Three Figures

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. (Luke 23:32)

three figures floating above the ground
one with fire in his mouth
rages in desperation against existence
one begs for deliverance
in a strong moment, pleading
with the third for rescue
the last One speaks hope and peace
amidst such hopeless violence
split apart at the place of the Skull
He opens the cosmos wide
with painful grace for all
and welcomes us in


This is the fifth in a group of seven original poems composed for Holy Week, including:

 

The Weekend Wanderer: 16 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.

92466“The Necessary Partnership of Truth and Charity” – When difficult issues arise within the faith, you may hear people say, “You need more grace!”, or, “We’ve lost the truth here!” Usually, there is some truth in both statements. However, grace and truth are not a polarity, but two aspects of the character of God that necessarily fit together. Often, we likely misunderstand somehow what grace and truth mean in a specific circumstance or particular issue. Tish Harrison Warren aptly writes here about the partnership of truth and charity.

 

Screen Shot 2019-11-15 at 9.53.06 AM“Amusing Ourselves to Death: Huxley vs Orwell” – Growing up, I heard often about George Orwell’s 1984, first from my older brother and then through my studies. When my own sons reached high school, it was one of the optional books for reading, and I remember more than a few conversations about the dark, post-apocalyptic world Orwell conjured into the imagination through that book. Neil Postman‘s 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death makes the case that Orwell’s imaginary is less true to our current life than Aldous Huxley’s apparently more absurd Brave New World. I increasingly agree with that assessment. Here’s a comparative cartoon crash-course in both novels and what they say about our world.

 

Philip Jenkins“The 2010s: A Decade in Faith?Baylor professor of the history of religion and author of The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins, reflects on the most meaningful issues or changes in the church in the 2010s. Referencing issues within the United States and world Christianity, Jenkins shares his insights launching off from the questions: “So what will future scholars of Christianity highlight when they write the history of the 2010s? What tremors reshaped the landscape of faith?” This is well worth the read.

 

AND Campaign 2020“The AND Campaign: 2020 Statement on the Presidential Campaign” – Someone from my congregation shared this resource for me and it caught my attention for several reasons. First, here is an effort to stand within historic Christianity that also grapples with various social issues that are at play within the United States. Second, it is an interesting engagement with the political issues of our faith, something we all are going to grapple with in the next two years. Third, it represents a multi-ethnic approach to these issues which is sadly missing in much church engagement with politics.

 

Sandra McCracken“Hymn-writer Sandra McCracken: Worship music should focus less on emotion, more on community” – When I first became a follower of Jesus, the Senior Pastor at my home church invited me to “lead worship” on piano at Sunday night services utilizing contemporary worship music and praise choruses. There wasn’t a lot to work with, but I pulled in songs from the Vineyard or Maranatha, as well as reworked versions of hymns. Now, there is more music than we know what to do with, sustaining an entire industry of worship music. Some of it is helpful, but there are huge gaps. Sandra McCracken highlights one of those gaps in this interview.

 

Music: Sandra McCracken, “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” from Psalms.

[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 Contagious Generosity of God

image 1 - generous.jpg

We read about the generosity of the early Jerusalem church in Acts 4:

“And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. ” (Acts 4:33-34)

The result of God’s grace at work within the church was a generosity that was unparalleled by those around them. It was a generosity that was contagious. Of course, we know that the source of this generosity was God Himself.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

The God that we hear about in the Bible, that we are dealing with in Christianity, is a generous God. God is not stingy, but gives us what we could not get through our own means. The word that captures God’s generosity is grace.

Grace means that we receive what we do not deserve. The God of the universe, in one sense, owns everything, and we have nothing. Yet, though we have nothing, and, perhaps, have less than nothing because of the dark power of sin that infects our lives, God does not give up on this wonderful, cracked creation of which we are a part.

God does more than not give up on the creation. He gives into the creation, taking on human flesh and bone to live in the messy and marvelous world we inhabit. And God coming in, Jesus the Messiah, though He holds all things as His own, lets them go that we might partake of His treasures.

Like some cosmic Robin Hood, Jesus comes to take from the rich to give to the poor…except He is both the rich man and the revolutionary, giving all He can into our lives.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

We come empty to God, and He fills us.

