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.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 22 February 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.

92299“Polyamory: Pastors’ Next Sexual Frontier” – Here’s a topic you may not have thought we would have been talking about in the church, but Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler help us consider an issue pastors may encounter more in days to come. “For many Christians, polyamory seems so extreme and rare that there’s no need to talk about it. But it is much more common than some people think, and it’s growing in popularity. According to one estimate, ‘as many as 5 percent of Americans are currently in relationships involving consensual nonmonogamy,’ which is about the same percentage as those who identify as LGBTQ. A recent study, published in a peer-reviewed journal, found that 20 percent of Americans have been in a consensual non-monogamous relationship at least once in their life. Another survey showed that nearly 70 percent of non-religious Americans between the ages of 24 and 35 believe that polyamory is okay, even if it’s not their cup of tea. And perhaps most shocking of all, according to sociologist Mark Regnerus in Cheap Sex, roughly 24 percent of church-going people believe that consensual polyamorous relationships are morally permissible.”


Burkina Faso attack“Gunmen massacre 14 Christians during Protestant service in Burkina Faso” – If you haven’t paid attention to the religious tensions in the West African nation of Burkina Faso in recent years, this is a good time to pay attention. There have been increasing attacks against Christians by Islamic militants, including this past week. “Gunmen launched yet another attack on a church service in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, killing 14 people and wounding several others in the small eastern town of Hantoukoura. Sunday’s massacre follows attacks by radical Islamist insurgents on military posts, a mining convoy and places of worship in the restive countryside that the army has struggled to contain. The assailants fled on motorbikes after spraying bullets into the Protestant congregation, authorities said.”


Fasting“The Most Neglected Spiritual Discipline” – I have a love-hate relationship with fasting. I love it because when I fast I encounter my self-will and find ways to meet God in that place in a very tangible way. I hate it because…I encounter my self-will and, let me be honest, I just get downright hangry. With some slight exceptions, I have found that difficulties with a spiritual practice often mean that we really need it. However, as we draw near to the beginning of Lent, Thomas Christianson’s exploration of the significance of this spiritual practice is right on time.


115488“We Need to Read the Bible Jesus Read” – As I continue preaching through a series on the minor prophets at Eastbrook Church, I am reminded of just how significant the larger biblical context is for our understanding of the nature of Jesus as Messiah, the kingdom of God, the gospel, and so much more. In this article Brent A. Strawn, Professor of Old Testment at Duke Divinity School, explains why the Hebrew Bible is so important for us to understand as Christians.


Russell Moore“Trump critic Russell Moore, ERLC to face scrutiny by Southern Baptists” – “The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee will launch a task force to examine the activities of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the convention’s public policy organization headed by the theologian and author Russell Moore. Southern Baptist leaders fear controversy over Moore could lead to a drop in donations. Moore, 48, who has been president of the ERLC since 2013, has been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump since the president began campaigning for the White House. In 2016, Moore called Trump ‘an arrogant huckster’ and wrote an essay for the National Review citing ‘Trump’s vitriolic — and often racist and sexist — language about immigrants, women, the disabled and others.’ In response, Trump attacked Moore on Twitter, calling him ‘a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for.’ The same tweet called Moore a ‘nasty guy with no heart!'”


1776“Sorry, New York Times, But America Began in 1776” – One of the most notable journalistic achievements of 2019 was that of the New York Times‘ “1619 project.” It would be mild to say that project generated a lot of conversation about both the content of the project and the nature of the journalistic approach. Now, this past week saw the launch of a non-partisan black-led response to the “1619 Project” called “1776.” Wilfrid Reilly, a participant in “1776,” outlines the three core goals of this response project: “(1) rebutting some outright historical inaccuracies in the 1619 Project; (2) discussing tragedies like slavery and segregation honestly while clarifying that these were not the most important historical foundations of the United States; and (3) presenting an alternative inspirational view of the lessons of our nation’s history to Americans of all races.”


Flannery O'Connor“Flannery O’Connor’s Good Things” – When I was in college, my wife, Kelly, took a class on the writings of two southern novelists I knew very little about at that time: Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy. I am forever grateful that she took that class and patiently introduced me to these two authors, who have become a couple of treasured voices in my life. James Matthew Wilson introduces us to a recently edited collection of O’Connor’s previously unpublished letters, including some with Walker Percy, that is aptly titled Good Things Out of Nazareth.


Music: Herbie Hancock, “Watermelon Man” (1962), from Takin’ Off

[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.]

Learning the Dance of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most freeing and challenging practices we encounter in life. We all know we need it from others and should give it to others, yet learning the way of forgiveness can feel unnatural and confusing. This feeling may grow stronger when we read the strong words of the Apostle Paul:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

forgiving-as-weve-been-forgivenThis past weekend in my message, “Reconciliation,” I quoted from Célestin Musekura‘s book Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven which he co-authored with L. Gregory Jones. Here is the quotation I referenced, where Musekura reflects on the Cross of Christ:

Because of this divine act, the Christian model of forgiveness stresses the granting of unconditional forgiveness to those who cause injury, pain and suffering in this life.

