The Weekend Wanderer: 9 March 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.

Lent fast word cloud“What to Give Up for Lent 2019? Consider Twitter’s Top 100 Ideas” – Once again, you can follow in real time what Twitter users say they are giving up for Lent, which this year begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6.  As in past years, food is the most popular category for abstention, followed by technology and ‘vices’ like smoking and drinking alcohol. After analyzing the first 1,500 tweets—both serious and sarcastic—OpenBible.info’s Stephen Smith noted that ‘perennial favorites’ such as social networking, alcohol, and Twitter lead the list so far.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 11.57.21 AM“In Praise of Boredom” – With reference to Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, James K. A. Smith engages with the dehumanizing aspects of distraction and the importance of boredom for our recovery. “But how to overcome distraction? How to break through the bedazzling glare of our screens, the latest threat to parade as an angel of light? The problem isn’t simply that the technologies of distraction prevent us from making or appreciating art. This isn’t simply a competition for attention. The concern is more egregious: our distraction demeans us.”

 

iphone keyboard“Repenting in the age of iPhones and instant gratification” – Lent helps us learn repentance in our lives at multiple levels. Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill reflects on what this mean in the smart phone, social media culture. “The work of naming our wrongdoing to ourselves and to God is unlikely to bring immediate gratification. Nor will it engender the sort of external and public validation we may crave from our frequent forays into Twitter, Snapchat or FaceBook. The Creator of all will not be giving a ‘thumbs up’ to our expressions of remorse. The Divine Majesty is probably not going to ‘follow’ our episodic utterances of regret on Instagram. No, repentance is an I-Thou exercise.”

 

Welcoming the Stranger“A Migrant Invasion?”Noah Toly, Professor of Urban Studies at Wheaton College, reviews the revised edition of Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang’s Welcoming the Stranger. Both Matt and Jenny were part of our Mission Fest at Eastbrook a couple of years ago, and this updated edition of the book is even more timely given our current debates. Toly offers a fine review of the book with helpful reflections on why Soerens and Yang’s work is “more than a counterpoint to anti-immigrant uproar, it is an antidote to the propagandistic way of being in the world.”

 

hands folded“Integrating Justice Into our Spiritual Disciplines”Kevin Garcia opens a discussion about gaps in classical spiritual formation related to justice, reflecting on ways that he has attempted to integrate the pursuit of justice within his spiritual formation rhythms. “Everyday there are several rhythms that shape our beliefs. What podcast do we play the most? What books do we read? What channel do we go to for our news? Who do we follow on Twitter? I began thinking more deeply about this recently as our church joined in a fast to start the new year. During this time, I immersed myself in some works considered classics on spiritual disciplines.”

 

Pope Pius XII“Vatican to open secret archives on World War II-era and Pope Pius” – “Pope Francis has announced that the Vatican next year will open its secret archives containing World War II-era documents from the controversial papacy of Pope Pius XII. The archives cover the years 1939-1958 and consist of several hundred thousand letters, cables and speeches. Critics of Pius say he did not do enough to publicly combat the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. Supporters say he worked diligently behind the scenes to save Jews from the Holocaust.”

 

Macrina“This Church Mother Comforted the Grieving with Scientific Thinking” – “In AD 379, Basil the Great, one of the men who contributed to the Nicene Creed, died. Basil and his brother Gregory of Nyssa were two of the three Cappadocian Fathers­—men responsible for major theological decisions made in the early life of the Christian church. What is less well known is that they also had an older sister, Macrina. She was deeply precious to them for her love, her insight, and her wisdom; they even called her ‘Teacher.'”

 

gary saul morson“The greatest of all novels” –  At The New Criterion, Gary Saul Morson reflects on how Leo Tolstoy explores the complexities – not the simplicity – of human existence in his masterpiece, War and Peace. “All purported social sciences held that, as with Newtonian astronomy, the complexity of observed phenomena was explicable by a few simple laws. But with society and individual psyches, Tolstoy insisted, the very opposite is the case: ‘the deeper we delve in search of these [fundamental] causes,’ Tolstoy observes, ‘the more of them we find.’ Things do not simplify, they ramify.”

 

Music: “Forgive Us” from At the Foot of the Cross, volume 2, featuring Julie Miller, David Mullen, and Gene Eugene.

[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.]

Transformation into Christlikeness is Possible: Dallas Willard

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While preparing for a retreat with Eastbrook Church’s student ministry, I came across this excerpt from Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard that hit home to me. Given some of my recent reflections on the nature of pastoral leadership in North America (see “Five Themes of Resilient Ministry” and “Five Steps for Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership“), this section on the gaps and possibilities of Christian formation in our lives, particularly the Christian formation of pastors and leaders, was resoundingly important to me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

First of all we must be clear that such a transition as is envisioned in Christian spiritual formation can actually happen, and can actually happen to us. This, today, is not obvious.

