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Why

These "Pearls of Wisdom" pages are somewhere to share the insightful articles, podcast episodes, etc that I come across on a regular basis. I hope they are meaningful in your "with God" life as well. Of course many of these posts will include elements of all three categories of pearls.

In Dallas Willard's "Vision, Intention, and Means" model of transformation, Why is the Intention. Why provides the motivation to cross from What can be to the achievement of it.

There is a key point to all of this, and everything you read in the articles or podcasts on this page should be considered in reference to one thing: relationship with God and others. This life we are invited into is a relational one. It is how God exists within Himself in Trinitarian form: in a relationship of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mankind was created as an expansion of that relationship for much the same reason that a couple with a healthy marriage decides to have children - so that they have more family with which to share their unified love.

General

Spiritual Disciplines Aren't the Point with Richard Foster: (General) This link is to episode 75 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. In the spiritual formation movement, it is easy to make spiritual disciplines themselves the point. I would take the argument a degree further and say that spiritual formation itself isn't the point. Spiritual formation is something that the Holy Spirit does in us. We remain focused on relationship with God. Disciplines are things that we do to be intentional about that relationship. It is true, however, as they point out, that certain practices may help to correct things wrong in our life, or to create habitual patterns of good in our lives.

Learning to Trust the Slow Work of God: (General) Link to Renovare.org article by Carolyn Arends. I remember somewhere around maybe five or so years ago sitting in the sanctuary of Storehouse Church in Plymouth Meeting, PA, after JR Rushik gave his sermon. The sanctuary was clearing out and I still sat there. I think JR came up to me and I told him, tears running down my face and slobbering, that his part of the sermon where he spoke about learning to accept the pace at which God transforms us really hit me. He indicated that he didn't remember that part of his sermon. (He used to tell us that he would often have that happen - someone comes up to him and tells him what they heard only for him to have no idea what they were talking about. He attributed it to the work of the Holy Spirit translating what he said into what someone else needed to hear.) I thought that I should be a spiritual Gandalf by then, but I felt more like a spiritual adolescent at best. Granted, I hindered the work of the Holy Spirit by allowing my life to be taken over by my career too often over the course of decades. That time could have been put to better use. Today I have learned patience. Both with myself and with God. I am happy with where I am. I am not Gandalf, but neither am I still an adolescent.

 

In this article, Carolyn talks about how pregnancy in humans takes longer than pregnancy in the animal world. But it is good that it is so because a woman's body needs to adjust. She says that if the cycle was conception to birth inside of a day, the woman's body would literally explode. She says, similarly, maybe God grows us slowly so that we don't explode. Peter Scazzaro tells us God grows our soul through grief and loss. Too much of that at one time and we would break. Maybe He goes slowly to keep us from breaking.

Prayer in the Night with Tish Harrison Warren: (General) This link is to episode 201 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. In this interview Tish makes many insightful comments:

1) Theodicy arguments are not satisfying because they usually answer the intellectual argument of how a good and loving God can allow evil but fail to answer the longing that we have for things to be made right. A good theodicy argument should answer the intellectual, emotional, and the longing.

2) She discusses her walk through her dark night of the soul and how it taught her to expect less of life but more of God.

3) We have all been affected by the prosperity gospel in some way in that many of us carry an idea of "if I am good enough and faithful enough then I should be able to rely on God to prevent terrible circumstances in my life." As we know, there is the book of Job, and the experiences all humans have.

4) She answers her question of how can we trust God if we cannot trust Him to prevent bad things from happening to us with "God didn't stop bad things from happening to God". But Jesus resurrected, promises us resurrection, and promises to be with us. Death doesn't have the last word.

Power to Do the Works of God (Streams: Charismatic) with Richard Foster: (General) This link is to episode 166 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. This is worth a listen if only for the point that it is holiness that makes it safe for the Holy Spirit to empower the actions we do together (man with God). When we think charismatic, many of us cringe a little, I used to also. But in reality all that charismata is is the Holy Spirit empowering the work we do together.

Seeing Beauty: (General) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. The concept in this episode is that beauty is a soul nourishment like food is a body nourishment (though food can taste, smell, and look beautiful, and as such can be a soul nourishment as well). God created beauty. He made physical matter and made this world, but He didn't have to make it beautiful. A sunset sky, a flower, majestic mountains, a newborn, children playing, great pieces of music and art, the face of someone we love, all speak to our sense of the wonder of beauty. Beauty is all around us if we take the time to look, and our sense of wonder at beauty is a way that God loves us, which means expressions of God's love are all around us if we look.

Conversation with John Mark Comer: (General) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. There are several great points made in this podcast.

 

There is a roughly five minute discussion on Christian sexual ethics where he explains how radically different, and purer, and more protective of women and children and slaves, Christian morals were in this area compared to what was happening in the first century Greco-Roman world. He concludes with the vision for the Christian ideal for the role of sexual intimacy in a committed marital relationship, and for the marital relationship itself in creating family and in spiritual formation. A lot of the damage being done the people of the first century Roman world we see repeated in our culture today, so the Christian ideal can point to something altogether more lovely and safe than the experiences many are having in the culture at large today. This can be a powerful witnessing tool to our good and beautiful God.

They also discuss the amount of media our culture consumes, which is axiomatically unhealthy, and how a rule of life can reverse the harm and send our growth in the right direction (rule as in way of life).

His book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry is on my Amazon wish list and I want to read it. Without eliminating hurry, we won't be able to spend the kind of time with Jesus that forms our souls for good.

Witness / Rejection: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the Bridgetown Audio Podcast with Tyler Staton. This is another very good sermon by Tyler, but there is one point I want to highlight specifically.

