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).

Singing Our Faith into Our Lives in Advent

candlelight.jpg

Advent is one of the times I remember most clearly from my early years. My parents would gather my older brother and I around the Advent wreath each night to light candles and sing hymns about the coming of Christ. That tradition is one we have continued in our own family, since the time our children were young until today.

When our children were younger, they couldn’t read the words of many hymns, so we always sang the first verse and chorus of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” together. They quickly caught on and, during their earlier years, made up their own hand motions to parts of the chorus. I don’t think they make the hand motions anymore, but we still sing that song regularly in the evenings of Advent as we light the candles before reading Scripture, a devotional, and praying together.

There is something powerful about singing our faith. We experience that when we sing with others in corporate worship, whether in formal worship services or informally with a few friends or family members. Singing engages our minds and our spirits in worship. We both consciously and subconsciously enter into the meaning of the songs with our whole being. This depth of engagement is enhanced when we return to the same songs again and again, year after year. That may be why we find tears in our eyes when we sing a song that brings back memories of dear friends or family members like “How Great Thou Art” or “It Is Well (With My Soul).”

I didn’t think of it this way when my children were younger, but I realize now that we have been singing our faith into our lives for years. Every Advent, we again gather in this simple ceremony of singing, candle-lighting, Scripture, and prayer. There is not much to it at one level, but there is much more happening beyond what we see. The fabric of faith – Jesus has Immanuel – is being woven into our lives one strand at a time. The symphony of God’s story is rising up and we are joining in with it one note at a time.

So, let’s sing our faith during this season of Advent. No matter whether it is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or some other song, may we be caught up into the symphony of God’s good story with our voice and in our lives.

What Are You Thankful For?

thankful

Giving thanks and showing gratitude to God is an act of worship. This is why we read in Psalm 106:1, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

But it is not just for the material goods or obvious blessings that we are to be thankful for. In fact, the Apostle Paul, writing to a fledgling church in Philippi while he is imprisoned, urges believers toward gratitude in the face of worry. He writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Even more strongly, in another letter, Paul calls Christians to give thanks as part of fulfilling the will of God: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This year may be a tough one for us to practice gratitude, but there is always something somewhere to be thankful for, even in the most difficult of circumstances. So, as part of your worship this Thanksgiving holiday, what are some things you thankful for?

A Prayer inspired by Hebrews 13:1-25

image 3 - Hebrews

Throughout our series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I am writing prayers related to the text on which we are preaching each week. Today’s prayer is the final one in this series and is drawn from Hebrews 13:1-25. The complete list of prayers inspired by Hebrews is included at the bottom of this post. You can also view my message, “Worship and the Final Word,” drawn from this passage here.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—
we worship You
and want our lives to overflow
with living worship of You, the Triune God.

May our life as a church community,
our friendships and marriages,
our relationship with money,
and our care for the least of these bring You glory.

Thank You, Father, for offering Your Son
as the Mediator of the new covenant
through His sacrificial death upon the Cross
and His resurrection glory at Your right hand.

May our lives now be living sacrifices,
not to earn Your favor,
but as a grateful response
to Your unending grace and sovereign plan.

Equip us with everything good
for doing Your will, our God,
so that with holy and loving lives
we might bring You both joy and glory.

All this we pray through You, Father,
who with Jesus the Eternal Son
and the indwelling Holy Spirit,
are One God, both now and forever.
Amen.


Prayers from Hebrews: