The Weekend Wanderer: 2 November 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.

Kanye West“Kanye West, Heretic by Nature, Finds God” – Two confessions. First, I have never been a huge fan of hip hop. Sorry. My high school and college-age kids love it, but it’s not my first choice for listening. Second, one of the few exceptions to that is Kanye West’s 2008 album, 808s & Heartbreak. I enjoy listening to that album because of West’s vulnerability and the funky vibes. Last Friday, Kanye released his most recent musical project entitled Jesus is King. In a two-hour interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music, West claims to have undergone a conversion to Christianity, and wants to turn his life around and tell everyone about it. He even asked those participating in the album to abstain from premarital sex during the recording process. Critics abound, but something is happening here. West has been pulling together worship services during the past year, including an Easter Sunday morning worship service at Coachella. I can’t help but think of Bob Dylan’s conversion to Christianity in the late 1970s that brought about some of the most interesting “gospel” music of that era, including albums like Slow Train Coming and live performances with a gospel choir and invitations to receive Christ. Christian hip hop star, Lecrae, shares some of his thoughts on Kanye’s album and journey with Billboard. Time will tell what all of this really means in Kanye West’s life but in the meantime we can enjoy the music.

 

Kirk Franklin“Kirk Franklin Boycotts Dove Awards for Cutting His Prayers for Black Victims” – Loving others means hearing them, even when it hurts. This is true in friendship, marriage, parenting, and with others whose situation we don’t entirely understand. Listening to others is particularly important in situations fraught with tension, even though it can be difficult and painful. When he won Dove Awards in 2016 and now in 2019 Kirk Franklin called people to prayer for the killing of African Americans within our country. Both times, TBN cut that portion of Franklin’s awards speech out of their broadcast. In response, after seeking council and addressing this with the Dove Awards committee both times, Franklin is boycotting the Dove Awards until change happens. I encourage you to watch to Franklin address this in a pair of Twitter videos, and listen to his important words: “Not only did they edit my speech, they edited the African American experience.”

 

92447“The Cautionary Tale of Jerry Falwell Jr.” – Mark Galli writes a reflection on Jerry Falwell, Jr., and his leadership at Liberty University that quickly turns into a reflection on the crisis of evangelical “leadership.” This is something I have reflected on quite a bit over the last year, but Galli pulls it all together in quick form in a way that asks what it would look like to return to biblical characteristics of leadership. Along with Galli’s important thoughts, I also sense we need to evaluate not just job descriptions, but the culture of evangelical institutions, whether schools, church, or other, and why it might be that they often produce the sort of leaders we know do not look like Christ.

 

92693“There’s No One Christian View on Turks and Kurds” – A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the tensions in northeast Syria in which I called Christians to awareness of the plight of Christians in the Middle East more broadly and this latest situation. (“Standing with Christians in Northeast Syria“). I really appreciated this recent article in Christianity Today exploring the complexity of this situation and the variety of perspectives present even in the region about how to view it. The diversity of voices invited to speak to this issue makes the article invaluable.

 

C S Lewis“When C.S. Lewis Predicted Our Doom” – If you asked me what my favorite work by C. S. Lewis is, I would tend to point to The Great DivorceMere Christianity, or The Weight of Glory (worth the cost of the book for the title essay alone). Of course, I love the Narnia books and The Screwtape Letters, but they are not really my favorite. If you were to ask the same question of my wife, Kelly, you might be surprised to hear her, a high school English teacher and spiritual mentor to many, immediately say The Abolition of Man. That book, although not always as well known to a broad audience, is Lewis’ pointed critique of modern liberal culture and the loss of a sense of humanity and virtue in an attempt to re-order the world. Matt Purple’s essay here combines a reading of The Abolition of Man in tandem with the third book in Lewis’ space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, to draw attention to his insights into the coming dystopian world.

 

Music: Vampire Weekend, “Sunflower,” (ft Steve Lacy) from Father of the Bride

[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.]

Facing Failings in the Character of the Church

Crying in Church

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

If, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2, Christ is our peace, who has reconciled us to the Father, then the calling upon us as God’s people is to walk in humility, gentleness, patience, peace, and love with one another. This will happen as we yield to the Holy Spirit, who is the deposit of our salvation and bond of our peace.