 

There is a quote, beginning at about 38:36, by Dorothy Sayers, that I thought very insightful that offers yet another reason why we humans can trust God. Here is the quote:

"“For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”

Here is the sermon as video on Vimeo:

Simpicity

Simplicity

The Cure for Distraction: (Simplicity) Link to Renovare.org article by Nathan Foster. You sense it: the anxiety of not having enough time in the day to accomplish all that you need to. Meanwhile relationships seek our attention. You feel it beneath the surface: a growing loneliness. You can't focus. You can't sleep. You feel anxious. And you are afraid to look it in the face so you self-medicate with busy-ness, entertainment, and distraction. Is this the abundant life that Jesus spoke of? The freedom that He says He gave us? It feels more like death and prison. Richard Foster says that today's church is lacking deep Christians and Nathan Foster, Richard's son, says the church is lacking present Christians. Is it any wonder? You will find it nearly impossible to be either until you "ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life". Abundant life and freedom are available, but they come at a cost. You must learn to say no. You must build margin into your life.

The Spiritual Discipline of Rest: (Simplicity) Link to Renovare.org article by Richella Parham. Today our society runs around on empty. We fill our schedules afraid of saying no. There isn't enough time in the day and there aren't enough days in the week. Keeping Sabbath? In an ideal world, maybe. That is why rest is a spiritual discipline. Rest requires trust. Arranging our lives so that we can have rest risks people getting upset with us by telling them no. Should we even say no to good things at church so that we can rest? Yes, yes we should, if it's required. Can we really tell our kids they can't do something that all their friends are doing? Yes, if it encourages patterns of rest that they can carry into their adult lives.

 

I read a good book called Subversive Sabbath by AJ Swoboda. He shows how Sabbath rest was something that was built in to nearly the entirety of creation, including even the soil as early farmers were commanded to give the land a rest every seven years, in addition to it getting rest from not farming at least one day per week. Why is rest so important? It is hard to be present without it. Hurry brings anxiety and anger so it is hard to be kind. It is hard to be loving when we are exhausted. Without creating margin in our lives we will not be able to engage with God in stillness, silence and solitude. Margin and rest bring several benefits.

Solitude

Solitude

Baptize My Eyes: (Solitude) Link to Renovare.org article by Katelyn J Dixon. I used to pray for the church service during the church service. It was a practice that I picked up from my previous church. I thought there was a power in that, and I still do, even though I no longer engage in this practice. At one point, when we moved to a new building, I could no longer walk around the cafeteria asking God to work in not only the lives of those who lead and attend our church, but the kids who attended the school in which we met. Now we were in our own building, with every room active, except the lead pastor's office. So that is where I stationed myself with his permission. One day, I don't even know what made me ask, but I started praying and paused, "God, that was rude of me. I haven't even asked You how You are today. How are You?" I can't put into words what happened next. A wave of holy joy washed over me to such a degree I felt that I couldn't take it. "Turn it off! Turn it off!" I pleaded. Dallas Willard, in his great book The Divine Conspiracy, says that God is the happiest and most joyous being in the universe. I caught an eye-dropper dose of that infinite ocean of joy and was overwhelmed. I think God wants to connect with us. I think He wants to be known, as much as we can handle. I started reading the Bible differently around the same time. I approached it with, "God, how did you experience that? What were you feeling? Please convey to me whatever You want me to know." Katelyn, who wrote this article, had a similar experience.

Elijah and the Broom Bush / Silence and Solitude Episode 2: (Solitude) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast. There are a few awesome points in this podcast that I want to highlight about why we need to be practicing silence and solitude, especially in our current culture of busy-ness addiction, in addition to the fact that it aids our relationship with the Trinity.

1) We need to stop running away. We need to face our fear. When we stop, when we are quiet and still, behind all of the anxious thought monkeys about everything we should be doing to be "productive", we sense feelings rising up from some kind of abyss. They might be fear of being alone, fear that we are insignificant, doubts about whether we are truly loved, anxious secrets we hold onto out of shame or guilt or embarrassment, feeings of hopelessness and depression, or any number of similar things. We can't grow, God can't (won't?) deal with it in us if we keep running away or numbing it back into our emotional abyss. It doesn't go away, and it doesn't get better. Worse, it leaks out in other ways, many times onto other people in our lives, often the ones we love most. We need to choose to trust God as best as we know how, invite Him in to it, and then be still and silent and let it come, with God. At the end of this episode, John Mark Comer suggests a few ideas as to how we can do this.

2) He points out that, if we are new to silence and solitude, we may wonder if there is enough "relational bandwidth" to spend time alone with God in the quietness.

3) You aren't alone in this. He opens with a famous comedian talking about his experience with this emotional fear in times of silence. He reviews the story of Elijah and how he experienced this coming off of a great victory. This is something common to man.

4) While it is true that John Mark Comer is reading into the text the tone of voice of Elijah when he was answering God's question, it is very plausible given the way the story is unfolding. If this is correct, and I think it is, let this be yet one more reminder, together with several Psalms, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and so many other examples of people being real with God. He can take it. He wants your honesty. Speaking honestly and openly about where you really are with God is good for your relationship. While God is worthy of our respect and awe, we can lay aside being proper and maintaining a stiff upper lip with God. As Larry Crabb said, God will meet us where we are at, not where we pretend to be.

Here is that sermon as a video on Vimeo:

Epiphanies From a Guitar Part 1: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. In this episode, he talks about one of the things he learned from being gifted a very expensive guitar. While he didn't pay for it himself, he talks about his intention to take care of it now that he has it. "Of course" he'll take care of it, he says, because of its value. But then it occurred to him that he himself also holds value and therefore he should take care of himself as well. To pick up on that point, consider what God "paid" for you (the Bible tells us we are bought with a price). We have tremendous value to God and "of course" He wants to take care of us. But He respects our decisions and our boundaries. So while He wants to care for us, if we choose that we don't want Him in our lives, then He will honor that (as much as He can).

Stopping Comparison in its Tracks with Richella Parham: (Solitude) This link is to episode 23 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. I hear this problem more from women than from men, but I think that we fall into this trap as well. We've all heard the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" and that refers more to material possessions of our neighbors which often is a male thing (though not exclusively). I heard one woman say that she would actually take elements that she admired in other women, compile them into an ideal, and then lament how she failed to live up to this ideal. Thankfully her husband noticed this and helped her to stop it (or at least lessen it). I compare myself to others in some ways. I think we all do. Well, God doesn't. And He invites us to not do it, too. So something to consider.

 

A couple of quick thoughts:

1) You aren't really comparing yourself to another person, you are comparing yourself to the image that you see of the other person. We do not know everything about the other person we are comparing ourselves to, and others tend to let us see the shinier sides of themselves. So you are comparing what you know about yourself to the shinier side of what others let you see about themselves.

2) This is especially true if you are gathering what you know about someone else from social media. What you see there is especially curated.

3) If you are in intentional relationship with God, then He is forming you. Be patient with the progress. It might help to consider where you were as a person and where you are now and see what God has done. There are seasons, though, where we may seem to stall or even fall back some, but these may be seasons of deepening or seasons where some problematic things have to break.

4) The best place to set your focus is on God and things above, and entrust yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit in you.

Prayer

Prayer: Luminary Interview - Jonathan Tremaine Thomas: (Prayer) Link to Spotify episode of the Rule of Life podcast. There are a few great points in this podcast. Two I want to highlight:

1) "Thoughts and prayers". Some people get upset when we respond to a tragedy or possible injustice with "I'll pray about that." I never understood why. I know we want justice and action, for wrong to be made right, but why do some get angry when we respond with prayer? Jonathan Tremaine Thomas helped me to understand. Sometimes when we don't know what to do, or if we want to say no nicely, or if we just want to get away from something, we say "I'll pray about it." I've done it. I don't do it anymore now that I am aware of it, but I've done it. Some people assume this is what is meant when we say we'll pray about it. And some people don't believe in the power of prayer, but those people may think we're just trying to use it as an excuse. I also think sometimes we do use it as an escape. But we know prayer is real. God is real, and powerful, and good, and wise, so we want Him in the situation. But we also want wrongs to be made right and tragedies to be healed. 

Both people in the interview imply that prayer will lead to additional action on our part. I think they mean prayer will often/sometimes lead to additional action, but not always. There was a battle in Exodus 17:8-16. Israel would only win when Moses was praying holding his hands up. The battle went long and Moses couldn't keep his hands up. Aaron and Hur got a rock for Moses to sit on while they held his hands up. It was Moses' job to pray, Aaron and Hur's job to help Moses, and for Joshua to lead the troops into battle. But prayer was a real part of waging the battle. Sometimes that is our role. Sometimes it may be to help. Sometimes it may be to take additional action.

2) God is real. He is powerful. He is good. He works in creation. He wants to be invited. Jonathan Tremaine Thomas' orientation is to pray. Car won't start? Pray. Faucet leaks? Pray. Find yourself in the middle of a violent protest? Pray. Whatever the situation: pray. I don't do that. My toilet flapper was leaking and I couldn't fix it. I called a repair man. My car has a problem: I call the dealer. If it is beyond my power or knowledge how to fix, then I pray. I should pray first. God is the smartest One in the room, always. Why wouldn't I want direction from the smartest One in the room? I love his orientation to prayer with expectancy that God will answer in some way. I know that God often won't answer and in those times we make a decision and trust that He is with us. He can tell us when He has something to say.

This is a good listen. Here it is on YouTube:

Prayer: Talking With God: (Prayer) Link to Spotify episode of the Rule of Life podcast hosted by Tyler Staton. Why do we pray? Does prayer make a difference? This episode has some excellent answers and thoughts about prayer and why we do it.

1) Prayer is not just a transaction but mainly about relationship with God. It helps to orient our point of view to a reliance on God and His infinite ability to provide, as opposed to our independence and our very limited ability to provide for ourselves.

2) One guest observes that, as a first generation immigrant to the United States, it seems that we use language primarily for communication, whereas where he came from language was used primarily for communion or connection.

3) At another point in the conversation, they show that asking reveals the level of intimacy (consider in context of prayer). For example, one of them says that he will freely ask his wife at a restaurant "are you going to finish that?" but he would never ask that of friends of his.

4) Prayer actually makes a difference. Quoting Dallas Willard "God's response to our prayers is not a charade. He does not pretend that He is answering our prayer when He is only doing what He was going to do anyway. Our requests really do make a difference in what God does and does not do. The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a spectre that haunts the minds of many who profess to believe in God...It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best."

This episode is jam-packed with so much more.

Intercessory Prayer / Prayer Episode 2: (Prayer) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

In this episode John Mark takes on why we request things of God if He knows what we need anyway.

He says, "God's original intent was for free intelligent, creative human beings to collaborate with Him on running the world."

The main point of this podcast is that the reason we pray requests, the reason we ask for God to do something, is that it actually does make a difference. He made us to rule with Him in this world. Praying requests is one way that we do that.

Here is the sermon in video form on Vimeo:

Unanswered Prayer / Prayer Episode 3: (Prayer) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

The best teaching I have ever heard on unanswered prayer. Bar none. It explains that the reasons some prayers are answered and others are not are complex in nature. He gives fifteen reasons, not an exhaustive list, why prayers are not answered. These fifteen are broken down into three categories:

1) God's world

2) God's will

3) God's war

His observations are from a book by Pete Greig called God on Mute.

A few points I would like to highlight:

1) "In Jesus' name" is not a magic incantation to get what you want. Even though Jesus says that whatever we pray for in His name will be given, it has more to do with an alignment of our desires with God's desires. 

2) There are multiple wills at work. God has designed us with a will of our own and He doesn't want to override our wills. He gave us freedom of choice on purpose. But those we pray for also have freedom of choice.

3) If God simply answered all of our prayers in the way we wanted them answered, then our relationship with Him would almost certainly devolve into a master and magic genie relationship instead of a father and child relationship.

4) Sometimes God wants something even better for us. Many of us know this because if we look back at our prayers, we are likely thankful that there were prayers that God did not answer yes to.

And there are 11 more solid reasons given for why some of our prayers are not answered.

Here is the sermon in video form on Vimeo:

Unanswered Prayer Part 2: (Prayer) Link to Spotify episode of the Bridgetown Audio podcast.

While John Mark Comer's sermon dealt more with the reasons why a percentage of prayers go unanswered, here Tyler Staton's sermon deals more with the emotional and mental weight of unanswered prayer and what we do in light of it. How do we sit in the disappointment and sometimes devastation of tragedy that we prayed so hard to be rescued from? When God can do something but chooses not to, does He even care?

He tells the story of a woman in his church who suffered a devastating loss of a loved one, a young mother with a one year old son. Her counselor asked an insightful question: "What answer could God provide you that would be satisfactory to you that would answer for her death?" The truth is there isn't one. Job plead his case before God in the book of Job yet God offered no answer. What answer could He give that would be satisfactory for why His children died and for why he is suffering such physical pain? In those cases, God offers us His presence. He sits with us in the pain. He gives us Himself.

From C.S. Lewis' "The Magician's Nephew" from the Chronicles of Narnia series (which if you haven't read, I highly recommend the series):

“But please, please - won't you - can't you give me something that will cure Mother?'

Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

'My son, my son,' said Aslan. 'I know. Grief is great.”

As for what to do in the face of unanswered prayer, Jesus invites us to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. But, when unanswered prayer is of the devastating variety, we may need others to help keep us on the path. Therefore part of the answer about what to do lies in remaining in Christian community.

Here is the sermon in video form on Vimeo:

Doubt in Faith with Carolyn Arends: (Prayer) This link is to episode 26 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. Carolyn Arends has a number of great insights into experiencing doubt in our walk with God. She points out that it is possible that not everyone experiences doubt, perhaps as a gift of the Spirit, so do not think of people who do not experience doubt as less deep in their faith or thinking (which would admittedly be a temptation of mine). She points out, though, also correctly, that doubt isn't necessarily bad, and in fact is often good. Doubt allows us to consider our faith more deeply or can lead us to a larger view of God. Further, she talks about being persistent in prayer during a time of doubt, even if the prayer is just "where are You?" because lack of communication kills a relationship. She also reminds us that sometimes things need to be spoken in prayer, or to other believers, or both, to remove some of the weight of them, including our doubts.

Doubt: (Prayer) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Have you ever felt guilt or shame for having doubts about God or doubts about your faith? One of the best things that ever happened to me was going through serious doubt about God in my late teens. You may be thinking, "Wait. What?" Yep - I came within a hair's breadth of turning away from God completely, suffered severe depression and had decided to take my own life, and it was one of the best things that I ever experienced. Why? Because I came out of it on the other side more rooted in my faith and more confident in God than I think would have been possible for me had I not gone through it. Of course I have some minor misgivings from time to time like most people, but I believe my faith is strong (and if not, God is), and I am thankful for it. James covers a lot on this episode - the disciples didn't originally believe the women when they reported that Jesus was not in the tomb, Thomas' doubts about Jesus' resurrection, the fact that Job, Ecclesiastes, and many Psalms deal with doubt - but there is even more. Peter's denials were because of doubt (things weren't going the way he had imagined they would), Abraham and Sarai doubted that God would provide a male heir, Moses doubted that he could speak to Pharoah, Gideon doubted his capacity as a warrior, the disciples doubted they could feed the multitudes who had come to hear Jesus (twice), Paul doubted that Jesus was the Messiah, even the name Israel means something like "he who strives with, or wrestles, God". Doubt is all over the Bible...and God still takes particular pleasure in working with the doubters. So if you, or anyone else, gives you a hard time for doubting, know that you are in excellent company. (One important note: I am not referring to an obstinate, or proud, doubt. Only to genuine doubt and questioning. James also makes this point in the episode.)

Fasting

To Pray / Fasting Episode 2: (Fasting) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast. This is a very good episode about why we fast. (And, yes, Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan was a great film.) As I am listening to this podcast and hearing him speaking about continually seeking God, not just try once or a few times and say "oh, well. It didn't work" it reminded me of my search for greater intimacy with God. For so long it felt like God was not really a close friend, and it felt like it was on me. I sought. I kept seeking. But except for my initial conversion at the age of 11, and a re-dedication at the age of 16, a sense that I was close to God was elusive. Through counseling, I was reminded that I made a vow at the age of 18 or 19 that I'll "never hurt like this again" after a relationship ended a year or two prior. Since then, intimacy with God was elusive. It got better over time, but nowhere near where I wanted, or thought it should be. I renounced the vow and intimacy came nearly immediately. That was at the age of 50. It was 30 years in between.

But if intimacy with God had come more easily at lower cost, it would not be as valuable to me today as it is. I want to protect that. It is the most important relationship I have and will ever have. Perhaps seeking, continually seeking, makes something more valuable when it is found.

I also thought that the point about our information overload society not leading to better practice was a great one. We have become accustomed to becoming inspired and then doing nothing about it. If more information keeps you from praxis, set aside the podcast, the book, the website, etc, and engage in the practices. Knowing God relationally is far better than knowing about God mentally.

