The Weekend Wanderer: 11 March 2023

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, 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.

35warrenembed1“God’s Purpose in Your Pain:  What good could suffering possibly serve? A pastor reflects on what he has learned from losing a son to suicide.” – Rick Warren in Plough: “Because we live in a world broken by sin, life is painful. Almost everyone is living with some kind of pain. The type varies – it may be physical, relational, mental, emotional, financial, social, or spiritual – but it all hurts. Pain is inevitable; none of us is able to opt out of it. As a minister for fifty years, I’ve spent my life helping people in pain, and I’ve never had to look far to find it. To cope with this reality, we desensitize ourselves and detach ourselves from others who are suffering. One of the great challenges in my ministry has been to stay sensitive while witnessing so much distress. One way God has kept me empathetic toward others’ pain has been by giving me what the apostle Paul calls “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). I’ve lived with chronic pain for most of my adult life. As I was writing this article, I had to pause for my fifth hospitalization in a year. So what I’m sharing with you is not just theory, but truths learned through pain that have enabled me to carry on in spite of it. I’ve learned that pain should not be wasted, but used for God’s purposes. Scripture is clear that following Christ doesn’t exempt us from suffering. Instead we’re told to expect it (1 Pet. 4:12, John 16:33) and to consider suffering for Christ a privilege (Phil. 1:29). Peter says, ‘Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good’ (1 Pet. 4:19). Submitting to God’s will does not protect you from suffering. In fact, sometimes doing the right thing creates pain.”

Nick Cave and Rowan Williams“Nick Cave: my son’s death brought me back to church” – Rowan Williams interviews Nick Cave in The Sunday Times: :”Meeting Nick Cave in the vestry of a church in central London — hard wooden chairs, miscellaneous cupboards and buckets, stacks of pale green teacups — is slightly surreal. Cave’s long and turbulent career as one of the foremost singer-songwriters of the past half century, a career marked by struggles with trauma, addiction and a reputation for inhabiting some extreme edges in human creativity, might not seem to lead very obviously to a place like this. But when he arrives — the familiar figure, tall, gaunt, pale, a dark suit and white shirt under a black overcoat — he shows no signs of disorientation. The Nick Cave who grew up in the Australian town of Wangaratta and sang as a choirboy in its Holy Trinity Cathedral, who has throughout his career startled his audiences with lyrics saturated with God and echoes of the Bible, is not exactly a stranger here. In his recent book of conversations with the music journalist Sean O’Hagan, Faith, Hope and Carnage, he speaks with raw clarity about how his creative energy has been fed by the experience of agonising grief and loss. At the heart of this is the death of Arthur, his 15-year-old son, in 2015, after falling from a cliff edge near Brighton — one of many bereavements in his life. Heartbreakingly Cave has since lost another son, 31-year-old Jethro. All this has come to be bound up for him with the awareness of the holy. He has been drawn back to some sense of belonging within the battered, inarticulate and compromised community that is the Church. Asked by the publisher to share my thoughts on Faith, Hope and Carnage, I could say only that I could think of few books that had brought home more completely the way in which grief and creativity work together. The book also reveals the way in which faith, without ever giving a plain, comforting answer, offers resources to look at what is terrible without despair or evasion. Cave’s faith is not that of a man looking for shortcuts or consolations. At one point he speaks about the ‘spiritual audacity’ that he felt coming to birth in the wake of Arthur’s death — “a kind of reckless refusal to submit to the condition of the world”. That recklessness is what I want to hear more about as we meet.”

pexels-nerosable-8324854“Only eight churches remain open in Algeria” – Katey Hearth in Mission Network News: “A state-led campaign against Protestant churches continues in Algeria. Last month, believers told MNN that only ten churches remained open in the entire country. Today, ‘there are eight (churches) left open, but you never know for how long,’ says Youssef*, a Protestant leader partnering with Operation Mobilization USA. ‘[The remaining churches] have been visited by the authorities, and you never know what will happen tomorrow.’ A 2006 law set the tone for legal persecution. Then, ‘the plan started in 2018 to close down all the churches,’ Youssef says. The systematic church closures are part of a broader lockdown on individual freedoms. Last month, Algeria’s government shut down several civic groups. It also forced Algeria’s oldest independent human rights organization to close its doors. ‘This is the situation we’re in. It’s quite sensitive, delicate, and challenging,’ Youssef says. The small but growing indigenous Christian population – mainly converts from Islam and their children – stands firm. ‘The Church in Algeria will never disappear because the vast majority of the Christians are Berber [and] Kabyle,’ Youssef says.”

