A Crash Course in Knowing Christ (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Ephesians

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I continued our new series walking through the New Testament book of Ephesians, entitled “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity.” This weekend, I continued with the second half of chapter 1, which offers us a “Crash Course in Knowing Christ.” This is really a prayer of Paul that unfolds for us how prayer in gratitude, intercession, and worship helps us know Christ more fully in our lives.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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The Weekend Wanderer: 22 December 2018

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.

apocalypse“Why Apocalypse is Essential to Advent” – I am just concluding a long preaching series on the book of Daniel at Eastbrook Church entitled, “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith.” Moving through the entire book this Fall brought the apocalyptic visions of the second half of the book into alignment with the season of Advent. I have not had a better preparation for Advent than this in a long time. Because of all that, I really could not agree more with Fleming Rutledge in this excellent essay over at Christianity Today.

 

cherries“Grace” – Over at First Things you will find a beautiful, narrative reflection on grace and Advent by Patricia Snow. It begins: “On a hazy afternoon in late May 1986, I wait, as I wait every weekday afternoon in a parking lot in Branford, Connecticut, for my son to be dismissed from school. While I wait, I listen to Ceci, another mother new to the school, whose son is in my son’s class. She is telling me about her car.”

 

The head pastor of the Zion church in Beijing Jin Mingri poses for picures in the lobby of the unofficial Protestant "house" church in Beijing

“Detention of 100 Christians raises concerns about religious crackdown in China” – The intense pressure by the Chinese government continues to be felt by minorities of all types, and specifically upon individual Christians and church communities. This latest report, occurring last weekend, highlights the ways that President Xi is ratcheting up control to degrees that have not been experienced for quite some time. Religious freedom is a real issue in many parts of the world and Christians must be aware of the present challenges. One church in China is responding more vocally than normal to this challenging situation: “‘Faithful disobedience’: An influential house church in China responds to a wave of police detentions.”

 

Beth Moore“Max Lucado Reveals Past Sexual Abuse at Evangelical #MeToo Summit” – An important event took place last week in Wheaton, IL, related to the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. “Today, [Beth] Moore joined major evangelical leaders—including Australian evangelist Christine Caine, bestselling author and San Antonio pastor Max Lucado, and Seattle pastor Eugene Cho—for a Billy Graham Center event called Reflections: A GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Violence. The event represents the largest inter-denominational response to sex abuse since #MeToo took off last fall.”

 

merlin_147632778_6dffd07c-9d53-48f3-b187-adaaca0217c5-superJumbo“Internet Church Isn’t Really Church” – In case you weren’t clear on what church is, Laura Turner writes to at least help you understand that online church isn’t really church. Of course, this is in part a response to Judah Smith’s launching of a church app for personal, online worship, but that is merely the latest iteration of something that has been happening for years now. Turner writes: “This, then, is the beauty of the church: not that it is perfect or convenient or fits easily into my life but that without it, my life would be deficient. I could still believe in God without the church, could celebrate Christmas without it, or go once a year. But I don’t believe I would truly be a Christian without the real, in-person, Sunday morning church.”

 

hillsong worship“Where next for contemporary worship music?” – Speaking of modern afflictions of church, here is Madeleine Davies’ exploration of the history of worship music and the challenges that it faces today. This is not a short read, which means that it is really worth reading. I would encourage you to take the time to read through this piece and reflect on what worship really means and how music is or is not a part of that.

 

Marsh-and-Fannie-300x225.jpg“Charles Marsh Delivers DuBose Lectures at Sewanee University” – At the end of November Dr. Charles Marsh, professor of religious studies and director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, delivered the DuBose Lectures. His topics bring within their range some of my own greatest areas of interest: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his ‘religionless’ Christianity, civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so much more. I have not listened to the lectures in their entirety, but hope to do so soon.

 

Vitamin waterVitamin Water will pay you big bucks to give up your phone for a year – Armed with $100,000 offer and a lie detector test, Vitamin Water is reaching out to see if anyone could really go for an entire year without their smart phone. I’m tempted to go for this, but not sure I could complete all the requirements in the fine print since I preach from an iPad on weekends as a way to avoid using paper notes each weekend. Maybe you could do it!