Here is the sermon in video form on Vimeo:

Scripture

Scripture

Shining Examples of Incarnational Living: (Scripture) Link to Renovare.org newsletter excerpt from Richard Foster. The piece touches on why matter is not evil, as the Gnostics believed. Ecumenical church councils have condemned this idea as heresy - Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus, as fully God, infused Jesus, as fully man. Each and every believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit, his/her own spirit enlivened to God, and this is lived out in his/her body. Our bodies are good, and the spiritual infuses the material. But this is also why we do not have a "spiritual life" compartmentalized from a "secular life". We are enfleshed souls and spirits, ensouled and enspirited bodies. It is who we are. We are not spiritual sometimes and secular at other times, nor are we supposed to live in such a way. Our union with God is meant to be lived out outside of "just" our church and devotional times, and into our work and social activities: running errands, family time, etc. Christians are, quite literally, the body of Christ in this world.

Questions about the Old Testament Pt 2 with Dr Larisa Levicheva-Joseph and Dr Dan Freemyer: (Scripture) This Spotify link is to episode 61 of the Wesley Seminary Podcast hosted by Dr Aaron Perry. In this episode there are a couple great points of learning for me including why God may have commanded the killing of the children in the land of Canaan when Israel was conquering it and why it might matter when certain things in Biblical history echoed local mythology of other belief systems from a missional perspective.

Both And: (Scripture) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Have you wondered if the grace of God frees us to sin? What about holiness (a heart attitude that aims to align with God)? James does a great job tackling the question of grace giving us two stories together with how Paul answered that question in Romans 5 & 6. James points to who we are as Christians. We are new creatures freed from the slavery of sin and alive to God with the indwelling Holy Spirit. Sinning doesn't align with who we are now. I believe that if we do decide that we can sin all we want, that would lead to misery as well as callousness to the Holy Spirit.

Sabbath

Sabbath: Luminary Interview - Tish Harrison Warren: (Sabbath) This link is to a Spotify episode of the Rule of Life podcast hosted by John Mark Comer in which he discusses with Tish Harrison Warren why we sabbath. I love listening to Tish Harrison Warren because I am always learning or inspired or encouraged or laughing or all four of these. So many great observations in this podcast including:

1) Our spiritual formation occurs in the mundane reality of life. God has yet to bless anyone other than where they are actually at (thought from Dallas Willard).

2) We all have a rule of life and we are all being formed. We are either being formed well or we are being formed not well.

3) There is a such thing as the arduous good. Struggle and work form us. It is good to have to work through good work.

4) Our bodies are involved in our formation - again, either for positive formation or negative. We are not a "brain on a stick".

5) And sabbath was meant to have a community aspect to it.

And here it is on YouTube:

Sabbath: Luminary Interview - Andy Crouch: (Sabbath) Link to Spotify episode of the Rule of Life podcast. Oh. My. Goodness. This is amazing. You really need to listen to the whole thing without divided focus. In other words, turn everything else off and listen intently, and you may need to listen more than once, and sections more than twice. Just to illustrate a few points within the one long coherent point of this podcast:

1) We are living in an age of instant (Everything Now as Arcade Fire says) as a result of three major revolutions:

1st revolution: Money. We no longer barter and trade and sometimes use money. Transactions, especially with our technology, are instant, and are with money, and we rarely barter and trade. We no longer invest our time, labor, sweat, safety to produce a good that we own and sell/trade with. We are not fully invested into the good that we produce.

2nd revolution: Industrial/technological. We no longer need to train our bodies to do the trade that we are invested into. At least not in the same way, for most occupations. Machines now do a great deal of the work. We flip a switch for light, we put dishes into a dishwasher, we throw our clothes and liquid into a machine that cleans them, we work along side robots who do a great deal of the hard manual labor of producing automobiles, etc.

3rd revolution: information technology. We no longer need to sort through a long path of schooling and trial and error to gain knowledge. We can look it up on YouTube or ask Google, etc.

We have power that would have resembled magic 2000 years ago (heck, 200 years ago) but today we do not go through the processes that trained our minds and bodies to have the maturity to be able to wield well the power that we now possess at our fingertips. Worse, because of these revolutions community is less "necessary" to function, or at least have our basic physical needs met. We have become more isolated. (I'll add that God feeds our souls at least in part via community. We are a bunch of malnourished immature souls running around wielding power that would have been magic a hundred or so years ago.) We have become accustomed to getting what we need or want now. Hungry? We have fast food and can even get food delivered by Uber or Door Dash if we want. Need to know something? Our phone can tell us. Music, entertainment? We can stream iTunes, Netflix with the click of a few buttons.

The technological life tempts us with magic: ability without virtue, power without love, and abundance without relationship, 

But formation in the direction of good takes time. It takes repetition. And all of this is forming us, but forming us for bad.

Our ability to say no to the wants of our bodies is breaking down. Andy Crouch even says that he tried to give up putting milk in his tea for Lent and failed 4 days in.

We need counter formation. We are called to love God and love people. Andy Crouch says that people are a "Heart, soul, mind, strength complex designed for love." He says each of the above mentioned three revolutions were not designed with love in mind. We must be intentional about our counter formation in relationship with God and others who love Him too, in order to become the kind of people who can wield this power and ability, these magical devices, well.

2) The temptation the serpent provided Eve included a shortcut to be more like God, a device, a magic for instant results. (He points out that, by the way, Apple's icon is an Apple with a bite out of it.)

3) The ancient idols we read about in the Bible were backed by demonic forces (largely). At first they asked for little and provided much. Then they asked for more and provided less. Then they asked for a great deal and provided very little. They they asked for the greatest sacrifice - which wasn't your life but the life of your children. We see child sacrifice demanded by false gods throughout the Bible. (God even asked it of Abraham before He showed Abraham that wasn't Who He is. He isn't like those other idols. But when Israel offered to Moloch, it was their children. When it refers to causing their children to pass through the fire, it was how they sacrificed the lives of their children - burned alive.) 

4) He says that we have brought the instant device magic concepts into our life with God: asking God a question and opening the Bible and randomly pointing to a verse for an answer, "5 easy next steps" in our sermons, assuming that if we just take the Eucharist enough that we'll be changed, or now that the church service is broadcast we can watch from home in our pajamas - that'll be enough, right? Right?

