The Weekend Wanderer: 12 October 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.

Kurds Syria Trump“Christian Leaders Say Turkish Invasion Of Syria Raises Risk Of ‘Genocide'” – Some of my good friends and partners in ministry are from Syria. Walking with them through the challenges of having to flee their war-torn homeland has helped me see and hear international news even more differently than I did before. With the happenings in our politics, it is sometimes hard to remember that there are real people on the ground in Syria, and that many of them are our Christian brothers and sisters. There has already been a subtle excavation of Christian presence from the Middle East and we need to pay attention. This is more than a foreign policy issue for followers of Jesus.

 

Amman city view, in Jordan“Jordanian Evangelicals Push for Official Recognition” – As we begin our annual MissionsFest at Eastbrook Church, we’re privileged to have one of our long-time partners in ministry from Jordan, Rev. Yousef Hashweh, join us to preach during our first weekend. The church in Jordan is strong, but shrinking because of economic and political challenges. Their voice has been valued by King Abdullah, but they struggle at time to maintain that voice in the changing tides of culture. I was interested to read on Thursday about this latest move in Jordan for evangelical churches representing five denominations (Baptists, Assemblies of God, Evangelical Free, Nazarene, and Christian & Missionary Alliance) to come together to form a new Jordanian Evangelical Council.

 

J D Greear“SBC President: We Failed to Heed Victims’ Voices” – Perhaps one of the most notable issues in the North American church has been attention given to sexual abuse claims within the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the USA.  There are cases of coverups and deaf ears, leaving a dark history of regrettably unChristian behavior within the SBC.  In the midst of such darkness, I do think it is important to at least recognize that the current SBC President, J. D. Greear, appears to be trying to deal with this directly, even as there is still much work to be done.

 

92300“‘I’m a Pastor IRL'” – I may be dating myself, but I still remember when Facebook hit the scene in the midst of my years of working as a College Pastor. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but adopted it right away first as a means of communicating with students and later attempted to utilize it as a platform for ministry. It was during that same time that I began my blog here. All of these were experiments for me in utilizing new technologies as avenues for ministry to people. Some of it worked, while other parts didn’t work as well. I haven’t been on Facebook for several years now, but that’s another story. Here’s Glenn Packiam, associate senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, reflecting on some pretty significant questions. “Is there a way for us as pastors to bear God’s image in online interactions, to be a kind of icon of Christ? Let me suggest three areas to consider: identity and self (who are we?), presence and place (where are we?), and authority and power (what are we capable of?). These questions will guide us even as specific apps and devices change in the years ahead.”

 

DiklalaorEve“Israeli Photographer Brings Female Biblical Figures to Life with Magnificent Images” – “The bible has for centuries been a source of inspiration and influence for art in all its forms. The canonical collection of texts sacred to Abrahamic religions has indeed inspired some of the world’s greatest known works of art. Israeli photographer Dikla Laor has worked for six years to bring the stories of female biblical figures to life through the camera lens, embarking on a unique project to imagine these characters’ appearances, dress, and demeanor against breathtaking backdrops. Her “Biblical Women Series” includes the “first woman,” Eve, the Jewish matriarchs – Sarah, Rivka (Rebecca), Leah and Rachel – Lot’s wife, the Queen of Sheba, the prophetess Deborah, and Jezebel, among over 40 such photographs.”

 

52.large“Pluralism, Difference, and the Dynamics of Trust” – Do you ever read the news and wonder if there is any way out of the cultural divides and distrust? I do. On my more hopeful days, I believe that there are ways toward living out Christ’s kingdom in the midst of a pluralistic society that could restore hope, joy, truth, and love in peoples’ lives and the broader society. In my less hopeful days, I try not to get cynical. Underlying significant portions of this is the need for restoration of public trust. I enjoyed reading this 2017 dialogue between John Inazu, Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University, and James K. A. Smith when he was still editor at Comment. Inazu’s Confident Pluralism is on my “to read” list, and this interview encouraged me to get to it sometime soon.

 

92385“Supreme Court Cases Challenge LGBT Rights-Religious Liberty Balancing Act” – Speaking of difference and the dynamics of trust, the Supreme Court has been giving attention to the most significant case at the nexus of sexual rights and religious liberty since the 2015 ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. “The United States Supreme Court was debating the meaning of the word sex on Tuesday when Chief Justice John Roberts brought up religion. He called it ‘that other concern’—religious liberty. Roberts asked: How can the government protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees in the workplace and the rights of religious groups to employ people who agree on issues of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity?”

