7 Things We Can Do As Christians in Times Like This

The past week has been one of the most chaotic for our nation in recent memory. The scenes in the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, were a striking contrast with the celebration of Epiphany for which that day is set aside on the church calendar. Epiphany literally means ‘appearing’ or ‘manifestation.’ The celebration offers an important opportunity to thank God for the light we have received through Jesus Christ and the significance of His saving work, not just for one people group, but people from around the globe. We also reflect on how our ordinary lives are impacted by the light found in Jesus Christ, both His teaching and His life.

But Epiphany 2021 was a manifestation of a different sort, leaving all of us with various forms of pain, confusion, stress, and concern about what will come next. Divisiveness, violence, and misuse of power worked to derail governmental processes in a way that was shocking and unacceptable. Where do we go from here? Let me suggest seven specific ways as the minimum for how we can respond to these events as Christians.

  1. Bring our thoughts and feelings to God – One of the most difficult things to do in this present moment is to bring our thoughts and feelings to God. We are more than ready to bring them to social media, to our friends through texts, or family members through phone calls, but are we willing to first and foremost meet with God about our concerns? The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). As we release our concerns, pain, and confusion to God in this situation, we are better able to engage with ourselves, others, and the world at large.
  2. Intercede for those with authority – After offering our own needs to God, we should next step forward in prayer by interceding for our nation, specifically for those with authority. As believers, we know that God works through prayer (James 5:16) and that we are called to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We know that our nation faces many challenges that are not only difficult to overcome but may seem insurmountable. We know and feel that there is tension and confusion in our government. We know there is a great need for people to turn back to God and His ways at numerous levels. Because of these things, we should pray that our nation will be awakened with a need for God, that true repentance and humility would arrive, that safety and peace will reign, and that regardless of their political party all political leaders will be guided by God for the common good.
  3. Cultivate peace and condemn violence – Jesus our Messiah is known as the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). Where discord existed between God and humanity, as well as humans one to another, Jesus destroyed division by Himself becoming our peace (Ephesians 2:14-15). Because this is the way of Jesus, we as His followers must also be people of peace. We must let Christ’s peace rule in us because we are called to peace (Colossians 3:15). We live in peace through love, turning aside from all that is contrary to peace and love, including hatred, dissension, and violence. Our response is not to become more violent in response to violence, but to move forward as agents of reconciliation for the goal of God’s true peace through love in Jesus Christ.
  4. Hold to truth and reject falsehood – We have lived in a post-truth era for quite some time, but the fruits of that reality are taking hold at every level. Christians are people of the truth because our Savior came from the Father “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Disciples of Jesus must live in the truth about ourselves and reality, setting aside deception and half-truths as inconsistent with our God. We must discern falsehood no matter where it arises and name it as such so that we and others are not deceived. This requires us to be filled to overflowing with the truth of Scripture. If we meditate on talk radio, news websites (regardless of the source), or false narratives more than we meditate on God’s Word then we are sure to lose our way. If we want to flourish, then the word of God must be our constant meditation (Psalm 1:1-3). As followers of Jesus we must live in truth and name falsehood for what it is.
  5. Maintain perspective– Without downplaying the good or bad realities around us, we must also maintain perspective on our present moment. The prophet Daniel shows us how to do this. After being ripped from his homeland and launched into exile, Daniel witnessed many kings and kingdoms rise and fall over the course of his life. God gave Daniel a vision of more changes still to come in the future after his days were complete. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must maintain clear perspective that our hopes are not tied to a candidate, policy, country, or kingdom. All of these will come and go. There is only one “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).
  6. Remain hopeful – One of the most important Christians virtues is hope. Believers in Jesus Christ are people of hope fundamentally because of the reality of the resurrection. Death, sin, and evil are not the end and will not have the final say in our lives or in history. Jesus is King and His Kingdom is close at hand (Mark 1:14-15). We are filled with the Holy Spirit, who seals us as Christ’s own speaks of our future inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14), and graced with the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). It was because of the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness that even amidst the ruin of the exile the writer of Lamentations could write: “this I call to mind and therefore I have hope” (Lamentations 3:20-26). Regardless of the present moment, there is always hope in Christ.
  7. Seek the glory of Christ above all things – We can all sometimes lose our perspective on what matters most. No matter how important specific issues are to us, no issue, political party, or election should become more important to us than the glory of Christ. Without being simplistic about it, Christians must seek the glory of Jesus Christ above all things. If we understand what Daniel shows us, that kingdoms will rise and fall, then we will begin to understand that our overriding goal as the people of God is bringing glory of Christ. We do that in word and deed. We do that by proclaiming and embodying the love of Jesus Christ in the city and in the world. More than our side “winning” or making strides forward on a particular issue in our national politics, we must be motivated by our desire for people to truly seeing and knowing Jesus through us. It is only in Christ that all things are held together (Colossians 1:17).

