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.]

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Six-Pack (46)

After an unscheduled blog break, it’s good to be back at it.

From a small stockpile of articles that had collected, here comes the latest Six-Pack of faith-focused or ministry-minded pieces with enough room for some who-knows-what!

If you need an easy in, start with the *Picks of the Week*, and move from there.

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) Would You Know a Revival if You Saw One?
Justin Taylor shares this clip and video from J.I. Packer. For anyone craving revival in their here-and-now, there are some great thoughts here on what to desire and how to discern it.

2) An Atheist in the Pulpit (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Plenty of the tone in this piece makes suggestions I disagree with. Even still, there are enough fascinating descriptions of the movements between faith and doubt to make it well worth the read.

3) Why Fewer Churches Offer Vacation Bible School
It all appears to come down to one word.

4) Ten Things I’ve Learned about Pastors
Thom Rainer highlights a list of things he’s learned about pastors over the past couple years. Any what you’d expect? Any that surprise?

5) Why MLB Hitters Can’t Hit Jennie Finch
This SI piece breaks down reaction time and why baseball’s best can’t touch fastball’s first lady.

6) Stunning: Comparing US and World Covers for Time Magazine (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Well, this brief and picture-filled piece is disturbing, if not slightly expected.

Pleasure to be back with you, friends. Enjoy the Six-Pack, and may your final week of August be wonder-filled!

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.]

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.

Losing Faith (Part VI): Less than Certain

NOTE: This post of an ongoing series titled, “Losing Faith”. Previous posts can be seen HERE.

certainty

I love certainty.

Great comfort arrives when pieces fit snugly together. If I have must have letters, let the I’s be dotted and the T’s be crossed. If I must have ducks, let them be in well-straightened rows.

That said, it’s easy for me to enjoy the opening chapters of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 contain the poetic telling of the world’s origins. In three words: Creator calms chaos. A state of lightless emptiness receives form and fill. Perfect pieces are shaped and snapped into one another. God called it good, and my order-loving self rejoiced.

However, Yahweh’s demolition skills are also exceptional when He notes the need. Genesis 6 begins the story around Noah, in which God unravels the intricate stitching of the Creation account. Re-creation is preceded by un-creation. I can sketch this logical need with clarity, but I failed to consider what such swirling floods would feel like when my own feet were swept away by the current.

Faith and Certainty

You see, the trouble is that faith and certainty are mutually exclusive. The quest for one endangers the other. More than that, the demand for one executes the other. The term “faith” is found 400+ times in the Bible (depending on translation used). In turn, one could reasonably conclude that certainty is therefore not a central experience to those who desire interaction with God. He has never dealt in that currency.

When Jesus called his first disciples, we read that they left behind nets and fathers and tables and what-not. They had no idea where Jesus was taking them or what would unfold along the way, but they held no illusions that they could both stay and go. There is no option of receiving without releasing.

Over the last few years, God has asked me to release my mind.

That sentence is begging for misunderstanding.

What I Do Not Mean

I am not speaking of believing blindly, of tossing aside one’s discernment, or becoming foolish or reckless or stupid. Our brains are glorious gifts, capable of shocking possibilities. I am certain that God wants them used to their fullest potential, and I am set on faithfully stewarding the one in my skull.

God’s nudge that I “let go” wasn’t a prompt to stop thinking. It was a loving lesson delivered vividly multiple times in the past four years. Even the slowest student starts to soak up a message after that type of immersion. What did I soak up?

My mind holds me back.

Trust me when I say that arriving at those five words required a climb-Mount-Everest type of trek for this fellow. Far easier to type it than to travel it.

Speaking of Typing

typingSurprisingly, the act of typing provided one of the breakthroughs. There is a sweetness to hitting one’s typing-stride. Keys are clicking, phrases are forming, and Creation ex nihilo is unfolding. My dust hands, tapping on Steve Job’s handiwork, are forming a never-seen-before reality. Wow!

But I have noticed something. I make more typing errors when I am thinking about the task. When eyes survey the keyboard, mistakes increase. Typing, at its fastest, happens more quickly than my brain can track. Demanding a mental log of the actions taking place is akin to tying an elephant to a Ferrari’s back bumper. Within this task, better to check the brain at the door and let muscle memory dating back to high school typing classes (Yes, I am old enough to have had typing classes!) carry the load. For here, my mind holds me back.

