The Weekend Wanderer: 13 April 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.

 

90144“Iraqi Christians in the US Face Deportation Again” – From Christianity Today: “Hundreds of Iraqi Christians detained in immigration raids are once again at risk of deportation after losing their chance to keep fighting their cases in court. On Tuesday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals closed the book on Hamama v. Adducci, a class-action lawsuit filed in June 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of 1,400 Iraqi natives, including more than 100 Detroit-area Chaldean Christians, who were detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and told they would be repatriated to their home country.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 10.19.17 AM“A man arrested in connection with the Louisiana black church fires” – “Officials with knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Wednesday night that a 21-year old man from St. Landry Parish was arrested in connection with the fires….St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre burned on March 26, followed by Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and two days later, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the same town. The fires are believed to have been intentionally set, a local elected official said Tuesday.”

 

10BLACKHOLEPHOTO-superJumbo-v3“Black Hole Picture Revealed for the First Time” – “Astronomers announced on Wednesday that at last they had seen the unseeable: a black hole, a cosmic abyss so deep and dense that not even light can escape it. ‘We’ve exposed a part of our universe we’ve never seen before,’ said Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and director of the effort to capture the image, during a Wednesday news conference in Washington, D.C.”

 

Ajith Fernando“Allegiance to Scripture, Respect for Culture” – Jaclyn Parrish reviews Ajith Fernando’s new book Discipling in a Multicultural World. Throughout his pastoral ministry and work with Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka Fernando has been a voice for relational discipleship and ministry that is focused on the right things. “Ajith Fernando’s Discipling in a Multicultural World is by no means the final word on discipleship, cross-cultural or otherwise. Nevertheless, the Sri Lankan church leader provides principles that are both biblically sound and readily applicable in any corner of our increasingly multicultural world.”

 

The Moviegoer - Walker Percy“We Still Live Within the Mediated, Alienated World of ‘The Moviegoer'” – Over at The New Yorker, Paul Elie reflects about the continued significance of Walker Percy and his novel The Moviegoer, for our current culture: “‘The Moviegoer” isn’t really about movies, and yet the title remains unexpectedly apt, just as it was when the novel, published in 1961, became a surprise winner of the National Book Award and made a sudden Southern eminence of its author, Walker Percy, a nonpracticing physician and self-taught philosopher in early middle age. It’s apt because it moves the novel (and our expectations for the novel) out of the South. It intimates that this novel, set in New Orleans, the region’s most storied city, isn’t about history or legacy, isn’t about place at all: it’s about how we see things—a novel of perception and sensibility, dealing with the search for authenticity in a scripted, stylized, mediated world.”

 

WomenSaints“These Women Played An Enormous Role in Shaping Christianity—Do You Know Their Names?” – Riffing off of Hebrews 11 and 12, Amy Davis Abdallah offers a roll-call of great women who shaped our faith. Stretching from Lydia and Priscilla in the New Testament all the way through the history of the church in the contemporary era, you will not want to miss this celebration of great Christian women, many of whom we may not know.

 

hiding“Does Ministry Fuel Addictive Behavior?” – Here’s an article from Christianity Today in 2006, which is still as relevant today. “In a recent issue of Leadership, Sally Morgenthaler shared the story of her husband’s sexual addiction that resulted in a felony conviction and years in prison. Through that painful experience, Morgenthaler came to see how pastoral ministry can actually contribute to the addictive behaviors that destroy many pastors and their families.”

 

robinson-and-williams“Faith, imagination, and the glory of ordinary life” – The Christian Century carried a transcript of a conversation between novelist Marilynne Robinson and theologian Rowan Williams. This conversation took place at Wheaton College’s annual theology conference, which focused on the theological significance of Robinson’s work.

 

Music: Franz Joseph Haydn, The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross (1787), performed by The Navarra Quartet.

[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.]

