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.]


Six-Pack (49)

Well, I missed the weekend deadline, but here is the most recent Six-Pack, all the same — a half-dozen of the best recent reads on faith, ministry, and who-knows-what! 

If six is too many, start with my two *Picks of the Week* as an easy entry 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) Syrian Fight Focuses on Christian City that Still Speaks Jesus’ Language
My blog has had unusually high traffic recently, mostly due to a past post titled Malula and “The Passion”. In case you’ve not yet heard of this Syrian city, the link above will initiate you in one click.

2) Boobs on the Boob Tube
Whatever you expect this piece to be about, I’ll bet you’re not quite on target. I also bet that some of you will click the link just because this is the first time this blog has ever featured the provocative word above!

3) Remembering Robert Farrar Capon (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Sometimes I show up late. That appears to be have been the case with this fine life. Capon, an Episcopal priest, whose strikingly powerful thoughts on grace, Creation, and other spiritual truths have only recently been added to my world, passed away earlier this month. If you, like me, were  unaware of this man, it’s time to remedy that.

4) N.T. Wright Wants to Save the Best Worship Songs
Wright’s latest work is an effort to draw attention back to ancient Israel’s hymnal. Here is why he feels this is necessary and important.

5) I’m Rich Gelfond, CEO of IMAX, and This Is How I Work
Lifehacker presents this little post from a series called “This is How I Work”, a fascinating little peek into how leaders of all sorts go about their roles.

6) Superman Pastors are Bound to Fail (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Let’s just allow this title to speak for itself, shall we?

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

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.]

A Sweet Touch on This Soul

brennan-manningJust over a month ago, Brennan Manning passed away. His was a life (and death) that rippled through those of countless ragamuffins around the globe.

Including me.

In my late teenaged years, I was handed the book “Abba’s Child” by a man I greatly admired. I admit to not completing it, as its message about a true self and false self fell a bit ahead of its time in my young life. A year or two later, I was stunned by the power of “The Ragamuffin Gospel” in describing God’s gracious love toward every one of us. To this day, that is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.

Several years ago, I posted an audio recording of Brennan sharing a similarly themed message if you want to hear this old saint preaching with fire!

I confess unashamedly that the most vivid descriptions of grace that I have ever heard came through the lips of a recovered alcoholic Catholic priest that I never met.  Tributes to Brennan have filled the internet over the past month. Here are a couple you may wish to be aware of:

A moving excerpt from Manning’s 2011 memoir “All is Grace”.

Donald Miller offers his Reflections on Brennan Manning’s Wrestling Match with God.

Brennan, you were a gem, polished by the roughness of brokenness that lives in us and around us and birthed from the depths of God’s outrageous acceptance of such folks.  You were much loved by one Canadian prairie boy and by one Cosmic Father.


Abraham Would Wear a Cross

nonexpert_dance_waltzScripture displays a dance between the pronounced attributes of God. At least, it appears as a dance to our small eyes, capable of beholding only one thing at a time.

Straining to Step

God’s character is a primary example: He is just as only a Being of burning holiness can be, yet He is kind as only a Being of furious love can exhibit.  Our reach and rhythm find the steps of this dance greatly stretching. How can He be both?

While all of us discover God in real-time, the fact was even more pronounced for Abraham. No Scriptures to study, no preaching to process, he was discovering the substance of Yahweh solely as Yahweh revealed Himself.

The Sodom Study

On the outskirts of Sodom, a city reputed for its wickedness, God revealed to Abraham a side different from the kindness and guidance that had thus far characterized God’s tone. God’s holy justice had determined that Sodom’s time had arrived. The Consuming Fire was about to swallow an entire city.

Abraham proceeded to open negotiations with the Almighty, by “drawing near” and querying, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23)

Torah-3C-AbrahamHe wanted to know how God ticked. Was His sense of justice so tightly wound that it would override what Abraham considered to be reasonable, percentage-based standards of grace?

“Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?”

And on the auction went, with Abraham bowing out of the bidding once Yahweh had agreed that He would spare the entire city if He found ten righteous people.

The Twist

Abraham was concerned that God’s holy justice burned so hot that an innocent few might suffer alongside the guilty masses.  But Yahweh flips it over and reveals that He is actually so gracious toward His faithful ones that He will allow rampant sin to go unpunished.

Said another way, Abraham feared that God was a sniper so eager to pull the trigger that innocent victims would be struck down. God displays a shocking willingness to let evil have its day in exchange for the safety of His people.

