The Weekend Wanderer: 10 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.


read aloud“Why you should read this out loud” – When our children were young we began reading aloud to them even when they were babies, inspired by the work of Jim Trelease and Gladys Hunt. As they grew older we found that we still enjoyed reading aloud. As they have begun to leave the house we continue to read books aloud as a couple because we love enjoying a good book or article together. Recent research suggests that reading aloud might not only be good with others but also on our own.


image 1 - COVID-19“N. T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann look to the Bible for wisdom during the pandemic” – When two wise and seasoned students of the Scriptures write about how to think Christianly about the pandemic it is worth paying attention. Both N. T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann are renowned biblical scholars of the New Testament and Old Testament respectively and both have written about recent works, God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath (Wright) and Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty (Brueggemann) that Jason Mahn helpfully reviews in The Christian Century.


Spiritual Formation of Evelyn Underhill“Book review: The Spiritual Formation of Evelyn Underhill. By Robyn Wrigley-Carr – Evelyn Underhill is one of those unique authors from an earlier era whose writings continue to have relevance in our own day and time. Perhaps best known for her important work Mysticism, Underhill moved from an open-ended psychological spirituality to a deeper yet more rooted approach to the spiritual life  as evidenced by her works Worship and Concerning the Inner Life. Underhill’s words continue to speak to us today about prayer and also have set the stage for evangelical engagement with spiritual formation and spiritual direction. With a notable preface by Eugene Peterson, Robyn Wrigley-Carr’s recent work The Spiritual Formation of Evelyn Underhill is a work I look forward to reading and is worth paying attention to.


Ravi Zacharias“New sexual misconduct claims surface about Ravi Zacharias” – There are certain stories I hate to mention but still know it is important to discuss because it shines the light on paying attention to and overcoming the dark side of ministry. This is one of those stories. Just five months ago we marked the passing of Ravi Zacharias, who has been Recent reports, however, show that Zacharias may have been involved in questionable activities, which are now being investigated by his own ministry, his denomination, and others. Stories like this remind us both to be aware of human failings, even in our heroes, and to guard the weak from being misused by those who hold power.


For the Health“For the Health of the Nation: A Call to Civic Responsibility” – The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and World Relief issued a joint statement and sign-on letter built upon an earlier work of the NAE called “For the Health of the Nation.” This latest efforts seeks to promote faithful, evangelical, civic engagement and a biblically-balanced agenda as Christians seek to commit to the biblical call to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. I encourage you to read and explore the website which has a number of very helpful resources.


Time Distortion“Why Our Sense of Time is Distorted During the Pandemic” – Here is an enlightening interview with Dr. E. Alison Holman by Jamie Aten, Executive Director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, about why we often feel like we’re in a time warp during the pandemic. “Altered perceptions of time and its passing are common experiences of people facing trauma, as trauma can peel away the façade of the future, and interrupt the flow of time. This creates perceptual distortions such as feeling like time has stopped or that everything is in slow motion, experiencing a sense of timelessness, confusing the order of time and days, and perceiving a foreshortened future. My research suggests that these changes in perceptions of time and our views of the future may have significant implications for our health and well-being.”


Jefferson Bible“‘The Jefferson Bible’ Review: The Gospel, Sans Miracles” – Many have heard of Thomas Jefferson’s famous editing of the Bible, in which he rearranged portions of the New Testament into something radically different with Jesus less as a Savior than an insightful teacher. He called this project “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” but kept it secret out of fear that his work would be too controversial. With “his scrapbook of New Testament excerpts, the third president offered a dramatic revision of Christian tradition. The New Testament presented ‘the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man,’ he recognized, even if he hoped to sharpen those qualities by means of redaction.


Music: Johannes Brahms, “Piano Quartet No.1 in g minor, Op.25 4. Rondo alla zingarese: Presto” performed by Paul Huang, Jung Yeon Kim, Ole Akahoshi, and Jessica Osborne at the Seoul Arts Center

[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.]

Patience and Personal Discipleship

Good things come to those who wait, I’ve been told, but, honestly, I have a really hard time with that.

Let me give you three situations many of us face. Number one: music tries to calm me down as I anxiously wait behind unending lines of traffic, hoping I arrive reasonably on-time to my next appointment. Number two: I carefully choose which check-out line at the store I will head to with my items. I evaluate whether it might make the most sense to go for self-check-out and skip dealing with people altogether. Number three: I head to the DMV, knowing that the actual business I have there does not necessarily need to take more than a few moments but anticipating the reality that I will wait agonizingly long to simply get this taken care of.

