The Weekend Wanderer: 31 August 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.

91885“What Majority-World Missions Really Looks Like” – “Beauty Ndoro is part of a growing movement of international missionaries sent out from the Global South, which includes Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. According to Christianity in Its Global Context, 1970–2020, a report by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 66 percent of all Christians will be from the Global South by 2020, up from 43 percent in 1970. This could reach 75 percent by 2050. Christianity is surging in these regions, even as North America and Western Europe see the number of religiously unaffiliated growing at an increasingly rapid pace.”

 

91883“In Christ, Alone: Most Believers Say They Don’t Need Others for Discipleship” – Christianity Today reports on a recent LifeWay Research study on spiritual growth in the life of American Christians. The trend toward individualism continues in most American churches and Christians. However, it is worth paying attention to this: “Hispanic and African American churchgoers may represent an exception to the overall trend, showing even greater progress in discipleship while deepening community ties.”

 

Liz Dong“Confessions of a Chinese Dreamer” – Here is Liz Dong, sharing her story of faith, immigration, and God overcoming the idols of her life. “The summer of 2009 was one of the scariest times of my life. I should have been excited about heading to Northwestern University on a scholarship. Instead, I struggled to sleep. As a first-generation Chinese immigrant with a precarious immigration status, my future rested on my academic performance. I didn’t have safety nets if I fell short.”

 

McCarthy The Road“God, Morality, and Meaning in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – As an undergraduate, I studied English literature at Wheaton College under the tutelage of some amazing professors, like Alan Jacobs, Jill Peláez-Baumgaertner, Leland Ryken, and many more. They taught me many things, including a love for a wide-breadth of literature, appreciation for the craft of writing, and savoring the intersection of faith and the arts. I read widely, yet there are a few books I return to often. One of those, for me, is Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road, which I just finished reading again this past week. While this book is intense and sometimes gruesome, the combination of carnage and beauty, death and hope, in the midst of the world that seems alternately godless and God-rich is marvelous. Here is an essay specifically on McCarthy’s themes of God, morality, and meaning in this outstanding novel.

 

college classroom.jpg“The Loneliness Crisis on Campus” – I started my full-time, vocational ministry career working with college students who attended the various campuses in the city of Milwaukee. Now I have my own college student attending a Big10 university. Here is an article from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on the loneliness epidemic gripping students on university campuses, and what it means for ministry to college students today.

 

p07l27rv“What the Voice Inside Your Head Says About You” – From the BBC: “Psychologist Russell Hurlburt at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has spent the last few decades training people to see inside their own minds more clearly in an attempt to learn something about our inner experiences at large. Though many individual studies on inner speech include only a small number of participants, making it hard to know whether their results apply more widely, Hurlburt estimates he’s been able to peek inside the minds of hundreds of people since he began his research. What he’s found suggests that the thoughts running through our heads are a lot more varied than we might suppose.”

 

Cantor-Dark-Side-of-the-American-Dream-683x1024“Paul Cantor and the Dark Side of the American Dream” – Titus Techera reviews Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies by Paul Cantor. “Paul Cantor has a new book on popular culture, completing his long-term project on the American dream. His previous book, The Invisible Hand In Popular Culture, established how real the American dream is and how it connects freedom and success. His new book, Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies, examines the dangers of individualism: apathy and violence; the yearning for success whatever the cost; and the ongoing failure of confidence in America.”

 

“Everything Is Waiting for You” – a poem by David Whyte from River Flow: New and Selected Poems.

 

Music: James MacMillan, “Seven Last Words from the Cross,” performed by the Dmitri Ensemble directed by Graham Ross.

[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.]

Notes on Church Growth

These notes came from my preparation for my message on Ephesians 4, “A Crash Course in Church Growth,” from a few weeks ago.

Church growth is founded upon the unity we receive from God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Church growth is something that happens to us over time and by God’s good grace, but not without intention and yielding to God.

Church growth involved God and other people, for it is the church who grow toward Christlikeness together, and not ideally alone.

Church growth is not all that much about building, budgets, and bodies in seats, but more about growth toward maturity in Jesus Christ.

Church growth involves those who Christ has appointed – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers – who actively equip, serve, and build up the church in solid faith and overarching love.

Church growth has a goal, and it is not some utopian human ideal but Christ, the Head, who descended and ascended, and who is the Highest Name.

Church growth lives in the “already, but not yet” of lived human existence. We live in Christ as His people and yet are growing through Christ to be more truly His people.

