The Weekend Wanderer: 11 January 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.

114587“After Soleimani’s Death, Iran’s Christians Brace for ‘Tsunami of Disaster and Opportunity'” – Last week, most of the international attention was on the events and rising tensions between the US and Iran. One of the questions that rose in my mind immediately was, “What does this mean for the astounding movement of God, brining many Persian-background people to Christ both inside and outside Iran?” Well, it seems from this report by Christianity Today, it brings both potential disaster and opportunity. I hope you will join me both in reading this article and praying for our brothers and sisters.

 

journal-fountain-pen“In-Depth Answers to Ten Big Questions About Spiritual Formation” – When I first surrendered my life to Christ, I pored over Scripture and any writer I could find who helped me understand the life with God better. I was so hungry for God that anything someone else recommended would immediately become a part of my discipleship practice or reading.  I encountered Christ through the charismatic movement and so one influential stream of my spiritual life was charismatic Christianity. However, I grew up in a Presbyterian church so another one of the influential streams of my spiritual life was very Word-centered. Sometimes, these streams seemed to run in opposite directions, but when they converged it was a beautiful thing. It was Richard Foster, and those working with him with Renovaré, who first helped me see how valuable it could be to have different streams of Christian tradition come together in our lives as part of an overall spiritual formation trajectory with God. This article hosted at Dallas Willard’s website talks about the nature of spiritual formation in the Christian life around ten big questions we grapple with on that topic. Some of this may seem a bit dated, but it is still helpful in considering what is important in our growth with the Triune God.

 

Notre Dame“Notre Dame Cathedral ‘not saved yet’ and still at risk of collapse” – One of the biggest stories of last year in terms of architecture and church life was the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in April 2019, as well as the billions of euros pledged to rebuilt it. This past week, however, the French general, Jean-Louis Georgelin,  assigned to oversee the task of rebuilding said, “The cathedral is still in a state of peril.”

 

114509“United Methodist Church Announces Proposal to Split Over Gay Marriage” – Another monumental story in religion around the world came in March 2019, when the global gathering of the United Methodist Church, in a highly conflicted vote, affirmed the traditional view of marriage. Since that vote, discussions have arisen to part ways between the more progressive western church and the more traditional church in the rest of the world. This past week, plans emerged for a mutually agreed upon parting of ways that has widespread support from all parties, at least preliminarily, with more details to emerge on January 13. So long to the “United” Methodist Church as fault lines emerge in various denominational bodies over these sorts of issues.

 

Lois Irene Evans“Funeral of Lois Evans, wife of Tony Evans, set for their Dallas church” – Lois Evans, wife of Bible teacher and pastor Tony Evans, passed away on December 30 after being diagnosed with biliary cancer. Lois Evans was married to Tony Evans for 49 years and was the founder of Pastors’ Wives Ministry, author of many books, and leader of Christian ministry in various settings. The celebration of Lois’ home-going is viewable online here, including many moving tributes and worship led by Kirk Franklin.

 

rabbi-chaim-rottenberg“Rabbi who survived machete attack has a unifying message” – From CNN: “The New York rabbi who survived an attack at his home during Hanukkah urged people to put aside differences and ‘work side by side to eradicate hatred.’ Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, leader of Congregation Netzach Yisroel, made his first public comments since the December 28 attack during a celebration on the seventh day of Hanukkah in the hamlet of Monsey. Five people were injured, including his son.”

 

Music: Donny McClurkin with Richard Smallwood, “Total Praise,” from Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

[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 Power of a Unified Mission

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November 11, 2011, was a historic night in the life of the Egyptian Church. As the Arab Spring unfolded, tensions were rising in Cairo, including the killing of many Coptic Christians in October. In the past, the Orthodox Copts, the Roman Catholics, and the Protestants had not supported one another. In fact, they had at many times stood against each other.

But this time was different. In response to this rising difficulty an invitation went out for Christians from all backgrounds – Coptic, Catholic, & Protestant – to gather for prayer. On that night, 71,000 people gathered to seek the face of God in prayer together. Held at the cave church on Cairo’s largest garbage city, the night began with confession, and continued with the gospel being proclaimed, healings happening through prayer, and one span of about 10 minutes where people merely called out the name of Jesus over and over again. Since that time, there has been an increase in conversions to Christ in Egypt at a number never before experienced in recent history.

Something happens when God’s people stand together in unity. There is power in a unified mission.

Jesus says…(read John 17:21, 23)

  • v 21 – “so that the world may believe you have sent me”
  • v 23 – “so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”

Jesus says that the result – the aftereffects – of unity in His people is effectiveness for the mission and purposes of God in the world. Get this: Jesus is talking to the Father about His desire for the church to reach the world – those far from God – and His key request is for unity in the believers.

The implication here is that if we live in disunity, then we will not be effective in joining God in His purposes in the world. Our mission will be short-circuited because of unity.

Jesus Himself was the one who said, “f a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).