What we see around us today of the “usual” Christian life could easily make us think that spiritual transformation is simply impossible. It is now common for Christian leaders themselves to complain about how little real-life difference there is between professing, or even actual Christians, on the one hand, and non-Christians on the other. Although there is much talk about “changing lives” in Christian circles, the reality is very rare, and certainly much less common than the talk.

The “failures” of prominent Christian leaders themselves, already referred to, might cause us to think genuine spiritual formation in Christlikeness to be impossible for “real human beings.” How is it, exactly, that a man or woman can respectably serve Christ for many years and then morally disintegrate? And the failures that become known are few compared to the ones that remain relatively unknown and are even accepted among Christians.

Recently, I learned that one of the most prominent leaders in an important segment of Christian life “blew up,” became uncontrollably angry, when someone questioned him about the quality of his work. This was embarrassing, but it is accepted (if not acceptable) behavior; and in this case, it was the one who was questioning him who was chastised. That is in fact a familiar pattern in both Christian and non-Christian “power structures.” But what are we to say about the spiritual formation of that leader? Has something been omitted? Or is he really the best we can do?

The same questions arise with reference to lay figures in areas of life such politics, business, entertainment, or education, who show the same failures of character while openly identifying themselves as Christians. It is unpleasant to dwell on such cases, but they must be squarely faced.

Of course the effects of such failures depend on the circumstances, on how widely the failure becomes known, and on various other factors. In another case a pastor became enraged at something a subordinate did during a Sunday morning service. Immediately after the service he found that subordinate and gave him a merciless tongue-lashing. With his lapel mike still on! His diatribe was broadcast over the entire church plant and campus-in all the Sunday school rooms and the parking lot. Soon thereafter he “received the Lord’s call” to another church. But what about the spiritual formation of this leader? Is that the best we can do? And is he not still really like that in his new position?

Malfeasance with money is less acceptable than anger, and sexual misconduct is less tolerated still. But is the inner condition (the heart) all that different in these cases-before God?

The sad thing when a leader (or any individual) “fails” is not just what he or she did, but the heart and life and whole person who is revealed by the act. What is sad is who these leaders have been all along, what their inner life has been like, and no doubt also how they have suffered during all the years before they “did it” or were found out. What kind of persons have they been, and what, really, has been their relation to God?

Real spiritual need and change, as we have emphasized, is on the inside, in the hidden area of the life that God sees and that we cannot even see in ourselves without his help. Indeed, in the early stages of spiritual development we could not endure seeing our inner life as it really is. The possibility of denial and self-deception is something God has made accessible to us, in part to protect us until we begin to seek him. Life the face of the mythical Medusa, our true condition away from God would turn us to stone if we ever fully confronted it. It would drive us mad. He has to help us come to terms with it in ways that will not destroy us outright.

Without gently though rigorous process of inner transformation, initiated and sustained by the graceful presence of God in our world and in our soul, the change of personality and life clearly announced and spelled out in the Bible, and explained and illustrated throughout Christian history, is impossible. We not only admit it, but also insist upon it. But on the other hand, the result of the effort to change our behavior without inner transformation is precisely what we see in the current shallowness of Western Christianity that is so widely lamented and in the notorious failures of Christian leaders.

The Church in Transition: Kent Carlson on bursting wineskins

fullsizeoutput_abdNear the end of the book Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation, Kent Carlson summarizes some of his deepest concern about the challenges of the church in North America. While I’m not sure I agree with his final driving metaphor about “wineskins” bursting all over the place, I do fundamentally agree with his sense that the church in North America, particularly the evangelical church, is in a crisis of transition. Let me know your thoughts.

There is no doubt that the church in North America is in a time of great philosophical and institutional turmoil. When I started Oak Hills twenty-five years ago, the menu options were quite limited. The majority of evangelical churches in North America, apart from the obvious superficial differences, were essentially the same. But that has all changed. Today we have formational churches, missional churches, emergent churches, monastic community churches, house churches, unchurches, simple churches, deep churches, organic churches, ancient-future churches, not to mention the old standbys of traditional, charismatic, seeker-sensitive, seeker-targeted and seeker-driven churches.

It is increasingly obvious that we live in a transitional time in North American religious culture. The future is uncertain and many pastors and Christian leaders are struggling and groping and trying to find their way. I am fairly certain that the large, entrepreneurial, attractional model church is not the wave of the future. It is not sustainable as a model of authentic Christian community. But I truthfully am perplexed about what will replace it.