Yet you may say, “But, Matt, the church doesn’t look like that. I see pride, fierceness, impatience, discord, and lack of love at times.” I know. I see it too. When we see that in those around us, it should lead us to deeper humility and intercessory prayer on behalf of our local church and the church around the world. It should also lead us into meaningful conversations with others about areas of deficiency from our calling, not in judgment, but in the desire to grow together.

However, if we only see it in everyone else around us, but never in ourselves, it might be good for us to hold these characteristics up against our own lives for consideration. It might be good to ask: “Am I completely humble? Am I gentle? Patient? Am I bearing with others in love? Am I upholding the bond of peace?”

If we answered “yes” to all those questions, then it’s probably time to let the Holy Spirit bring us into a more honest self-assessment. Not any of us will perfectly live out our faith. As Paul says in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” This is not an excuse for sin and brokenness, but it is our reality. The revelation of our shortcomings is painful. Yet, that revelation is also a gift from God to push us back to God in repentance from our own sin and turning in greater reliance upon Him for power to walk worthy of our calling.  It is a return to the heart of justifying faith: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).

So let the words of the Apostle lead us into the humility of our human inadequacy and the exaltation of God’s superabundant grace in Christ.

Peter: God’s restoration in failure

image 5 - lakeshore boat.jpeg

This past weekend in my message, “The Good News of New Beginnings,” I didn’t make my way into all the detail I had planned in the new beginning of Peter from his failure. Here are my sermon notes from that section, exploring Jesus’ restoration of Peter from the failure of his denials. I hope this encourages you in the midst of your own failures.


 

Now turn with me to one final story of new beginning, found in the next chapter of John’s Gospel. Here, we find the disciples have returned to their home area in Galilee to fish, but haven’t caught anything. Are they trying to de-stress after all that happened to them in Jerusalem? Are they forsaking all they learned from Jesus and just returning to their old lives?

We don’t know for sure, but something dramatic happens when Jesus Himself appears on the lakeshore to give them fishing advice. Jesus’ advice to throw their nets over the other side leads to a miraculously huge haul of fish, which makes them realize they are dealing with Jesus.

Peter, in His excitement, jumps into the water and swims all the way to shore ahead of the others. Jesus makes them breakfast, and they all know it is Him. In the midst of that breakfast, Jesus has a direct conversation with Peter in four parts.

Part 1 – Peter’s failed boldness (John 21:15)
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (21:15)

This first question brings us back to Peter’s failure, when He denied Jesus three times.
Earlier in John’s Gospel before Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus had warned His disciples about the challenges about to come.

Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

Which is exactly what Peter did. Jesus is resurrecting Peter’s failure so that He can directly deal with it. Suppressing our failures does not bring life; instead it eats away at us from the inside out.

Part 2 – Peter’s failed love (John 21:16)
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter’s painful response: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

But earlier in the upper room, Jesus had addressed all the disciples, showing them what real love looks like, when he said: “If you love me, keep my commands” (14:15).

Peter had a failure of nerve, but also a failure of love. Jesus draws this out into the light so that Peter might not be trapped within his failure but move into a new beginning.

Part 3 – Peter’s pain revealed (John 21:17)
But Jesus is not done yet.

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (21:17)

Just notice this phrase: “the third time.” Jesus is intentionally paralleling Peter’s three denials with three questions.

Peter’s pained response is “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Again, Jesus is calling all of the failure out into the light so that it might not be hidden or suppressed, but release, healed, and turned into a new beginning. What is that new beginning?

Part 4 – Peter’s calling (John 21:18-22)
After the three-fold “Feed my sheep” (21:17) Jesus speaks the ultimate: “Follow me!” (21:19). This echoes Jesus’ first invitation for Peter to follow Him. He is returned to a new beginning of discipleship that will lead him into a new beginning of ministry.

Jesus does not leave Peter to linger in failure, whether hiding it or brooding over it. Instead, Jesus addresses Peter’s failure by bringing it into the light, then healing it, and finally restoring him to a meaningful calling.

For us, too, failure can box us in. We hold it in the back room of our lives, afraid for anyone to know about it. We brood over it when no one is around, like it is something we cannot stand but something we cannot live without. This is not life, but less than living. Jesus comes to us, in the power of the resurrection, to say that what seems like the end in our failure does not have to be the end.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, our failures can be the doorways to a new beginning of restoration in Him.