The Weekend Wanderer: 3 October 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.


Spirituality Fetzer Institute“What Does Spirituality Mean to Us?: A study of spirituality in the United States” – A phrase I heard a lot from people when I was doing college ministry in the early 2000s was this, “I’m spiritual but not interested in religion.” That, or similar phrases like, “I like Jesus but not Christianity,” eventually became pretty common to encounter in ensuing years. But what does it mean to be spiritual or to have a spirituality? A recent study by the Fetzer Institute seeks to provide some answers to common answers to those questions within the United States. You can read a summary of the study’s aims here or explore their results here.


2020 presidential debate“Complaints on Trump’s debate performance highlight generational divide among white evangelicals” – It was difficult to miss conversation about last Tuesday’s presidential debate, even if you wanted to miss it. Proclaimed by some news outlets as the worst presidential debate in US history, the debate did little to reveal much substantive policy information from either candidate. However, responses to the debate did reveal some things, such as, according to this article, widely disparate perspectives by Christian viewers, particularly evangelicals, along generational lines.


Burkina Faso milita“Should Christians Join Burkina Faso’s Militias Against Terrorism?” – Just when you think navigating our political problems in the USA as Christians are more significant than anything, it is good at times to look at the challenges facing believers in other parts of the world. West Africa has struggled with stability for some time, but with Mali’s recent coup, Christians in Burkina Faso are considering a strange question.


leaderhip-community-ads_app-wide“The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life” – We had the amazing opportunity to host Dr. Vince Bacote of Wheaton College and the Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE) this past week at Eastbrook Church with a lecture on “The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life.” Along with his lecture, Vince graciously agreed to a follow-up Q&A with me afterwards. All of this fit within the framework of our current series on the kingdom of God. If you couldn’t be there, you can view the video for the event here.


Eritrea prisoner“Conditional release of 27 Christian prisoners” – “Christian Solidarity Worldwide has confirmed that 27 Eritrean Christians were released from Mai Serwa Prison near Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, on 4 and 8 September, possibly in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic….Tens of thousands of Eritreans are currently held without charge or trial in life threatening conditions in more than 300 sites across the country. Among those incarcerated are prisoners of conscience, some of whom have been detained for well over a decade on account of their political views or religious beliefs.


book open“Why Christians Should Care About the Novel’s Decline” – The other day, Kelly and I were trying out a few novels for upcoming read-alouds during the oncoming dark nights of autumn and winter. And then, as if on cue, Karen Swallow Prior’s review of Joseph Bottum’s recent book, The Decline of the Novel, appeared:  “For most of my life, I’ve taken my love of novels for granted. I’ve taken for granted that such a love needed no explanation or justification. But the more I’ve written in recent years about the pleasures and gifts of reading literary fiction—particularly writing about these topics in Christian spaces—the more I’ve come to see that many Christians, viewing fiction as frivolous entertainment, don’t realize the role of the novel in forming the modern world and, therefore, our sense of ourselves.”