Christianity tells us that God is generous.

And it is because God is generous that His people, too, become generous. This is what we see in the New Testament record. It is not just the Jerusalem church, but the Antioch church that sends off its best to share the message of Christ with the rest of the known world in Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1-3). It is the Thessalonian church whose faith rang out in the known world because of how they lived it out (1 Thessalonians 4:2-10).

God is a generous God, and His generosity – His grace – is contagious within His people.

A Prayer of Clement of Alexandria

clement-of-alexandria

Be kind to Your little children, Lord; that is what we ask of You as their Tutor, You the Father, Israel’s guide; Son, yes, but Father as well. Grant that by doing what You told us to do, we may achieve a faithful likeness to the Image and, as far as is possible for us, may find in You a good God and a lenient Judge.

May we all live in the peace that comes from You. May we journey towards Your city, sailing through the waters of sin untouched by the waves, borne tranquilly along by the Holy Spirit, Your Wisdom beyond all telling. Night and day until the last day of all, may our praises give You thanks, our thanksgiving praise You: You who alone are both Father and Son, Son and Father, the Son who is our Tutor and our Teacher, together with the Holy Spirit.

By St. Clement of Alexandria, early teacher and apologist for the faith.

A Crash Course in the Gospel (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Ephesians

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Psalms. Through the Psalms I have learned how to pray. One of my other favorites is the Gospel of John. John’s telling of Jesus’ story has helped me connect my spiritual longings with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ so powerfully. Right after the Psalms and John comes Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Here, the basic contours of right thinking about God and right living with God come together in such a short space that every sentence strikes with power.

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, as I continued with our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” I had the privilege of addressing one of my favorite Scriptural texts in this favorite book of mine. I turned to Ephesians 2:1-10 for “A Crash Course in the Gospel.”

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

Read More »

Makoto Fujimura, Images of Grace: Charis

Makoto Fujimura, Sacrificial Grace; Mineral Pigments and Gold on Kumohada; 1997.

 

Makoto Fujimura, Tree Grace; Gold, Silver, Mineral Pigments on Kumohada; 1998.

 

Makoto Fujimura, Grace Psalm; Gold, Silver, Mineral Pigments on Kumohada; 1997.

 

Makoto Fujimura, Grace Foretold; Mineral Pigments, Gold on Kumohada; 1997.

 

Makoto Fujimura, Charis; Mineral Pigments, Gold on Kumohada; 2008.

Is the Kingdom of God Fair?

In Matthew 19:16-20:16 we read one of Jesus’ most challenging conversations, an exchange with a wealthy young man, which is followed by a parable about workers in a vineyard. It is challenging to read both because the wealthy young man struggles with Jesus, but also because the parable quickly touches upon some of our in-built cultural values in North America.

First, the wealthy young man cannot give all for following Jesus because the possessions in his life have too strong a grip on him. He cannot obey Jesus’ words, “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). The greatness of his wealth became a roadblock to his discipleship. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). The apostles are flabbergasted in light of the prevailing Jewish view that wealth affirms God’s blessing on one’s life. If those who are wealthy cannot enter the kingdom with ease (19:23-24) then what about those who are not wealthy? What about the ones, like them, who have little and have even given their meager resources for the kingdom? How much more difficult, they thought, will it be for people with little to enter the kingdom.

And so, Jesus goes on to tell a parable to expand on the idea that “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (19:30). It is a parable of troublesome grace for those, like me, who operate on the system of fairness. A landowner hires five rounds of workers through the course of the day to work in his vineyard. While those hired first worked all day, those hired last worked only a few hours. But here is where the scandalous grace comes in: the landowner pays all the workers the same day’s wage regardless of when they began work. The earliest workers agreed to this (20:2, 13), but they are offended by the generosity of the landowner. In the back of my mind, a voice cries out like an alarm: “it’s just not fair!”

But that is just the point. The Kingdom of God is not about fairness, but about grace. What the earliest followers of Jesus thought was the system of fairness in God’s blessing was turned upside down. “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” Why? Because in His scandalous generosity, God unleashes grace without measure on all who come to Him. Whether early or late, we all receive an equal portion of the grace of God that is without measure or bounds.