The Weekend Wanderer: 9 October 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.


Ed Stetzer“When will Christians learn from the unending engagement cycle of evangelicalism and race?” – Ed Stetzer in USAToday: “As the executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, one of my joys is leading people through our museum. Filled with historical artifacts and pictures, it’s a testimony to God’s faithfulness. One of my favorite pictures is of Billy Graham standing next to Martin Luther King Jr. I start by telling people how Graham took down segregation ropes for his meetings in the South. But the story doesn’t stop there. Historian Grant Wacker notes that as the civil rights movement intensified, Graham distanced himself from King by attempting to chart a moderate path. Decades later, Graham himself would speak of his lack of engagement in the civil rights movement as one of his great regrets. This same story of engagement, retreat and regret has come to define an evangelical culture that is bigger than Billy Graham. For more than a century, the broader evangelical movement has been in a cycle of engagement when opportunities arise, retreat when pressures and obstacles intensify, and regret at the failure to achieve any lasting change. Worse, the burden of this regret too frequently falls on evangelicals of color, as they are left abandoned only to be greeted with new promises next cycle.”


1067980“Donetsk: Three Protestant churches banned” – Felix Corley at Forum 18: “The unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, has this summer banned three Protestant churches. One of the churches appears still able to meet for worship as it tries to gain registration. The rebel entity’s latest Religion Law change restricts registered religious associations’ activities to “participants and/or members”. In June the Culture Minister ordered musical and other artistic institutions to display lists of banned books & organisations.”


Biopolitics“‘Biopolitics’ Are Unavoidable” – Matthew Loftus at Mere Orthodoxy: “In the struggle to fight COVID-19, terms like ‘public health’ and ‘community health’ have been bandied about in an attempt to describe the ways in which our health as individuals is not dependent on ourselves alone. Wendell Berry says: ‘I believe that the community — in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures — is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms.’ Berry’s statement speaks to our intuition that not only our individual activities, but also the health of the people, animals, plants, microbes, air, water, and soil around us all affect our health and we in turn affect them. As often as modern human beings would like to think of themselves as autonomous agents who determine their own bodily destinies, the reality is that the only appreciable limit to our contingency is how many things around us we can name. From this observation about the nature of our bodies we can move to a theological understanding of health.”


GettyImages-1234554084-e1628612279165“The Bible and COVID Vaccines” – Mark Talbot at The Center for Pastor Theologians: “Does the Bible offer us any insight into whether we should take the COVID vaccine? I think it does when we think through the implications of the early chapters of Genesis. Right before God made the first human beings, he declared why he was making them: ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’ (Gen. 1:26). God made us to be his earthly images who would represent him by ruling wisely and lovingly over the rest of creation. Then, immediately after making our first parents, he gave them what is often called the creation mandate; namely, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’ (Gen. 1:28). God, as the psalmist puts it, gave the earth to us (see Ps. 115:16). We are meant to rule over it by exercising dominion over the animals and subduing whatever needs to be subdued.”


typewriter“5 Contemporary Poets Christians Should Read” – Mischa Willett at The Gospel Coalition: “I’m always a little sad after a poetry reading when someone comes up and tells me they’re ‘really into Christian poets,’ and when I ask excitedly ‘which ones?’ they rattle off a short list that ends with Gerard Manley Hopkins or George Herbert. Not that those poets aren’t required reading—absolute masters of the form and of the heart’s hows—but because there is so much good crop still being pulled from the fertile fields of theologically inflected verse. I always wish I carried around a backpack full of books by Mark Jarman, or Jennifer Maier, or Dana Gioia, to thrust into their readerly hands, beaming, ‘It’s still happening!’ It would be a kind of ministry, edifying the body thus. Here then is my own short list of contemporary poets of faith Christians should read.”