In the book, Musekura shares his own journey through the pain of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and beyond. Reading his words thrust me back into the trauma-filled stories I had heard from other survivors in Rwanda when visiting in 1999 and 2000 as a staff member of World Relief. Musekura’s own journey into forgiveness and the work he has done with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) brought him to this powerful realization:

If forgiveness is the heart of the gospel, it is the center of the church’s mission as well.

Jones puts legs to this, using the metaphor of the dance of forgiveness. Comparing the work of forgiveness to learning how to dance, Jones offers six steps of forgiveness that I found incredibly helpful as we seek to grow in the grace of forgiveness. I wanted to share them here as we reflect on our own lives and the divided society around us:

Step 1: Truth Telling: We become willing to speak the truthfully and patiently  about the conflicts that have arisen. “We need not only honesty but also patience…[to] discern more clearly what is going on….We must, rather, take the time to talk to one another about the things that divide us” (46-47).

Step 2: Acknowledging Anger: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them. “Whether these emotions are our own or belong to others who are mad at us, it does no good to deny them….We learn to overcome bitterness as we begin to live differently through practices that transform hatred into love” (48-49).

Step 3: Concern for the Other: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God. “Seeing as children of God the ones on whom our bitterness focuses challenges our tendency to perceive them simply as enemies, rivals or threats. Now they are potential friends of God” (49-50).

Step 4: Recognizing, Remembering, RepentingWe recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance. “People need to be held accountable for their actions…we also need to recognize and resist our temptation to blame others while exonerating ourselves….Repentance breaks the cycle of violence and creates space for God to do something new” (51).

Step 5: Commitment to ChangeWe make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. “Forgiveness out to usher in repentance and change. It ought to inspire prophetic protest wherever people’s lives are being diminished and destroyed. Forgiveness and justice are closely related” (53).

Step 6: Hope for the FutureWe confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation. “Continuing to maintain reconciliation as the goal – even if this is ‘hoping against hope’ for reconciliation in this life – is important because it reminds us that God promises to make all things new….Every concrete act – every prayer prayed, every apology offered, every meal shared across dividing lines – is a sign that our history and habits of sin have been definitively interrupted by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (55).

Reflecting on Jones’ dance steps of forgiveness, I couldn’t help but reflect on numerous situations I’ve experienced in my own life or in walking with others as a pastor. Some of these steps come naturally, while others take great selflessness and humility. Still, I see them as helpful guides into the pathways of forgiveness.

If, as Célestin Musekura writes, “forgiveness is the heart of the gospel” and “the center of the church’s mission,” then it may be time for some dance lessons! What do you think?

Relationships with Jesus at the Center (discussion questions)

Jesus at the Center Series Gfx_App SquareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Relationships with Jesus at the Center,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is part of our series, “Jesus at the Center,” from the book of Colossians. This week we looked at Colossians 3:18-4:1.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What changed in your life most dramatically after you became a follower of Jesus? How did that change occur in your everyday life?
  2. As we continue our series, “Jesus at the Center,” we look this week at Colossians 3:18-4:1. Whether you are on your own or with a small group, begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you through His word, and then read that portion aloud.
  3. Background: This portion of Colossians builds from a common concept discussed at the time known as a household code. Aristotle and other ancient thinkers upheld the idea of the father as the head of the household with authority over ‘lesser’ members, including the wife, children, and servants. This household was seen as the basic unit of the greater society. If the households were strong, then the society would be strong.
  4. Before looking at the specific guidelines for relationships seen in Colossians 3:18-4:1, read Colossians 3:1-17 again. What are a few key concepts about relationships within the church from this earlier section that should shape the way we read the coming section?
  5. Now, look at the first relational grouping of wives and husbands in 3:18-19. What is the theme of this relationship in the household and what are both called to do?
  6. Regardless of whether you are married, do you think these verses are easy or difficult to live out? Why would you say that?
  7. Turn now to the next relationship of children and parents in 3:20-21. How would you characterize the relationships? What is Paul calling each party to do?
  8. In the ancient world, the relationship of children toward parents was important throughout life. What do you think this looks like for us today?
  9. The third and final relational grouping is that of servants and masters. These relationships were vital to household relationships, though very different from what we may understand about servitude. What instructions does Paul give to each party? What is common to both of them?
  10. In some ways our work, whether inside or outside the home, parallels the instructions in 3:22-4:1. What does it mean for us to take these attitudes into our workplace?
  11. If the church is the new society of God and the household is the basic unit of the society in the ancient world, what would you say is the significance of the household for our life together in the church? Why is this important for all of us?
  12. What is one significant thing that God is speaking to you through this study? If you are on your own, you may want to write it down, pray about it, and then share it with someone later. If you are with a small group, share these things with one another and then pray for one another about these things.