“Good things come to those who wait,” but wouldn’t we all prefer to have good things come precisely when we want them? I know that we have heard patience is a virtue, but deep down we all want instant gratification. Now, more than ever, the possibility of instant gratification is within reach as technology married with enterprise has brought us the possibility of getting what we want immediately while never leaving the comfort of our homes. Don’t misunderstand me, I am as prone to enjoy Netflix and Amazon Prime as the next person, but our culture of instant gratification is doing something to us that is not nearly all helpful. The eight-second attention span[1] and inability to delay gratification are making us more anxious and impatient,[2] affecting more than our pace of life and consumption of goods. Now we say, “good things come to those who wait…but let my waiting be short (e.g., eight seconds for information, sixty seconds for music and movie downloads, and twenty-four hours for my online shopping)!”

This anxious impatience is eroding our spiritual lives as well. Spiritual transformation only comes via “a long obedience in the right direction.”[3] Paul the Apostle describes our growth as Christians as a process of growth and maturing, moving from spiritual infancy to nature adulthood, “so that the body of Christ may be built up…and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). We understand this physically, expecting babies to grow to toddlers and on to teenagers before becoming adults. Yet, somehow, we forget that this same process of growth applies to the spiritual life of discipleship. It is not something that comes quickly, but must go through a similar process of growth and maturing over time. Spiritual growth does not happen overnight, let alone in sixty seconds, but must happen over a lifetime.

There is no more valuable, nor more difficult, character trait necessary in the Christian life in this regard than patience.  The Scripture shows both that patience is invaluable in our own lives (Proverbs 19:11; Ecclesiastes 7:8; James 5:7) and in our relationships with others (Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 3:10). Our discipleship, as a matter of fact, is a growth in which God shows forth His patience with us from start to finish (Romans 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:16). If we want to grow with God, following Jesus as our Leader and Savior, then we must commit to the patient journey of discipleship over the long haul.

Within the Bible, one of the clearest pictures of this is seen in the Psalms of Ascent. This little collection of psalms was utilized for prayer and worship on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Groups of believers would journey together, caring for one another and building one another up, as they prepared to meet with God and His people in worship. The pilgrimage journey of the Psalms of Ascent provides us with a soundtrack for the patient journey of discipleship. We need songs in our mouths and hearts, we need others to journey with, and we need lives that move steadily closer to God. 

This patient journey of discipleship, and the place that patience begins to have in our lives, is often seen as a key to seeing change in the life of others (Proverbs 25:15; 2 Timothy 4:2). In a culture of anxious impatience where many have misplaced hopes of relief, a patient, peaceful community of people living daily life with God speaks louder than all sorts of religious activity.

Maybe now is a time to disconnect from the impatient pulse of a technologized angst in order to reconnect with the patient journey of discipleship with God. Our very lives, both in word and in deed, may become a living witness to an eternal God who is unhurried in His life and purposes.


[1] Timothy Egan, “The Eight-Second Attention Span,” New York Times, January 22, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/opinion/the-eight-second-attention-span.html.

[2] Emma Taubenfeld, “The Culture of Impatience and Instant Gratificaiton,” Study Breaks, March 23, 2017, https://studybreaks.com/2017/03/23/instant-gratification/.

[3] With a nod to both Eugene Peterson and Friedrich Nietszche.

[This post originally appeared as part of the Gospel in Life blog.]

It Needs to Get Inside of You: Eugene Peterson on the Spiritual Disciplines

peterson-square1One of my favorite authors is Eugene Peterson. Peterson is best known as the author behind the paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. As a pastor, his works on pastoral ministry for our contemporary era, such as Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral IntegrityFive Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work and Under the Unpredictable Plant, are unparalleled. In the midst of my ongoing exploration about spiritual practices for pursuing the deep life with God, I unexpectedly came across these reflections on the idea of spiritual disciplines that I wanted to share. This is taken from an interview with Image. Peterson gets it right here, I believe, because he cautions against over-ownership of our efforts in growth, even though he acknowledges the importance of spiritual practices in our transformation into Christlikeness.

Image: This may be an audacious question, but what spiritual disciplines do you observe?

Eugene Peterson: I read scripture slowly. I pray. I worship….

A caveat about the disciplines: I’m uneasy about the word discipline. It’s a useful word, which Richard Foster has brought back into the Protestant vocabulary. But in practice it often encourages people to take charge of their own spirituality. When you practice a discipline, you’re doing something. There’s not much relaxation. There’s not much letting go. Some people say to me, “You’re such a disciplined person.” I ran marathons for twenty years, but it wasn’t a discipline. I loved it. I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything. I have the same feeling about reading scripture, prayer, worship.

I was talking just this last week to a retired businessman. He led Bible studies for most of his life, but at some point he realized that he wasn’t getting it inside of him. He went to his pastor for advice, but his pastor couldn’t really help. So on his own, without any direction, he developed a system of lectio divina, almost exactly the way the books tell you how. He compiled huge notebooks of meditation and reflection on scripture. He told me he’d been doing this for ten years, that he’d wake up at five-thirty in the morning and he couldn’t wait to start. It wasn’t a discipline. It simply got inside of him.

