The Good News of Jesus

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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).

The Weekend Wanderer: 9 February 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.

190201-syria-church-mc-451_d751479b6750bbbdaa140bb3e7ebd1b6.fit-1240w“Life under ISIS led these Muslims to Christianity” – NBC News reports on this not entirely surprising movement. “Four years have passed since the Islamic State group’s fighters were run out of Kobani, a strategic city on the Syrian-Turkish border, but the militants’ violent and extreme interpretation of Islam has left some questioning their faith. A new church is attracting converts. It is the first local Christian place of worship for decades. ‘If ISIS represents Islam, I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore,’ Farhad Jasim, 23, who attends the Church of the Brethren, told NBC News. ‘Their God is not my God.'”

 

cool_christians_lead_3t.0“The rise of the star-studded, Instagram-friendly evangelical church” – At Vox, Laura Tuner explores the recent trend, for lack of a better word, of stars turning toward Christianity. What does this mean about our culture and about our Christianity? “Pratt, beloved doofus turned hot dad, is part of a growing trend of celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Selena Gomez, Hailey Baldwin, and Kevin Durant, who are vocal about their faith. The churches many of them flock to — Zoe, Hillsong, and Churchome are the prominent examples — may look like they offer something different and more progressive than traditional evangelicalism but are actually quite consistent with evangelical teachings. In an era when religious affiliation is on the decline for young people, these churches can only gain from this proximity to stardom. But how are these “cool” new rising churches different from other churches? What is it about Hillsong and Zoe that attracts this star power?”

 

baby.jpeg“Statement on the New York State Abortion Law of 2019” – Likely you have heard of the recent passage in the New York State legislature of the “Reproductive Health Act,” which allows for late-term abortions, even up to the moment of birth, with some somewhat confusing limitations. If there is one place that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics can agree it is in relation to statements about life. That is why the group “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” produced this recent statement, published in First Things, on this appalling and disastrous piece of legislation.

 

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“The Abortion Wars: What most Christians don’t know about the history of prolife struggles” – In light of that, this 2003 article re-posted by Christianity Today, Tim Stafford offers historical perspective on abortion from the context of the early church in the Roman Empire until today. Here’s a peak into it: “From the first, Christians were outspokenly opposed to abortion on the basis of the child’s right to life. The Didache, an early second-century document summarizing Christian belief and practice, declares, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion/destruction.” Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Jerome, Basil the Great, Ambrose—all pronounced against abortion.”

 

commongood“The Church and the Common Good: Can we equate the church’s eternal mission with temporary politics?” – My wife gave me some of the best gifts possible this past Christmas: loads of theological books. A good percentage of those books are related to ecclesiology and political theology. Why? I am wrestling with the meaning of the common good and what it looks like for the church to interact as a polis – a political community – in the midst of the prevailing political community around it. This is exactly what Brad East is trying to do in this article at Comment. Give it a read.

 

johnson_birgitta“Birgitta Johnson on Praise and Worship Music” – From the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship: “Birgitta Johnson teaches world music, African American music, African music, and ethnomusicology at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. She publishes widely and for years has researched music in black megachurches and the rise of praise and worship in African American congregations. In this edited conversation, she addresses stereotypes about praise and worship music.”

 

johnstuartmill“A (Not So) Secular Saint” – In The Los Angeles Review of Books, James K. A. Smith writes an insightful review of Timothy Larsen‘s new biography of John Stuart Mill. “To both his progressivist heirs and his conservative critics, John Stuart Mill is a secular saint, a priest of the triumphant modern moral order….The real story of this Victorian character turns out to be more complicated, and Timothy Larsen’s brief new biography challenges such caricatures without devolving into polemics.”

 

StJohnBible“A Series on the Saint John’s Bible” – “Transpositions is delighted to kick off an eight-week series on The Saint John’s Bible. For those unaware, The Saint John’s Bible is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible of its scale in over 500 years. The Bible gets its name from the Benedictine abbey and university which commissioned it: Saint John’s Abbey and Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The abbey founded the university and its graduate school, Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary, and is surrounded by the campus.” [Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this link.]

 

Leith Anderson“Leith Anderson Retiring from National Association of Evangelicals” – Leith Anderson, former pastor of Wooddale Church, announced his retirement from the role of President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) after serving in that role for the past 13 years. Anderson served as interim leader for the NAE during challenging seasons with financial decline in 2003 and after the resignation of Ted Haggard from the role of President amidst scandal in 2006. Most recently, Anderson attempted to bring clarity to the meaning of “evangelical” in light of confusing political connotations of the word after the most recent presidential elections.