d651a8d6-087d-47a5-b423-eda5f5a95316_4096x3270“Protestant bodies, Protestant bedrooms, & our furious need for a theology thereof” – Beth Felker Jones at Church Blogmatics: “Gentle reader, If you’ve read the article at The Gospel Coalition’s (TGC) website, you know the one I’m talking about. If you haven’t, no need to go looking for it; I’ll fill you in. The article is bad, and I’m going to say so. When something is false and damaging, calling it so isn’t meanness; it’s truth telling. Those teaching this theology are accountable for it. The editors at TGC, an organization that claims to champion the very gospel of Jesus Christ, are accountable. When someone tells lies about the good news of Jesus, it’s theology’s job to call out those lies. The truly bad article has not come to us out of nowhere; too many Christians are getting similar stuff from church leaders they trust. The article is a loud canary in the mine shaft, but there are a lot of quieter canaries down there too, and while we may be tempted to write this thing off as an over the top aberration, it isn’t. It fits all too well with teaching I hear from complementarian niches of the church, all the time. One friend tells me the rhetoric of the article is downright tame, compared to what she constantly heard growing up. This kind of theology is causing devastating damage for the people of God. Maybe the very bad article can be a wake-up call.

bowling“Is America suffering a ‘social recession’?” – Anton Cebalo in The Guardian: “Ever since a notorious chart showing that fewer people are having sex than ever before first made the rounds, there’s been increased interest in the state of America’s social health. Polling has demonstrated a marked decline in all spheres of social life, including close friendships, intimate relationships, trust, labor participation and community involvement. The continuing shift has been called the ‘friendship recession’ or the ‘social recession’ – and, although it will take years before this is clearly established, it was almost certainly worsened by the pandemic. The decline comes alongside a documented rise in mental illness, diseases of despair and poor health more generally. In August 2022, the CDC announced that US life expectancy had fallen to where it was in 1996. Contrast this to western Europe, where life expectancy has largely rebounded to pre-pandemic numbers. Even before the pandemic, the years 2015-2017 saw the longest sustained decline in US life expectancy since 1915-18, when the US was grappling with the 1918 flu and the first world war. The topic has directly or indirectly produced a whole genre of commentary from many different perspectives. Many of them touch on the fact that the internet is not being built with pro-social ends in mind. Increasingly monopolized across a few key entities, online life and its data have become the most sought-after commodity. The everyday person’s attention has thus become the scarcest resource to be extracted. Other perspectives, often on the left, stress economic precarity and the decline of public spaces as causes of our rising anomie.”

farminaries“Farminaries: From souls to stomachs, seminaries are looking to expand their reach”– Kendall Vanderslice in Christianity Today: “In the spring of 2014, Nate Stucky was nearly finished with his doctorate in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary when he was invited to the president’s office. He walked into the office to discover a property survey unrolled across the desk. ‘It turns out,’ President M. Craig Barnes said, ‘we own a farm.’ Throughout his time in seminary, Stucky had dreamed of teaching theology on a farm—or a ‘farminary,’ his colleagues joked. Intrigued by this vision, Barnes began to explore rumors that the seminary owned a nearby piece of empty property. The seminary purchased the plot in 2010 from a friend of the school, hoping that one day the property could somehow contribute to the mission. For four years, it remained nothing more than an asset on a spreadsheet. As Barnes later discovered, the 21-acre field was already zoned for agriculture, and Princeton’s Farminary Program was born. The Farminary is one of several seminary-based projects across the United States that are exploring the role of food in the formation of ministers, questioning how churches might better fulfill the call of Genesis 2 and John 21—to keep and till the earth and to feed Christ’s sheep.”

Music: Fernando Ortega, “Trisagion,” from Come Down, O Love Divine

“My Soul Glorifies the Lord” (Magnificat)

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our journey of Advent and preaching series entitled “Canticles of Christmas” This second week of the series Kelly Erickson preached from Luke 1:46-55 on Mary’s song of praise in light of Gabriel’s announcement that we explored last week.

You can find the message outline and video below. You can access the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.

“And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.’” (Luke 1:46-48)

Mary Visits Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45)

      She goes with haste 80-100 miles south

      Both ladies are full of the Holy Spirit

       The older blesses the younger three times

      Elizabeth names the truth of the Messiah in Mary’s womb

Mary’s Song – The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-49)

      Mary is young and under the rule of the Roman Empire

      Parallelism in how Mary takes great joy in her God

      Mary contrasts herself with God

Mary Sings of the Upside-Down Kingdom (Luke 1:50-55)

     Gives a picture of the New Kingdom created by Jesus

      Shocking new order

      Continues a pattern from the Old Testament (1 Samuel 2:1-8)

      The prophets predicted this sort of kingdom (Joel 2:28-29)

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Spend time taking great joy in Jesus. Exalt Him; magnify Him; adore Him. Let His character overwhelm you.
  • Practice silence. Come into God’s presence, not needing to speak, but just to be with Him. What do you see? What do you hear when you stop talking?
  • Practice Noticing. Notice what God does. Notice His actions, His fingerprints on creation, His presence in others, and His goodness in your everyday interactions with others.

“May It Be Unto Me As You Have Said” (Fiat Mihi)

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we began our journey of Advent and a new series entitled “Canticles of Christmas” This first week of the series I preached from Luke 1:26-38 on the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and her stunning response.

You can find the message outline and video below. You can access the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.

