Six-Pack (50)

Welcome to the big 5-0! Since starting the Six-Pack back in March 2012, over 300 links and articles have been shared in this space.

So thanks for joining us for this silver edition. Here’s the latest collection of “best recent reads” on faith, ministry, and who-knows-what!

If six overwhelms, start with two. The *Picks of the Week* provide an easy starting point.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Slowly Putting it Back Together: How One Couple Rescued a “Love Lost” Marriage (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Can a marriage on its death-bed be rescued from the brink? Megan Raines affirms that it can. Thanks to Gary Thomas, for both posting this story and for his ongoing work and writing toward strengthening and supporting marriages everywhere.

2) Three Things I Learned from Oprah
Steven Pressfield came on to my radar a few years ago, when his book “War of Art” was on a “Recommended Reading” list I received for a conference.  If you’re involved in any sort of creative process, he should be on your list too. Recently featured by Oprah, he observes what he noted from that interaction. Number three is: Oprah did not get to be Oprah by accident.

3) Seven Habits of Ineffective Leaders 
I’ve been entrusted with a number of leadership roles throughout my life. More than I care to admit, I’ve stepped up to those plates poorly. Here is a short and clear list of ways to go wrong. Let’s go do better!

4) The Silence of our Friends: The Extinction of Christianity in the Middle East
The Spectator’s Ed West does a great job highlighting just a few of the recent blows to Middle East Christianity, while asking the obvious question: Why aren’t we hearing or doing more about this?

5) The Audacity to Question God: An Interview with Greg Boyd (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
If you don’t yet know Greg Boyd, Jonathan Merritt wants to remedy that. You’ll be glad he did, as the two chat about doubt and how it pertains to Christians’ faith in the Jesus and the Bible.

6) Jack Handey Is the Envy of Every Comedy Writer in America
As I revealed in my last post (and elsewhere), I love comedy and those who “do it” in special ways. Jack Handey certainly makes that list. Don’t know Jack Handey? Start with these Deep Thoughts.

May the week ahead be filled with life, as the Father fills you with all you need!

Thanks for plowing through 50 Six-Packs with me!

YOUR TURN: Which link above was most worthwhile–why that one? Direct others readers to the best of the bunch. Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Life Beyond Ourselves

In Matthew 14, Peter does the unthinkable. Faced with a potential phantom on the sea, Peter tests the apparent Jesus by daring, “If it’s really you, then call me out there with you.”

Peter-on-water“Come.”

The reasoning behind Peter’s request has long been lost on me. How much easier to test the “ghost” by quizzing him on last week’s accommodations are inviting him to do a secret handshake. However, such thoughts betray my ignorance of discipleship.

Within the relationship between Rabbi and disciple, there is always an aura of confidence. The Rabbi deeply believes that his disciples can become like him – they can do what he can do; they can be what he can be. Apparently, Peter has absorbed this sense of confidence, and it is worth noting that for all the criticism “doubting Peter” receives, there are eleven (or perhaps millions of) “believers” who are comfortably (and sadly) dry in their critiques.

THE TWIST

One fascinating twist on this story was recently revealed to me. It revolves around some simple questions: What exactly took place in those Peter-was-walking-but-now-he-isn’t moments? What actually happened out there?

Hints toward our answers lie in Jesus’ closing question to Peter: “Why did you doubt?”  We laugh at the apparently obvious answers: “How about we start with the wind and the waves, and we’ll go from there?” But weather reports are dwarfed by a basic recognition that we easily lose in the winds. Here it is.

Peter didn’t doubt Jesus.

Jesus’ feet were secure. He wasn’t sinking. He wasn’t even shaking. In fact, Peter’s cry for help is an easy indicator of his confidence in Jesus. On the verge of being sea-swallowed, there was only one name on Peter’s lips.  So, the just-below-the-surface realization here is that Peter was actually doubting himself. In the midst of a supernatural-saturated experience, some very natural thoughts arose — many of them seen clearly as one slides the emphasis through five small words:

How am I doing this?

How am I doing this?

How am I doing this?

How am I doing this?

How am I doing this?

Uncertainty crystallized into fear: “Oh man, I don’t think I can do this. There is no way I can do what my Rabbi does.”