It isn't until an hour in that they get to sabbath. But sabbath can now be understood within context of what they were discussing. This episode is very, very good.

And here is that episode on YouTube:

Conversation with A.J. Swoboda: (Sabbath) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. In this conversation, James Bryan Smith and AJ Swoboda discuss AJ's book Subversive Sabbath. I've read it and it is a good book with lots of great information about the sabbath. In this podcast AJ points a few things out that are worth taking note of.

 

Man was created on the sixth day and sabbath was on the seventh. His first experience was rest. Sabbath isn't something that recharges us after a long week, it is something that charges us for the work ahead. It starts with the grace and gift of rest before the grace and gift of work. It doesn't matter what day you observe sabbath, so long as you observe one, and it isn't another commandment to follow, it is meant as a gift to man because we need this rhythm.

 

AJ talks about how, as a pastor, he gave a three week sermon series on the sabbath, and he never had as many people leave the church as when he gave this series. He said that the church leadership brought him in to discuss it and a dark thought occurred to him: if a pastor broke any of the other ten commandments he would be fired but if he broke the sabbath he'd probably get a raise. It is also interesting on how sabbath is the only of the Ten Commandments that starts with the word "remember" - today it is the one we tend to ignore. He points out that perhaps one of the biggest fears driving our not taking a sabbath is that we might come out of our day of rest and learn that the world got on just fine without us for a day.

 

Sabbath is something we resist in our culture, but all of creation needs it. The Bible even talks about giving the land a rest from farming it every seven years. Some farmers have built into their plan for the land a rest for a seventh of their fields every year so each section of land gets a rest every seven years. A sabbath year is good for the land and makes it ultimately more productive.

There are so many good points that also point to the character of a good God. Give this one a listen.

Community

Community

Taste the Soup: (Community) In this link to Renovare.org article, Carolyn Arends of Renovare reminds us that there are things in this mysterious life with God, and with His people, that we need to obey and do, to step into, in order that we may understand it. The specific thing she is referring to is being a part of a community of believers, usually experienced through your local church, though it may also come by way of a small group. For the decade of my twenties, a small group was "church" (little "c") for me. That was my community. Starting at the age of thirty, God clearly called me back to a church building where I found new community. Being physically present with a community of Christ followers is imperative to the health of our souls. I realize there are exceptions to that rule, such as those with severe mobility issues or those in nursing homes and such, and I think that God does provide extra grace to those in need. For the rest of us, community is vital.

How Gratitude Breaks the Chains of Resentment: (Community) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt from Henri Nouwen. Have you ever felt like God is trying to tell you something? While resentment isn't my current struggle (but has been a companion in the past), the timing of coming across this statement about something I have been wondering over the last few days is surprising to me. The question is this: Can a willingness to be served be in itself a sort of ministry? I know the answer, I just don't like the answer, especially in the context of which I am thinking about it. I have taught in the past that asking for help when needed can give someone else the opportunity to serve you "with God". Serving is often a point of connection to God because ideally we do so with God. Some people are wired to connect with God most intimately while serving. But this article is about that next step, being thankful for what you have received, and how gratitude fights off resentment. For me it was a reminder that receiving through the hands of another person with an attitude of thankfulness can be an act of service itself. (Note that it doesn't give license to run around seeking to be served - that is narcissism and is unhealthy and hurtful.)

Life Together on the Narrowing Way with Mimi Dixon: (Community) This link is to episode 18 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. The narrowing way refers to the idea of getting squeezed like a tube of toothpaste - when we get squeezed what's inside comes out. But when we get squeezed we need community - I used to retreat from people when I got squeezed. But as Mimi points out, it is one thing to think about something and it is altogether another thing to get other points of view that refine your thinking. So, too, accountability that comes with encouragement other people give you.

The Great Restoration of Ourselves: (Community) This link is to a BecomeNew.com video episode of the Become New podcast hosted by John Ortberg. In this episode, John invites his daughter, Laura Turner, to share her thoughts on forgiveness. She brings up a couple of great points:

1) Being forgiven is only a part of the grace given by God. We can step into that grace as a child of God and offer forgiveness. She quotes Marilynne Robinson in saying "...to be forgiven is only half the gift. The other half is that we can forgive, restore, and liberate, and therefore we can feel the gift of God enacted through us".

2) Then she speaks about respecting the agency that God gives to other people by respecting their right to make decisions for themselves, even when we disagree with them. We may want to offer forgiveness and restoration in a relationship, but if the other person does not want the relationship restored, then we need to honor that (but, I'll add, while prayerfully hoping that God will work toward changing their heart). Honoring others' rights to make decisions for themselves, of course, applies to areas beyond forgiveness as well. God has high regard for human agency.

Here is the video on YouTube:

A Liturgy for Those Deconstructing Their Faith: (Community) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Elizabeth Moore and Audrey Elledge. Are you currently, or are you afraid that you are about to, go into a time of seriously questioning your faith? I've been there. In my late teens I came very close to outright abandoning God. I was hurt and depressed and then shifted my focus outward. When I did I saw pain everywhere, evil everywhere, and barely a thimbleful of a sign of the presence of a good and loving God. I started wondering if good was evil and love was hate. Maybe God was being cynical when He described Himself as love. God moved others into my life to challenge my thinking and I eventually came around again. But this time my faith was better grounded than ever before, stronger than ever before. In fact, stronger than it could have been had I not gone through that. Today I look back at that time of doubt and hurt and pain with thankfulness. This article is a poem of hope reminding us why we need not fear if we are facing a such a time, and reminding us that we need others on this journey, hopefully others strong of faith who will walk this road with us. The poem concludes with "Oh God who does not rest until the lost sheep is found, would You come and find me?"