 

N T Wright“Discerning the Dawn: History, Eschatology and New Creation” – Anytime N. T. Wright is publishes a new book, I take interest. Wright is an amazing scholar of the New Testament and Christian history. When I heard about his forthcoming book, History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology, it caught my attention because of the interesting combination of ideas. I wondered what it was about, and then I discovered that this book is drawn from Wright’s eight Gifford lectures in 2018, which are available online for viewing. If you have more time than I do, you may enjoy watching all of them.

 

Music: Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno, “An Ending (Ascent),” from Apollo – Atmospheres & Soundtracks.

[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: 12 January 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.

lamin sanneh“Professor Lamin Sanneh, 1942-2019” – I was saddened to hear about the sudden and unexpected death of Dr. Lamin Sanneh of Yale Divinity School. His insights about faith, culture, and mission are invaluable to the church. A great introduction to his work is Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture or his memoir Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an African. You might also enjoy reading reflections by Christian leaders on Sanneh’s life at Christianity Today[Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this link.]

 

cyntoia-brown“Pastor who talked to governor about clemency for Cyntoia Brown will walk her out of prison” – “They met for the first time a few weeks before Christmas — the woman serving a life sentence for killing a man who bought her for sex as a teenager, and a pastor who believed in her. At the time of their meeting, high-profile advocates had been calling for clemency for Cyntoia Denise Brown, including a US Congressman and A-list celebrities like Ashley Judd. Gov. Bill Haslam had heard from both sides on whether to grant her clemency. Members of Bishop Joseph W. Walker III’s congregation were working with Brown through a Tennessee Department of Corrections faith-based mentoring program. Days after meeting her, Walker joined the chorus of people lobbying the Republican governor. He spoke to Haslam about forgiveness and second chances, Walker said.”

 

Fred Rogers and François Clemmons in an episode of <i>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</i>, 1993“The Ministry of Mr. Rogers” – In The New York Review of Books, Robert Sullivan reviews two works on the life of Fred Rogers, both the highly acclaimed documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, by Morgan Neville and Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers. “In December 2002 Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and he died the following February. In his final days he read the Bible, which he had often read along with the work of his great friend Henri Nouwen, the Catholic priest who wrote that being in a community was like being in a mosaic of stones, no single stone able to tell the group’s story. After receiving his diagnosis, Rogers had managed to give his last commencement speech, at Dartmouth. Still the preacher, he recited the lyrics to his song ‘It’s You I Like,’ and commented on the text, reminding the crowd not just how far he had taken TV from pie-throwing but how thoroughly he had illustrated the drama in the seemingly ordinary, the stage on which most of our adult lives are set.”

 

85745“Can Anger at God Be Righteous?” – “After I was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, I returned to the Book of Psalms anew. I started to pray with psalms that I had merely read before or had skipped altogether. While I was receiving intense chemo, a seminary student told me he was praying Psalm 102 for me:  ‘In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. (v. 5–6)’ My heart skipped a beat. As I read on, I found that the psalm contained a complaint and a petition that I felt deeply but did not know how to express.”

 

85807“The Gospel in Every Sign Language: Passion Raises $450K for Deaf Bible Translations” – “Though there are hundreds of sign languages, none have a full Bible translation, and just 2 percent of deaf people around the world have access to the Gospels in their sign languages, which is crucial for deeper understanding of Scripture, according to the Deaf Bible Society. Donations from the 40,000 students at Passion 2019 will go toward translating Gospel stories for the deaf in 16 countries: Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Moldova, Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, and Russia.”

 

david brooks selfismThe Morality of Selfism: The Gospel of Saint You” – David Brooks offers a bitingly satirical, tongue-in-cheek approach to our current cultural climate of fixation upon the self. “We live in a culture of selfism — a culture that puts tremendous emphasis on self, on self-care and self-display. And one of the things we’ve discovered is that you can be a very good person while thinking only about yourself! Back in the old days people thought morality was about living up to some external standard of moral excellence. Abraham Lincoln tried to live a life of honesty and courage. Mother Teresa tried to live up to a standard of selfless love. But now we know this is actually harmful!”

 

gallup integrity“Nurses Again Outpace Other Professions for Honesty, Ethics” – A recent Gallup survey identified nurses as the most-trusted profession for Americans. Way to go, nurses! Doctors, pharmacists, high school teachers, and police officers round out the top-five professions based on their integrity. I found this a little interesting given the sense of tension that exists in many realms about public trust in law enforcement. However, I was saddened to see that clergy had dropped down to position eight in trusted professions. Griffin Paul Jackson writes about this for Christianity Today, quoting from John Armstrong who speaks what many of us feel: “The kinds of scandals and authoritarian leadership that we saw this year among the clergy undermines the trust we place in them.”

