The Weekend Wanderer: 27 November 2021

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. Disclaimer: 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.


gratitude science“Research Roundup: 6 Takeaways on the Goodness of Gratitude” – Stefani McDade in Christianity Today offers a reflection on six scholarly articles related to gratitude. Here’s one: “Da Jiang, Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Psychological Sciencesand Social Sciences, December 2020 – ‘Numerous studies have shown that gratitude can improve the mental health of people facing stressful events. However, most studies in this area have been based on laboratory experiments and retrospective surveys, rather than actual situations in which people are experiencing stress.’ ‘This study attempted to fill these gaps by examining the benefits of feeling gratitude every day during the COVID-19 outbreak. … These findings demonstrate the benefits of gratitude in a naturalistic situation that induced stress and anxiety.'”


Turning Points“The Great Commission’s Greatest Hits” – Jay Riley Case interviews Alice T. Ott at Christianity Today: “When Jesus delivered the Great Commission to a small band of disciples, they might have wondered how they were supposed to carry his gospel to the ends of the earth. Yet across the nations it spread, winning converts and planting churches everywhere it went. Alice T. Ott, a missions and world Christianity professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, surveys the pivotal moments of this journey in Turning Points in the Expansion of Christianity: From Pentecost to the Present. Jay Riley Case, a historian of missions at Malone University, spoke with Ott about the big picture and the smaller details of Christianity’s global advance. Q: What got you interested in the history of the expansion of Christianity? A: My interest is an outgrowth of my own experiences. I have loved history ever since I was a teenager. I spent 21 years of my adult life as a missionary in Germany. After my husband and I returned to the United States, I earned my PhD and started teaching courses on the history of mission and Christianity in the non-Western world. The book grew out of my research for these courses, as well as from my teaching and interacting with students.”


Haiti kidnapping“Two Kidnapped Missionaries Freed in Haiti” – From the Editors of Christianity Today: “Two members of a missionary group kidnapped in Haiti a month ago have finally been freed, leaving 15 Christians still in captivity. ‘The two hostages who were released are safe, in good spirits, and being cared for,’ stated Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) on its website. The Ohio-based group said it ‘cannot provide or confirm the names of those released, the reasons for their release, where they are from, or their current location. We encourage you to continue to pray for the full resolution of this situation,’ stated CAM. ‘While we rejoice at this release, our hearts are with the 15 people who are still being held. Continue to lift up the remaining hostages before the Lord.'”


Austin Kleon - gratitude zine“A gratitude zine: Exercises to help you feel thankful” – Austin Kleon put together this “Gratitude Zine,” which some helpful exercises for gratitude: “‘I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.’—G.K. Chesterton  It’s Thanksgiving week here in Texas, and I wanted to share with y’all another little zineI made that you can download and print out. (If you’re having dinner guests, feel free to print out enough to leave one at everyone’s place setting!) Gratitude is something I have struggled with in the past. In fact, it’s been at times in my life when I should have felt more thankful than ever that I’ve had the hardest time feeling thankful.”


harvest-wheat-farmer-hand“Agricultural Metaphors for the Christian Life” – Matthew Barrett in Tabletalk: “At the center of the Christian faith is a fundamental belief: there is no one like God. He is not the creature but the Creator, the One Isaiah says is high and lifted up (Isa. 6:1). How amazing it is, then, that this God would stoop down and make Himself known to finite and sinful creatures like us. John Calvin loved to say that God is like a nurse who bends low to lisp to a newborn. When we read the Bible, we see this accommodation whenever God uses metaphors to convey His saving message to us in a way that we can understand. These metaphors help us know God and live the Christian life coram Deo, before the face of God. For example, out of the many ways God could have communicated with Israel, He chose agricultural metaphors. Israel was a people whose existence depended on the soil. Israel was liberated from Egypt to enter the land God promised to her father Abraham. Yet notice how this land is described: it is a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8). Agriculture was not only a way of life for Israel; it was a sign of God’s covenant blessing. To enjoy the fruit of the land was a sure indication that God had fulfilled His promises to Abraham.”