A Faith-full Imagination

image 5 - river valley.jpg

The imagination, so one definition says, is “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” With imagination, we see what is not visible to our physical eyes, hear what is audible but not in the moment, and consider what is not tangibly before us, yet is in our mind’s eye or inner thoughts.

Albert Einstein, that wonderful scientist who saw things that were not yet clear, and ushered in breakthroughs with his theories of relativity, once said, “Your imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

A lack of imagination is like living in a prison. The inability to grasp things beyond our sense, the inability to move beyond what is available to us, this lack of imagination shuts us inside of our limits. That’s why Muhammad Ali, known for some of his pithy sayings, in reflecting on that, once said: “The man who has no imagination has no wings.”

But with imagination, we can fly beyond our cages. With imagination, we have “the one weapon against reality.”[1]

The New Testament author of the epistle of Hebrews writes:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

If imagination helps us to see things that are not immediately visible, to fly beyond our limits and the cages of our circumstances, then, in a biblical sense, imagination is important because it is intrinsic to faith. Imagination strengthens us to know the invisible God, to live life with God, and to hope in eternal truth that brings meaning beyond what our senses immediately reveal.

That is why C. S. Lewis wrote:

Reason is the natural organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning. [2]

Imagination is important in our spiritual lives because it becomes a resource God uses to help us hear Him in Scripture, pray with faith, and live with endurance beyond what we can see. And that vital place of imagination in our life with God in Scripture, prayer and endurance is what we see in Daniel’s life

Throughout the book, but particularly in his prayer in chapter 9, we find Daniel’s imagination set ablaze by the power of God to fly beyond the cages of his circumstances. Even though Daniel had experienced exile for more than sixty years by the time of his prayer, his vision is not limited by the difficulties in front of him. Instead, he sees with the eyes of faith, with an apocalyptic imagination, who God is and what God can and will do because of His characters and promises.

May God give us a faith-full imagination today, no matter what our senses tell us or how our circumstances threaten to imprison us.

Lord God,
take my imagination
and by the power of the Holy Spirit
set it ablaze with faith,
that the eyes of my heart
might see reality as You see it
and, like Daniel,
rise above my circumstances
in You.

[This material originally appeared in a slightly different form in my message, “Exile Faith at Prayer,” delivered on December 8/9, 2019, at Eastbrook Church.]


[1] Attributed to Jules de Gaultier.

[2] From his essay, “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” in Selected Literary Essays (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).; quoted here.

All Saints’ Day: A Celebration

fullsizeoutput_ae3.jpegToday, is the celebration of All Saints’ Day. What is All Saints’ Day and why should we celebrate it?

Since the 4th century, Christians have celebrated the lives of saints and martyrs. However, it was not until AD 609 that Pope Boniface IV dedicated one day of remembrance for all martyrs. Since that time, and after a broadening by Pope Gregory IV in 837 into a celebration of all past saints, All Saints’ Day has been a solemn holy day in the Roman Catholic Church, often connected with reverence for past Christians and relics.  While often criticized for idolatrous veneration of departed Christians, even after the Reformation, most Protestants continued to celebrate All Saints’ Day as a way to connect God’s faithfulness to His people in times past with God’s faithfulness to His people now.

In Hebrews, chapter 11, the writer takes us through what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith.” We hear of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Rahab — all of whom faithfully walked through their ups-and-downs with God. The first words of chapter 12 take a sudden turn to the present: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The lives of great heroes of the faith are celebrated as an inspiration for the Christians listening in the present moment, that they too might live with God faithfully in their everyday lives.