Justice Songs“Why Don’t We Sing Justice Songs in Worship?” – Michael J. Rhodes in Christianity Today: “In 2018, an unusual Bible made national news. Published in 1807, the so-called ‘Slave Bible’ offered Caribbean slaves a highly edited edition of the KJV. The editors presumably cut out parts of Scripture that could undermine slavery or incite rebellion. If you want a pro-slavery Bible, it’s unsurprising you’d get rid of the exodus story or drop Paul’s declaration that in Christ ‘there is … neither slave nor free’ (Gal. 3:28). But why did the creators of the ‘Slave Bible’ cut out the Book of Psalms? After all, the portions that tend to be well known and well-loved draw our minds toward well-tended sheep sitting by quiet waters. Yet upon closer inspection, Psalms is obsessed with the Lord’s liberating justice for the oppressed. And because the book offers us prayers and songs, it doesn’t just tell us how to think about justice—it offers us scripts to practice shouting and singing about it. But when I recently took a quick look at the lyrics of the first 25 songs listed in the ‘CCLI Top 100′ worship songs reportedly sung by churches and compared them to the way the Psalms sing about justice, I realized that we don’t necessarily follow that script.”


Music: Tim Hughes, “God of Justice,” Holding Nothing Back.

The Weekend Wanderer: 2 October 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.


St Augustine burning heart“The Greatest Care Is Needed: Augustine on Moral Discernment and Church Leadership” – Joey Sherrard at Center for Pastor Theologians: “Augustine of Hippo was one of the first and greatest catechists of the church. He was a pastor in a time of great conflict and schism, a time when the church was beset by external challenges and internal turmoil. And one his most important pastoral responses to the crises he faced was the work of catechesis – the instruction and formation of men and women in the truths and implications of the Christian faith. A fruit of that ministry was a catechetical handbook he wrote for his fellow pastors, On Instructing Beginners in the Faith. It’s a remarkable combination of theological conviction and practical counsel, and from that little volume I’d like to draw two implications for pastors today in our own time of turmoil – specifically the turmoil caused by abuse within the local church.”


Noonday Demon“Varieties of the Noonday Demon” – Kurt Armstrong in Comment: “A quick scan of the Canadian Mental Health Association website tells me that in a normal year, one in five Canadians will experience some sort of mental health problem or mental illness. At least 8 or 9 percent will suffer major depression at some point in their lives, 2 percent live with chronic depression, 1 percent are bipolar. If we were to zoom in then on an average Sunday morning at my little neighbourhood Anglican church, it would follow that about thirty-five people will suffer some kind of mental illness this year, fourteen will suffer major depression at some point, three or four are chronic depressives, and one or two are bipolar. No doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all those numbers higher. But even before the pandemic, the actual numbers at my church would have been above average. Not because Anglicanism is especially bad for mental health, but because the little congregation I am a part of attracts a disproportionate number of sensitive, creative, and intelligent women and men, precisely the kind of people who tend to suffer more mental health trouble than most. It’s a good place to be when you’re low, especially the Sunday evening service, when the lights are dimmed, attendance is sparse, and the service includes long periods of silence. Plus, the chances of hearing a cheery, don’t-worry-be-happy kind of sermon are next to nil. If you are depressed, it’s a good place to sit for an hour at the end of a Sunday.”


_112099487_church“Young more likely to pray than over-55s – survey” – From Harry Farley at the BBC: “Young people in the UK are twice as likely as older people to pray regularly, a new survey has found. Some 51% of 18 to 34-year-olds polled by Savanta ComRes said they pray at least once a month, compared with 24% of those aged 55 and over. It also found 49% of the younger age group attend a place of worship every month, compared with 16% of over-55s. The associate director of Savanta said the numbers could reflect the move to online worship during the pandemic. Chris Hopkins added that there were ‘a few theories’ as to why young people made up such a large proportion of the religious landscape.”


webRNS-Kirk-Franklin-LeanOnMe1-092821-640x640“Kirk Franklin rereleases ‘Lean on Me’ with virtual global children’s choir” – Adelle M. Banks at Religion News Service: “Kirk Franklin, like many musicians, has pivoted to online performances during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 16-Grammy winner brought his contemporary gospel music to NPR’s Tiny Desk, and he took part in a virtual benefit to draw attention to poor children across the world whose lives have been changed by COVID-19. On Friday (Sept. 24), Franklin’s entertainment company and Compassion International jointly rereleased a remake of his “Lean on Me” single featuring a virtual choir of more than 120 youth who live in 25 countries where the humanitarian organization has a presence.”