For all the confidence that disciple-Peter might have earlier absorbed from his Master, more than Peter’s knees were shaking now.

FEET ON SEAS AND FINGERS ON KEYS

The whole story makes me think of typing.

learn-how-to-type-fastI grew up on the border of technology, in that I actually had a typing class in high school. I remember it vividly because if you were quick enough to class, you found a seat at the luxurious electric typewriters. Pokier people got to build finger muscles by pounding the keys deep into the depths of their typewriters. Next door was the computer lab, whose machines held the reward for all of our digit-dancing devotion. All this to say: For all the skills my hands do not possess, they do type relatively well.

But here’s what amazes me about typing.

My hands can move significantly faster than my mind. To hit one’s keyboarding stride is a thing of beauty to the word-lover. It is a dance, in which ten small partners beat thoughts into text to a catchy clickety-clack rhythm.

Sometimes, in the midst of a great groove, I will catch myself thinking. “Wow, this is a great groove. My fingers are really flying!” And at about that moment, I slow down. I respond, in an attempt regain my footing in said groove, by consciously pushing harder and faster.  And the mistakes begin. Now I’m backspacing and grinding forward at a pace nothing like the earlier groove.  I was functioning on a level beyond thought, so much so that the act of thinking — typically a helpful act — actually serves as an anchor sinking me back down to a more average experience.

There is something profound here.

And I’ll tell you what it is… tomorrow.

Word and Spirit

A pastor born in 1935, now with two doctoral degrees, views his life work in this way. You are in here somewhere.

Our premiss is this. It seems to us that there has been a ‘silent divorce’ in the church, speaking generally, between the Word and the Spirit. When there is a divorce, some children stay with the mother, some stay with the father.

In this divorce, there are those on the ‘word’ side and those on the ‘Spirit’ side. What is the difference?

Take those of us who represent the Word. Our message is this: we must earnestly contend for the faith ‘once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3), we need get back to expository preaching, sound doctrine such as justification by faith, the sovereignty of God and the internal testimony of the Spirit as taught by men like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. What is wrong with this emphasis? Nothing. It is exactly right.

Take those whose emphasis has been on the Holy Spirit. What is the message? We need to rediscover the power that was manifested in the Book of Acts, there needs to be a demonstration of signs, wonders and miracles; we need to see the gifts of the Spirit operating in the church – that the world will once again take notice of the church so that people are left without excuse. What is wrong with this emphasis? Nothing. It is exactly right.

We believe that the need of the hour is not one or the other – but both! It is our view that this simultaneous combination will result in spontaneous combustion! And then, but almost certainly only then, will the world be shaken once again by the message of the church.

This was the message I have preached over the years at Westminster Chapel in London. This is what we are endeavoring to preach in America and around the world. This is not all we preach but it is certainly one of the main things we preach alongside the need for total forgiveness and learning to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

YOUR TURN: Where does your spiritual journey fit into this descriptions? What seems accurate about this assessment of Christianity and its message? What seems in accurate?

Leave a reply–your input betters this post!

Six-Pack (47)

September long weekend: The start of school, the “end” of summer. Whatever you call it, it’s come and gone one more time.

Here’s the latest Six-Pack–faith-focused and ministry-minded pieces with a bit of who-knows-what!

On the heels of the holiday, two *Picks of the Week* provide an easy starting point, if you need some direction.

 

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) A Writer in 1964 Pretty Much Predicted What Life in 2014 Would Look Like
That writer was Isaac Asimov, and this is fairly wild.

2) How Richard Wurmbrand Spent Three Years of Solitary Confinement with Christ
I’ve received newsletters from Voice of the Martyrs for nearly fifteen years. Their founder Richard Wurmbrand is a pretty inspiring man, as this ten-minute video will show.

3) The Obedience of the Second Adam and the True Israel (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Don’t get me wrong: “Son of God” is an appropriate name for Jesus. But I’m not convinced it’s his most fascinating one. Two of those nominees are here for consideration.

4) Three Things You Don’t Know about Your Children and Sex (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Anne Marie Miller shares this parent-freaking piece. If you’ve got kids, this is worth your time. And after you read, pray.