Music: Daniel Lanois, “The Maker,” from Acadie.

[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 Weekend Wanderer: 23 May 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.


May20_20_AlwaysOn-1200x675“How to Cope with That ‘Always-On’ Feeling” – Many of us trying to navigate the already existing pressures of constant availability find those pressures increasing beyond our capacity in the current moment of the pandemic. “So, what are we to do? While we’re all experiencing greater job and family stress in this new normal, our recent research has found there are steps that employees can take to protect their well-being.” This article from The Harvard Business Review offers three suggestions for ways that employees can navigate this and take care of themselves.


President Trump

“Trump deems houses of worship ‘essential’ amid coronavirus pandemic” – One of the hottest debates is whether churches and other houses of worship are “essential” during the pandemic and now the President has weighed in. At the present moment, this has been left to governors to decide or, based on some states, local municipalities. Where I live in the city of Milwaukee, churches are still limited within guidelines for gatherings of 10 or less for the time being.


unity“Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You” – Given the heat that can be generated by the last discussion, let me encourage you to read this article by Brett McCracken. “For church leaders and elder boards everywhere, the last few months have presented a near-constant array of complex challenges related to shepherding a church during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest complex challenge is perhaps the trickiest yet: how to prudently resume in-person gatherings….n such a precarious and polarizing environment, how can churches move forward in beautiful unity (Ps. 133) rather than ugly division? It won’t be easy. But by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working to unify us in ways our flesh resists, the opportunity is there for us to be a countercultural model for the rest of the world.”


Ravi Zacharias“In Memoriam: Ravi Zacharias” – While many of you may already have heard, Ravi Zacharias passed away on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, after battling with cancer. I first encountered Zacharias’ work while at Wheaton College as an undergrad, both through his writing and his speaking. One of my mentors, Lyle Dorsett, assigned Zacharias’ books in classes on the ministry of evangelism. His books, particularly Jesus Among Other Gods, was pivotal in helping me frame my understanding of how the Christian faith made sense in relation to other faiths. A notable apologist for Christianity, Ravi spoke with intellectual clarity and pastoral concern within his ministry. There will be a global livestream memorial service to honor his life on YouTube and on Facebook on May 29 at 10 AM (CST).


Francis Collins Templeton Prize“NIH Director Francis Collins Wins $1.3M Templeton Prize” – In early April, I referenced the work of Francis Collins as a Christian scientist and the director of the National Institutes of Health. Just this past week Collins was awarded a $1.3M Templeton Prize with this description of his work: “In his scientific leadership, public speaking, and popular writing, including his bestselling 2006 book, The Language of God, Collins has demonstrated how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research. He endeavors to encourage religious communities to embrace the latest discoveries of genetics and the biomedical sciences as insights to enrich and enlarge their faith.


Acedia Evagrius Ponticus“The Noonday Demon in Our Distracted Age” – A few years back I read Kathleen Norris’s book Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life based on a recommendation within another book I was reading. I confess I had no idea what “acedia” was but I really enjoyed the book and connected deeply with the thrust of the book. Then J. L. Aijian wrote this article based on the work of Evagrius Ponticus from the 4th century on the same topic and it caught my attention. He wrote: “The spirit of acedia drives the monk out of his cell, but the monk who possesses perseverance will ever cultivate stillness. A person afflicted with acedia proposes visiting the sick, but is fulfilling his own purpose. A monk given to acedia is quick to undertake a service, but considers his own satisfaction to be a precept.”


Wisconsin fall“Wisconsin: Images of the Badger State” – Every once in awhile it’s good to see the familiar through someone else’s eyes. While originally from the Mississippi River valley in Illinois, I have lived in Wisconsin since 2003. Here is a stunning and fun series of photos in The Atlantic from Wisconsin, offering a view into the unique culture and beautiful geography of a state I have come to love.