The story of Oak Hills church reflects the story of this groping, this trying to figure it out. We became convinced that something was wrong, and we set out to find another way. But we have not arrived there yet. We’re not actually sure we ever will. When we reflect on these things, we often think of Jesus’ parable of the wineskins. Jesus said that “people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins” (Luke 5:37-38).

Sometimes we wonder if the reason for all the turmoil of this past decade is that we have been trying to pour new wine into old wineskins. This has been troubling to us at times, but we have come to peace with it. If God is doing something new in our day, perhaps there will be burst wineskins all over the place. There may even be some honor in it. When you think about it, that might be a wonderful name for a church in these day.s The Church of the Burst Wineskin. A church that falls apart trying to get it right might not be a failure at all. It just might be a part of the larger story of what God is doing in this world. If we have learned anything, it’s not about an individual church’s external success but the advancement of the kingdom of God.

Five Themes of Resilient Ministry

fullsizeoutput_abeThis week, I am spending time in reflection about what it means to be a pastor, what ministry is all about, and what it means to be the church. Earlier this week I shared some insights from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together about the church and from Dallas Willard on the nature of ministry in a consumer society. Today, I want to turn my attention toward pastoral ministry.

In their book Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving, Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman and Donald Guthrie outline five themes of resilient ministry that I have found valuable as I reflect on what is most meaningful in my life as a pastor. They write:

After seven years of studying our [pastoral] summit participants (including their marriages, families and ministries), we learned a lot about what it takes to survive and thrive in ministry. Five themes, each with multiple factors, stood out as the keys for pastors to remain resilient in fruitful ministry for a lifetime.

In chapter two, the authors introduce those five themes, so here they are in summary form.

Theme One: Spiritual Formation

The study reveals that focus on personal spiritual formation within the life of the pastor is incredibly important to pastoral resilience. “In our work with pastors, we have come to define spiritual formation as the ongoing process of maturing as a Christian, both personally and interpersonally” (19, italics mine). This is not something that has been attained, but is an ongoing process in which leaders give attention, as any disciple of Christ should, to their ongoing growth with God. Along with this, the authors emphasize that pastoral resilience arises when this emphasis on spiritual formation is not only persona, but interpersonal. That is, spiritual formation must involve others and, though this can be a problem for pastors to find, must involve safe places for vulnerable disclosure.  They quote Diane Langberg, who says “Before you were called to be a shepherd, you were called to be a lamb” (21).

Theme Two: Self-Care

As pastors take steps to live out self-denial with intentional spiritual growth, they must also give attention to appropriate self-care. “The idea of self-care involves the pursuit of physical, mental and emotional health” (21). The work of ministry is very demanding in terms of time, life issues, and the sense that it is a 24-7 role. However, in the midst of those stresses, we cannot lose sight of taking care of ourselves through meaningful physical exercise, good sleep and eating, activities outside of the church, and some life-giving hobbies. As someone once said to me, “The best thing you have to offer to the church as a pastor is a healthy you.”

Theme Three: Emotional and Cultural IntelligenceRead More »

Real Discipleship in a Consumer Church: Dallas Willard on the Renovation of the Church

fullsizeoutput_abdI am entering a period of deep reflection on what it means to be a pastor and what it means to be the church. I am asking questions that I have considered for years but now approach with a deeper sense of urgency and attention. I find myself wondering over and over again: what are we doing here in the North American church and does any of it matter?

My questions are leading me again into self-reflection and searching on topics such as holiness, discipleship, our amazing capacity for self-deception, North American evangelicalism, and superficial, consumer Christianity. I am re-reading many resources, and one I returned to this morning was Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken’s Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation. Here is an excerpt from the foreword to that book by Dallas Willard. I believe it is worth pondering his words for some time.

How do we present the radical message of Christ in a church that has catered to the religious demands of the nominally committed? In other words, if we have gathered people into congregations by appeasing their appetites and desires, how can we help them deal with the fact that their problems in life and character – even “in church” – are primarily caused by living to get what they want? How can the cross and self-denial become the central fact in a prosperous, consumer culture? How can discipleship to Jesus – in a sense recognizable in the Bible, with the spiritual transformation it brings – be the mode of operation in a thriving North American congregation?

The dynamics of outward success in a church are rooted in the motivational forces of the pastors and the leaders. They have to change before anything else does. The pastors must themselves become disciples (in the New Testament sense), genuinely becoming in their concrete existence, their life and relationships, what we see repeatedly in well-known biblical passages. It is personal ambition that drives the machinery of “success” in the church context, which is what comes out in the many dimensions of character failure that are now all too familiar. Often church members are caught up in their desire to be associated with a “successful” church. Among the treasures expressed in this book is, “Christian leaders are more ready to be candid about sexual lust than ambition.” But lust fulfilled is only one dimension of the deeper drive to have my way. The deeper root of consumerism in the church context is sensuality.