Dante Purgatorio“Reading Dante’s Purgatory While the World Hangs in the Balance” – Judith Thurman in The New Yorker: “Fifty years ago, I was a guest at the baptism of a friend’s son in the ancient church of a Tuscan hamlet. It was Easter, and lambing season. A Sardinian shepherd who tended the flocks of a local landowner came to pay his respects to the new parents. He was a wild-looking man with matted hair whose harsh dialect was hard to understand. Among our party was a beauty of fifteen, an artist’s daughter, and the shepherd took such a fancy to her that he asked for her hand. The girl’s father politely declined, and the shepherd, to show that he had no hard feelings, offered us a lamb for our Paschal dinner. My friends were penniless bohemians, so the gift was welcome. It came, however, with a condition: we had to watch the lamb being slaughtered. The blood sacrifice took place after the baptism. That morning, the baby’s godfather, an expatriate writer, had caused a stir in the church, since none of the villagers, most of them farmers, had ever seen a Black man in person. Some tried to touch his hands, to see if the color would rub off; there was a sense of awe among them, as if one of the Magi had come to visit. Toward the end of the ceremony, the moment came for the sponsors to ‘renounce Satan and . . . all his seductions of sin and evil.’ The godfather had been raised in a pious community, and he entered into the spirit of this one. His own experience of malevolence had taught him, as he wrote, that life ‘is not moral.’ Yet he stood gravely at the font and vowed, ‘Rinuncio.'”


Josh McDowell“Christian author Josh McDowell steps away from ministry after comments about Black, minority families” – Bob Smietana at Religion News Service: “A best-selling Christian author and speaker denounced the idea of systemic racism at a national gathering of Christian counselors, saying Black Americans and other minorities were not raised to value hard work or education. Josh McDowell, best known for his book Evidence that Demands a Verdict and other books defending the Christian faith, gave a speech Saturday (Sept. 18) at a meeting of the American Association of Christian Counselors. The talk, entitled ‘The Five Greatest Global Epidemics,’ identified a series of threats McDowell claims face the Christian church. The first, he said, was critical race theory, an academic field of study on the nature of systemic racism. Known by the acronym CRT, critical race theory has become controversial among Christian conservatives and political conservatives alike.”


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

One Fear We Don’t Want to Lose: Living with Appropriate Fear of the Lord

cave opening.jpeg

There are things in life that we all need a healthy fear of: open flames, dangerous or abusive people, life-threatening diseases, identify theft, riding with your son or daughter behind the wheel when they have just received their temps. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit funny. But we all honestly know there are things we would be foolish not to fear.

But what does it mean when we hear in the book of Proverbs that we are to live with fear the Lord?

Some people think this means we are to wander around afraid of God all our days. Some might wonder if this means we should live joyless, unhappy lives plagued by fear of God’s activity in the world, saying something like: “You never know what He might do with sinners like us!” There is a sense of terror in some people’s view of God and any talk of “fear of the Lord” seems to play into that.

But that’s not what fear of the Lord means when we really dive into that in Scripture. Look at two key verses in which that phrase appears, Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10, which serve as book-ends around the first large section of the book of Proverbs.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

In Scripture, the concept of the fear of the Lord holds in tension two realities. The first is that we stand before a powerful and holy God. The second is that this powerful and holy God wants to relate with us personally and transformationally.

When we consider this we need to remember we are talking about the God who created everything. This is the God who spoke all of creation into being with a word. We are talking about the God who has brought into being more than 20,000 species of fish, some of which exist at depths of 3,000 to 6,000 feet. We are talking about the God who brought more than 250,000 species of plants into being and who actually knows the difference between Poa protensis (bluegrass) and Adansonia digitata (baobab tree). This is the God who, as it says elsewhere, sustains all things, including not only our solar system but also the 200-400 billion solar systems in the Milky Way Galaxy, and the estimated 100-200 billion galaxies in the known universe.