 

john finnis“Petition Launched To Remove Law Professor For ‘Discriminatory’ Comments” – In another example of the utter inability for diversity of views within the cultural orthodoxy of supposed diversity, we have this situation at Oxford University. “A petition to remove Emeritus Professor of Law and Legal Philosophy John Finnis from teaching has attracted three hundred and fifty signatures in five days. Finnis has been accused of having ‘a long record of extremely discriminatory views against many groups of disadvantaged people’, including the LGBTQ community….Remarks highlighted by the authors of the petition as particularly discriminatory include a comment from his Collected Essays in which he suggests that homosexual conduct is ‘never a valid, humanly acceptable choice and form of life’ and is ‘destructive of human character and relationships’ because ‘it treats human sexual capacities in a way which is deeply hostile to the self-understanding of those members who are willing to commit themselves to real marriage’. This essay was published in 2011 but refers to arguments he made in a previous essay from 1994.” Read the article here to see Finnis’ rebuttal of the petition.

 

orthodox“From Russia, Without Love: Ukraine Marks Orthodox Christmas with Biggest Schism Since 1054” – “On January 6, it received the tomos of autocephaly—the documentation of its independence among Eastern church bodies—from one Orthodox heavyweight, the Patriarch of Constantinople, despite the vociferous opposition of another heavyweight, the Patriarch of Moscow. To understand the significance of the biggest Christian schism since the Protestant Reformation, unfolding since last fall and formalized this weekend as Eastern churches celebrated Christmas Eve, a brief history is in order.”

[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.]

Praying with Praise [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:13)

The Lord’s Prayer ends with a brief statement that returns our focus to the power and presence of God. This ascription does not appear in the earliest biblical manuscripts and is usually seen only in footnotes within our contemporary Bible translations. As John Calvin notes, however, “it is so appropriate to this place that it ought not to be omitted.”[1]

These final words are appropriate because they return attention to God at the conclusion of prayer, which is where Jesus taught us to begin our prayers. Jesus teaches that our prayers should be book-ended with Godward praise. After moving through the second half of the prayer’s petitions related to the needs of our earthly lives, the Lord’s Prayer concludes with deep assurance of God’s stability, faithfulness, and rule over all the earth. This assurance includes all that we have presented to Him in prayer. After all is said and down we enter into a place of rest and peace in the presence of our holy and good Father to whom all praise belongs.

When we pray, we go on a journey with God. The journey of prayer begins with His holy and good presence, meanders through our requests related to His kingdom and our needs, and concludes with attentive trust in God’s faithful character. And so, we begin to enter into what the psalmist proclaims:

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)

Jesus teaches us to pray in such a way that from start to finish, in all our praise and confession, in all our gratitude and petition, we are held in the gracious power of our kingly God, who is also our loving Father.

Lord, receive the praise in me
that You truly deserve,
for all the praise truly belongs
to You before and after all others.
You are so holy and so good.
You are so righteous and so just.
You are my Rock and my Fortress.
You are my King and my Father.
And I trust You above all.
Receive the praise You deserve in me.
Amen.


[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 915.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

When We Feel Like Running Away

There are times in our lives when we feel like running away. I still remember when I was an elementary school kid and one of the bullies came after me during a recess football game. I definitely felt like running away…and I did! As fast as I could go.

As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve encountered much more threatening things that make me and others want to run away. I’ve seen a father of four crushed by lack of work. I’ve seen parents helplessly lose a child they love. I’ve seen a single mom struggle to parent teenage children in rebellion. I’ve seen students feeling overwhelmed by confusing decisions. I’ve seen churches challenged by dire situations. These things and more can make us feel like running away.

In Psalm 11, we hear of a similar situation. The writer is struggling with the advice from a friend to simply run away:Read More »

Singing the Songs of God’s Salvation (discussion questions)