Abraham Would Wear a Cross

wooden-cross-weatheredIf Abraham were alive today, he would wear a cross around his neck. He would have to. What other ornament can even begin to capture this concept, this intimate interaction of perfect justice tempered by lavish love?

Jesus’ disciples approached from the opposite road to Abraham; they were eager to see fireworks. Let Rome burn!  Smite the Samaritans!  Humble Herod!  Bring the biggest cup you have, and pour down the judgment.

And God obliges.

In fact, He brings a larger vessel of venom than they could have imagined. His view encompasses the collective evil of humanity back to Eden. Horror movies and nightmares could not compete with the content of that cup.

And He unloaded His appropriated anger, dropping it like an atom bomb on a cross-beamed and convicted criminal.  Then He dared to tell us that love was at the center of the carnage–grace at its gutsiest.  Oh to be sure, there would be justice, swift and sweeping. Every evil would be exorcised, and wailing would ensue.  But the entire execution of justice would serve as a stay of execution for the guilty.

Jesus paid it all.
All to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.

No doubt in my mind, Abraham would have worn a cross.  And as he wore it, he would have marveled. He might have recalled the most grievous days of his life, as he walked his son Isaac toward Mount Moriah. Willing to display his faithfulness to a God who appeared to making nonsensical requests, Abraham was pushed to the brink before a bleating broke the tension.

“God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Father had declared that to son. If Abraham were with us today, wearing that cross, he would stroke it as a treasure from another universe. And he would marvel at the prophetic nature of his Moriah-message.

Had Abraham’s sacrifice been carried out, it would have displayed his allegiance to an unseen Deity. But God’s son-sacrifice has been carried out, as an exhibition of His allegiance to people who lack all ability to dance with Him.



Saturday Six-Pack (28)

Welcome to the weekend and to the latest Six-Pack of recent gems I wanted to pass on. Typically ministry-minded or faith-focused, be prepared for a bit of who-knows-what as well.

If six choices overwhelm you, begin with my two *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) Balancing Acts (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Two of the “pastor books” that generated big buzz in 2012 were Andy Stanley’s “Deep and Wide” and Timothy Keller’s “Center Church”.  This interview, from Christianity Today, gives both authors some space in which to respond to questions tied to those contributions.

2) A Circle of Honour
By regularly giving people praise and recognition, we reflect Christ’s ministry and the relationship of the Trinity.  So says Robert C. Crosby in this piece for Leadership Journal.  How could you be a more steady source of such positive forces?

3) They Cuss in E.T.?! WTF!
Is violence now more permissable than swearing or nudity in our movies? Psychology Today explores the evolution of “what goes” in our entertainment.

4) The Top Five Career Regrets
Regardless of how you earn your paycheck, you’ve almost certainly dreamed of other jobs, perhaps even that “dream career” that isn’t yet yours.  Or maybe you’re in that job already, just looking to give your best and taste of the resulting satisfaction and success.  Whatever your specifics, it never hurts to learn from other people’s mistakes.  This HBR post offers you that opportunity.

5) Saved from Meritocracy  (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Western society is constructed largely on the ideal of meritocracy, the conviction that if one works hard enough, he can become or achieve anything.  While the moral of countless films and stories, the snag is that this teaching runs completely counter to the Gospel of Jesus at several key junctions. The Red Letter Christians offer this perspective on this struggle to “fit” the grand Gospel into our small system.

6) Share the Gospel and Your Life
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul comments: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). The Resurgence offers this piece on how to go about this, the essence of true evangelism.

Blessings on you, my friends.  May your weekend be refreshing in rest, play, and worship.

YOUR TURN: Direct other readers to the best stuff above by making a comment below, or weigh in on what you read.  Your input makes this post better!

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

Saturday Six-Pack (23)

Imagine: A “Saturday Six-Pack” arriving on… wait for it… Saturday!

After two weeks of lateness and a week of absence, I’ve regained my position on the top of the pile!

Here’s your weekly fodder of faith, ministry, and who-knows-what tossed in!

If you need help starting, begin with my two *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) Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups
Being part of a leadership team that has significantly increased our emphasis on Small Groups in recent years, this title grabbed me.  Author and pastor Brian Jones points out a few of the struggles that many of us have experienced…

2) What Legalists and Atheists Cannot Understand (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
This little piece from the Gospel Coalition revolves around a late night visit between Christian apologist Larry Alex Taunton, Oxford mathematician John Lennox and the late Christopher Hitchens, author of “God is Not Great”.  Throw in some rich references to my favourite portion of Scripture, and I freely recommend this one.