I love that phrase: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” Those witnesses are the believers in God that have gone before us. They bear witness to us that there is a way to live faithfully with God upon earth now even as they also bear witness that there is future hope with God beyond our earthly lives. Although it may sound strange to our ears, all past believers are ‘saints’ in that they are ‘holy ones’ (the literal translation of the Greek word hagioi) through Jesus Christ. All Saints’ Day brings to the foreground the spiritual bond that exists between believers from all times and in all places. More specifically, All Saints’ Day highlights the connection between the saints who have gone ahead of us into God’s presence (sometimes called “the Church triumphant”) and the saints still upon this earthly plane (sometimes called “the Church militant”). We celebrate those who have gone before us so that we might be encouraged to run the race before us with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

In a culture dominated by the ever-pressing latest and greatest that is new and now, All Saints’ Day is a powerful corrective. It reminds that we are an important part of God’s story, but we are not the only part of the story. When we celebrate the saints of previous times we realize that we would not be here were it not for Abraham, Jacob, Ruth, David, Esther, Isaiah, Mary, and so many more.

In a culture that is obsessed with our present opinions about our present matters, All Saints’ Day offers us perspective. It helps us grow beyond “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” to steal a phrase from G. K. Chesterton. We reconnect with Catherine of Siena and Augustine of Hippo, with Perpetua of Carthage and Janani Luwum of Uganda, with Sojourner Truth and Blaise Pascal. We need them; perhaps even more than we know.

In a culture that has forgotten how to think about the future, All Saints’ Day reminds us to have hope of a future day. Since there are saints who have gone before us, we can persevere now as saints upon earth. Jesus Himself told us that He is preparing a place for us and, as John testifies, there will be a great company there of saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation around God’s throne celebrating in God’s eternal kingdom.

By God’s grace, we, too, will join that great company. But until we do, we celebrate God’s faithfulness in their lives as a means to lean into God’s faithfulness in our own lives as persevering pilgrims in this land that is not our home.

The Pilgrim Way

pilgrim way.jpgAn old spiritual offers the following description of our life as Christians:

I am a pilgrim and a stranger, traveling through this wearisome land,
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord, and it’s not…not made by hand.

An overused theme of life is that it is a journey. The reason this idea is overused, even cliché, is that it is true. We are, as the Apostle Peter writes: “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). Day after day, year after year, we are moving along the way of our lives until we reach some sort of destination. Of course, many of us have different sense of the destination, but the author of the letter to the Hebrews says that people of faith “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth….seeking a homeland….they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

This has been a returning theme of our series, Ascend: A Study of the Psalms of Ascent.  In particular, the first weekend, “Peace,” I made reference to the concept of pilgrimage, around which the grouping of the psalms of Ascent is structured as a response to God’s call to His people in Deuteronomy 16:16-17:

Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.  Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.

Pilgrimage is something woven throughout the faith life of the Hebrew people. It is something Jesus Himself participated in with his family and neighbors, traveling to Jerusalem at least twice in his early life that are recorded in Scripture (Luke 2:22-38, 41-51), but likely more often than that.

Yet, pilgrimage is a concept that is foreign to most of us in North America. While we give a lot of attention to vacations, the idea of taking a religious journey is not something we think of too often. However, the concept of pilgrimage is not only current within other faith traditions, but woven into the history of Christianity as well. The Camino do Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, a well-worn pilgrimage route through Europe has become an increasingly well-known in North America, perhaps in part due to the movie “The Way” featuring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.

In his book, The Way is Made by WalkingArthur Paul Boers relates his own journey on the Camino, offering insights about how this physical pilgrimage taught him about the spiritual pilgrimage of our life with God in Christ. Here is an excerpt that gives the feel of why we need to recovery pilgrimage as a guiding metaphor for our spiritual lives:

Pilgrimage in its truest sense is religiously motivated travel for the purpose of meeting and experiencing God with hopes of being shaped and changed by that encounter. Pilgrimages are often concretely physical – journeying to a particular place, perhaps with some extraordinary expense and exertion – and spiritual – one hopes to meet God in this travel.