5) What Makes Spirituality Christian: A Conversation with Dallas Willard
I cannot overstate the respect with which I held the late Dallas Willard. This brief interview gives some peek into his insightful mind and clarity of thought and tongue.

6) The Day Larry Bird Stopped the Pacers’ Practice in its Tracks
How fun is it when your team is run by an NBA legend? Paul George will tell you.

September brings with it plentiful opportunities. Move forward in faith and faithfulness, my friends.

YOUR TURN: Which link above was most intriguing–why that one? Direct others readers to the best of the bunch. Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

The Holy Spirit Heals

In Acts 2, we find Jesus’ disciples gathered. The city of Jerusalem is teeming with crowds for the feast of Pentecost, but Jesus’ followers are huddled privately, awaiting the arrival of a promised gift

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.We read that the gathering was interrupted by a wind that rattled their venue. Fire proceeded to appear before them and descend upon them, resulting in the inexplicable ability to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in all the tongues of the known world. Guests to the city were stunned to hear this New-Life message being proclaimed in the dialects of home, wherever home might have been!

Some Bible readers have connected unusual dots in this story.

“Hmm. A story about a crowd of people speaking all the languages of the world. Hmm. I feel like I’ve seen this before.”

TowerBabelWithin the earliest pages of the Bible, we read of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). The story is bizarre for at least a couple reasons: 1) It describes a united humanity setting their sights upon building a tower that would reach the heavens, glorifying them to god-like status.  2) It responds to itself by describing God in a way that appears petty and insecure, as if he felt the need to defend heaven’s borders against the invasion of these ancient architects.

Zooming out from the oddness of either story, one sees a fascinating connection…

Pentecost redeems Babel.

Where diversity (seen in the languages) fractured humanity at Babel, diversity (seen again in languages) depicted God’s unifying of humanity at Pentecost. The Creator who loves diversity and labours for its unity works intensely to bridge gaps, wreck walls, and to execute His all-consuming plan: “to unite all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10).

Babel displays the losses incurred when we are driven by a desire for personal greatness. In ways that we cannot fully grasp, this motivation fragments and divides, actually opposing the universal goals we find at the center of God’s will.

Conversely, Pentecost reveals an image of Christ-centeredness, a wildly submitted desire to see his name spread far and wide based on the conviction that profound blessing and deep life come with him.

Two stories of many mouths speaking many words. Babel’s abandoned tower shows a dust-dry site of no-life-here, despite the sweat and strain spent there. Pentecost invites us into a wind- and fire-charged environment where embracing God’s plan in Jesus Christ releases us into an existence and experience that extends to the ends of the world.

Losing Faith VII: Trading It In

This is the seventh post in a series called “Losing Faith”. All posts can be viewed HERE.

As mentioned in the first post of this series, it was a blogging friend who originally dispatched this train of thought for me. He observed how travel had played a part in the unraveling of a faith he once held.

I would echo that sentiment with an alternate angle.

TREASURE OF TRAVEL

farawayExposure to faraway lands and interactions with the folks of those places have led me to lose much of my faith as well—particularly faith in my culture, in popular Western thought, and more specifically in myself. However, those undoings only served to intensify my felt need for some form of Anchor, some Foundation upon which to construct.

There is a special pleasure to deconstruction. Who has ever carried a tool more fun than a sledgehammer? But at some point, there is need for some skilled builder to enter the scene. Creating rubble is fun, but it hardly provides a place to live.

This is my metaphor. others can grasp at their own well-fitted images. But for me, this is glove-like.

For I love to play the cynic more than most. To feign enlightenment through critique, this is the safe and satisfying life of the skeptic.

At least, it is until it isn’t.

Safe or satisfying.

My travel experiences and other life-tastes have at times fed that cynical, skeptical streak with a fresh spread of questions and rebukes toward the status quo that had both nurtured me and numbed me up to that point. Some of this caused me to grow; some just caused me to grump.

When it comes to religion, Christianity in particular, I often chuckle. I can recall a handful of conversations where speakers in attack mode unveiled their “faith-destroyers” to me. Typically, these “questions” ended with periods, rather than question marks. But punctuation aside, the tone carried a whiff of superiority silently declaring that the statement being made was surely news to me, and perhaps everyone else who ever “mindlessly” fallen into faith. In fact, it appeared certain to at least one in the room that surely no human in history had ever formulated this ground-breaking assessment of reality.