Forgiveness: The Way to Freedom: (Community) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. James Bryan Smith is right that there is a spiritual force in forgiveness; it is something that has tremendous power. Closely related to forgiveness is confession, which has the effect of releasing a kind of weight off of us. Confession and forgiveness can accomplish a tremendous amount of good. There are a number of great points about forgiveness in this podcast.

Generosity

Generosity

Part 6: Search Me and Know Me (Confession): (Community) Spotify link to an episode of the Bridgetown Audio Podcast.

This may be the best teaching on confession that I have ever heard.

James 5:16 says that we confess to one another to be healed. There is some discussion on whether this means to one another generally, or to elders, since the verse before this one, in the same paragraph, mentions to bring the elders to pray for someone who is sick. I, personally, think that we need to use good judgment. I think that most confession can be done with any Jesus follower, but there may be times where the sin involves another person, might hurt someone, or when we think it could cause the person we are confessing to harm. In those cases, confession to a church leader may be in order.

Confession helps us to find the grace and love that God has for us. In this sermon, Tyler Staton says "confession is how we trust the grace we say we believe in." It recalls to me the quote by Dallas Willard that "faith is belief in action".

Here is that sermon on Vimeo:

Facing Reality: The Grace of Acceptance: (Generosity) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt from Glandion Carney. I wasn't sure that I wanted to include this piece. It is not a fun read (it is sad), and I am not so sure that I do this well. Now, if you are faced with something like the author is, certainly pray for healing or ask for it to be removed from you or whatever is applicable. But if God's answer is something to the effect of "My grace is sufficient for you", then live. Embrace what can be done. Believe that Jesus is there in it with you. Jesus came to give you not just life, but life abundantly.

The Renewable Energy of Fruitful Work: (Generosity) Link to Renovare.org article by Kai Nilsen. There is a statement in this article that makes me think of the proverb (not a Bible proverb) "Fortune favors the brave." It is a response when Kai praised someone serving disabled adults with him that she was doing an inspired job, she was beaming. She answered, "I was so frightened... I didn't know if I had what it takes to serve in this ministry. But now I've found what I am here for!" She overcame her fear and found something bigger than herself that she is full of life for. I think I hear echoes of a movie I can't quite remember saying that all of us will die, but not all of us truly live. Are you facing a similar fearful decision? Listen for the voice of God. It is calm, peaceful, and wise. It does not sound like worry or fear. This is included in Why because this is why we step out in boldness when we believe it is right. And this is why fear is a poor decision maker.

Open Your Eyes: (Generosity) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. The book of James adds that we are to consider it joy when we encounter trials. His point was for the development of character that it produces, but it is also true that those who go through particular trials may have deepened awareness and compassion for others who go through something similar.

 

I have trouble walking - a misshapen right hip causes me to walk a little weird. Over time, that together with my obesity, has caused my left knee to go bad, and may have been a contributing factor to my right foot problems. I can't walk much of a distance without experiencing pain, especially from back muscles that are working really hard to keep me balanced enough to walk or stand - plus I need a cane to get around. One day, I was driving my mom home from cancer treatment, and saw a woman walking down the long driveway of the hospital. She was limping and laboring to walk. I "felt" the pain I would feel if I would have to walk that long driveway. I pulled over and asked if she needed a ride. She explained that something had come up and her ride was unable to take her to her next doctor appointment 20 minutes away. I told her that my mom and I were not pressed for time that day and we would be happy to drive her and she climbed in the back seat. She spoke with a bit of an accent, like my dad's parents and some of my aunts and uncles did, as we got to hear a little of her story on the way. If I did not "feel" that pain as I saw her walk, I don't know if I would have noticed her. I thanked God for my pain, and that I could be in a position to help that woman that day. That day my trouble walking was a blessing, because I got to bring blessing to someone else through it. It has deepened my well of compassion.

 

God can use you through the trials you experience, too. Your struggles uniquely equip you to comfort others with similar struggles. Were you in the military and saw combat? Help other veterans. Have you ever lost a child? Others have as well and need comfort. Have you lost a member of your family to suicide? Others need what you can uniquely offer. Ask God what you have to offer and where you can offer it.

Give Thanks: (Generosity) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Did you know that learning to live with an attitude of thanksgiving can help you to love God and others better? I notice it in my own life. Like any human, sometimes I do better and sometimes I do worse living in an attitude of thanksgiving - and it usually doesn't really have to do with my circumstances. I can be in the midst of difficult circumstances and be living with an eye to the goodness of God seeing the good of what He is doing in my life and around me, or my circumstances can be wonderful and I can be living with an eye on what I think is missing in my life. (Philippians 4:8 & Romans 8:6) Keeping your mind on Things Above - looking for the good that God is doing - affects not just yourself, but also those around you. Being thankful and considering the true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and good helps to keep us in good cheer and focused not just on ourselves. We can then be present with others, offering hope. And I know I am a lot more pleasant to be around when I am thankful and cheerful than when I am focused on what I "lack".

Hospitality

Hospitality

Session 2 of the 2019 Holy Spirit Conference: (Hospitality) Link to episode of the Bridgetown Audio podcast.

This is absolutely not an area of strength to me. I include this because of the conviction that it raises in me. One of my biggest fears is looking stupid. Perhaps this is why you see me often reference reputation management, and how we ought not try to control it but instead entrust it to God.

So when the speaker's friend is out on the street praying for people on the street, including prayer for healing, he comes across a woman with arthritis. He has heard that this can be caused by one leg being shorter than another one, so he asks the woman permission to check her leg lengths. Sure enough, one is shorter than the other. At this point, his friend starts shouting for people to gather around to see a miracle. Meanwhile, the speaker says, he is whisper shouting to his friend to "shut up! What are you doing?" thinking how embarrassing this is going to be if the woman isn't healed, and thinking that the woman probably won't be healed. I can identify with the speaker. I would be the one backing away out of the crowd not wating to have anything to do with this. What's worse, his friend then prays simply, "Leg, grow." This is a disaster, right? We don't take these chances, at least I don't. I would be long gone by the time her leg grew, right there and then, and her arthtritis was gone. We live in a God-bathed world. A God who is good, and wants to see good, and wants others to come to know Him and follow Him. I wonder how many miracles and works of God I don't see because I don't believe, because I don't want to look stupid if God doesn't answer the prayer in the affirmative. I wonder how many people I have let down who could have been positively affected by God. Later in the episode the speaker says "Every city is hard to reach when the church stays in the building."

