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.]

Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent

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I had the privilege to write an article on preaching in Advent for Preaching Today, which was just recently released. You can read the entire article, “Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent,” at Preaching Today, but here’s a taste of what you will find there.

In my childhood, one of the greatest moments of anticipation was Christmas. I couldn’t wait for the chance to decorate, eat Christmas cookies, and, of course, open presents on Christmas Day. Every Christmas Eve I struggled to go to bed, and was usually the first one up to see what was waiting under the tree. The anticipation and wonder were like adrenaline coursing through my body.

As we grow older, most of us lose some of our wonder. The novelty of Christmas starts to wear off, at least a little bit. Along with that, our anticipation gets trampled down under the weight of responsibilities, the rush of preparations, and, at times, the heaviness that comes on those of us for whom the holidays bring sadness.

There is a remedy for lost wonder and trampled anticipation. That remedy is not getting more expensive presents, having flashier decorations, or inviting the right people to our parties. The remedy is stepping back enough to realize what we have lost it, and then going through a journey of recovery. Like a relationship that has lost its spark or a hobby that has lost our interest, we need to take time and effort to see what’s right in front of us with fresh eyes.

The church has a recovery program of sorts for lost wonder and trampled anticipation leading toward Christmas. That recovery program is called Advent, which means “appearing,” coming from the Latin word adventus. Advent looks back with wonder at Jesus’ birth over two-thousand years ago, while also looking forward with anticipation to his future return at the end of human history.

As preachers, we have a unique opportunity to help our congregations enter into that recovery of anticipation and wonder. My hope in this article is to offer four pathways for preaching in Advent so that our congregations both taste the longing that leads us to cry out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and savor the joy that sings, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

Praying from Where You Are: Letting Our Experiences and Emotions Fuel Our Prayers

2014-11-13 13.14.09Many of us struggle with prayer. We struggle with what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and so much more. One of the most common concerns we face with prayer is whether it is okay to simply bring who we are from right where we are to God. Another way to say it is: can I be real with God in prayer?

The answer to this question is definitive: yes.

In prayer, it is always good to take our cues from what we find in Scripture. With this question, I would encourage us to take our cues from the Psalms and from Jesus. The Psalms are filled with expressions of the full range of emotions and human experience. Consider just a few examples of this:

  • agony (Psalm 22)
  • isolation (27:10)
  • joy (28:7)
  • repentance (51)
  • suffering (55:3)
  • yearning (63:1)
  • rejection (85:5)
  • abounding praise (150)

All 150 psalms reflect the range of human emotion and experience in ways that are both affirming and instructive.

Jesus also reflects a range of emotions in prayer. Whether it is his angst before Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35) or his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before the Cross (Luke 22:39-44), Jesus prays from the reality of His experience.

While we can argue that both writers of the Psalms and Jesus do not let their emotions or experiences control them, at the same time they allow their emotions and experiences to be a valid starting point and fuel for their prayers.

As I often like to say, there is nothing you can throw at God that He cannot handle. So, let us bring our real selves in the real presence of God in prayer. Do not hold back, but allow your emotions and experiences to lead you beyond yourself and into the transforming presence of the God who is there.

God’s Multifaceted Word: reflecting on Psalm 119

In my own daily times of Scripture reading and prayer, I’ve been meditating on Psalm 119. Psalm 119 is the longest of the Psalms by far with 176 verses. This psalm is an extended reflection on the delight and power of God’s word, structured as an acrostic poem with one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

The psalm offers an expansive catalog of the diverse characteristics of God’s word that is impressive. When I read through Psalm 119, I feel like I am getting a multifaceted look at the word of God that is enlightening, stretching, and encouraging.

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I preached on Ephesians 6:10-24 in a message entitled “A Crash Course in Spiritual Conflict.” In this well-known passage, we encounter Paul delineating the armor of God. The only offensive piece of that armor comes last: “and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17b). The Word of God is powerful and a vital piece of our armor in the spiritual conflict we face daily as God’s people. As the writer of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Here is a brief list of some of the facets of God’s word outlined within Psalm 119. I’d encourage you to read through the list and, when one statement jumps out at you, to open your Bible to Psalm 119, read that verse, and then meditate on those words for the day. There is so much here in each verse to grow and deepen us with God.