3) Fourteen Indispensable Leadership Quotes from Jim Collins
Jim Collins is recognized across the board as a voice of wisdom on the theme of leadership. Here, Thom Rainer captures a couple touchdowns’ worth of his best bits.

4) Why Women are More Religious than Men
For Psychology Today, Nigel Barber puts forth a theory that I confess to find quite weak. A strand of truth is here, but more than anything, this article served to enlighten me on why people of faith must live out their convictions or else risk observers like Mr. Barber largely missing the whole point.

5) You Are Not a Computer (Try as You May)
Here’s my favourite line from this great piece from the Harvard Business Review is this: “What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”  That opinion was shared in 1970, and it is abundantly on-the-mark today.  Some thought-provoking stuff here on how to live well within the “information age”.  If I had a third *PICK OF THE WEEK*, I’d put it here.

6) The Science of Productivity (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
I just discovered Gregory Ciotti’s site: SparringMind.  This post features a three-minute video (which I tweeted a link to, earlier today) that breaks down some of the science behind our minds work and how we might better work within that framework to be more efficient in spending our time and energy. Quite fascinating to me!

May your week be full of awareness and enjoyment of the God who already fills it with Himself and every good thing.  Blessings on you, my friends.

YOUR TURN: Direct other readers to the best stuff with a comment below, or weigh in on what you read.  Your input makes this post better!

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

Grace is What Works

There is a pragmatist within each of us.

Bent toward the rational and the results,this inner dweller unintentionally opposes some of God’s most profound movements in our lives.

This logic-loving, get-the-job done approach to life, a staple of the Western society in which I’ve grown up, struggles to grasp the life-Creator, who strangely–yet frequently–insists on operating in “obviously” impractical ways.

Grace is the finest of examples.

The careful reader of the New Testament will quickly observe the inadequacy of human efforts toward salvation. However, that doesn’t stop us from trying! Bent on saving ourselves, proving ourselves, and sustaining ourselves, responsibility and duty–praiseworthy qualities within themselves–kick into hyper-gear.  In the process, pride awakens and pressure builds, all the while we are unaware that we are building brick walls between God’s salvation and our souls.

Legalistic tendencies seem wired into the human hardware.

The hymn-writer called grace “amazing”. We call it “unbelievable”. We may never use the word, but we feel incapable of grasping the concept, and embracing it feels even less likely.  That is the pragmatist within us, speaking with conviction: “Grace is impractical.”  You hear it in the push back we feel obliged to offer against grace, particularly religious or responsible citizens: “What about discipline? Grace alone is too soft; it won’t take people where they need to be. It takes more than grace to transform a life.”

Grace is not practical enough for our liking.

Or perhaps we are not nearly practical enough.

The dynamic at work here is something like John Piper describes in “Desiring God”, a book carrying the subtitle of “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist”. Piper argues that hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure, is an attitude built into the very human nature. Other than spiraling our souls into self-destruction, this pleasure-seeking drive is what drives the soul toward God.  Paradoxically, Piper suggests that the reason we get lost along the way is that we are not nearly hedonistic enough!  Settling for watered down forms of satisfaction, our pursuit of pleasure is revealed as too weak, rather than too strong. We chase happiness like slackers, at the expense of our souls.

C.S. Lewis was developing the same thought when he famously observed:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

So back to where we began: We resist grace because it seems out-of-touch. “This won’t work in real life,” we critique.  Even more common might be the unspoken thought that Christ’s role in our lives is to provide a much-needed “reset” button. By his death and resurrection, he presses it and we sigh with relief.  We can take another kick at getting things right, in practical and reasonable ways, of course, powered by the fuel of self.

In this sense, we are part of a rich heritage of Christians who don’t get it.  Paul’s question to such folks:

Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? (Gal.3:1-3)

Beyond the Galatian goofballs, is anyone else’s “reset” button worn out from use?

“Seeking free-flowing forgiveness so we can take another futile kick at life on our terms”: Give me Impractical for $1000, Alex.

And there’s the rub.

Grace, in all its mystery and apparent irrationality, is the most practical of solutions to the human predicament.  The God we dismiss as idealistic or illogical actually, shock of shockers, knows what He’s doing, with His “power move” of offering freedom through surrender and victory through defeat.  Much to our surprise, perhaps chagrin, grace works.

In fact, it is only grace that works.

YOUR TURN: Why does humanity buck so hard against God’s grace?  What do you grasp about grace today that God has faithfully taught you over time?

Please leave your comment below, and enter the conversation.

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page. As well, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) for 3-4 daily tweets daily of of insightful quotes or intriguing articles, sprinkled with occasional goofiness.]