The Good News of New Beginnings [The Good News of Jesus]

Jesus Series GFX_App SquareAs we continued our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Eastbrook Church, I continued the themes of our series “The Good News of Jesus.” This second weekend, we explored four post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to Mary, the disciples as a group, Thomas, and Peter in John 20:11-21:25. Each of these stories gives us insight into the ways that the resurrection of Jesus intersects with our ordinary lives, in such things as grief, fear, doubt, and failure.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Read More »

The Good News of Jesus

Jesus Series GFX_16x9 Title

This weekend, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at Eastbrook Church, we will begin a two-week message series exploring “The Good News of Jesus.” Drawing upon the post-resurrection accounts within the Gospel of John, we want to bring into sharper focus the ways in which Jesus brings good news to the world.

April 20/21 [Easter]: “The Good News of the Resurrected One” – John 20:1-10, 30-31
The resurrection of Jesus from death brings good news into our lives. As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, we will also explore three themes of how this is good news: light overwhelming darkness, freedom overcoming prisons, and life overpowering death.

April 27/28: “The Good News of New Beginnings” – John 20:11-21:25
After Jesus’ resurrection, John offer a series of encounters that Jesus has with real people. Each of these encounters sheds light on the way in which Jesus’ resurrection is good news: God’s presence in loss (Mary), God’s peace in fear (disciples in the upper room), God’s guidance in doubt (Thomas), and God’s restoration in failure (Peter).

Key Assumptions on the Dark Side of Leadership

fullsizeoutput_ac8As part of my ongoing reflections on pastoral ministry, ministry in the North American evangelical church, and questions of ministry integrity (see my posts “Real Discipleship in a Consumer Church,” “Five Themes of Resilient Ministry,” and “Recovering Holiness“), I pulled a book off the shelf that I read over ten years ago entitled Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima. This is an outstanding book that is both immensely helpful and chilling. I want to share a few things from this book over this coming week, but let me start with the basic assumptions upon which the book is written. If you take them seriously, you cannot help but become reflective right away. It is, in one sense, an outworking of the prophet Jeremiah’s words: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

As in all works, there are numerous assumptions foundational to the development of this book and the reader’s understanding of the material presented. These are assumptions derived from our study of various subject matters, including our own personal experiences, a substantial array of literature on the subjects of leadership and personal dysfunction, and observation and conversations with those involved in the leadership of churches and numerous Christian organizations. Briefly, it is assumed:

  1. Every leader suffers from some degree of personal dysfunction varying from extremely mild to extremely acute.
  2. Personal dysfunction, in one form or another, can often serve as the driving force behind an individual’s desire to achieve success as a leader.
  3. Many leaders are not aware of the dark side of their personalities and the personal dysfunctions that drive them.
  4. The personal characteristics that drive individuals to succeed and lead often have a shadow side that can cripple them once they become leaders and very often causes significant failure. This dynamic is what has been labeled in this book the “paradox of personal dysfunction in leadership.”
  5. Learning about their own dark side and the dysfunction that have created it can enable leaders to address those areas and prevent, or at least mitigate, the potential negative effects to their exercise of leadership.
  6.  Scripture has much to say about the dark side of human personality and the motivations that drive us to achieve, which can be helpful to leaders in their efforts to understand themselves and overcome those areas of their personalities that might threaten their effectiveness as leaders.

[pages 14-15]

When you read these assumptions, what do you think? Do you agree with them or not?

If you read this and thought of someone else the entire time, then you should probably read through them again while giving attention to yourself.

The Weekend Wanderer: 15 September 2018

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.

 

The head pastor of the Zion church in Beijing Jin Mingri poses for picures in the lobby of the unofficial Protestant "house" church in Beijing“China outlaws large underground Protestant church in Beijing” – Those connected to the church in China are aware that the government has been putting increasing pressure on churches in China. This latest news is one more example of that. “Beijing city authorities have banned one of the largest unofficial Protestant churches in the city and confiscated ‘illegal promotional materials’, amid a deepening crackdown on China’s ‘underground’ churches.” See Christianity Today‘s helpful write-up about this here.

 

O6THYFTPZII6NGJ7OPDJHKEYEA“John MacArthur’s ‘Statement on Social Justice’ Is Aggravating Evangelicals” according to Christianity Today‘s “Quick to Listen” podcast. And they’re not alone, as is evidenced by a lot of mainstream attention to “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” authored by John MacArthur and others (see last week’s “Weekend Wanderer” for more info). In one of his columns this week at The Washington Post, Michael Gerson writes in response to the statement that “Christians are suffering from complete spiritual blindness.”  Over at the Missio Alliance blog, Dennis Edwards posted a two-part response to the statement. I keep intending to write something on this, but have not had the time to get there this week. However, I did mention in my message last weekend at Eastbrook Church that the church should be a kingdom-oriented community that is so heavenly minded that we are more earthly good than anyone else.

