The Weekend Wanderer: 6 March 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.


26librescoembed“Dependence: Toward an Illiberalism of the Weak” – Leah Libresco Sargeant in Plough Quarterly: “Our physical weakness is a training ground for our struggles with moral weakness. There is no physical infirmity we can endure that is more humiliating than our susceptibility to sin. The elderly woman with tremors that leave her unable to lift her cup to her lip is not, in the final sense, weaker than any vigorous young man who finds he must echo Paul and admit, ‘For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do’ (Rom. 7:19). There is a blessing in the inescapability of physical weakness that breaks our pride. Sister Teresa de Cartagena, a fifteenth-century Cistercian nun from Spain, wrote; Arboleda de los enfermos (Grove of the Infirm) as a spiritual reflection on her own deafness. Sister Teresa writes: ‘Divine generosity invites all to this blessed feast, but suffering grabs the infirm by their cloak and makes them enter by force.'”


iraq christian pope“Pope’s risky Iraq trip aims to boost Christians” – Nicole Winfield in AP News: “Pope Francis is pushing ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite rising coronavirus infections, hoping to encourage the country’s dwindling number of Christians who were violently persecuted during the Islamic State’s insurgency while seeking to boost ties with the Shiite Muslim world. Security is a concern for the March 5-8 visit, given the continued presence of rogue Shiite militias and fresh rocket attacks. Francis, who relishes plunging into crowds and zipping around in his popemobile, is expected to travel in an armored car with a sizeable security detail. The Vatican hopes the measures will have the dual effect of protecting the pope while discouraging contagion-inducing crowds.”


AND Campaign“And Campaign to Add 13 New Chapters During Pandemic” – Jacqueline J. Holness in Christianity Today: “The And Campaign—the organization rallying urban Christians to ‘faithful civic engagement’—is on track to quadruple its size in the span of a year, with chapters launching in three Southern cities in 2020 and scheduled to launch in another 10 cities in the first half of 2021. Last year’s convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and political and racial unrest in the United States catapulted organizations like the And Campaign, which were already addressing these complex issues, to a new level of prominence.”


Gentle and Lowly“What the Success of Gentle and Lowly Reveals About Our View of God’s Love” – Samuel Jones at The Gospel Coalition: “I’ve had numerous conversations about Gentle and Lowly, often with friends and family members who have a similar heritage within evangelicalism. We all read Ortlund’s case that our sins and struggles, far from repelling Jesus, draw him closer to us. We realized this was not our predominant conception of Jesus. Yet few books are as packed with Scripture or as conversant with great saints as Gentle and Lowly. This is not innovative theology or a feel-good devotional. While reading the book I repeatedly thought, This can’t be right; this has to be a postmodern view of Jesus. Then I’d realize the statement was a passage from Scripture or a Puritan such as Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, or John Bunyan. The Bible teaches that this is really how Jesus relates to those he has redeemed. Our Christian forebears believed it and taught it.”


head in hands“Beyond Pornography: Spiritual Formation Studied in a Particular Case” – One of the most pervasive temptations I encounter in my ministry as a pastor is pornography. The accessibility of pornography has led many people into the imprisonment of this temptation. While many think this is only a problem for men, studies have shown this is not true. I have seen many attempts to deal with pornography not really bring freedom in peoples’ lives, but actually lead to increased guilt and sometimes increased hiding. Dallas Willard offers one of the most fruitful approaches to spiritual growth, outlined very clearly in his book Renovation of the Heart, and here applied to the temptation of pornography. I heartily recommend reading and re-reading this one, or even sharing it with someone who you know struggles in this way.


WV Gaza“A World Vision Employee Is Still Awaiting Fair Trial in Israel” – Ken Chitwood in Christianity Today: “Every day, at least once and sometimes more, Khalil el-Halabi logs on to Twitter and posts pictures, videos, and appeals on behalf of his son Mohammad. Tagging people he believes might come to his aid—human rights lawyers, politicians, and journalists—he calls for justice and mercy. On January 4, he posted, ‘To our Israeli neighbours. My son will be brought to court for the 154th time Tuesday facing a charge he has not committed without any credible evidence.’ He closed the tweet with a quote from Amos 5:24: ‘Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.'”


Music: Bob Dylan, “Not Dark Yet,” from Time Out of Mind.

Knowing We are Dearly Loved Children of God

If you did a web search for the phrase “a new you,” you would find all sorts of interesting results. You would find anti-aging treatments. You would find opportunities for cosmetic surgery, body slimming, or laser hair removal. You would find self-help gurus and inspirational speakers offering solutions to your problems. You would even find car dealers and clothing shops offering you a much-needed new look.

How many of us have not at some point wanted a new look, a new identity, or a new persona? Now, listen to these words of the Apostle John from 1 John 3:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

Who are we, according to John, here? We are children of God.

That new identity begins with the outpouring of God’s love upon us through Jesus Christ.

What is God’s love like? John tells us, first of all, that God’s love is “great,” a Greek word which conveys astonishment and wonder. God’s love is shocking—amazing—it has a greatness that surpasses our understanding.

Second, John tells us God’s love is “lavished on us.” We may not use the word “lavish” very often, but it conveys an extravagant generosity. It’s the word we use to describe an over-the-top gift someone gives us. God’s love is a great, gift-love. That shocking gift-love is at the very center of our lives through Jesus Christ. It establishes who we are. It determines our identity.

So much of our lives is spent trying to feel significant; to feel like we’re “someone.” We seek that through the love or attention of others, through our accomplishments, through standing out from the crowd in some way. But here, we are told that the limitless love of God is generously and shockingly poured into our lives. It’s not something we have to search for all our lives, it’s something that is readily available and given to us through Jesus Christ.

Settle into that for a moment. The God of the universe, who created us, loves us lavishly, shockingly, and personally.