God’s word is:

  • to be fully obeyed (4)
  • righteous (7, 61, 106, 123, 137, 144, 164, 172)
  • a guide for purity of life (9)
  • a way to keep from sin (11)
  • from the Lord’s mouth (13, 88)
  • full of wonderful things (18)
  • a delight (24, 35, 70, 77, 143, 162, 174)
  • a counselor (24)
  • a revelation of God’s wonderful deeds (27)
  • a picture of the way of faithfulness (30)
  • good (39, 68)
  • a revelation of God’s salvation promises (41)
  • a bringer of freedom (45)
  • a promise to preserve our life (50)
  • ancient (52)
  • a comforter (52)
  • precious (72)
  • a pathway away from shame (80)
  • completely trustworthy (86, 138)
  • eternal (89, 152, 160)
  • firm in the heavens (89)
  • boundless in its perfection (90)
  • what makes us wiser than our enemies and our teachers (98, 99, 100)
  • sweet like honey (103)
  • a lamp and light for our path (105, 130)
  • the joy of our heart (111)
  • wonderful (129)
  • thoroughly tested (140)
  • true (142, 151, 160)
  • a bringer of peace (165)
  • sustenance (175)

When Blessing Atrophies [Psalm 1, part 5]

Psalm 1

While the first three verses of Psalm 1 provide us with a description of God’s blessing, the last three verses offer an alternative vision that is distressing.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Chaff is that part of the harvest that is separated out in the process of winnowing or threshing. There is no vitality in the chaff. It has no significance, other than to be blown away from the fruits of the harvest and burned.

Apart from God’s blessing and grace, the psalmist tells us, human beings are “like chaff.” This means, on the one hand, the wicked have lost life. The blessing that God intends for human life found in Him, His instruction, and godly relationships does not exist in the wicked and so their life is no longer life at all.  On the other hand, this means the wicked have no weight or substance. They are insubstantial in their lives, regardless of appearances, and the afternoon winds of life will quickly blow them away, let alone the hurricane winds of trouble that may come down upon us.

At the end of time, the psalmist says, the wicked will not be able to stand in God’s judgment. In the present time, the wicked will find it hard to stand in the presence of righteous people who walk with God.

There is a clear distinction between two ways of life and the blessing of God: one leads toward growth in blessing and the other leads toward atrophy of blessing. May God strengthen us to walk toward the fullness of His blessing in our lives.

What stands out to you about the description of the wicked here at the end of Psalm 1?

In what areas of your life might atrophy be taking root?

What would it look like to be a messenger of God’s blessing to those experiencing atrophy today?

[This is the fifth in a series of posts on Psalm 1, which began here.]

The Full Blessing of God [Psalm 1, part 4]

Psalm 1

Now look with me at Psalm 1, verse 3, we encounter the results of growth toward the full blessing of God. When our choose to walk into the way of God’s blessing, when we take steps with our environment for growth – our relationships and choices, and when we take in the essential food for growth – the Scripture, something beautiful happens. This is verse 3:

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

True blessing is a gift from God into our lives. True growth toward that blessing happens by the grace of God in our lives. We simply receive God’s gift and yield to God’s grace in our lives. As this happens, the psalmist points out three things that occur as part of the blessing of God on our lives.

Fruitful
First, we will become fruitful. That is, the result of our daily lives – both individually and together – will bring a crop of delicious fruit from our lives. Have you ever tried to do a project but felt like a lack of fruitfulness is there? There is nothing more frustrating. In our own lives, we cannot control blessing but we can yield to God’s to blessing. We cannot make ourselves grow, but we can surrender to the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing growth. Cultivating the right environment and then taking in the essential food for growth opens the doorways for fruitfulness. What sort of fruitfulness? From the New Testament perspective we can certainly turn to that wonderful passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatian church where he says: “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Our lives become truly life-giving to others. Our words restore and build up. Our actions reflect the astounding love and joy of God to the world.

Enduring
Along with fruitfulness, true growth results in endurance. Psalm 1:3 says: “whose leaf does not wither.” The seasons of life in this world can certainly cause us to wither. Like the droughts of certain summers, the trials, tribulations, and difficulties of this world threaten to bend us and break us down. But the person who is truly ‘blessed’ bears up, like Jesus, in the face of difficulty. Why? Because there is a solid, trustworthy grace of God that enters into us to provide strength for what we face. This is reflected in what we read from the prophet Habakkuk 3:17-18:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Prospering
Thirdly, we read here that the results of growth are prosperity: “whatever they do prospers.” We are not talking about something as simple and passing as monetary or material blessing here. Psalm 1 is not the seedbed for the prosperity gospel. Rather, we are talking about God giving us what we most deeply need: a life truly blessed by the joy of God’s presence and lived in an enduring and prosperous world. We all clearly know that material abundance does not in and of itself bring us prosperity in life. Otherwise, wealthy athletes and pop culture stars would not ruin their lives in meaningless ways. True prosperity comes through a life well-lived before God; a blessed life. A life that others look at and say, “I wish I was a person like that.” Of course, we know that such things are only derived from the grace of God.

We are made to grow. When we take steps to grow we begin to experience the fullness of God’s blessing: fruitfulness, endurance, and prosperity.

In what ways are do you want to grow toward fruitfulness, endurance, and prosperity with God’s blessing in your life?

What do you think it might look like to step forward toward the fullness of God’s blessing in this season of your life?

[This is the fourth in a series of posts on Psalm 1, which began here.]