Typing is not the only such realm.

A Knowing Beyond Knowing

Within the spiritual dimensions, the mind—with all its power—can actually serve as anchor rather than compass. The demand for certainty is an inside insistence of one’s own sovereignty. Nothing in this post is a criticism of philosophy or science or religion or any other intellectual discipline. This is simply a statement of surrender from one man whose spiritual experiences have long ago left his head spinning. There is revelation beyond reason, and there is life above logic. And if one wishes to engage on those levels, his grip for control will have to break. One cannot stay and go simultaneously.

Mystery is the gap where Divinity lives. Strive ruthlessly to eliminate that space, and you will bulldoze the residence of the Divine in your life.

Or He might hijack the bulldozer and head your way!

1273bulldozer

 

Losing Faith (I)

Lost FaithMy friend Nic wrote this post several months back: Losing Faith.

I confess that it’s had me spinning some knotted thoughts in a mental back room since then. A few of them revolve around the lost faith Nic describes.  More of them center upon the faith that I have lost along the way.

So mark this post as a starting point.

If you wonder what one pastor’s faith-losses look like, come on back. If you know of others who are questioning or seeking or searching for how faith ties into real life, send them a link.

Now that I’ve put out the invitation, my back burner has officially been moved to my front burner!

Next post: The Faith I’ve Lost.

A Bloody Mess

Genesis 15 depicts a bloody mess.

And it is a mess with multiple levels:

Abram, told that he is destined to be the father of nations, is beginning to stress that his servant looks like his only heir.  God repeats the promised of countless-as-stars descendants, but it is hard to embrace such words when an infant has never been held.

Abrahamic-Covenant-890x713God responded to Abram’s confirmation-seeking by instructing him to bring some animals. Together, they would enter a covenant ceremony. Abram set the stage by halving the animals (heifer, goat, ram, and birds). The slaughter pushed Abram into scarecrow duty, shooing off the vultures until dusk.

So there is the bloody mess: A man old enough to be a grandfather is beating buzzards off of chopped corpses, awaiting a sign from a God who appears unwilling or unable to deliver on His promises. Abram should have known better than to believe such foolishness. Who would possibly observe him arm-flapping and bird-shooing, and identify him as the father of great nation, innumerably populated as it pumped blessing into the whole world?

And now night was coming. Just great.

Genesis 15:12Scripture describes that a “dreadful and great darkness fell upon him” (Gen 15:12), and then from within the blackness, God delivered yet another shot. These promised descendants–the ones of whom not one yet existed–would travel a 400-year-stretch of slavery before even resembling a nation.

Did Abram envy those who knew not the darkness that came with God’s glorious promises? How much simpler it must have seemed to just live “one’s own life”, untouched by preposterous promises that raised ridiculous hopes!  A “dreadful and great darkness” indeed.

And that is when it happened.

“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram…” (Gen 15:17-18)

Yahweh went on to declare the specific land that He would provide for Abraham’s descendents. He was not backing down on His promise; in fact, He was firming up the details.

And then, most dramatically, He was binding Himself to Abram. In the vivid imagery of that day’s covenant-cutting, God tweaks just one detail. Just as “blood brothers” might cut themselves and shake hand to display their sealed partnership, the halved animals created a corridor through which two partners would walk. Their shared strides through the butchered beasts spoke a solemn tone of commitment: “I will come through on my part of this agreement, lest such violence befall me.”

God’s revision to the common ceremony?

He walked alone.

firebowlIn the form of a smoking pot and flaming torch, Yahweh covenanted Himself to Abram.

This future of promised descendants with a promised destination–it hung on God alone.  God was deadly serious about delivering on His word. His faithfulness was woven into His very existence–He would fulfill His vow. And it would not hinge on Abram’s faded verility or Sarai’s infertility.

God’s promised reality would hang, every ounce of it, upon His provision and power.

Abram’s role was to trust and obey.

And every believer, one of the stars in Abram’s sky, is today called to a similar dance of faith. We are called into lives of fruitfulness, influence, and blessing vastly beyond our means.

Sometimes, that will feel like a bloody mess.

All times, our role will be like Abram’s–to trust the Flaming One and to walk obediently as He reveals Himself to us.

YOUR TURN: What has God taught you about trusting Him? Are you struggling to trust today? Ever had an experience in which you just “knew” that He would come through? Your input makes this post better!

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