There are a couple of implications here:

  1. We cannot stand the threats of the world without unity. Jesus said, “a house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25). If we want to endure in a culture against us then we must seek and pray for unity.
  2. If we care about the mission of God in the city and in the world, then we must both personally pray for and seek the unity of God’s people. The unity of the church and the mission of the church cannot be divorced from one another. If we think we can pursue the mission without pursuing unity, then we are deceived by the evil one.

The place where positive steps for mission – and the place where positive steps toward unity – occur best is in prayer, as Jesus models for us here in John 17.

Prayer is the pathway to unity, which strengthens the mission of the church.

[This is the fourth in a series of posts on unity through prayer from John 17, which began here.]

The Power of Transformed Relationships

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Jesus’ journey of prayer for unity continues as He unveils that there is power through transformed relationships…and that power comes through prayer.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Jesus is plunging ahead in prayer – and we have the high privilege of listening in – to the deep place of God’s relational unity. He prays:

“That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (17:21)

“that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me” (17:22-23)

This is one of the great and mysterious truths of the Christian life: that God is one in the unity of His substance, yet at the same time distinguished as three persons. There is a unified community of being within God that Jesus expresses here in prayer. We see God’s essential unity within diversity and diversity within unity. And this Trinity of being in God is the basis for Jesus’ prayer for the unity of His people.

Many times when we talk about unity, we begin to talk a lot about love. This is important because love is essential to unity, but not always in the way we think. Sometimes, talk of unity and love devolves into a touchy-feely moment where we hold hands and sing songs. At other times that sort of love necessary for unity gets real traction through the tough, real-life, sacrifices people make for one another.

Now, love is incredibly important, and we all must learn to love others more. But Jesus is taking this prayer for unity in a different direction. Jesus does not pray that God would give His people greater capacity or ability to love one another. He prays about something else.

He prays that His glory would flow into His future followers and lead them into transformed relationship with God and, therefore, with one another.

As biblical scholar Raymond Brown so helpfully points out, “unity is not simply human fellowship or the harmonious interaction of Christians.”[1] There is “both a horizontal and a vertical dimension” to unity.

What we need to recognize is that our breakthroughs to unity depend upon our transformed relationship with God that leads to transformed relationship with others.

I don’t want to imply that this is simply up to us getting moved forward with our will power in prayer, because this unity is a mystical, positional reality given us through Jesus Christ and His glory that we need to live into in greater ways.

This is what sanctification is all about: living into the truths of our salvation that we have received because of the positional transformation for humanity that we appropriate by faith into our lives. It’s all grace from God.

In our earthly lives, we will at times falter in the battlefields of conflict. We may find times where we raise our voices against one another. Sometimes we do it to another’s face with harsh words and false accusations, while at other times we quietly pass the sweet morsels of gossip or shards of slander into the ears of another.

No matter how it happens, when we stumble into the lands of conflict, the way back must be infused with prayer. Yes, we must use the best of the wisdom found in the Proverbs of the Bible and the greatest advice of wise counselors, but we must never attempt to achieve unity by our human efforts alone. Brothers and sisters, fall down on your knees and beg the God of the universe, who alone can speak to the hearts of others – and also to your own heart – about the causes of conflict and remedies for unity.

If your heart is bound with bitterness or rolling in rage, now is the time to desert the battlefields of conflict and seek the sweet remedy of the glory of God released in prayer.

As we do this, we may surprisingly find that God not only changes the other person or situation, but He changes us as well. In fact, we may find that we are the one who most needs to be changed.

Prayer is the pathway to unity through transformed relationships.

[This is the third in a series of posts on unity and prayer from John 17, which began here.]


[1] Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, AB (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1970), 2: 776.

The Power of Proactive Prayer

Jesus-Praying-in-the-Garden Dore

There’s a common proverb that says “hindsight is 20/20.” This saying means that it’s easy to see the right thing to do after it has already happened. It also admits that it is difficult to predict the future. The reason we say this so often is that, as humans, we often understand what the right thing to do was after it’s too late.

Here are some examples of hindsight being 20/20. The worker who chose the wrong project to spend a lot of time on when another project was more important to their boss. The man who tried to go out on dates on consecutive evenings with two different women, who ended up knowing one other and talking about it. The high school student who didn’t study enough before a key test that ended up shaping their direction for college. Hindsight is 20/20. You can see clearly what you should have done in the past, but it’s harder to see clearly what to do in the future.

Unlike human beings, Jesus does not seem to suffer from this limitation. In John 17, we see Jesus taking proactive steps – doing what needs to be done ahead of time – instead of being reactive to things that are already taking place. In fact, Jesus shows us the power of proactive prayer.

Take a look at Jesus words in John 17:20 with me:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.

John 17 is sometimes called Jesus’ high priestly prayer. This is because we find Jesus directly talking with His Father in prayer about the heart of His ministry right before going to the sacrifice upon the Cross.

He is like a high priest in the Jewish religious tradition who comes before God to bring the sacrifice on behalf of the people. For Jesus, that sacrifice is literally Himself, and His prayers are preparing the way for that glorious sacrifice.

As Jesus prays to His Father, He asks for God’s glory to be displayed through Him. This is a glory that can only come through sacrifice, which will be seen with such power and gravity at the Cross.