Spiritual Tourists or Pilgrims?: Eugene Peterson from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

pilgrim wayNot too long ago, I was sitting with some of my staff in what feels like an altogether different universe from today. We were talking about the calling of the church and what it means to really do ministry. I shared with them this introduction from Eugene Peterson’s masterful book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Reading it again today, I felt like the words were just as pertinent about the long obedience of discipleship that moves beyond spiritual tourism and into lifelong pilgrimage. I hope you enjoy his bracing words as well.

This world is no friend to grace. A person who makes a commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior does not find a crowd immediately forming to applaud the decision nor old friends spontaneously gathering around to offer congratulations and counsel. Ordinarily there is nothing directly hostile, but an accumulation of puzzled disapproval and agnostic indifference constitutes, nevertheless, surprisingly formidable opposition.

An old tradition sorts the difficulties we face in the life of faith into the categories of world, flesh and devil. We are, for the most part, well warned of the perils of the flesh and the wiles of the devil. Their temptations have a definable shape and maintain an historical continuity. That doesn’t make them an easier to resist; it does make them easier to recognize.

The world, though, is protean: each generation has the world to deal with in a new form. World is an atmosphere, a mood. It is nearly as hard for a sinner to recognize the world’ temptations as it is for a fish to discover impurities in the water. There is a sense, a feeling, that things aren’t right, that the environment is not whole, but just what it is eludes analysis. We know that the spiritual atmosphere in which we live erodes faith, dissipates hope and corrupts love, but it is hard to put our finger on what is wrong.

One aspect of world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by thirty-page abridgments.

It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture, anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is a little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.

Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure. For some it is a weekly jaunt to church. For others, occasional visits to specials services. Some, with a bent for religious entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around special events like retreats, rallies and conferences. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so, somehow, expand our otherwise humdrum lives. The religious life is defined as the latest and the newest: Zen, faith-healing, human potential, para-psychology, successful living, choreography in the chancel, Armageddon. We’ll try anything-until something else comes along.

I don’t know what it has been like for pastors in other cultures and previous centuries, but I am quite sure that for a pastor in Western culture in the latter part of the twentieth century the aspect of world that makes the work of leading Christians in the way of faith most difficult is what Gore Vidal has analyzed as “today’s passion for the immediate and the casual.” Everyone is in a hurry. The persons whom I lead in worship, among whom I counsel, visit, pray, preach, and teach, want short cuts. They want me to help them fill out the form that will get them instant credit (in eternity). They are impatient for results. They have adopted the lifestyle of a tourist and only want the high points. But a pastor is not a tour guide. I have no interest in telling apocryphal religious stories at and around dubiously identified sacred sites. The Christian life cannot mature under such conditions and in such ways.

Friedrich Nietzsche, who saw this area of spiritual truth, at least, with great clarity wrote, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is …that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” It is this “long obedience in the same direction’ which the mood of the world does so much to discourage.

In going against the stream of the world’s ways there are two biblical designations for people of faith that are extremely useful: disciple and pilgrim. Disciple (mathetes) says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing-learning relationship, always. A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.

Pilgrim (parepidemos) tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ. We realize that “this world is not my home” and set out for the “Father’s house.” Abraham, who “went out,” is our archetype. Jesus, answering Thomas’ question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” gives us directions: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:5-6). The letter to the Hebrews defines our program:  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).

[From Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 15-16.

Worship and the Idolatrous Heart: Spiritual Harlotry in Hosea

Minor Prophet Slides_HOSEA

One of the pervasive themes in Hosea, chapters 1-3, is that God’s people have become like a promiscuous spouse through their idolatry. Like a harlot seeking after other lovers, God’s people turned to other gods, seeking good things in them as lovers, even though God is the source of every good thing they have.

This longing for other lovers shapes the way we worship, in particular what we are looking to find in the worship we offer. Worship that arises from a spiritually wayward heart, from the Baal worshiper, is self-focused and looks more to the satisfaction of our own desires than meeting with the Living God. To encounter the God of the Bible in worship means the displacement of ourselves and our desires from the center.  It means we let God be God, speak what He wants to speak, and shape us the way He wants to shape us. This theme echoes throughout Scripture, as Eugene Peterson points out in his book The Jesus Way in a chapter on Elijah and the encounter with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18.

‘Harlotry’ is the stock prophetic criticism of the worship of the people who are assimilated to Baalistic forms (Jer. 3:1ff.; 5:7; 13:27; 23:10; 23:14; Ezek. 16 and 23; Hos. 1:2ff. and 4:12; Amos 2:7; Mic. 1:7). While the prophetic accusation of ‘harlotry’ has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passions of the worshiper as its baseline. ‘Harlotry’ is worship that says, ‘I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.’ A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible in Baalism and so is impatiently discarded. Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant, and exciting – that I ‘get something out of it.’

[From Eugene H. Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 110.