[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: 15 December 2018

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.

85517“When Gospel Music Sparked a ‘Worship War'” – I began my calling into vocational ministry as a music director at a church after serving as a worship leader in various settings. Music is always divisive because it ties into personal tastes, cultural perspectives, and communicates things to people beyond just the sounds and words. Kathryn Kemp writes about how the Great Migration in the early 20th century impacted the life of African American churches and sparked a ‘worship war’ of sorts during that time. This is fascinating reading for the influence that gospel music had at that time and into the church today.

 

Multicultural friends group using smartphone with coffee at university college break - People hands addicted by mobile smart phone - Technology concept with connected trendy millennials - Filter image“How Facebook Deforms Us” – I gave up Facebook over two years ago and have never wanted to go back. What I realized is that it was subtly shaping me and others into the sort of person that I did not want to be. L. M. Sacasas gets to this in his astute review of Siva Vaidhyanathan‘s new book, Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. Sacasas’ thoughtful engagement with Vaidhyanathan, as well as other notable authors, provides a meaningful essay on the challenges we all face with a system of social media over which we exert limited control while it simultaneously exerts control over us.

 

image04newamericans“CIVA December Featured Artist” – The featured artist for Christians in Visual Arts (CIVA) in December is Asher Imtiaz, a portrait and documentary photographer from Pakistan currently working in the US (and a member of the church I pastor, Eastbrook Church). Describing his work, Imtiaz writes, “I believe the human face is the greatest of landscapes to capture.” Click here see more of his photography and to read about his work at the CIVA website. You could also visit his personal website here.

 

pew-846021_640“Why Evangelicals Should Care More About Ecclesiology” – Someone shared this article from a few years back with me, and my wife, Kelly, and I have been talking about it ever since. Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary, suggests that one of the significant factors in the crisis of moral leadership in the evangelical church today is a failure of institutional accountability. This is particularly a problem where there are not clear lines of authority within denominational structures or episcopal layers of authority. Warren’s argument is important to her out, even if there are similar issues with failure in moral authority in church contexts with institutional accountability (e.g., Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal). The fundamental dearth of ecclesiological thinking in evangelicalism is the heart of the issue, it seems to me.

 

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“People of African descent face ‘dire picture’ of racism in EU” – “Almost a third of people of African descent polled in a new EU survey say they have experienced racial harassment in the last five years, a report that claims racial discrimination is ‘commonplace’ across 12 European countries reveals. People of African descent face ‘a dire picture’ of discrimination in housing, the workplace and everyday life, the survey of 5,803 people by the European Union’s fundamental rights agency states.”

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.53.15 AM“Stephen Colbert’s conversion from atheism back to Catholicism” – Late Night television host and comedian, Stephen Colbert, talks with Father James Martin about his return to Catholicism from atheism, which was sparked by having someone hand him a pocket New Testament on the wintry streets of Chicago at an anxious season in his life.

 

higgins-inklings-243x300.jpg“An Inherently Meaningful Cosmos” – For those who follow the Oxford scholarly group knowns as the Inklings – that group gathered around the nucleus of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien – you begin to notice certain themes return in many of their works. Certainly the engagement with fantasy is there, but those familiar with “the other Inkling,” Charles Williams, begin to notice attention to Arthurian legends. A recent collection of essays on this theme, The Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, & Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain edited by Sørina Higgins, receives worthy attention in a review by Ben Lockerd.

 

85542“Christianity Today’s 2019 Book Awards” – There are so many booklists floating around these days that it is hard to know which of them to pay attention to. John Wilson always has one of the most diverse and interesting favorites listsMaureen Corrigan pulls together a great look at some of the best books of 2018 at NPREnglewood Review of Books offers a fun Advent Calendar of the best books of the year.  In the midst of the many, I always appreciate Christianity Today’s annual book awards, which helps me pay attention to some of the most insightful biblical-theological books, as well as helps for discipleship and the life of faith. This year is no exception.