I guess more than anything I include this episode as an act of confession...and hopes that you (and me) will be encouraged to step out more boldly in faith in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. The speaker rightly frames these kinds of bold steps as acts of compassion. These are acts of boldly Practicing With.

The Last Song of Little Bird: (Hospitality) Link to an episode of the Become New podcast with John Ortberg. (on BecomeNew.com)

Is it possible for you and for me to courageously face our executioner just before death and pray for him or her to come to know the peace and freedom on offer through Jesus Christ? Jesus prayed for His executioners while He hung on the cross that they may be forgiven. And Jesus told His followers that they would do even greater things than He did. Hopefully we never face that time, but if we do, I also hope that the last thing we do is to hold open the door to the kingdom of heaven for our executioner.

One such man named Little Bird did just that in Africa. Some of his executioners found their way into the kingdom because of what he did. This link is to his story.

The Air We Breathe with Glen Scrivener: (Hospitality) This link is to the More to the Story podcast hosted by Andy Miller III in which he discusses ideas found in Scrivener's new book. Twenty minutes in and I am nearly in tears with how amazing these insights are and what they could mean for practical relational Christian evangelism:

1) Having read a little Plato and Aristotle I think he is right in that it seems that the idea of equality is something that wasn't a part of Western values 2000-2500 or so years ago. So where did these values come from? He suggests it is from Jesus. He is right but seeds were planted even earlier than the advent of Jesus. They were planted in the Jewish tradition if I understand the laws of the Old Testament and read the prophets correctly.

2) Scrivener reminds us that people who say they do not have faith to believe in Jesus already live their lives at least in some ways by faith in things they cannot prove. For example, many people believe in equal treatment under the law, equality of opportunity regardless of race or gender or religion, compassion, kindness, etc.

3) He talks about how the call to keeping sexual relations within the context of marriage between one man and one woman helped to bring equality for women - in ancient Greek culture the word for virgin referred only to women and there was no word for a virgin male. The expectation was that women should stay chaste and powerful men could basically act on their libido in whatever way they wanted.

 

He goes on to describe other ways that Jesus had an impact on Western values. While listening to the podcast I bought the book on Kindle and am read it.

Only By Prayer and Faith: (Hospitality) If you don't know the story of George Muller and the orphanage that he started, and the miraculous ways that God provided for it without George Muller ever asking for a thing from anyone (George would only pray to God for its needs), then I recommend that you seek out his story. There is a referenced Veggie Tales video but the link in the article no longer works so here is one that works (as of the time I write this). But this link to Renovare.org article, written by George Muller himself, explains why he started the orphanage. Oh, and God worked with Mr Muller (always "with") and multiplied the number of orphanages, orphans helped, and souls won and lifted. 

Being Christian in a Pluralistic Society: (Hospitality) Link to Renovare.org article by Dallas Willard. Have you ever seen the movie Melancholia? Kirsten Dunst plays a woman who is depressed while everyone around her is seemingly happy. One day the world finds out that another planet is on a collision course to Earth and everyone is going to die... soon. Everyone else gets depressed while Kirsten Dunst's character comes alive. I feel a little like the oddball when I feel hopeful just as I think I see our society moving in a direction against Christianity. The first century church was persecuted and it grew like wildfire. I have heard stories of Christianity's growth in China and North Korea where it is actively persecuted as well as prosecuted. Could it be that Tertullian was right, that "the blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity"? In this article, Dallas Willard says that we ought to take heart as Christians in a pluralistic society, and reminds us that we ought not fear if public sentiment turns against the Christian in such a society. After all, such a problem is not a problem at all for an infinite God that has demonstrated time and again His power when the odds are seemingly stacked against Him. It is then that He can be seen most clearly in a fallen world.

Telling Others in This Cultural Moment: (Hospitality) Link to Bridgetown Church website episode of the Bridgetown Audio podcast (it was removed from Spotify and this is where I could find it).

The speaker does a great job on showing that the heart of the desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others is from a well of love for them. He points out, probably rightly, and we need to do better, that others are afraid to speak to Christians out of fear of being judged. He also shows the other side of the coin. How Christians care deeply for others to come to know the joy and true life found in Jesus Christ, but don't know how, are fearful of turning others off to Jesus, and are imperfect people themselves.

If you are a Christian who wants to invite someone else to explore or experience Jesus, remember that the one you are speaking to has a fear that it will come wrapped in a package that includes condemnation and judgment. If you are not yet a Christian, and someone invites you to explore or experience Jesus, remember that that they are afraid of offending you and turning you off to Jesus and are likely insecure in their asking, but they care about you and want the best for you.

At the end the speaker suggests a program called Alpha. Here is a link to that program. The church I went to for 17 years in Pennsylvania before I moved to North Carolina, Storehouse Church, uses Alpha. If you are in the Plymouth Meeting, PA area, look them up here.

Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent Van Gogh with Carol Berry: (Hospitality) This link is to episode 224 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. This is a beautiful episode. It brought me to tears. But I don't know that I can explain it. The sacrifices that Vincent Van Gogh made to be truly with those he saw as a mission field and how he loved them, and then for Henri Nouwen to be the one to teach about this... amazing. If you haven't read Nouwen, pick up a couple of his books - they're short and easy reads. The Wounded Healer and The Return of the Prodigal Son are a great place to start.

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