Myanmar fires“Army Attacks Continue in Myanmar’s Most Christian State” – Grant Peck in APNews: “More than 160 buildings in a town in northwestern Myanmar, including at least two churches, have been destroyed by fires caused by shelling by government troops, local media and activists reported Saturday. The destruction of parts of the town of Thantlang in Chin state appeared to be another escalation in the ongoing struggle between Myanmar’s military-installed government and forces opposed to it. The army seized power in February from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, but has failed to quell the widespread resistance. A government spokesman denied ‘nonsense allegations being reported in the country-destroying media,’ and blamed insurgents for instigating the fighting and setting the fires.”


Music: Jpk. (feat. Young Dre Flaco), “scars”

What are 5 things you’re thankful for this year?

We all have reasons to be thankful. Throughout Scripture, we are encouraged to remember and rehearse together the reasons we have to give thanks to God. The Psalms reverberate with this charge:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. (Psalm 106:1)

The Apostle Paul encourages believers in local churches to do this together:

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

He also reminds us that our ultimate reason for giving thanks is found in Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose in victory over sin and death for us:

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Even though we should give thanks at any time, it helps to have a season of year where we give special attention to remembering and rehearsing with others the reasons we are thankful.

One of our practices as a family is to give thanks for five things everyday together. So, what are five things you are thankful for today or this year?

5 Must-Read Statements on the Church

It’s no secret that one of my favorite theologians of all time is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His book Life Together is, in my opinion, the best book written on the nature of true community in the church. It is a must-read for many reasons, but one of the most important is the way that Bonhoeffer directly deals with something all of us face with the church: disillusionment. If you have not experienced disillusionment at some point in your involvement with the church, then you probably have not been that involved. At a time when people struggled with living their faith individually and together, when the church was rent apart by conflicting allegiances and hypocrisy, Bonhoeffer stepped forward to train young pastors to serve Christ’s church.

Here are 5 must-read statements on the Church by Bonhoeffer from Life Together. I hope you find them as challenging and encouraging as I have over the years:

  • “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.” [26-27]
  • “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” [27]
  • “Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.” [28]
  • “If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is not great experience, not discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” [29]
  • “A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men….Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren.” [29-30]

[These quotations are taken from John W. Doberstein’s classic translation of Life Together. A more recent translation with thorough annotations and a helpful introduction is found in Volume 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.]

Looking Back at 2020 with Gratitude

Emmaus Road

The end of the calendar year provides a good opportunity for us look back at the previous year and to look forward at the coming year.

Oftentimes, we try to set New Year’s resolutions. I am not against the practice but much research shows that the majority of New Year’s resolutions, about 75%, are never upheld.[1]

At other times, we end up passively looking back at the previous year, letting Google’s “Year in Search” or “YouTube Rewind” tell us what happened in the past year. But this is inactive and impersonal approach to the cusp of the year doesn’t leave us with much ownership of what has happened or what is coming.

We need something different here; something more. Because all of our life is a gift from God, I’d like to suggest we need something more, which enables us to meaningfully, personally, and actively direct our attention to God as we stand on the final moments of one year and embark upon a new year.

I’d like to share out of some of my own practices for this in two direction: 1) looking back at the previous year and 2) stepping forward into the coming year. And I’d like to root that in the psalms, where we have been spending a good deal of time over the past month.

Looking Back: Give thanks

There is so much we can do with the year that has gone by, but one of the best practices is to look back with thanksgiving to God for who He is and what He has done. Psalm 136 is an extended prayer of thanksgiving, and serves as an example of thanksgiving for us. Here are the first few verses:

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
(Psalm 136:1-3)

Psalm 136 is a catalog of thanksgiving to God. There are a lot of ways we can think about our previous year, but gratitude does something powerful to us. It reshapes our outlook from negativity to positivity. As G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”[2]

One simple way I have found helpful in looking back over my previous year with gratitude is to simply look over my calendar for the previous year, taking time to thank God for the ways I saw Him at work in my life. Some are simple, like the visit from a friend or a surprise guest who lifted my spirits. Others are more in-depth, like big projects I was able to complete or key life transitions like a milestone birthday for me, a friend or family member, or a surgery that someone made it through successfully. As I look over that calendar, I simply offer thanks to God for what He has done.