Feet in SeaNow to be sure, I learn things every day, from sources and angles of every sort. But these types of encounter cause my chuckle to rise because they suppose shallowness.  To discover that my feet touch the sand on the bottom hardly means that I’ve plumbed the depths of the sea.  It merely means I can touch where I am.  To crucify Christianity for its smallness when the “great big world” enlightens is one form of losing faith.  To move my feet in pursuit of deeper and purer waters was mine.

Though I didn’t foresee the amount of seawater I’d have to swallow along the way!

I SAY THAT TO SAY THIS

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI can state with confidence that the faith I have lost along the way was a small faith.  Perhaps that is exactly why I lost it. It is easier to lose coins than cars.

In exchange for my feather-weight faith, heavy on its need for certainty and control, I am receiving a more substantial faith, rooted in dependence upon the eternal Spirit of God and a recognition of my need to keep step with Him.  This need is driven by neither fear nor threat, but by the simple recognition that moving out of rhythm with the beat that drives the universe is clumsy and costly.  I would rather sync myself to sink myself into the groove awaiting those whose stride is guided by the All-of-Life-Giver.

LOSING THINGS

I hate losing things. Misplacing keys or phone drives me almost mad. Part of that is driven by the fact that I am typically very careful with my things, seldom losing track. So when I do, it cracks my composure. Losing my faith, even the small version, has felt like that. It had grown dear to me; it was worn and comfortable from years of use.

But it no longer fit.

Perhaps it never did.

God of the Sucker Punch

libraryI was recently studying at a local library, situated in a leisure center with a gym and pool. My concentration was cracked by a voice, unclear, almost animal-like.  Curiosity craned my neck and I saw a family (I presume) of three exiting the building. Between the parents was the owner of the voice. Barely a teenager, living with some form of handicap, he was visibly worked up. His distressed moans were expressing as much to the whole facility. I watched his parents hold of his arms in a gentle attempt to guide him from the building, but he was having none of it. Then he began to get violent, firing unpredictable kicks at his parents’ legs and digging in his heels against their guiding efforts.

I Had to Watch.

Now in full-blown “snoopy mode”, I was unable to stop watching this odd interaction, which now escalated significantly. Father and mother proceeded to tackle their son, placing him on the ground and restraining him under their own body weight. I hoped anxiously that an onlooker would not accuse them of attacking the boy. I also wondered how many times they had been forced into these roles before. What first-day parents dream of playing bouncer as they raise that little baby? What did it feel like to tackle one’s child in a public place? In the midst of their wrestling, were they self-conscious of onlookers’ gazes, or had such thoughts been beaten out of them years earlier in the parenting of this child?

For several minutes, the three of them remained on the floor. Occasionally, the teen struggled and then surrendered into whimpering and whining once again. His parents patiently held their positions, presumably whispering negotiations for peace in that boardroom, inches from the floor.

Eventually, the three of them arose and made progress toward the exit. At this point, I saw dad run into the parking lot to locate their vehicle and bring it toward the curb. The teen noted the now-one-on-one coverage and upped the attack against his mother. Parking lot onlookers now formed an uncomfortable audience. The teen’s kicks and shoves, while still lacking full coordination and force, were intensifying, as were the feelings within this observer.

Anger was Stirring.

Ali-Liston KnockoutI knew nothing about the medical history or the family dynamics, but I was mad to watch such blatant rebellion. With father nowhere to be seen, my mind debated whether I should join the fracas as a reinforcement. Part of me wanted to swing my first “haymaker” and see what Ali felt like when he stood over Sonny Liston.

Here Comes the Boom.

And then I got sucker-punched.

A sucker punch is a punch made without warning, allowing no time for preparation or defense on the part of the recipient. (So says Wikipedia.)

Chess_piece_-_White_queenI was neither prepared, nor defended. In a vulnerable position, I was a wide receiver stretching to expose his ribs to the defender. I was the chess player so blindly bent on creating checkmate that I lost my queen. More accurately, I was King David so engrossed in a tale that I was deaf to the Jaws theme music rising to deafening volume.