An irony – indeed a danger – of pilgrimage is that we try to settle in a final destination, considering only that particular place holy and forgetting the call to be faithfully on the move for God. Think of Peter wanting to remain on the mountain where he, John and James (Santiago) experienced the transfiguration: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” His suggestion is dismissed: “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified” (Mark 9:5-6). Christian pilgrimage always calls us to further growth. As Origen wrote: “Travelers on the road to God’s wisdom find that the further they go, the more the road opens out, until it stretches to infinity.”

Pilgrimage sites are not merely an end in themselves. They are not strictly speaking even necessary. They richly symbolize the fact that our lives are to be a journey with and to God. Even if not all of us can afford or are able to go to famous places for prayer, every time we venture to church for worship we make a small pilgrimage to deepen our faithfulness. The Greek word paroikia means “sojourn” and is “also the root of English word ‘parish’, meaning a congregation of pilgrims.”

I love that phrase at the beginning of the last paragraph: “our lives are to be a journey with and to God.” So, wherever we are today, let’s lift our legs for one more step, lift our hearts to our God, and fix our eyes on the eternal kingdom, which is just around the next bend in the road.

The Legacy of Faith (discussion questions)

Faith Life Series Gfx_4x3 TitleHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “The Legacy of Faith,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This was the final message in our series “Faith Life.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is someone you know who has held onto faith in God over the long haul of life? What did that look like?
  2. This weekend at Eastbrook, we conclude the “Faith Life” series by looking at the end of Abraham’s life in Genesis 25:1-11 and the New Testament reflection on his life in Hebrews 11:8-19. In preparation for this study ask God to speak to you through your study of the Scripture, and then read both Bible passages aloud.
  3. Over these last few months, we have journeyed with Abraham from His original calling by God in Genesis 12 through many ups and downs to the conclusion of his life here in Genesis 25. What has caught your attention most over the last few weeks concerning the life of faith?
  4. In Hebrews 11:8-12 and 11:17-19, the phrase “by faith” introduces several instances of Abraham’s life of faith. How would you summarize each of these “by faith” statements about Abraham?
  5. In the midst of discussing Abraham’s specific life of faith, the writer of Hebrews addresses a very unique aspect of faith in 11:13-16. What would you say the writer is addressing and how does this relate to Abraham?
  6. What do you think it means to live by faith in such a way that we “long for a better country” (Hebrews 11:16)? Is this part of your life of faith or not? What do you think it would look like for you to live in this way?
  7. From what you read in Hebrews 11:19, how would you characterize Abraham’s view of God? Why do you think Abraham’s faith was so strong?
  8. As you reflect on this study, what do you want your legacy of faith to be? If you are alone, write it down somewhere so you can think about it further this week. If you are with a small group, take some time to discuss these things with one another. Close in prayer.

The Legacy of Faith

Faith Life Series Gfx_16x9 TitleMany times we ask what it looks like to leave a legacy behind when our life draws to a close. But as we concluded the “Faith Life” series this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I wanted us to think about what sort of faith legacy we will leave behind.

To conclude this series on the life of faith from Abraham’s journey in Genesis 11-25, we looked at Hebrews 11:8-19. There, the writer to the early church describes the ways in which Abraham left a legacy of faith through the way he lived his life.

The outline and video file for the message are below. You can listen to the message via our audio podcast here. You can access the entire series of messages from the “Faith Life” series here. You can also visit Eastbrook Church on VimeoFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

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Instant Faith?

ThumbnailThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I launched a new series called “Beginning to Live.” The focus of this past weekend was faith and so my blog posts this week are all about faith.

Faith is something very challenging for us in our day. We live in a fast-paced culture intent on instant gratification. We think of an item that we want and we immediately search for it online. We find it at a good price. We purchase it with credit. We have it shipped to us within two to three days. When we receive that item, there are times when we no longer remember exactly why we wanted it in the first place.

We want what we want and we want it soon: a few hours, a few days, or hopefully not more than a week.

Look at these words about the faith of those from times past:

They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

They heard the promise, they believed it, and then they lived in light of it…but they did not often receive it within their days on earth. What a hard concept for us today.Read More »