.”


Francis and Kirill“Pope Francis warns pro-war Russian patriarch not to be ‘Putin’s altar boy'” – Delia Gallagher at CNN: “Pope Francis warned the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, not to become “Putin’s altar boy,” he said in an interview this week. In his strongest words to date against the pro-war Patriarch, Francis also slammed Kirill for endorsing Russia’s stated reasons for invading Ukraine. ‘I spoke to him for 40 minutes via Zoom,’ the Pope told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published Tuesday. ‘The first 20 minutes he read to me, with a card in hand, all the justifications for war. I listened and told him: I don’t understand anything about this,” said the Pope. ‘Brother, we are not clerics of state, we cannot use the language of politics but that of Jesus. The Patriarch cannot transform himself into Putin’s altar boy,’ the Pope said. Francis said the conference call with Kirill took place on March 16, and that both he and the Patriarch had agreed to postpone a planned meeting on June 14 in Jerusalem.”


03.27-2-Men-Fishing“The New Testament Picture of Discipleship” – Dallas Willard at Renovare: “Evangelicalism always looks to the Bible as the point of reference from which concepts are defined, practices legitimated, and principles adopted. So we must ask what can be made of discipleship and of the disciple of Jesus as seen in the life of the New Testament. Indeed, as it turns out, the New Testament ​disciple’ is by no means a peculiarly ​’Christian’ innovation. The disciple is one aspect of the progressive and massive decentralization of Judaism that began with the destruction of the first Temple (588 BC) and the Babylonian exile, and proceeds through the dispersal of the Jewish people among the nations that followed the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. During this period the synagogue emerges as the center of the local Jewish communities, devotion to the Torah becomes the focus of the synagogue, and the rabbi or ​’great one’ stood forth in the role of interpreter of Torah: ‘By degrees, attachment to the law sank deeper and deeper into the national character…. Hence the law became a deep and intricate study. Certain men rose to acknowledged eminence for their ingenuity in explaining, their readiness in applying, their facility in quoting, and their clearness in offering solutions of, the difficult passages of the written statutes.’ The rabbi with his coterie of special students was a familiar feature of Jewish religious practice by the time of Jesus.”


Music: Sandra McCracken, “We Will Feast,” from Steadfast (Live).

Leaving the Crowd to Follow Jesus

“When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” Matthew 8:18

One of the recurring themes in the Gospel of Matthew is the distinction between the disciples and the crowd. The Sermon on the Mount occurs when Jesus sees the crowd, retreats from them to the hillside, and teaches His disciples there (Matthew 5:1-2). It is not that Jesus does not like the crowd. The crowd is important to Jesus. They are those who gather around for healing or to watch what Jesus is doing or to consider His teaching. But Jesus always invites people to move from the crowd to become disciples.

Disciples are those who have chosen to follow Jesus. They want to enter into the good life of God’s kingdom under the leadership and teaching of Jesus as their rabbi and teacher. Disciples are those who draw away from the crowd. They do not settle for simply going with the flow of those around them or for being a fan of Jesus.

Discipleship demands a decision to leave the crowd and draw close to Jesus. Disciples must make a choice to follow Jesus, not just watch from a distance. Disciples order their lives around Jesus and prioritize listening to and learning from Him.

Sometimes when we talk about following Jesus, we become confused by language that is used within social media. If you’re on Twitter or Snapchat or Tik Tok or Instagram or Facebook or any other social media you may have “followers” or something like that. Followers in the social media setting refers to people who want to read or see what you’re talking about or perhaps just want to add you to their follower list so that you will follow them back. While they may pay attention to what you say on your feed or story, most of the time the threshold to become a follower is pretty low. Click a button and become a follower.

But when Jesus talks about people following Him, He isn’t looking for more followers that are merely fans. Instead, Jesus invites us to draw away from the crowd in order to draw near to Him. The threshold is low for becoming a fan, but the threshold is high for becoming Jesus’ follower. Jesus wants us to forsake everything for Him. He wants us to learn what it means to be truly human by reordering our entire existence around Him and His teaching.

