Six-Pack (55)

Welcome to the latest Six-Pack! I am so grateful for every reader who stops by to check out the latest assortment of “best links”.

As regular readers already know, these pieces are generally centered on faith or ministry, though we leave sufficient license to include who-knows-what as we discover it!

If six ever feels overwhelming, start with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move out from there.

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) New Life after the Fall of Ted Haggard (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Seven years ago, one of America’s best-known pastors crashed in a blaze of drug and sex scandal. What does a church look like after such a disaster? One looks like this.

2) Ted Haggard on How Not to Repent
While we’re discussing Ted Haggard, David Murray makes these observations about what true repentance looks like.

3) Advent and Shepherd Leadership
For Missio Alliance, Karen Wilk offers this thoughtful piece that begins with the Magi of the Christmas story and ends with some great prompts for those in leadership positions.

4) The Most Important Commandment in the Old Testament is Not What You Think (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Citing a teaching from Walter Brueggemann, Hacking Christianity offers this fascinating reflection on Old Testament law.

5) God, The Bad, and The Ugly
Bethel Church in Redding, CA, is the scene of what are some are calling an all-out revival. Some are swept up in the claims of what God is doing there. Some are skeptical of the place. Others just love the music they’re producing. Kris Vallotton, one of their pastors, wrote this piece about how they seek to respond to the criticism they receive from other Christians.

6) The Science of Posture
Buffer, who make a great Twitter-related app, offered this recent post on how far-reaching the benefits of good posture might actually reach. Straighten up, my friends!

May your week ahead be filled with life, as you seek the One from whom it flows!

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Which link above was today’s best-of-the-best?
  • Why that one?

Direct others to the best of the bunch with a quick comment.

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

My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

[NOTE: I shared this post earlier this week as part of our church‘s annual Advent Blog. For more of the Glen Elm Advent Blog, head over HERE.]

Rembrandt_-_Simeon_and_Anna_Recognize_the_Lord_in_Jesus_-_WGA19102Simeon and Anna are two fascinating figures in Scripture. This elderly pair are featured briefly in Luke 2, portrayed as examples of righteousness and devoted service to God. Expectantly, they wait for His promises of salvation to land and take hold of their world.

Forty days into his life, Jesus’ parents took him to the Temple. A purification-related offering was to be made by Mary along with a dedication of their firstborn son to God. Not by coincidence, Simeon is present in the Temple that day as well. Through divine revelation, he perceives Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, a figure the Holy Spirit had promised Simeon he would behold before his death. Holding the child and blessing him, Simeon marks the moment by declaring, “My eyes have seen Your salvation.”

But what had Simeon really seen?

  • He had seen an infant who cannot hold up his head.
  • He had held a Redeemer who is dependent on a teenager’s breast for nourishment and a carpenter’s hand for protection.
  • He has lifted a peasant and soon-to-be refugee child, yet he has the audacity to declare that he has beheld God’s salvation.

Am I missing something here?

Beyond the specific Spirit-revelation received by Simeon, I believe this passage identifies one of the paradoxes of faith. By its very nature, faith is not airtight. The holes are not all filled; the gaps are not all bridged. By definition, faith requires trust. It is certainly not blind, but neither is it 20/20. Faith is an odd middle-ground, where we are given just enough, and likely no more.

And faith has always been that way.

  • Abraham was told by God to pick up his life and leave his land. For where? “A place that I will show you.” Just enough information to move his feet forward, but not enough that he might sprint to his destination, or even map out the route.
  • Moses was instructed, “Go speak to Pharaoh; I will be with you.” Every reasonable objection raised by Moses was met by God’s insistence that He would accompany His servant. No elaboration, no explanation. Moses was to move forward from the burning bush one step at a time with confidence that he did not move alone. And that was to be sufficient.
  • Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” There is no mention of tomorrow, there seems no thought of next week. We are coached to ask for a handful despite our desire to ask for a pantry full. We are urged to live contently with just enough, and not much more.
  • Early disciples left careers and communities to respond to three words from Jesus’ mouth: “Come follow me.” No job description, no benefits package. No peek at the last pages of the story. The invitation to come was to be enough for today’s response.

i-have-seen-your-salvation-1Someone said to me recently that following Jesus is not like him writing up a contract and then asking us to sign. Rather, he asks us to sign a blank sheet of paper, and then he fills in the details afterward.