Another thing that has helped me, and is even easier in the current technological era, is to look through my pictures from the past year. Visually, I can see the experiences, events and relationships that easily become sources of gratitude. As with the calendar, as I look at those pictures, I offer thanks to God for what He has done and the gifts He has given me in this past year.

Sometimes, I have found it particularly helpful to write a list of thanksgiving to God. It can be as simple as pulling out a piece of paper, writing “Thank you, God:” at the top, and then writing a bulleted list of at least 10-20 things that I am thankful for from the past year. You may find, like me, that the list becomes longer than you expected.


[1] Ashira Prossack, “This Year Don’t Set New Year’s Resolutions,” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2018/12/31/goals-not-resolutions/.

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/5-quotes-from-g-k-chesterton-on-gratitude-and-thanksgiving/.

The Weekend Wanderer: 5 December 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.


Advent“Oh How We Need Advent (This Year More Than Most)” – A friend shared this article with me and I found it very beautiful, heart-rending, honest, and joyful all at the same time. Advent is one of my favorite seasons of the year. It so so much more than a preparation for Christmas. I appreciate the way that the author, E. M. Welcher, brings together the anticipatory longing and much-needed hope of Advent so powerfully.


harvest-wheat-farmer-hand“On Being Grateful” – Thanksgiving was just a short time ago, but our need for gratitude in relation to our lives is ever-present. We know gratitude is important, but it is also not natural for us. Particularly in a year that has come to be considered one of the worst years of our lifetimes, how do we live with gratitude? Kevin Williamson wrestles with this question, touching upon memory, gratitude, suffering, and the distinctly Christian response to it all.


9 nonobvious conversation“Nine Nonobvious Ways to Have Deeper Conversations: The art of making connection even in a time of dislocation” – I’m increasingly convinced that the inability to have conversations—to truly listen to and speak with (not listen past and talk at) one another—is one of the biggest problems of our day. Here is David Brooks’ nine ways to help improve that: “After all we’ve been through this year, wouldn’t it be nice, even during a distanced holiday season, to be able to talk about this whole experience with others, in a deep, satisfying way? To help, I’ve put together a list of nonobvious lessons for how to have better conversations, which I’ve learned from people wiser than myself.”


relationship ending“‘Covid ended our marriage’: The couples who split in the pandemic” – Relational strain during the pandemic is surging, particularly in marriages, as this piece from the BBC highlights. It seems like strains or difficulties that were already present have been heightened and new challenges have emerged because of the unique situation of lockdowns, children at home for schooling, job changes or loss, and so much more. The importance of reaching out for help (such as to a counselor or local church), learning to talk well together (see the previous article by David Brooks or this one on active listening), assessing your relationship, and accessing other resources is more important than ever.


books“A Year of Reading: 2020 by John Wilson” – At First Things, John Wilson offers his characteristic wide-ranging list of recommendations for reading from the past year. While I have read a couple of the books on Wilson’s list, I found many curiosities and treasures to explore, from fiction to poetry to memoir to natural history and more. If you’re looking for something to read during the long winter, Wilson’s recommendations will likely have something for you.


Indonesia SA attacks“Indonesia attacks: Army hunts suspected militants over Christian murders” – Religious persecution is not a thing of the past. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters who suffer. “The Indonesian army has deployed a special force to hunt for suspected Islamic State-linked militants behind a deadly attack on Christians. Four Salvation Army members were killed – one of them beheaded – in an ambush on Sulawesi island on Friday. Intolerance against Indonesia’s Christian minority has been rising as the Muslim-majority country battles Islamist militancy. A church body denounced the killings as terrorism rather than a religious feud.”


Music: Chabros Music, “Come Worship Christ

[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.]