 

girl-1192032_1280“Gen Z’s Biggest Legacy: Has Social Media Hacked a Generation?” – Rachel Seo, a sophomore at UC San Diego, reflects on social media’s impact on her generation. “There is research now that, in addition to paralleling with my own experiences, reveals the darker effects of social media, most particularly its long-lasting impact on Gen Z. Did anyone predict the impact of how a few apps could lead my generation into a mental health crisis? Could anyone have predicted it? Or, perhaps more hauntingly, did some people know about the potential effects that it would have on others—and simply not care enough to share?”

 

religious-father-praying-with-children“How parents act on their religious beliefs linked to the onset of atheism in their children” – A recent study at Religion, Brain & Behavior (“Predicting age of atheism: credibility enhancing displays and religious importance, choice, and conflict in family of upbringing“), highlights the fact that the credibility in the way parents live out their faith directly influences the way in which their children lean toward atheism. Eric Dolan writes of the study: “People tend to become atheists at a younger age when their religious parents talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, according to new research published in the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior. The study provides evidence that exposure to religiously-motivated actions plays an important role in the onset of atheism.”

 

virtues“Why You Can’t Name the Virtues” – Speaking of credibility in our faith, Karen Swallow Prior writes about the moral vacuum, not just in terms of action, but in terms of character formation. This is basically an excerpt from her book On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books, which was just released. She writes: “For the past several decades, American evangelicalism has been concerned about morality—and for good reason. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, divorce, materialism, racism, and countless other ills so permeate our culture—even among the churched—that they seem to be the rule rather than the exception. But moral choices flow from moral character. Perhaps if we wish to reform morality, we should turn more attention to the formation of character.”

 

24f547f8af102a02576ce0a9d5d7bda6“When the Ship Has Sailed: Alan Jacobs on Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis” – Alan Jacobs’ new book, The Year of Our Lord 1943, explores the inheritance of the Christian intellectual tradition in the middle of the twentieth century, weaving together the life and thought of W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, Jacques Maritain and Simone Weil.Whether you have or have not read the book, you will likely enjoy this interview with Jacobs by Robert L. Kehoe III at The Point in which they discuss various strands of Jacobs’ argument in the book, with a few loose ends in greater depth, including a few last words about Jacques Ellul.

 

perfect storm“Leadership’s Perfect Storm” – Steve Smith of Potter’s Inn reflects on the leadership failures in the evangelical church, giving attention to four main forces that he finds most concerning in today’s realm of leadership: “a success intoxicated leadership culture; the cult of emphasizing leadership gifts and skills rather than integrity and character; unchecked power in positions of leadership; and the unchecked speed and busyness in the life of a leader.” This is definitely worth a read, and has wider application than simply in the church. [Thanks to Tom Keppeler for sharing this article.]

 

power“Confronting the Toxic Power in Me: High-profile stories of fallen pastors can distract us from ourselves or hold up a mirror to our souls” – This article pairs well with Steve Smith’s above, this time giving attention to our own selves. If you ever read articles about the failure of leaders and say, “I would never do that,” then you are deceiving yourself in some way. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel offer a very meaningful look at power and the ways in which we all can deceive ourselves. I remember the words of an older Christian who, in the midst of a discussion about temptation, said to me: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” May we let God’s grace into our lives in ever-more transforming ways.

 

alan lee“Making fantasy reality: Alan Lee, the man who redrew Middle-earth” – With the release of the latest posthumous collection of J. R. R. Tolkien’s stories from Middle-Earth, The Guardian offered a nice interview with Alan Lee. Lee’s illustrations of Tolkien’s world are so closely linked with the works themselves that his vision of Middle Earth was one of the greatest inspirations for the film adaptations, aside from Tolkien’s own illustrations.

 

sub“Eerie photos show dilapidated relics of the Soviet era” – When I saw some of these photos, my mind spun around in all sorts of combinations of post-apocalyptic movies with some tinges of science fiction. If that’s your sort of thing, you should spend some time browsing through this unique photo collection. “Many of the areas where the photos were taken were inaccessible during the Soviet era, as they contained classified technology. They depict monuments, factories, military bases and various kinds of vehicles and technology, most in an advanced state of decay.”

 

[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.]