He also asks for God to strengthen His disciples for the trials they will face. He is asking for those immediate followers, like Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, and more, that they might bear up in the face great difficulties.

And He also begins to talk with God about the followers that will come through the message those disciples will speak about Him later. Now, one of the most important things we see in Jesus here is the power of proactive prayer. He is not waiting for troubles to arise or for future followers to come. He is getting ahead of that situation in prayer.

Many of us tend to be reactive in prayer. We pray for provision when our finances get tight or we lose our job. We pray for healing when we get to the hospital or experience emotional trauma. We pray for wisdom when we are already at the crossroads of decision. We respond – or react – to the situations that come. Now, this is an entirely appropriate and powerful way to pray. We see this throughout Scripture, from the early disciples’ prayers when facing arrest by the authorities to Moses’ prayer before the burning bush.

But along with this responsive prayer we need to learn from what Jesus does here in John 17. He proactively prays for things that are yet to come. This is built on the fact that Jesus had both the most realistic view of human life and the most active engagement with the divine life of any person that has ever walked the face of the earth. Jesus prays for all who will come and, in this moment, brings the future people of God – even you and me – into the Holy Presence of God. Just think about the reality that Jesus prayed for you.

I remember a time when I was on a short-term mission trip with a group of students and terrible strife broke out within the group. People were name-calling, tensions were rising, and the leaders on the trip were completely caught off-guard. Of course, we prayed in the moment and asked God to do something powerful, and He graciously righted the direction of the trip so our disunity did not distract from why we were there.

What I learned from that experience is that we should expect the threat of disunity to arise within our life as believers. It arises because of our sin, our human brokenness, our past history, and spiritual attack from the evil one. This should not surprise us.

If we want unity in our relationships – in our church – in churches around our city, nation, and world – then we must pray proactively for God to make us one, not waiting for the divisions to come upon us.

There is power in such proactive prayer. Jesus understood this and He shows us – even as He prays for us – the importance of bringing things to God ahead of time.

Prayer – particularly, here, proactive prayer – is the pathway to unity.

[This is the second in a series of posts on unity through prayer from John 17, which began here.]

Praying Ourselves Toward Unity

Jesus-Praying-in-the-Garden Dore

Whenever I think about the unity that we are called to as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ under the Fatherhood of God,  I often wonder how we actually can move into that reality? If you’re like me, you can look back at the history of the church and see divisions: between Eastern and Western churches in the great divide of the 11th century; the Protestant reformation and the division from Rome in the 16th century; the radical reformation of the Anabaptist movement within Protestantism in the 16-17th century; the breaking of the Wesleys with Anglicanism, which lead to the Methodist church in the 18th century; etc. Although the list could go on, you probably get the point.

Now, we can certainly talk about the unity of the church, but how do we attain it with such a checkered past?

Alongside all the apparently practical advice about dealing with our pride, learning to love one another, and so on, I’d like to suggest that there is one essential element that we must put into practice if we want greater unity in the church. It is something Jesus modeled for us. In fact, the only time that the word “unity” appears in the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – is when Jesus is doing this one critical activity. What is that critical activity? Prayer.

Over the next few days, I want to approach the topic of unity through the lens of prayer. In John 17, where Jesus enters into prayer before going to the Cross, He asks for God’s glory to be displayed in Him, for His current disciples, and future disciples. Specifically, when we turn our attention to verses 20-26, we see that Jesus prays for His future disciples to be unified.

What I am after in this series of reflections is this: if we want to be One Church – if we want to experience unity with other believers and with other churches for God’s glory – then we must pursue prayer.

To put it more simply: Prayer is the pathway to unity. Conversely, without prayer we cannot experience unity in the church.

[This is the first in a series of posts on unity through prayer from John 17.]

A Prayer of Mary McLeod Bethune

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Father, we call Thee Father because we love Thee. We are glad to be called Thy children, and to dedicate our lives to the service that extends through willing hearts and hands to the betterment of all mankind. We send a cry of Thanksgiving for people of all races, creeds, classes, and colors the world over, and pray that through the instrumentality of our lives the spirit of peace, joy, fellowship, and brotherhood shall circle the world. We know that this world is filled with discordant notes, but help us, Father, to so unite our efforts that we may all join in one harmonious symphony for peace and brotherhood, justice, and equality of opportunity for all men. The tasks performed today with forgiveness for all our errors, we dedicate, dear Lord, to Thee. Grant us strength and courage and faith and humility sufficient for the tasks assigned to us.

By Mary McLeod Bethune, missionary and civil rights advocate.

A Prayer by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Lord…
We thank you for your church, founded upon your Word, that challenges us to do more than sing and pray, but go out and work as though the very answer to our prayers depended on us and not upon you. Help us to realize that humanity was created to shine like the stars and live on through all eternity. Keep us, we pray, in perfect peace. Help us to walk together, pray together, sing together, and live together until that day when all God’s children — Black, White, Red, Brown and Yellow — will rejoice in one common band of humanity in the reign of our Lord and of our God, we pray.
Amen.

By Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor and civil rights leader.