Music: Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come,” from Ain’t That Good News

[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 Weekend Wanderer: 1 February 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.

 

Screen-Shot-2020-01-22-at-10.49.12-PM“A Time for Reckoning: Facing Truth on the Path to Unity”Vince Bacote, a friend and Associate Professor of Theology and the Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College, relates his journey with the theological failure of evangelicalism on issues of race. He also offers recommendations for the way forward in this present moment. “To truly move forward on the challenge of race requires a reckoning with the theological failures that impede Christian unity and which are part of the reason for not only a movement like the Nation of Islam but also the existence of what we call ‘the black church.’ A reckoning of any kind takes a strong dose of courage. The reckoning in this case means a willingness to truly look at elements that are key to a church that struggles to truly provide a foretaste of the vision in Revelation 7:9.” This is an important article in so many ways, so let me strongly encourage you to read it.

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-30 at 8.19.45 AM“Jesus Is a Jew” – New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, reflects in Comment about the Jewishness of Jesus and what that means for Jews, Christians, and the world. While this may not seem like a novel topic, Brooks approaches it in his own insightful manner. If you’re unfamiliar with Brooks’ own spiritual journey toward Jesus, I would highly encourage you to explore his most recent books, The Road to Character and The Second Mountain. You may also enjoy an extended conversation Brooks had last year with Alan Jacobs, author and Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University.

 

Nuns WW2“Coming to Jesus” – In what is definitely a different variation on Brooks’ theme, here is Harold Braswell’s essay on the encounter with research on the hospice care of nuns, a deeply personal family memory, Jesus, and a richer Jewish faith. “Yet, two decades later, while writing my dissertation, I found myself meditating on the dying body of Christ. It was something that I had learned about over the course of my research. And, while I still didn’t ‘believe in’ Jesus, and considered myself very much to be a Jew, the practice was helping me to work through the meaning of a series of recent events that had destabilized my most fundamental sense of who I was and what I wanted to become.” Hold on for an interesting read.

 

Vision for Peace“13 Christian Takes on Trump’s Peace Plan for Israel and Palestine” – Speaking of Jesus, what it means to be Jewish, and the Holy Land, this past week, President Trump rolled out his much-anticipated peace plan for Israel and Palestine, unveiling both the pathway toward that and an actual suggested map of these new states should the pathway be reached. Christianity Today offers a very clear overview of the peace plan, with responses from Christians of various backgrounds to the specifics of the plan. I believe it is vital to hear some of these differing perspectives as we have brothers and sisters in Christ within both groups.

 

city“Man and Metropolis” – John Wilson, beloved former editor of the now defunct Books & Culture, and renowned writer about all things books, turns his attention to the topic of cities and books about cities and urbanism. “This has set me to thinking about city writing more generally, and the way in which some of the vexations of the genre present certain recurring temptations that many writers have failed to resist.” If you think about city life, the new urbanism, and the challenges of themes within such works, you may enjoy Wilson’s insights and recommendations.

 

Anker_Grossvater_erzählt_eine_Geschichte_1884-1“Rediscovering the Lost Power of Reading Aloud” – When my children were younger, many people encouraged us to read books aloud to shape their imagination, capacity for thinking, and verbal abilities. I have now objective measure on whether any of that was successful, but I do know that we have great memories of enjoying great books read-aloud together, like The Chronicles of Narnia, My Father’s Dragon, and When Marian Sang. There is a power in reading aloud that brings people together. In an excerpt from her recent book, The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud In the Age of Distraction, Meghan Cox Gurdon speaks to this reality. I cannot help but think of how this plays out beyond the family or school, such as in the gathering for public worship, but that would require another conversation.

 

Music: Yo-Yo Ma, “Bach: Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prélude,” from J. S. Bach – The Unaccompanied Cello Suites

[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 Weekend Wanderer: 28 December 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.