When that root has been cut in the individual life, then genuine ambition for God, and pride in the cross, can flourish (Galatians 6:14). The power of God can flow through transformed character into a world desperate for it. Success is redefined by the spread of kingdom presence throughout the community. Church growth is not just more Christians but bigger Christians, flush with Christ’s character.

The authors came to grips with major issues for practice – for what we actually must do if we intend to make the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 into the mission statement of our group. First, we must intend to do that, and must lead our people into that intention. And our central message – our “gospel” – must be one that has a natural tendency to produce disciples of Jesus, not just avid consumers of religious goods and services. Disciples are self-starters in kingdom living, on the road with Jesus day in and day out. The gospel of life now in the present kingdom of the heavens (Matthew 4:17) will produce disciples. And then we organize our “meetings,” of whatever kind, around that intention and that message. We set the meetings up in a way that intelligently develops disciples and fosters their progressive transformation into Christ-likeness from the inside. Careful attention to the Spirit. the Bible and how experience actually moves individuals and groups will enable us to do this. It has been done repeatedly in Christian history, and can be done now. Outwardly, in fact, our operation may not look much different than it does now. But its content, its goal and its outcome will most assuredly bring the people involved into a path of contemporary holiness that looks at Matthew 5-7, 1 Corinthians 13 and Colossians 3:1-17, and says: “Of course. That’s us.” Grace with training in fellowship will bring us there.

Journey to the Cross 2018

Today marks the beginning of our journey to the cross.  At Eastbrook Church, we invite you to join with us in a day of fasting and prayer before a family-friendly worship service at 7 PM. For more info on fasting, read a series of posts I wrote here.

Traditionally, this journey is known as Lent and begins on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a forty-day spiritual journey (minus Sundays) toward Easter. Often you see people walking around with a dark smudge of ashes on their forehead. It is a sign of our mortality; “that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14) and to dust we shall return.

Lent is so much more than a worn-out church tradition about self-absorbed sorrow and meal-skipping.  Rather, Lent is our journey into greater depths of life with Christ through an experience of His journey toward, into, and through the Cross. It prepares us for a deeper experience of the joys of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.

I usually participate in Lent as a spiritual journey in some form. Many times I choose to abstain from something (e.g., food in some form, regular forms of entertainment) in order to have more space to reach out to God in prayer. Fasting is helpful, I believe, only insofar as we put some other meaningful practice in its place that moves us toward Christ.

Traditional Lenten disciplines are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. In these three disciplines we can see a movement from abstaining from something (fasting), turning to God (prayer), and putting another discipline in its place (almsgiving).

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Today also marks the beginning of the “Life of Joseph” Lenten Devotional. I encourage you to join us as we journey through the life of Joseph in our preaching series and through the devotional. 

Read the “Life of Joseph” Devotional in 1 of 5 Formats:

  1. Online—Visit eastbrook.org/josephdevotional each day for the reading, or connect with the online version through Eastbrook’s social media channels.
  2. Daily Email—Sign up for a special email list that will send you each day’s devotional at 4 am each morning. Sign up here.
  3. Mobile App—Download the Eastbrook Church mobile app and use the “Devo” tab to read each day. The devotionals will be published each morning at 4 am.
  4. Printed Book—A limited run of free devotional books are available at Eastbrook Church (5385 N. Green Bay Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53209).
  5. Digital Download—Download the PDF of the book for us with your tablet or to print out at home here.

[This day is traditionally known as Ash Wednesday. For a look at what Ash Wednesday is all about, read “What is it?: Ash Wednesday and Lent?“]

Ascend: a series on the Psalms of Ascent

 

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we enter into a journey through the Psalms of Ascent entitled “Ascend.” Our life with God is a journey. It is a journey with God, but also a journey with His people on the way to the eternal kingdom.  The New Testament describes God’s people as “foreigners and strangers on earth…looking for a country of their own” (Hebrews 11:13-14). Within the Psalms there is a soundtrack for this sort of journey known as the Psalms of Ascent. These ancient prayer-songs accompanied the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in times of celebration. Join with us as we explore themes of spiritual growth, life as pilgrimage, and the season of Advent in this series.

At a personal level, I am really looking forward to this series since I have found so much strength for my life with God from the Psalms and also by looking at our spiritual lives through the metaphor of pilgrimage with God. I hope you enjoy this journey as well!