 

merton“Merton & Blake, Revisited” – Michael Higgins looks at two of the most fascinating and enigmatic characters within church history of the last 250 years: Thomas Merton and William Blake. Blake’s imagination-laden approach to Christian faith during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and Merton’s iconoclastic monastic faith during the mid-20th century has attracted many interested readers and scholars. Leaning more to an examination of Merton, Higgins wonders why he still fascinates us? Higgins suggests the “stark and vibrant display of paradox is part of his enduring appeal.”

 

[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.]

Live Thankful

thankfulEvery year in the US, we mark out a day to reflect gratitude for life and what we have. Thanksgiving Day, in my opinion, is actually one of the few culturally meaningful moments that still exist in our country. In this time, as a nation we actually take time out from work and normal routines to simply celebrate and enjoy the goodness of life. Of course, like all things, Thanksgiving Day can be trivialized by commercialism, but it is still a powerful moment in our country’s experience.

As Christians, Thanksgiving Day takes on even greater significance because of our relationship with the Living God through Christ Jesus. The wonder of the life with God is that each day spent following Jesus propels us into thanksgiving. The abundance we have received from God through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is beyond words. Today, we want to come alive with thankfulness.

Throughout the Scripture, we encounter many sacrifices offered in worship of God. In Psalm 50, however, we encounter a different kind of sacrifice:

I have no complaint about your sacrifices
or the burnt offerings you constantly offer.
But I do not need the bulls from your barns
or the goats from your pens.
For all the animals of the forest are Mine,
and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. (Psalm 50:8-10, NLT)

God is familiar with all the burnt offerings and sacrifices of the Israelites, but He is looking for something else. And here is what it is:

Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God. (50:14, NLT)

Thankfulness brings life to us. When we make our lives an altar where gratitude rises up to God like a sacrifice, He is pleased. At the same time, offering thanks back to God for who He is and all He has done brings life to us. Thanksgiving brings life to our souls because when we voice our thanks we are forced to reflect on all His goodness toward us. Thankfulness draw us closer to God.

At that same time, we may soon realize in life that thankfulness is not – or at least should not be – limited by our circumstances. Circumstances change with seasons and times of our lives, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. Yet God, in all His unchanging faithfulness, never alters in His work in us and goodness toward us. So as Paul urged one early group of believers that they – and we – can learn the way to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Today, why not come to life with God by offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving? You might even want to stop for ten or fifteen minutes right now to thank God for all He has done, for all He has given, and for all the things You may not even know that He is doing right now in Your life.

Old Camel Knees: a brief reflection on the remarkable prayer life of James the Just

James_the_Just_(Novgorod,_16_c.)The fourth-century church historian, Eusebius, relates a story gathered from the lost works of Hegesippus during the second century about James “the Just,” who likely wrote the epistle of James and was the earthly brother of Jesus. In the midst of outlining the persecution of the church in his Ecclesiastical History , Eusebius details the death of James in Book II, Ch. XXIII:

3. The manner of James’ death has been already indicated by the above-quoted words of Clement, who records that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club. But Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs. He writes as follows:

4. “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James.

5. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath.

6. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people.

7. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek, ‘Bulwark of the people’ and ‘Justice,’ in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.

There is so much we could discuss here, but today I merely want to draw attention to point (6) above, which highlights James’ ongoing life of prayer, specifically his worship of God and petitions for forgiveness on behalf of others. His dedication to prayer is such that his physical body reflected it: “his knees became hard like those of a camel.” It is because of this phrase that James is often referred to as “camel knees.”

The idea of praying on our knees is mentioned frequently in Scripture (Psalm 95:6; Daniel 6:10; Luke 5:8; Ephesians 3:14). Praying on our knees conveys humility – an appropriate sense of who we are – and awe – an appropriate sense of who God is. Getting down on our knees tells us in a very tangible way – through the posture of our bodies – that something different is occurring in our experience that requires something different from our bodies. As one commentator writes, kneeling in prayer communicates something vitally important: “We recognize that God is everything for us and that without his merciful love, we are, literally, nothing.”