And if we dare to put our name on that line, to align our lives with his…

  • Jesus will lead.
  • The Spirit will reveal.
  • And the Father will provide.

And at some point, or several, we will find our mouths very naturally forming Simeon’s words, “My eyes have seen your salvation.”

He Has Visited and Redeemed His People

[NOTE: I shared this post earlier this week as part of our church‘s annual Advent Blog. For more of the Glen Elm Advent Blog, head over HERE.]

Last Sunday, our church viewed this video together during service.

Zechariah’s story is fascinating.

zechariahBy birth, he was part of Israel’s priesthood. He and his wife Elizabeth, childless in their later years, had no doubt heard comparisons to their great once-childless ancestors Abraham and Sarah. However, it is highly unlikely that anyone expected this couple to be completely like that ancient couple by experiencing a late-life, God-gifted pregnancy. Certainly Zechariah wasn’t expecting such a thing.

Through a seemingly random process, Zechariah was selected to enter the Holy Place. Alone in that sacred space, he had a divine experience in which it was revealed that he and Elizabeth would have a son. And that son would be the forerunner to the Messiah. When Zechariah used his mouth to express doubt, God determined to close it for the next nine months or more. Zechariah was mute, a condition from which he was released only upon John’s birth.

  • What might happen within your heart or mind if a nine-month silent retreat were forced upon you?
  • What might become clear?
  • What convictions might cement themselves?
  • If the gift of words was re-given to you, how might you use it?

We read that Zechariah spoke prophetically (Luke 1:67-79), under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He began like this:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” (ESV)

Another translation (The Voice) says it this way:

“May the Lord God of Israel be blessed indeed! For God’s intervention has begun, and He has moved to rescue us, the people of God.”

Two details from that reading impress me:

INTERVENTION: A&E has aired a fairly successful series by this title. It portrays the stories of families desperate to rescue loved ones from the darkness and destruction of addiction. Intervention is synonymous with interference of a loving sort. It is the willful thrusting of oneself into the life of another, who appears to have neither the ability nor the will to protect himself. Interventions involve helping the helpless. People of strength pull tightly alongside people in struggle. in an effort to save them.

PEOPLE OF GOD: God’s intervention has begun, we are told. Apparently, He is moving to rescue. Explicitly, He is moving to rescue us, the people of God. This sentence contains a vital reminder. Let us never believe the lie that the people of God are those who have no need of rescue. Let us never hold the deception that the people of God are those who — through clear thinking and sharp discipline, and wise choices — have governed their lives so well as to remain in the middle of the narrow way. Let it be forever known:  The people of God are most assuredly not those without need of rescue or intervention. Rather, the people of God are those who have experienced intervention. They have tasted deliverance; they have received rescue.

And that’s why every December, such folks have no trouble singing: “Joy to the world. The Lord has come.”

My Spirit Rejoices in God My Saviour

[NOTE: I shared this post earlier this week as part of our church‘s annual Advent Blog. For more of the Glen Elm Advent Blog, head over HERE.]

Tom Hanks and Martin Short chat with TSN panel in Regina before Grey Cup game at Mosaic Stadium. Twitter photoOne week ago, our city was rocking with the rhythms of Grey Cup 101. Among the “regular residents” with tickets to the event, a handful of bigger names joined the mix. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was hardly a surprising guest, diehard football fan that he is. Prime Minister Harper might be expected to make an appearance at our nation’s foremost sporting event. Martin Short and Tom Hanks upped the star power with their effort to bolster the Tiger Cats’ spirits as well.

jeremy and premierThe presence of such people at last week’s championship was noteworthy but not entirely shocking. What was surprising, however, was these guests’ level of involvement in the festivities. My friend Jeremy snapped a picture with the Premier among the reveling masses on the Green Mile following the victory. Our Prime Minister donned a toque and sat in the stands beside the CFL Commissioner. What are the odds that US President Obama will be free to mingle in the stands at Super Bowl next month?  Minimal to zero, I suspect. And Martin Short and Tom Hanks worked the circuit, appearing on the pregame show beforehand, entertaining in the stands during the game, and joining the party on the field afterward. Two of Hollywood’s A-listers added some flare and fun to an already-lively mix, and Regina loved them for it!

Presence is one thing.

Full-blown participation is quite another.

FBO CFL Grey Cup 20131124In Luke 1, Mary receives word that she will carry God’s Anointed One in her womb. The message is more than a touch distressing to the promised and pure maiden, yet she responds in obedience: “Let it be as God has said.”