This is the sort of God we are talking about when we approach the scriptures. It is appropriate for us to approach this sort of God with humility. We should realize we are very small and apparently insignificant (although Scripture tells us we do have signifiance). We should approach God with, as one Old Testament scholar writes, “knee-knocking awe.” God is truly the only awesome One. When we realize who we are dealing with in this way, then we are starting to get a sense of what fear of the Lord really means.

But here is the other side of that story. This same awesome God who with a word created such varied beauty and variety in our world and countless wonders throughout the known and unknown universe – this same God actually wants to relate to human beings. In fact, we need to consider that God does not merely want to relate to “human beings” but wants to relate to us—you and me—personally.

That’s what Scripture tells us. Scripture tells the story of God reaching out to human beings, starting with Adam and Eve, and carrying on through characters like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Ruth, Nehemiah, Esther and more. This reaches its pinnacle in the awesome story of God becoming a man – the wonder of incarnation – when Jesus Christ walked our world, died, and rose again. Jesus is the supreme example of God’s outstretched hands to humanity and He is the only Savior from sin and death.

That same all-powerful and tremendously creative God who should inspire knee-knocking awe in us, also wants to inspire intimate relationship with us. He wants us to have reverent trust with Him. And when we realize who we are dealing with in this way, then we are starting to get at what fear of the Lord means.

Knee-knocking awe before the only awesome God.

Reverent trust in relationship with a loving God.

True wisdom comes when we have an appropriate fear of the Lord.

The Weekend Wanderer: 22 May 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.


Israel Palestine“Rockets, Riots, Sermons, and Soccer: Christian Views on the Conflict in Gaza and Israel” – Jayson Casper at Christianity Today: “Bombs fall in Gaza as rockets target Israel. Frustrated Arab rioters are met by extremist Jewish settlers. And in the middle of it all, Danny Kopp sent his boys out to play soccer. Numbers were down at the Jerusalem neighborhood park frequented by Jew and Arab alike, but his 13-, 10-, and 8-year-old sons still translated between the sides. ‘These encounters, as small as they are, remind belligerents that coexistence is still viable,’ said the chairman of the Evangelical Alliance in Israel. ‘Wholesale vilifying is simply inaccurate.’ But it is easy to do, if attached to a favored narrative.”


Kingsnorth First Things“The Cross 
and the Machine” – I first became acquainted with the writings of Paul Kingsnorth through his fascinating book, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays. Through that book I discovered Kingsnorth’s shared love for the work of Wendell Berry, including the fact that Kingsnorth edited a recent selection of Wendell Berry’s works The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry. Further digging led me to explore his writing as part of the Dark Mountain Project. Several times in my reading I have wondered where Kingsnorth was headed spiritually, and then I discovered this recent essay by him at First Things about his conversion to Christianity. As Rod Dreher comments on this article: “Drop everything you’re doing right now and read [it].”


worship hands“Why Contemporary Worship Isn’t Actually Ruining the Church” – Glenn Packiam at Missio Alliance: “In the latest iteration of a tired diatribe against contemporary worship, Hans Boersma complained in First Things that contemporary worship is ruining everything…But Boersma is wrong. Worship historians Lester Ruth and Swee-Hong Lim traced multiple root systems for the contemporary worship movement. Yes, one is indeed a missional impulse borne of a burden to reach the lost. But another—arguably the more dominant one—is the expectation of an encounter with the presence of God. Contemporary worship songs that are being sung around the world aren’t being written by seeker-friendly megachurches trying to set Jesus-y lyrics to Taylor Swift tunes just to get the kids to come through the doors. These songs are being written by charismatic worship leaders who believe that something happens when the people of God gather to praise God.”