How powerful it is to know that we are God’s children. I can’t help but think of the way Paul describes this reality in Romans 8:

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

Today, take some time to rest in the truth that through faith in Jesus Christ we are God’s children, dearly loved and held in the divine embrace by our Abba Father no matter what comes.

Living Like We Know Who We Are

This past weekend I had the privilege of preaching at Meadowbrook Church in Wauwatosa, one of our sister churches in the Brook family of churches. When our family first moved to the Milwaukee area in 2003, while I served as Elmbrook Church’s College Pastor, we lived on the east side of Tosa and knew a lot of folks who were part of the community at Meadowbrook. More recently, I have gotten to know and deeply respect Bryan Marvel, the Lead Pastor at Meadowbrook, and it was a joy to speak as part of their current series on 1 John, “Walk in the Light.”

I spoke from 1 John 2:28-3:10 and focused on ways in which the Apostle John answers a fundamental question of our human existence: “Who are we?” As John unfolds his answers to that questions, he also offers an exhortation to his readers—and us—about what it means to live like we know who we are.

You can view the message video and outline below, and access discussion questions and sketch notes from the message here. You can take a look at Meadowbrook’s entire series here.


“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

Knowing We Are Children of God (1 John 3:1-2)

  • Based in the love of God
  • How this happens
  • Aspects of the new identity

Continuing with Hope (1 John 2:28-3:3)

  • A crisis of hope
  • The future appearing of Christ
  • The future transformation of life
  • Tomorrow’s hope and today’s living

Living Free and Victorious Now (1 John 3:4-10)

  • The first appearing of Christ
  • The freedom and victory in Christ
  • Living in Christ and apart from the devil

Irrelevance and the Love of God: Part 1 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

One of the most incisive handlings I have ever encountered on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 is Henri Nouwen‘s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. While the book is specifically targeted at those in ministry, I believe it has broader application to all believers.

In this and two follow-up posts, I want to interact with that book a little as a follow-up to Will Branch’s sermon this past weekend at Eastbrook, “The Way of the Wilderness,” and my own recent reflections on the spiritual significance of the wilderness. Whether you’ve read the book or not, feel free to interact with what I write here.

Relevance vs. Irrelevance
In the first section of part one of the book, Nouwen connects the first temptation of Jesus with the temptation toward relevance. Nouwen contrasts the irrelevance of ministry with the push within our society for relevance. I struggle with Nouwen’s reflections here because, on the one hand, I do not want my life or ministry to be driven by relevance, but, on the other hand, I do want to communicate God’s truth in a way that connects with people and is not obtuse.

Here is my summary of what Nouwen means by these terms:

  • Relevance: an obsession with success, impact, and practicality that is closely linked with the things we do rather than who we are.
  • Irrelevance: walking the way of vulnerability and weakness in connection with the weakness and struggles of the world around us while living in the love of God

Nouwen writes: “The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation” (35).

So, I wonder, is it possible to desire to connect meaningfully with others while simultaneously living out of this sort vocational sense of irrelevance?

Knowing the Heart of God
In the second section of part one, Nouwen draws attention to Jesus’ question of Peter: ‘Do you love me?’ He emphasizes that our love of Jesus is the central issue in our ministry and service for God.

The Christian leader of the future is the one who truly knows the heart of God as it has become flesh, ‘a heart of flesh’, in Jesus. Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, that is not something that comes from God. The sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any conditions or limits. (38)

These words cut to the core of who we are. I am reminded of an old statement a mentor shared with me once: “Have I become so in love with the work of the Lord that I have ceased to love the Lord of the work?” I wonder whether I live in such a way that my experience and knowledge of God’s love is so central that it overflows into proclaiming and embodying the unconditional love of God to others? Is that what motivates me?

Mystic Leaders
Nouwen brings the first part of the book to a close by calling believers to a life of contemplative prayer as mystic leaders. Sometimes the words “contemplative” and “mystic” throw people off. However, what he is really speaking about is our attentive pondering the love of God throughout our lives. The question here is not only do we love Jesus, but do we live a life of love with Him. Read these words:

A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love. . . Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word, and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness? (42-43)

Again, Nouwen pierces to the heart. Who am I as a leader, minister, or servant of Christ? Am I devoted to Jesus? Am I loving Him fully?

The Radical Welcome of Joseph

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Holy Family by Night, ca. 1642-1648, oil on panel

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

The openness of Joseph to Mary and her unborn child reveals an admirable generosity and hospitality of life. When the angel spoke to him, Joseph obeyed, receiving the words of this message as if from God. He obeyed in the moment by swiftly taking Mary into his home and life, but also obeyed perseveringly when, after nine months, he received her child as his own, naming him Jesus.

But it is Joseph’s openness of life —his radically welcoming posture—that strikes me so powerfully today. Joseph did not close off his life to others or to God’s purposes. Instead, in the most tangible of ways and most personal of settings, Joseph makes what is his available to God. What could be considered more definitively “ours” than our household—our intimate relationships, possessions, space, and more? Who does not think in some way of their home life as sacred and protected; a refuge and place of peace from the world outside?

Yet it is precisely this sacredness which becomes the furnace of God’s holy love and presence for Jesus through the openness of Joseph. Joseph welcomes Mary into his home. He names Jesus, thus expressing to his relations and the surrounding town that this child is his. He cares for Mary and raises the child, sanctifying the sacred space of household, intimate relationships and family to God. When shared and opened to others through hospitality, these deep places of our life—our space, our daily lives, and our intimacy—can express the radiance of God’s love and presence.

Like Joseph, may we be open to God with all of who we are and what we have. And in that, may we also be radically welcoming to others. May our homes, our relationships, and the sacred spaces of our lives reflect to others the generosity and hospitality of God.