Upon visiting her also-miraculously-pregnant relative Elizabeth, Mary declares, “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour! For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Lk 1:47-48)

Joy has become somewhat synonymous with Christmas, but it is worth pausing to consider the source of Mary’s particular pleasure. She delights in God because He took notice of her and acted in her life. Mere presence would have been sufficient. By His omnipresent nature, of course, God was with Mary. He’s with everybody!  To live with even a hint of His nearness is a blessing. Yet Mary celebrates that, like celebrities at Grey Cup 101, Yahweh is not merely present; He is profoundly participating. His knowledge of her is not distant. Rather His involvement with her is deeply intimate. She celebrates that His mighty power has touched down upon her life. He has moved her from a place of lowliness to one of exaltation. He has transported her from the humbled one to the honored one. He has called her from being common to being chosen.

It is astounding to observe Mary’s ability to focus on two depths simultaneously. The human eye cannot do this. Yet she succeeds in noting (Lk 1:55) that the Creator has a plan reaching all the way back to Abraham (I would say even further back to Creation) and extending into the forever ahead of us. Yet hand-in-hand with this immense perspective, Mary is able to see her “here and now” in relation to God’s universe-filling scheme. This unwed, about-to-be-pregnant teenager declares to all of us that the works of God in our lives today – hard-to-interpret or easy-to-miss – somehow tie intricately into the Grand Plan.

A reality deeper than the Grand Canyon is being carved. Something more sure than the oceans tides is being scripted. A monument more immense than Everest is being constructed.

The plan of God is being carried out.

And this moment in your life is somehow woven into that masterpiece.

If you can muster your mustard seed of faith to believe that outlandish statement, then perhaps your mouth will be prepared to repeat after Mary: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He took notice of His lowly servant.”

Loved Ones Love Well

Throughout the month of Advent, posts here have drawn from pieces submitted to the Glen Elm Church of Christ Advent Blog.  They have covered the four traditional themes of the season: Hope, Peace, Joy, and now Love.

In speaking of love, Scripture’s call to Christ’s followers is clear:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

The One who is love (1 John 4:16) tells the ones who are His, to mimic His ways. Revealed in Scripture as “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in unfailing love”, this call to imitation is no light invitation.

How on earth could any of us live it out?

It is not that love is completely foreign to us. The vast majority of parents love their children without any nudging. Friends care for each other. Spouses cherish one another. The entire human race is said to bear the image of God, so it is hardly shocking that some “love genes” got passed from Father to children.

What is shocking though is how quickly love mutates into something less than divine.  And it is ME that taints the mixture. I don’t even mean that I add something that ruins the recipe. I mean that I am the something that taints the recipe.

And you do the same.

Well-intentioned and seeking the good, we march into St. Paul’s call. We will be “imitators of God”; we will “live a life of love”. With all the power in us, we will pursue this most holy call.

And we fail miserably, injuring others and ourselves in the process.  Our noblest efforts are undercut by insecurities that we mask and independence that we magnify.  Our hearts may long to love well, but our hearts are fragmented at best.  And when did something fractured ever show sufficient strength to live up to its billing?

No, if we are to be imitators of the love-God, it will require more than the powered housed within us.

A re-reading of the fine print in Ephesians 5:1-2 may make all the difference:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

There is one prerequisite to following God’s love-call with any measure of faithfulness; it is non-negotiable. No other credits will transfer in.  It is not that God is a stickler for details; it is simply that we cannot run before we walk.

Ahead of being loving, you must be loved.

Prior to imitating God’s loving ways, you must have felt God’s loving ways.

The topic of embracing, by faith, the love of God, even as it embraces us, could be the subject of a thousand posts.  (Perhaps this will serve as the first.)  But the conversation started here today is simply an affirmation that Paul knew of what he spoke: You cannot give what you do not have.

And if you do not have, it is not because the Being known as Love is holding back.

If even a sliver of suspicion has awakened within you, that a touch of God’s love might change life as you know it, seek Him in as exposed and trusting posture as you can strike and speak with those around you who appear to be living as “dearly loved children”.

I mean, who could dish out higher quality love than those called God’s “dearly loved children”?!

YOUR TURN: What barriers have you experienced in “moving into” the love of God? What advice would you offer someone who was seeking to feel more like a “dearly loved child”?  Your input makes this post better!