TTGITT Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Singing the Songs of God’s Salvation,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the fifth and final part of our series, “Turning to God in Troubling Times,” from the book of Habakkuk. This week we looked at Habakkuk 3:1-19.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What sorts of things have lifted your spirits when you have gone through troubling times? Why?
  2. This weekend we conclude our series from the book of Habakkuk, “Turning to God in Troubling Times,” by studying Habakkuk 3:1-19. This closing prayer to God full of rich imagery and declarations of faith. Before you read the passage aloud, ask God to clearly speak to you.
  3. Verses 1-2 show a change of tone in Habakkuk from the previous two chapters. How would you describe Habakkuk’s tone in prayer before God in chapters 1 and 2 as compared with these first two verses of chapter 3?
  4. With verses 3-15, we see Habakkuk mingling together reflections on what God has done in the past and what He will do in the days to come. There are many references to the exodus of Israel from Egypt during Moses’ time in these verses. Take a moment to search out references to the Exodus that are found here, particularly in verses 3-7.
  5. Why do you think the Exodus imagery was important for Habakkuk in his day and time? What could it convey?
  6. Beginning in verse 8, Habakkuk depicts God as a warrior. What descriptors of God show His might and power as a warrior here in verses 8-15? Given the pending judgment God outlined in chapters 1 and 2, why might this picture of God speak powerfully to Habakkuk and his hearers?
  7. In the midst of these words about God’s past and future deliverance, Habakkuk mentions the ‘anointed one’ (Hebrew: messiah) in verse 13. Often the Messiah was a reference to a king or ruler. This is one of the clearest references to the Messiah as a person who will bring deliverance and will be delivered by God. Why would Habakkuk be looking for a Messiah in the circumstances of his day?
  8. With verse 16, we read Habakkuk’s final words in this psalm to God. The Hebrew word for ‘trembling’ appears twice in this verse (NIV: ‘my heart pounded’ and ‘my legs trembled’). Why do you think Habakkuk is trembling, even as he waits patiently?
  9. The last three verses (17-19) reveal a deep faith in troubling times. The fig tree, grapes, and olives are luxuries of the land, while the fields, sheep, and cattle are essentials for life in the land. What sort of faith declaration is Habakkuk making in light of what we read here?
  10. Have you endured a time of great trouble? How have you learned to rejoice and trust God in the midst of that season of life like Habakkuk?
  11. As we draw this series to a close, take a moment to reflect on some of the ways God has been speaking to you through Habakkuk’s message. If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

[Next week we begin a series, “One Church,” focused on the unity we have in Jesus Christ. Prepare for next weeek by reading Ephesians 4.]

Singing the Songs of God’s Salvation

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church I concluded our series “Turning to God in Troubling Times” from Habakkuk. In my message this weekend, “Singing the Songs of God’s Salvation,” I walked through Habakkuk 3:1-19, where Habakkuk comes to a point of resolution and faith in the midst of life’s troubles. Sometimes, when we find ourselves in the midst of trouble, the best thing we can do is to sing ourselves into the place of trust and joy in the Lord. This is what we find in Habakkuk…and it’s something we, too, can access.

You can view a video of the message and the accompanying outline below. You can listen to the message via our audio podcast here.

Connect with us further at Eastbrook Church on VimeoFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

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Faithfulness in a Confusing World (discussion questions)

TTGITT Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Faithfulness in a Confusing World,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the fourth part of our series, “Turning to God in Troubling Times,” from the book of Habakkuk. This week we looked at Habakkuk 2:2-20.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have you seen someone get what they deserved for doing something wrong? Did it make you feel good or bad? Why?
  2. This weekend in our series, “Turning to God in Troubling Times,” we look at Habakkuk 2:2-20, where God replies to Habakkuk’s second prayer. Take some time to pray, asking God to clearly speak to you, before reading the passage aloud.
  3. Habakkuk 2:2-20 has two major sections: 1) an announcement of a vision, or revelation, from God (2:2-5), and 2) five illustrations of that vision. In verse 2 what does God tell Habakkuk to do with the vision and in verse 3 what does God say about the timing of the vision? Why is this important given the troubles around Habakkuk and his people?
  4. In verses 4-5, we face a strong contrast between the way of living against God and for God. How would you summarize what God is saying through Habakkuk here about these two ways of life?
  5. What do you think it means for us to live out the phrase: “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (2:4b)?
  6. Background: Habakkuk 2:4 is one of the most important Old Testament verses quoted within the New Testament. The Apostle Paul references this verse as a central part of his teaching on justification by faith alone (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). The writer of Hebrews draws upon it to encourage pressured believers to persevere (Hebrews 10:36-39). Later, you may want read those passages as you reflect on how Habakkuk’s message shapes our understanding of faith as followers of Jesus.
  7. Beginning in verse 6, we encounter five illustrations of the pending judgment upon those who disobey God. Each of these illustrations is highlighted by a Hebrew word usually translated as ‘woe’. Take a moment to see where the word ‘woe’ occurs in verses 6-20 in order to get a sense of the structure of this passage.
  8. Based on what you just did, summarize each ‘woe’ found in verses 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, and 18-20. Answer questions like: what is the main issue being addressed by God?; what wrongs are part of this?; what is the end result?
  9. According to verse 20, how does Habakkuk seem to resolve his complaint-prayers before God?
  10. Psalm 73 echoes much of what is found in Habakkuk. Read Psalm 73 aloud, and then do one of two things: 1) consider how these words help you step into the message of Habakkuk personally, or 2) pray parts of Psalm 73 back to God as your own declaration of faith.
  11. How is God speaking to you about living with and for Him through Habakkuk 2:2-20? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

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