FYI, I’m taking a one-week break from compiling “The Weekend Wanderer,” so don’t expect a post at the beginning of January. Happy New Year, everyone, and thank you to all those who enjoy reading this weekly compilation that I share.

 

27McCaulley-articleLarge“The Bloody Fourth Day of Christmas”Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, brings into focus one of the most shocking elements of the nativity narratives. In Matthew 2, the magi visit Jesus, first encountering King Herod, who asks them to return and tell him where this miracle baby is born. However, they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, who then proceeds to slaughter all the children under the age of two in the vicinity. In the midst of this, somehow, Scripture assures us that hope breaks through, and McCaulley helps us see that in his New York Times editorial.

 

Donald Trump & Jerry Falwell“Nearly 180 Evangelical Leaders, including Billy Graham’s Granddaughter, Condemn Anti-Trump Editorial in Letter to Christianity Today – Last weekend, I began “The Weekend Wanderer” by featuring the editorial from Mark Galli of Christianity Today calling for the removal of President Trump. That editorial became top news on various news sites around the nation. What quickly followed was a widely diverse response, both positive and negative, from around evangelicalism, including a letter of opposition sent to CT by various evangelical leaders, including Franklin Graham, and an invitation from the Red Letter Christian group to support the impeachment efforts.  Timothy Dalrymple, President of Christianity Today, wrote a response to all of this, “The Flag in the Whirlwind: An Update from CT’s President.” What is clear from this dialogue is that evangelicalism is not unified in its politics, something that has been evident to many for several years. What is less clear, and something that has been debated throughout recent years, is what “evangelical” really means, and whether the term is helpful any longer.

 

114394“The Pastor’s Study Is Not a Bunker” – Not too long ago, I wrote an article about pastoral ministry that began with a reference to Gregory the Great (read “The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity”). Gregory is a fantastic example for ministry, particularly for those of us trying to live as pastors in the midst of confusing and busy times. I appreciated reading this article by John P. Burgess, Jerry Andrews, and Joseph Small, drawn from their recent book, A Pastoral Rule for Today: Reviving an Ancient Practice, which I’m partway through reading. For any pastors out there, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on this one.

 

Representation of Magnum Chaos (before the Creation took place): wood marquetry by Giovan Francesco Capoferri after Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556) - 16th century - Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo“Idle components: An argument against Richard Dawkins” – “Richard Dawkins’s new book Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide is relentlessly confrontational. While discussing it with me, a colleague suggested that the rhetorical tone is itself worthy of note. Dawkins is in effect making a declaration: ‘I understand all this highfalutin science; simple-minded religious believers don’t. Authority therefore resides in me. Here, for instance, is an objective account of embryology which can be contrasted with a religious view – presumably that it’s all a great miracle’. In dialectical terms, Dawkins presses his ‘antithesis’ so hard that the unwary reader may accept the erroneous ‘thesis’ (namely that believers swallow a lot of bilge) from which we must apparently recoil.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-12-24 at 6.48.19 AM“We are not divine. But we are loved. That is enough.” – Kate Bowler at The Washington Post: “We are not divine. When we confuse hope for power, we transform tragedy into failure. Most wishes — even good wishes — will not come true. Bodies age. Love slips out of our hands….This Christmas, God will be born among us, despite our best efforts. So, for those growing tired of waiting for heaven, may the season give us room to say: God is here. We are loved. It is enough.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 4.42.06 PM“Inside the Ghent Altarpiece” – I first encountered the Ghent Altarpiece when I was a student in college in Art Survey. I would not say that I was widely exposed to visual art at that time, but I could already see the wonders of this piece of artwork by Jan and Hubert van Eyck. Someone recently shared with me that you can walk through this piece online and I immediately found myself transported by the vivid beauty of every part of this marvelous piece of worship artwork, which I have never seen in person. This is probably the next best thing.

 

Music: Chabros Music, “Hope to the Nations”

[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.]