 

Liturgical Folk LentMusic: “Liturgical Folk, vol 4: Lent” Enjoy some good listening this week with Liturgical Folk‘s fourth volume of work focused on the upcoming season of Lent. [Thanks to Ryan Boettcher for sharing this link with me.]

 

[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.]

Recovering our way: Thomas Oden on the Antinomian infection in North American Christianity

tom odenMy continued reflections on pastoral ministry, the church, and what it means to be in ministry in North America led me back to Thomas Oden‘s Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry. I first read this book while still an undergrad at Wheaton College but enrolled with special permission in a graduate level class entitle “Pastoral Ministry,” I believe, with Dr. Timothy Beougher. The class was outstanding and I still remember many things from it, including Dr. Beougher’s own wisdom from experience as a pastor.

Tom Oden is perhaps best known today for his turn from liberal Methodism to classic Christian orthodoxy through his encounter with the church fathers and mothers. He traces this journey in two works, After Modernity…What?: Agenda for Theology and Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements. The fruit of that journey is Oden’s invaluable systematic theology, as well as the renowned Ancient Christian Commentary series.

While returning to this book with one of our staff members at Eastbrook as part of their ordination journey, I encountered this simple, yet vastly important, statement on the antinomian infection within North American Christianity. Here are Oden’s words:

The tradition has used the term antinomianism (from “against law,” or “lawlessness”) to speak of that undernourished view of God’s grace that views the gospel as if it implied no moral response or ethical constraint or norms of redemptive behavior. Antinomianism is the weird, wild, impulsive, unpredictable sleeping partner of much contemporary pastoral care. It mistakes the gospel for license, freedom for unchecked self-actualization, and health for native vitalism. The classical pastoral tradition has struggled mightily against “cheap grace” solutions and premature reassurances in a way that will be reflected on almost every page that follows.

Keep in mind that antinomianism is our own doing. We cannot conveniently claim to be victims of some external, evil, socially alienating force. We have welcomed it, confusing it with genuine Christian liberty. Its modern forms are sexual permissiveness, egocentric romanticism, and a vague taste for anarchy. If its strength and appetite were less, we would bother less about it. But antinomian hopes have been set loose like Mediterranean fruit flies upon both church and ministry by misguided exegetes and well-meaning but unwise theologians (to whom the popular media are insatiably attracted). Now, full circle, they have brought us to an “improved theology” that assumes that God loves us without judgment, that grace opposes obligation, that “oughts” are dehumanizing if not sick, and that the gospel always makes the law questionable. History is now requiring of us that we unlearn much that we have prematurely learned about aborted “Christian freedom.” This freewheeling grace-without-law theology infects many ancillary problems of pastoral practice….

As if having watched too much television, we have become dazed and addled with an oversimplified gospel that most laypersons easily recognize as innocuous-looking pabulum with highly toxic side effects: God loves me not matter what. Nothing is required by this merciful God. Don’t worry about any response to God in order to feel completely OK with yourself and God. Feelings of guilt are considered neurotic. God turns out to be a naive zilch who permissively turns his eyes away when we sin. How strangely different from the Holy One of Amos, Isaiah, and Jesus.

The central tradition of pastoral care prior to this century would have frankly called this talk nonsense. But we suffer fools gladly with a bored smile. How often we are obliged to cherish it as if it were “obviously good” theology. So when we are engaged in pastoral counseling, we withhold all ethical judgments, aping ineffective psychotherapies. When we preach, we avoid any hint of morally evaluative (“preachy”) demeanor and risk no admonition, disavowing the prophetic office. We offer the sacraments as if this were a morally irrelevant act. The classical pastoral tradition requires us to challenge these assumptions.

Living like God’s Children

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

he-qi-prodigal-sonAt a pivot point in the letter of Galatians, the Apostle Paul highlights a new reality that has come into our lives through Christ. In Christ, we are saved by grace through faith. God’s law has served as a tutor in regards to both God’s ways and our sinfulness in order to lead us to Christ as Savior.

Now, by faith in Christ, we are all “children of God” (3:26). Whereas we previously were children under a tutor, striving to live up to our identity, now in Christ we are children with full belonging. Paul will return to this theme letter in relation to our inheritance, but suffice it to say for now that we have a new relational position with God through Christ.

Not only that, but by faith in Christ, and through the sacred action of baptism, we “have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3:27). Baptism reflects our appropriate by faith of the work of Christ, who has died to sin and lives alive to God. So now, we too are dead to sin and alive to God (see Romans 6:1-14). We have a new existential identity with God through Christ.