These days many of us, especially those within evangelical traditions, rarely get on our knees in prayer. In fact, it is so out of the ordinary that when I recently invited our church community to kneel, I had to take extra time to set it up ahead of time. Those in what would described as traditional churches likely find it more common to descend to a kneeler each week for the confessional prayer. Regardless of our worship tradition, I would like to suggest that all of us could learn quite a lot from the Apostle James in his example of dedicated, humble prayer through appropriate kneeling.

However, let me take it a step further, and say that pastors and ministers of all sorts should take a cue on prayer from “Old Camel Knees.” It would be an invaluable breakthrough in ministry practice if all of us serving in ministry left a legacy like James of dedication in prayerful worship of God and intercession before God on behalf of our people. May God give us grace that our bodies would be marked by our dedication in prayer.

Praying to the Holy God [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

In prayer we approach the God of the universe face to face. Although the word ‘awesome’ has been devalued to our contemporary ears, this reality of prayer is truly an awesome thing.

The prophet Isaiah found out how awesome this is when he had a vision of God while at prayer in the Temple in the year that King Uzziah died. The heavenly throne room was unveiled to Isaiah’s mortal eyes, and he was clearly overwhelmed at the sight of the Living God and the angelic beings around His throne. Isaiah’s response is both familiar and strange to us: “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty'” (Isaiah 6:5).

Most of us rarely think about God in this way, let alone approach Him with such an awareness of His awesome holiness. The American writer Annie Dillard comments on this reality with language so strong it may catch us off guard:

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.[1]

Of course, we should remember that as New Testament Christians we stand on this side of the Cross, the tearing of the veil, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus who lives now as our eternal Mediator before the Father. Even so, it is good for us to consider the awesome holiness of God. It is good to enter the place of prayer aware of the awesome Being whom we are approaching. It was this reality that caused the prophet Habakkuk to pause in the midst of the raging of the nations around Jerusalem to say: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

Holy, holy, holy, are You,
  Lord God Almighty.
Although I do not approach You with a crash helmet,
  I am aware of how great You truly are.
And so, I humble myself before Your power,
  even as I worship You with all of who I am.
There is no one else like You,
  and there never will be.
I stand in awe of You
as the only, awesome God.


[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1982), 58.

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

Resources for Prayer

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 10.20.07 AM.pngWhen I was Pastor of Collegiate Ministries at Elmbrook Church, our ministry, The Ave, hosted a 24/7 week of prayer in partnership with other college ministries around the city of Milwaukee. We drew a lot of our ideas from a group based in the UK, known as 24-7 Prayer, founded by Pete Greig. They have an excellent resource page that a friend, Caitlin Ewing, shared with me and my wife, Kelly, just this past weekend (thanks, Caitlin!).

Weave prayer into the daily rhythm of your life. Whether you find prayer hard, boring or if you’re simply looking for new ideas –  this section will help you pray, every day:

SIMPLE PRAYER IDEAS – Get started with these 6 ways to pray

TAKE TIME – Go deeper in your prayer life and spend a little longer in God’s presence.

PRAYING THE LORD’S PRAYER, DAILY   Start a new rhythm of prayer using the Lord’s prayer

ANCIENT PRAYERS – Different prayer ideas from centuries past

PRAYING THE BIBLE – Simple ideas to help you pray using the Bible

BIBLE STUDIES ON PRAYER – Find out what Jesus and the early Church taught about prayer

FASTING – Find our how fasting can encourage powerful prayer

HOW TO PRAY USING A JOURNAL – How writing your prayers can help you to develop a rhythm of prayer

LEARN TO LISTEN – Helpful tips on listening to God

WHAT’S YOUR PRAYER PERSONALITY? – How each of us can use our different personalities to pray

PRAY FOR THE WORLD – How to engage with the world around you

BLESSING MUSLIMS IN PRAYER  – be equipped to pray and bless Muslims with resources from our friends at Mahabba and Frontiers.