A Crash Course in Christlike Living (Ephesians 4:17-5:20)

Ephesians

As I continued our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” last weekend we turned to Ephesians 4:17-5:20 for the following message: “A Crash Course in Christlike Living.” I structured the message around four comparisons that Paul brings to the Ephesians believers around: living holy, living love, living light, and living wisely. Underlying it all is Paul’s call not to grieve the Holy Spirit but to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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How Spiritual Growth Happens

river dam open.jpg

This past weekend, in my message “A Crash Course in Christlike Living,” I explored Ephesians 4:17-5:20. One part of my message that I had to drop because of time was a discussion of how spiritual growth toward Christlike living occurs.

Many times, when we want to become more like Christ, we simply read the Bible and then work up our gumption – our own effort – so that we try to live like Jesus. Much of Christian spiritual transformation aims at curbing sin and working hard at doing what Jesus would do. Now, God uses that, but oftentimes that approach to spiritual transformation leads more toward frustration with ourselves than Christlike living.

Christlike living flows from a different sort of place. In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard talks about three necessary elements for spiritual growth to happen. They are: Vision – Intention – Means.

Vision is what we need to have clear understanding, particularly about Christ and His kingdom. A key question about vision is: do we have a vision for the will of God in our lives?

Intention relates to the values we must commit to for growth to happen. A key question about intention is: do we really want to live according to the will of God?

Means are the ways or practices that foster transformation. A key question about means is: what specific means, or practices, do we need to engage with in order for spiritual transformation occur?

Willard’s framework is helpful because it brings clarity on how different elements fit together so that, under God we might grow toward Christlikeness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So as we turn to a section of Ephesians that is all about the practicalities of Christlike living, we need to understand that Paul is putting a vision for Christlike living in front of us, and calling believers toward intentional living toward that, while also suggesting specific means – or practices – that help us move in that direction.

While it is all grace, from start to finish, there is a calling toward not stopping up the flow of God’s grace in our lives, but opening the channels of our lives to His transforming grace. Christlike living flows from Christ-bought salvation.  It is birthed from grace, requires intentional activity, and is fueled by the Holy Spirit.

A Crash Course in Church Growth (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Ephesians

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I continued our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” by looking at Ephesians 4:1-16 with the message: “A Crash Course in Church Growth.” The message aims to recalibrate our understanding of what church growth is all about by focusing on the direction of growth outlined by the Apostle Paul in this chapter. Along the way, I spend some time discussing what it means to walk worthy of our calling, what is the fivefold ministry and what does it mean now, and a little bit around the topic of individual versus community spiritual growth.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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Growing into Christ: Andrew T. Lincoln on Ephesians 4 and the spiritual growth of the Church

This from Andrew T. Lincoln in his commentary on Ephesians, which is part of the Word Biblical Commentary series:

So Christ’s giving of gifts to the Church is to enable the Church to move toward its goals, and that movement is seen in terms of believers’ growth toward Christ. In Paul’s letters, believers’ faith can be said to grow (cf. 2 Cor 10:15; 2 Thess 1:3), and growth is used of the development of the local Corinthian church and credited to God in 1 Cor 3:6, 7. The concept occurs more often in Colossians, where it is employed of the work of the gospel itself in 1:6, of believers’ knowledge of God in 1:10, and of the whole body of the Church, which is said in 2:19, the verse on which Eph 4:15, 16 is modeled, to “grow with a growth that is from God.” Here in Ephesians, then, the notion of the Church’s growth is elaborated, and 4:15 has affinities with 2:20, 21 where, as we have seen, Christ is presented as the keystone of a building in the process of growth. The earlier statements of the Church’s goals in 4:13 were primarily descriptions of the Church itself in its state of completion, but now it is specifically Christ who is the standard of maturity, indicating again that for this writer ecclesiology remains determined and measured by Christology. The Church is in Christ and has to grow up toward him. This underlines that the Church’s growth is not being thought of in terms of quantity, a numerical expansion of its membership, but in terms of quality, an increasing approximation of believers to Christ. In the face of the scheming of error, believers are not only to stand firm, as will be emphasized in 6:13, 14, but also to make progress. That proper growth and progress is to take place in every way, that is, in every aspect of the Church’s life and particularly in those aspects singled out earlier, in unity, in knowledge, and in speaking the truth in love.

Transformation into Christlikeness is Possible: Dallas Willard

DallasWillard-sm

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.