Continuing, Paul tells us that by Faith in Christ, we are “all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). This well-known verse helps us understand that the things that often divide us in our cultures – ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status – have been radically nullified in Christ. In Jesus, God has done something new, as Paul writes elsewhere, which is “to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). We have a new relational community with God through Christ.

Finally, Paul emphasis that by faith in Christ, we are “Abraham’s seed…and heirs according to the promise” (3:29). As Paul writes later in this letter, “since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (4:7). What does it mean to be heirs? It means that because of Jesus we now assured as full recipients of the blessings of God. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). We have a new promised hope with God through Christ.

We need to live like God’s children. How might we do that?Read More »

The Weekend Wanderer: 1 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.

 

83267“Many Churchgoers Want Sunday Morning Segregated” – At Christianity Today, Bob Smietana reports on a recent Lifeway Research survey about the desire and tendency for Protestant Christians to worship with others like them. “More than half (57%) of Protestant churchgoers under 50 say they prefer to go to church with people who share their political views. And few adult Protestant churchgoers say they attend services with people of a different political persuasion.” So much for the one new humanity of Ephesians 2

 

Griswold-The-Block-ChurchAnd in other, yet related, news: “Millennial Evangelicals Diverge from Their Parents’ Beliefs.” In The New Yorker, Eliza Griswold charts the recent changes in evangelicalism in terms of socio-political issues, concluding that evangelicalism is in a state of flux in terms of its social engagement on issues such as abortion, immigration, and more, particularly along generational lines. “The result is that younger evangelicals are speaking out on issues like family separation at the border, climate change, police brutality, and immigration reform­­––causes not typically associated with the evangelical movement. In the continuing moral outrage at the border, which includes nearly six hundred children still displaced in New York City alone, many see the faces of themselves and their families.” While I have strong aversions to generational theory, this should come as no surprise, given that the very idea of ‘evangelicalism’ as a monolithic theological, political, or sociological movement is fiercely debated today.

 

aretha“Here is the Aretha Franklin funeral program, and it’s epic” – The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, passed away this week (read the obituary). As with many of her generation of soul and R&B, she began her career by singing in church, including the church where her father was the pastor, New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. CNN has gathered together some quick facts on her life here. Although I had heard her music before, I hate to say that as a kid my introduction to Aretha came through her appearance with the song “Think” in The Blues Brotherswhich I saw in an edited-for-television version at an early age,  You might want a deeper dive into some of her greatest songs of all time here.

 

Lt. Comdr. John S. McCain is interviewed after the Vietnam War“John McCain Would Have Passed the Anne Frank Test” – After the passing of John McCain last weekend, there have been many reflections on his life and work. I particularly enjoyed this reflection by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic related to McCain’s integrity and willingness to stand up for the right in difficult situations and in the face of difficult people. The Anne Frank test: “something I learned from a Holocaust survivor almost 40 years ago, is actually a single question: Which non-Jewish friends would risk their lives to hide us should the Nazis ever return?”

 

Hybels“Randy Alcorn on Evangelical Sex Scandals: Bad Pastors Just Reappear at New Churches, Repeat Sins” Randy Alcorn, famous as a pastor and Christian author made veiled references to the Bill Hybels/Willow Creek saga, with some reflections on how the evangelical church grapples with leadership and integrity. In light of the systemic leadership coverup of the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal, Alcorn’s words feel more poignant: “Countless churches have hired a pastor who ends up in immorality, only to find out that he had been guilty of the same in his previous church, which they had failed to ask about his character, morality and reputation.”

 

inside out“Outside In: What do we see when we look at ourselves?” – You really do not want to miss Alan Jacobs’ astute exploration of the human condition and the contemporary suggestions of what it means to be a self (or not to believe in a self at all). Touching on St. Paul, Charles Taylor, the Invisibilia podcast, Rebecca West, Pokémon, Friederich Nietzsche, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and Inside Out, you will be delightfully provoked to thought.

 

ubang“Uban: The Nigerian Village Where Men and Women Speak Different Languages” – Just when you thought you had a difficult time communicating with someone else, a friend shared this fascinating piece about the village of Ubang in Nigeria, where men and women speak in different languages that are still understandable to one another. “In Ubang, a farming community in southern Nigeria, men and women say they speak different languages. They view this unique difference as ‘a blessing from God’, but as more young people leave for greener pastures and the English language becomes more popular, there are concerns it won’t survive.”