“’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’” (Luke 1:38)

The Miracle of God’s Plan for the World (Luke 1:26-33)

The gift of a greeting from God’s messenger

The gift of the child from God

The gift of the coming king from God

The Miracle of God’s Plan for Mary (Luke 1:34-37)

The miraculous conception

The echo of Elizabeth, her cousin, and her child

The miraculous word of God

The Miracle of Mary’s Response (Luke 1:29, 34, 38)

Her response

Her identity

Her trust

Her waiting

From perplexity to wondering to surrendering

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

Living with Christian Hope


What is hope?

We all have hopes of different sorts. In the past we may have talked about the hope of a new job, a life partner, or an amazing gift for our birthday. In recent times, hope has become more focused, consider the basics of our health, our livelihood, and, in some cases, survival.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Hope is an expectation. It is a desire. It is a longing and yearning that something would become a reality. By definition, hope has two basic parts:

  • The longing that exists within us
  • The object, or goal, toward which our longing is directed

Some of us, when we talk about hope, put the emphasis mostly on the first part of that: we emphasize the longing that exists within us. We have hope – a sort of vague, fuzzy longing – that things would be better, but the object – or goal – of our hope is sometimes undefined or unclear.

When we come to the Bible, the essence of hope is something more focused and clear. In Jesus’ walk along the Emmaus road with the disciples who did not recognize Him, this topic of hope surfaces multiple times. Look at the words spoken by those men walking the road with Jesus:

The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. (Luke 24:20-21)

Christian hope is a desire – a longing – that is firmly fixed on Jesus as the object of our hope. Christian hope is, essentially, the longing that what Jesus promised – and what we see in Scripture – about life with God and His kingdom is ultimately true. Christian hope has a fixed object – Jesus’ life and teaching – and builds upon that.

Consider with me how the Apostle Paul writes about hope in Romans 5:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Let me highlight just a few basic things that Paul is saying here in Romans about hope:

  • Hope begins from our ‘justification of faith’ (vs 1): this is the justification before God – being put right in standing before God – that comes to us by Jesus going to the Cross and returning to life in victory over sin, death, and evil in the Resurrection. Hope is based on that historical event.
  • Hope stands in the state of grace (vs 2): God sees us through Jesus Christ and not through our sins and wrongs. Grace means that we receive something from God we do not deserve: mercy in place of judgment; kindness instead of wrath; hope instead of despair.
  • Hope lives with perseverance (vss 3-4): Hope believes that God is at work in the midst of our sufferings and trials, doing something in us. Hope believes that God is making us people of character through our difficulties until we see Him face to face.
  • Hope looks toward ultimate glory of God (vss 1 & 5): Hope anticipates both God’s glory fully revealed at the end of human history and God’s glory revealed to us individually at the end of our physical lives because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Christian hope says there will come a day when God will make all things right and new at the end of human history in the new heaven and new earth. Hope is the longing for this reality ever before us

Some might say that Christianity is just wishful thinking. Frederick Buechner offers this unique reframing of that accusation:

Christianity is mainly wishful thinking…

Dreams are wishful thinking. Children playing at being grown-ups is wishful thinking. Interplanetary travel is wishful thinking.

Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.

Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it. [1]

We may respond to those who accuse Christian hope of being “wishful thinking” that perhaps the wishful thinking could be called faith. And perhaps faith is a way to access a reality that is there. And perhaps the reason we dream about such a thing being true is that the truth has birthed such a dream within us in the first place.

Christian hope is, essentially, the longing that what Jesus promised – and what we see in Scripture – about life and eternity is ultimately true. Christian hope flows out of Jesus’ resurrection from death after the Cross. It reshapes the way we view our failings, our sufferings, and the end of our lives. It also reshapes the way we view our world.

Jesus’ resurrection allows us to live with hope that there is meaning in our lives and meaning beyond our lives. When we live with hope, we have meaning both for now and for our future.  With the Apostle Paul, we can say,

and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

[1] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers , 1973), 96.

Living an Eternal Kind of Life

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

John the Apostle tells us in his first letter to early Christians that God has given us eternal life through Jesus Christ. What is this eternal life? Well, it is clear from various places in Scripture that there is both a certain quality and a certain quantity to this eternal life.

The Quality of Eternal Life

Eternal life is not just about the length of our lives, such as being extended to eternal days, but also about a different quality of life. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). The kingdom of God sort of life starts now through faith in Jesus Christ. We are plunged into a life enriched by God’s presence and relationship with Him. We do not wait for eternal life to begin when we die, but we enter into a new quality of life with God now. We pass from death to life, from darkness to light, from imprisonment to freedom now in Jesus Christ.

The Quantity of Eternal Life (5:12; John 3:16; 5:24)

At the same time as eternal life does begin now, it also has impact on our days beyond our physical death. We see this when read the well-known verses from John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This relates to now and to what we would term eternity. Death is not the end for us who have faith in Jesus Christ. It moves on into the future for endless days with God. As Jesus says elsewhere, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

Jesus is the bringer of eternal life. It is a life marked by divine quality and divine quantity.