Dallas Willard on “What a Disciple Is”

Dallas Willard is without a doubt one of the most important thinkers and writers of recent time on the Sermon on the Mount and the nature of discipleship. When working on my most recent message, “Real Response: receiving the invitation of Jesus,” as well as the entire series, “Becoming Real: The Sermon on the Mount,” Willard’s writing was incredibly helpful.

His book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God is in my top ten books of all time on the Christian life. The following excerpt from that book is taken from chapter 8, “On Being a Disciple, or Student, of Jesus.”

Here, Willard summarizes what a disciple is.

Following up on what has already been said, then, a disciple, or apprentice, is simply someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is.

How does this apply to discipleship to Jesus? What is it, exactly, that he, the incarnate Lord, does? What, if you wish, is he “good at”? The answer is found in the Gospels: he lives in the kingdom of God, and he applies that kingdom for the good of others and even makes it possible for them to enter it for themselves. The deeper theological truths about his person and his work do not detract from this simple point. It is what he calls us to be saying, “Follow me.”

The description Peter gives in the first “official” presentation of the Gospel to the gentiles provides a sharp picture of the Master under whom we serve as apprentices. “You know,” he says to Cornelius, “of Jesus, the one from Nazareth. And you know how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and curing all those under oppression by the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

And as a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea. That means, we recall, how I live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another important way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I. I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that he did all that he did.

My main role in life, for example, is that of a professor in what is called a “research” university. As Jesus’ apprentice, then, I constantly have before me the question of how he would deal with students and colleagues in the specific connections involved in such a role. How would he design a course, and why? How would he compose a test, administer it, and grade it? What would his research projects be, and why? How would he teach this course or that?

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1998), 282-283.

How Spiritual Growth Happens

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This past weekend, in my message “A Crash Course in Christlike Living,” I explored Ephesians 4:17-5:20. One part of my message that I had to drop because of time was a discussion of how spiritual growth toward Christlike living occurs.

Many times, when we want to become more like Christ, we simply read the Bible and then work up our gumption – our own effort – so that we try to live like Jesus. Much of Christian spiritual transformation aims at curbing sin and working hard at doing what Jesus would do. Now, God uses that, but oftentimes that approach to spiritual transformation leads more toward frustration with ourselves than Christlike living.

Christlike living flows from a different sort of place. In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard talks about three necessary elements for spiritual growth to happen. They are: Vision – Intention – Means.

Vision is what we need to have clear understanding, particularly about Christ and His kingdom. A key question about vision is: do we have a vision for the will of God in our lives?

Intention relates to the values we must commit to for growth to happen. A key question about intention is: do we really want to live according to the will of God?

Means are the ways or practices that foster transformation. A key question about means is: what specific means, or practices, do we need to engage with in order for spiritual transformation occur?

Willard’s framework is helpful because it brings clarity on how different elements fit together so that, under God we might grow toward Christlikeness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So as we turn to a section of Ephesians that is all about the practicalities of Christlike living, we need to understand that Paul is putting a vision for Christlike living in front of us, and calling believers toward intentional living toward that, while also suggesting specific means – or practices – that help us move in that direction.

While it is all grace, from start to finish, there is a calling toward not stopping up the flow of God’s grace in our lives, but opening the channels of our lives to His transforming grace. Christlike living flows from Christ-bought salvation.  It is birthed from grace, requires intentional activity, and is fueled by the Holy Spirit.

Live in Peace

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Have you ever felt worried, distressed, or anxious?

Yes, I know that might seem like a ridiculous question. In one way or another, we have all experienced worry, distress, or anxiety. These real experiences of our lives are the sort of things we encounter throughout the Scripture. In fact, the writer of Psalm 4 expresses thoughts we all likely relate to:

Answer me when I call to You, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1)

Where do you turn to find peace in these times? Often, we turn to friends or family for support, or look to distractions like television or reading a book. In themselves, none of these things are bad. However, within Psalm 4, we are directed in another way. The psalmist instructs us in the way we should turn in our distress.

God’s Strong Presence
First of all, the psalmist shows us to whom we should turn. “Of course,” you might say, “you are going to say that I should turn to God.” Yes, that is true, but it is not enough of the truth in this case. The psalmist says Read More »