 

58581-canva-photo-editor-60.800w.tn“Australia’s New Prime Minister Is an Evangelical Christian” –  I’m not sure what evangelical means anymore, particularly when used by new agencies, but this was in the news this week. “Australia’s newest prime minister is a church-going evangelical Christian who isn’t afraid to stand up for his faith in a country largely viewed as secular. Scott Morrison became prime minister Friday when the Liberal Party voted him in as its leader after ousting Malcolm Turnbull, the former prime minister and party leader. The Liberals are a center-right party in Australia, while the Labor Party is more center-left. Morrison is a member of Horizon Church, a Pentecostal congregation in Sydney where he and his family are involved in ministries.”

 

the good lifeI’m thankful Micah Mattix highlighted Karen Swallow Prior‘s new book On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great BooksHere is an excerpt: “Reading great literature well has the power to cultivate virtue. Great literature increases knowledge of and desire for the good life by showing readers what virtue looks like and where vice leads. It is not just what one reads but how one reads that cultivates virtue. Reading good literature well requires one to practice numerous virtues, such as patience, diligence, and prudence. And learning to judge wisely a character in a book, in turn, forms the reader’s own character. Acclaimed author Karen Swallow Prior takes readers on a guided tour through works of great literature both ancient and modern, exploring twelve virtues that philosophers and theologians throughout history have identified as most essential for good character and the good life. In reintroducing ancient virtues that are as relevant and essential today as ever, Prior draws on the best classical and Christian thinkers, including Aristotle, Aquinas, and Augustine. Covering authors from Henry Fielding to Cormac McCarthy, Jane Austen to George Saunders, and Flannery O’Connor to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Prior explores some of the most compelling universal themes found in the pages of classic books, helping readers learn to love life, literature, and God through their encounters with great writing. In examining works by these authors and more, Prior shows why virtues such as prudence, temperance, humility, and patience are still necessary for human flourishing and civil society.”

 

o-PARIS-facebook“Gorgeous Photos of the World’s Most Beautiful Libraries” – Because you need some inspiration as the school year starts, why not imagine that you are completing your studies in an environment like this. Or maybe, like me, you just needed a new desktop image to keep you feeling like you’re part of something bigger than our computer-laden world.

 

JohnM-502x630Makoto Fujimura, “The Four Holy Gospels” – Take a moment to enjoy the wondrous artistry of Makoto Fujimura’s work commissioned for an edition of the four canonical Gospels in the English Standard Version, published in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version (KJV) Bible in 1611. More info here.

 

[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 Gospel of the Kingdom

Throughout our Crossroads series here at Eastbrook Church we have investigated what it means that Jesus has come to a crossroads moment in His ministry and human history within Jerusalem immediately before His crucifixion. We have explored Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath, the Sent Son, the New Temple, Lord of the Cast Off, and so much more. I’m a visual thinker so I find it helpful to see this explained and I have not encountered such a powerful means for that as exemplified in The Bible Project. I hope you enjoy their thematic video “The Gospel of the Kingdom” as much as I did.

Free to Live (discussion questions)

We continued our series, “Free: A Study on Galatians,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church look at what it means to live in light of new life in Jesus Christ from Galatians 6. Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Free to Live,” which is the sixth and final part of our series.

Discussion Questions:

  1. This week we conclude our series Free: A Study on Galatians by looking at Galatians, chapter 6. Before you begin, pray that God would speak to you through your study of the Scripture. Next, read Galatians 6 out loud.
  2. The first part of Galatians 6, verses 1-10, continues Pauls train of thought begun in Galatians 5:13 about living by the Spirit. How does Paul practically instruct the Galatian believers about life in the Holy Spirit in verses 1-7? 
  3. Why do you think Paul brings together the ideas of carrying anothers burden and taking pride in ourselves in these verses?
  4. Have you ever struggled with pride when confronted with anothers sin or difficulties? What did you do?
  5. With verses 8-10, Paul confronts the tendency to take advantage of freedom in Christ for acts of the flesh (5:19). What does Paul call the believers toward in these verses? 
  6. Why do you think Paul includes phrases like let us not become weary or if we do not give up in the context of doing good deeds?
  7. How would you describe what it practically looks like to sow to please the Spirit (6:8) in our lives?
  8. In the second part of Galatians 6, verses 11-18, Paul summarizes and concludes the letter. He emphasizes  see what large letters(6:11)  the contrast between him and his opponents. What is that contrast and why is it important?
  9. What would you say Paul means by his strong statement in verse 14? What does that truth mean for you in your life?
  10. What is your biggest take-away from this study or the entire series on Galatians. If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone this week.