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Saturday Six-Pack (24)

Welcome to Wandering & Wondering!

Just in time for Christmas, it’s your latest edition of the “Saturday Six-Pack”.

Typically centered on faith or ministry, you’re sure to find some who-knows-what tossed in!

If having a half-dozen options paralyzes 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) A Circle of Honour
One of the most powerful acts you can carry out in your relationships is to initiate experiences in which those around you are appreciated, honoured, and admired… and they know it!  Great piece from Leadership Journal.

2) Seven Questions with Scot McKnight (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Here, David Kinnaman and Scot McKnight take a look at recent Barna research on Christian women today, particularly women’s levels of satisfaction within the church. Whatever your own take on women’s roles in the Church today, Scot offers compelling perspectives on the research.  Men and women alike, your comments below on this piece could start a fascinating discussion.

3) The Paradox of Advent
This reflective prayer vividly describes the real wonder of the Christmas season.  Thanks for sharing, Scotty Smith.  If you need one more worthwhile tweeter to follow, @ScottyWardSmith will do you well.

4) Six Reasons a Pastor Should Work a Month in Advance
Mark Pierce makes a few compelling (yet brief) arguments for why more pastors might wish to pursue this approach to preaching.  Read it before you wonder, “But how would I ever pull that off?”  Then Google a quote about a will and a way.  Then decide what your next step might be.

5) Best Mac Apps of 2012
For Mac-lovers who enjoy finding new programs and such, this list may provide some enlightenment. If anything, the list made me realize that I use my iPhone for a lot of things that I don’t even address on my computer.  Several of these apps were also focused on more creative folks than myself.

6) How Social Media is Destroying Productivity (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
An article featured in last week’s Six-Pack contained this line: “What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” And a poverty of attention is one of the impacts of social media. This infographic (by ChurchMag) portrays the stats most interestingly.

Merry Christmas to all of you!  May your week be unusually full of an awareness of just how very close God has come.

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.]

The Giver of Joy

The 2013 Advent Blog that my church is hosting continues to run.  Here was my recent post on the topic of JOY:

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jason Bandura works with the Glen Elm Church of  Christ.  Married to Shannon, he is Dad to three lovely daughters.  He lives on the Canadian prairies and writes occasionally HERE.]

Is this an early Christian mission OR one of pop music’s teen idols battling for survival?

fansIn Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas have to fight off adoring fans. While preaching the Gospel with the city of Lystra, they healed a local cripple, sending the crowd into bedlam. The whispers-turned-to-shouts begin to revolve around a theory that the two missionaries are actually Zeus and Hermes mingling among humanity.

Paul and Barnabas were having none of it:

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

That last sentence recently grabbed my Advent-tuned mind.

Paul_and_Barnabas_at_Lystra_-_1650Paul and Barnabas credited God as the Maker and Manager of all things, who refuses to micromanage. Instead, they observed this Overseer allowing for freedom, while providing low-key, you-will-need-to-listen-carefully testimony of His constant presence.

According to non-Zeus and non-Hermes, one of the things that argues for God is joy.

This intrigues.

One of the classic lines of doubt in God’s existence springs from a simple theory: If evil is in the world, surely God is not.  The question here connects with every heart that has hurt. In times of pain, it springs so quickly that one has no chance to even assess its substance on its way out.

In the struggle to believe in a God who hasn’t already obliterated evil, some turn to a worldview that involves no deity at all.  We were not created; we evolved. There is no Plan; just the ones we make. Life, by its nature, is utilitarian. The strong (ie: useful, functional, advantageous) survive, whether you speak of traits or ideas or people.  To observe Darwin’s theory in moths changing colour is one thing; to extend his thoughts into an overarching interpretation of reality is another.

This is where one consideration demands more attention: What to do with fun? Beauty? Pleasure?

In a world void of any good and gracious Provider, in a world governed by “the strong survive”, how does one interpret joy?

In matters of God, airtight argument is like the Holy Grail. It’s longed-for, but the longer you seek it, the less you believe it exists. Knowledge of spiritual things requires a different processor than mere reasoning, much to my logic-loving chagrin. Gratefully, I have been kindly chided into confession that it is a very good thing that there is more going on than I can grasp.

In a world that I could entirely understand, nonsense like joy would have no place.

Loose ThreadNineteen centuries ago, Paul and Barnabas contended that joy was a loose strand, begging to be tugged on.

Give it a pull.

If you do, it will pull back.