“You are that man.”  That’s what David heard.

“You are that aggravating adolescent who needs an adjustment,” was more like my message.

Crystal Clear.

I have come to learn that the Spirit of God is the perfect communicator. He is as nuanced and feather-fingered or as forceful and non-negotiable as need be. His fingers can apply pressure with deadly precision to adjust exactly what is out of line.

His tone in the library did not match the anger that I had been feeling toward the parking lot punk. There was no frustration, not even impatience in the sucker punch. Rather, it struck like a sigh-filled inquiry:

“Jason, why do you battle me? Why do you fear that I might lead you astray? Why do your heels dig in? Why do you hesitate? Since the day of your birth, have I done anything to make you question My motives, as if I were out to harm you? I am capable of putting you on the ground if need be, but I would rather just walk with you in peace, with me as Parent and you as child.”

Muhammad Ali could never match the force of that gentle rebuke.

I had no answer worth speaking. I continue without one.

But I am trying to pick up my heels. The One leading me is loving and kind, and I would rather hold His hand than lie beneath His weight.

Three Lent Voices

Here are three directions that you may head if you are looking for help in building or maintaining some “Lent focus” in this pre-Easter stretch:

Ann Voskamp shares experiences of how her fasting attempts are proving to be far more convicting than inspiring. And in the long run, that is a most life-giving gift.

In “The Wonder of Lent,” Margaret Feinberg speculates that the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” is surpassed by another: “What do you hope to lay hold of during Lent?”

For Relevant Magazine, Caryn Rivadeneira shares “Why Ash Wednesday Matters”. This can serve a quick catch-up for those who are just realizing that the Easter “began” last week. (I recorded my first Ash Wednesday experience back HERE if you need a vicarious well to draw from.)

 

My First Ash Wednesday

Ash WednesdayToday I attended my first Ash Wednesday service.

For a guy raised within a Christian heritage that paid minimal attention to the Christian calendar, this was noteworthy.

At a local Anglican Church, I joined a “crowd” of fewer than twenty. For a moment, I wondered if I was in the wrong place. The masses pour forth when the life of Easter is dished out; I suppose it is expected that discussions of dying will thin the crowd.

Service opened with this prayer together:

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our brokenness, may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Fire and Ashes

After further Scriptures and prayers, the priest shared a few thoughts. He highlighted the season of Lent as a time of spiritual cleansing, a period during which we make choices on how to create extra space: for God’s special arrival and for our sharpened attention.

In speaking of the ashes about to be smudged on each forehead, he pointed out that the upcoming Easter message of resurrection, by its nature, must be preceded by a message of death. Crosses comes before crowns, and fires come before ashes.  Steelmakers use repeated burnings to strengthen and solidify their metals. The blacksmith known as Yahweh subscribes to a similar strategy. People of faith are purged toward purity and hardened toward holiness through seasons of fire. To live out Lent is to willingly enter the flames. It is to mark oneself with ashes, convinced that every burn of self-death will be honored by the One in whom abundant life dwells.

All the Same

There is a beautiful solemnity in the imposition of ashes. The priest approached each of us, smudging (or “imposing) a dull black cross on our foreheads as he spoke one simple sentence, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” I watched the first worshipers receive this moment, eyes closed or heads bowed or eyes locked on the priest’s. My turn came and went, and by the end of the semi-circle, all of us bore the mark of mortality. The woman to my right would likely dine at a soup kitchen later that day. The gentleman to my left was a federal judge from Ottawa, in town for the week. The priest himself had been marked by a church member. High and mighty, meek and meager–all lines are erased when dust and ashes are the theme. Most in the room wore silver hair that betrayed the fact that they were further from the dust-birth than I was, but charcoaled crosses now reminded that none of us knew who was closest to their dust-return.

One might take exception to the Ash Wednesday mantra. “I’m not just dust; the part of me that is really me isn’t that.”  True enough, but even the objection serves to highlight the point: None of us contain life. We do not generate it or guarantee it. There is One from whom it flows; He is its fountain and its founder.

And if the wearing of a greyed facial mark helps drill that in, then smudge up, my friends!