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.

The “Must” of Suffering in the Christian Life: Insights from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Cross-Shaped Discipleship

This from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship, which I referenced in my message this past weekend, “Baptized with Water and Spirit”:

Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the “must” of suffering applies to his disciples no less than to himself. Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross.

To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. It is not the sort of suffering which is inseparable from this mortal life, but the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life. It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause or conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering. The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and a life committed to Christ. The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest. Only a man thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. The cross is there, right from the beginning, he has only got to pick it up: there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself, no need for him deliberately to run after suffering. Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection. But each has a different share: some God deems worthy of the highest form of suffering, and gives them the grace of martyrdom, while others he does not allow to be tempted above that they are able to bear. But it is the one and the same cross in every case.

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death-we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time-death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. Jesus’ summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life. The call to discipleship, the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Collier Books, 1960), 96, 98-99.

The Urgent Need for a Baptismal Spirituality

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” (Matthew 3:16-17)

The theological insights we gain from Jesus’ baptism are not random, entertaining theological facts. Instead our theology of Jesus’ baptism should lead us into the development of a baptismal spirituality. The great Reformer Martin Luther spoke to the spiritual significance of baptism in his Large Catechism. He wrote:

In baptism…every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life.…Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and [we can] say: ‘But I am baptized!’[1]

Following Luther’s advice to study and practice our baptism, let me suggest three ways Jesus’ baptism should shape our spiritual life with God.

The pattern of dying and rising in baptism and the spiritual life (Romans 6:1-14)

First, we remember that our spiritual life is shaped around the pattern of dying and rising. The Apostle Paul writes about this in Romans 6:1-14, a Scripture passage that I read every time we celebrate baptisms at Eastbrook. Here are verses 3 and 4:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)

Because of Jesus’ baptism, because of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from death as the representative Messiah, we are invited into a spiritual life where we die to ourselves and live to God, we die to sin and we live to holiness, we die to what is not life and we rise into what is life.

Each day, we echo our baptism by surrendering ourselves to God in death to self and rising up in obedience to God by the Holy Spirit’s power. We say, echoing Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done.”

Sometimes life has to go down before it can go up.

Our spiritual life must be shaped by the call to dying and rising seen in baptism.

The call to suffering in baptism and the spiritual life (Luke 12:50; Mark 10:38-40)

Second, Jesus’ baptism reminds us that our spiritual life is a call to suffering. John’s baptism was a call to die to sin, to name it, to turn from it, and to enter into life. It was a call to spiritual renunciation of the self in order to follow God.

Jesus’ baptism was that, but it was also something more. His baptism in history prefigured a baptism of suffering that He would have to endure. Later in the gospel accounts, Jesus said:

I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! (Luke 12:50)

Jesus here refers to His upcoming suffering on the Cross. We do not recreate what Jesus suffered, but our spiritual life is an invitation into a cross-shaped existence. Jesus’ invites human beings trapped in an upside-down world to turn to God through death to self. This involves suffering. If our Christianity does not involve some level of suffering, we are probably not Christians or have misunderstood the calling of Christ. Not only that, but we are also called as believers to enter into the suffering of others. By choosing to enter into the suffering of others—the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the dying, the imprisoned, the spiritually empty—we shine the light of Christ into dark places, bringing hope, joy, and peace where darkness seems to reign.

Sometimes life has to go down before it can go up.

Our spiritual life must be shaped by the call to suffering seen in baptism.

The joy of God’s delight in baptism and the spiritual life (Matthew 3:17; Acts 2:38)

Third, lest we think that developing a baptismal spirituality is all pain and suffering, Jesus’ baptism also helps us remember that our spiritual life is centered around the joy of God’s delight in us. Jesus is the unique Son of God who fully reveals the Triune nature of God and manifests God’s kingdom and salvation into our midst. When Jesus rose from baptism, He heard the words of the Father over Him: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus has come to make that a reality for us as well. As the Messiah, Jesus brings good news to us that we are not trapped by the power of sin, but that we can turn from sin’s power through repentance to God for life and new beginnings as His children. Peter preached about this at the very beginning of the church when he said:

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

Baptism speaks of forgiveness. It is a sign of the old being washed away and the new coming again. We can begin again.  The Holy Spirit speaks of adoption. We can become God’s children. We begin again in God’s delight and love for us. Even as Jesus heard those words, “This is my Son, whom I love,” so, too, we, in baptism, experience the very great reality that we are children of God whom God loves more than we can comprehend. When we remember our baptism, we likewise remember we are loved by God. That reality should center us in God’s love for us every day and motivate us to live with love for others every day.

Our spiritual life must be shaped by the joy of God’s delight in us as seen in baptism.


[1] Martin Luther, as quoted in Book of Concord, edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000); referenced here: https://www.livinglutheran.org/2015/02/mythbusting/.

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.]

A Prayer to Love and Forgive One’s Enemy

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)

Lord, take my heart in Your hands and shape it to love those who do not love me and even work against me.

Help me not to return wrong with wrong, but to respond to wrong with care, love, prayer, and mercy.

Help me to know what it looks like to turn the other cheek while not enabling ongoing wrong or making it seem like wrong is right.

Give me boldness and discernment to walk as Your child even when my circumstances lead me to forget who I am and cause me to stumble in frustration, grief, and hurt.

What can I do but call to You? You are my God—my Father—and I am Your child—Your disciple.

Lead me in Your way of love and forgiveness that, even in wrong, people may see You in me.