AAPI_Heritage_Month“The Asian American Experience: a free reading guide” – From Fuller Seminary’s Centered: Resources for the Asian American Church: “Asian American identity is complicated! ’20 million Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,’ with a broad range of immigration experiences, income levels, religions, languages, and cultures. The resources below, ordered from short articles to lengthy readers and study guides, are all freely available from credible, well-respected sources. We recommend them as beginning points to explore and become conversant in the identity and needs of Asian America.”


CMDA“Is It Discrimination or ‘Do No Harm’? Christian Doctors Gear Up for Transgender Debates” – Kate Shellnutt at Christianity Today: “As cultural conflicts around transgender identity grow more intense, Christian doctors see a need to be more sensitive to the plights and preferences of people experiencing gender dysphoria while also holding firm to personal and professional convictions around biological sex. That’s what the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA) says in an updated statement on transgender identification that leaders hope will inform its 20,000 members as well as the general public. That balance might be difficult to maintain, though, if federal health officials take the position that declining certain treatments for transgender patients can be considered a form of discrimination based on sex.”


teaching“How to Be a Writer: 10 Tips from Rebecca Solnit” – This list of ten tips on writing from author Rebecca Solnit at LitHub is well worth the read if you aspire to writing. Solnit offers advice that is simple yet necessary, like “Write…Write bad stuff because the road to good writing is made out of words and not all of them are well-arranged words” and ” Facts. Always get them right.” But she also speaks to the more profound, such as “Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures…[but] Find pleasure and joy. Maybe even make lists of joys for emergencies” and “What we call success is very nice and comes with useful byproducts, but success is not love.” Read it and then, well…write!


Music: Marvin Gaye, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” from What’s Going On

What Has Your Heart?: Jesus, Herod, and the Temptation toward Idolatry

William Blake, Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf

We become what we worship.

This idea is something we encounter throughout Scripture. What grips our hearts—what holds our attention at the center of our lives—motivates us, moves us, and leads us wherever it desires.

We see this clearly in the sharp contrast between Herod the Great and Jesus, which I preached about this past weekend at Eastbrook. Herod is motivated by power. It grips his life with such ferocity that he willingly executed one of his wives and several of his children to secure his grip upon that power. The slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18) was but one example of Herod’s disturbing use of violence to secure his position at any cost. The scary reality is this: Herod thought he had a hold on power, but it was actually the idol of power that had a grip on him. It motivated him, moved him, and led him wherever it desired.

Sometimes when we see an extreme example of the ruin brought by idolatry, it distances us from the ways that idolatry has a hold on our own lives. We see someone like Herod the Great, or some other renowned ‘sinner’ or ‘evil person’ from our own time, and may think, “Thank God I’m nothing like that!” But the truth is rather different. We all have a proclivity toward idolatry. There are many things that vie for our heart’s affections. There are many passions, aims, people, and objects that seek to set themselves up in our lives in order to motivate us, move us, and lead us wherever they desire. We all become what we worship.

What we see in Herod the Great’s terrifying actions is merely the fruit of a heart that is disordered through idolatry. Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45). For Herod all of this started many years before the events we read about in Matthew 2. The small beginnings of idolatry, if left unchecked, expand over time. This is the way idolatry works within all of our lives. Through small decisions and apparently insignificant actions, we increasingly give our hearts over to the grip of idols. Eventually, numbed to smaller wrong decisions and actions, greater and more distorted words and actions are normalized under the spell of the idol that grips our lives.

As followers of Jesus, we cannot countenance idols. We have one center of our lives—one hold on our heart—and that is the Living God. We do well to take stock of ways that idols have come to grip our lives. I have found four questions helpful for such an inventory as suggested by Tim Keller in his book book Counterfeit Gods (pages 167-170). Consider them with me as we begin this year:

  1. What are we dreaming about or imagining? As William Temple said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”
  2. How are we spending our money? As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:21).
  3. What are we truly living for – what is our functional master? Keller writes: “When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.”
  4. What are our most uncontrollable emotions? Keller again writes: “Look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.”

We become what we worship, so may we worship the Lord our God only. May we shed our idols, tear them down to the ground, and, like Joshua entering the Promised Land, declare, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).