Praying about the Violence in Palestine and Israel

I’ve been wondering how best to suggest we pray regarding the situation in Israel and Palestine. The topic is overloaded with politics and anger, which do not help. I want to avoid pouring any fuel on that fire!

Today I ran across a brief and helpful essay by Yohanna Katanacho, a Christian who teaches at Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary (yes, that Nazareth – the one Jesus grew up in!). Professor Katanacho, whose story of being born in Jerusalem and coming to follow Jesus is extraordinary, gives excellent biblically-based advice on how to pray in this essay. You can view his brief essay here. I highly, highly recommend it!

You can hear Professor Katanacho’s personal story briefly told in the October 15, 2023 replay of an interview with him on the Regent College Podcast.

If you’d like more introductory background on the the region of Israel and Palestine, its history, and how we might think of the conflicts in the area as Christians, I’d recommend recent episodes of the Regent College Podcast, particularly those released in October and November of 2023.

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Notes on “Focusing on Jesus – It’s All a Gift” Message

In this message, I mention a few resources to which I will provide links below.

First, the books that I mentioned.

The first book is a book that has been tremendously helpful to me as I worked on the recent messages on communion with Christ.

The second and third books are books that are very helpful in teaching and developing the practices and habits that are often described as spiritual disciplines. These are practices that we can do to put ourselves in the position to come to know and love God more deeply, and be changed by Him.

Lastly, I mentioned the organization Renovaré. Renovaré is a great source of podcasts, articles, books, conferences, and other aids to spiritual growth. Quoting from their website, they are a Christian non-profit that “models, resources, and advocates fullness of life with God experienced, by grace, through the spiritual practices of Jesus and of the historical Church.” What a blessing Renovaré has been to God’s people!

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Joy is Needed

man cannot live long without joy, without some vestige of happiness to light up his days.

Dorothy Day

Alan Jacobs recently micro-blogged a reference to a passage in Dorothy Day’s diary, which I have quoted above. Alan Jacobs’ blogs are thoughtful and thought-provoking.

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Notes on the Communion Maintenance message, mostly related to Dallas Willard

There is a great website packed full of resources from and about Dallas Willard. Many of his articles are freely downloadable from this site. There are descriptions of and links to purchase his books and other materials that are not free. It is a gold mine. Most of the links I give below are to portions of this website.

For Dallas Willard’s discussion of the gospel, see The Divine Conspiracy, particularly chapters 2 and 3. Of course, I and thousands of others would recommend you read the entire book. It is quite profound. Some have found it difficult reading.

More accessible material from Dallas Willard is available from several sources. I recommend the book Life Without Lack. The teaching series from which this book was written is also available online. I’m using this book as I prepare the series of messages beginning with this one.

Another teaching available in several forms that I highly recommend is Living in Christ’s Presence. I’m also using this resource for this series of messages. It is available as a book, a DVD of the talks, and audio. The book was based on a series of talks Dallas Willard gave near the end of his life in which he summarizes the deeper teaching of his more formidable books in a series of talks. The DVD and audio recordings are those talks recorded. Willard’s portions of these talks are simply outstanding. Ortberg’s are fine, too, but….. Dallas Willard. Ortberg has been know to call this series “Dallas for Dummies.” There is some truth to it being an overview; however, making deep concepts easier to grasp is a more difficult task than being long and complicated.

The article from which I skimmed the story of Dallas Willard’s comment during Richard Foster’s sermon on Moses is available online. It’s quite interesting and encouraging.

Not long after Dallas Willard passed, Gary Moon wrote a biography of him entitled Becoming Dallas Willard. It is a fantastic read. I appreciated it a great deal and highly recommend it.

Here are the two Dallas Willard quotes from my message:

“Psalm 23 covers the whole of the spiritual life in God’s kingdom. It’s all there — except for the essential understanding of the historical Jesus.”

“When you pray Psalm 23 you find that Someone is there waiting for you to greet you and guide you.”

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Recommending Two Books by Esau McCaulley

I just finished reading How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South by Esau McCaulley. It is a deeply redemptive American story that our culture sorely needs. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is not only the narrative that we need today in our culture and church; it is superbly well-written. It is the best thing I’ve read this year. McCaulley writes in the form of a memoir provoked by his need to give the eulogy at his father’s funeral, and also by his desire to pass on a true family history to his children. Along the way, his commentary on American culture is compelling, with fine illustrative examples.

Some time ago, I also read McCaulley’s Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. I also had an extremely positive reaction to this book. At the time, I wrote to a friend that Chapter 6 was the finest piece of Christian writing and thinking that I’ve read in a long, long time. It was profound, biblical, encouraging, and powerful – a really fine example of Christian thinking and communication for today. As a Quaker Christian, I found his perspectives resonating strongly – his title is apropos. It convinced me, at the time, that I’d want to read pretty much anything McCaulley writes! (I should have written this recommendation years ago. Better late than never.)

I am finding Esau McCaulley to be one of the most gifted writers of our time. His writing is a gift God gives particularly to the American church of our day, and to American culture more generally. Highest recommendation.

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You’re God’s Project.

Your work is hardly ever God’s work. You’re God’s project. God is making you.

Dallas Willard
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Lactantius, on defending Christianity

Lactantius was a Christian writer in the 3rd and 4th century who wrote the Divine Institutes to explain Christianity to Roman critics, to whom it must have seemed quite foreign. Apparently, his wise words were often ignored through the centuries.

Religion is to be defended, not by putting to death, but by dying; not by cruelty, but by patient endurance; not by guilt, but by good faith: for the former belong to evils, but the latter to goods; and it is necessary for that which is good to have place in religion, and not that which is evil. For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, and by tortures, and by guilt, it will no longer be defended, but will be polluted and profaned.

Lactantius, Divine Institutes, book 5, chapter 20, from the 10 volume 1885 translation in The Ante-Nicene Fathers

A translation of the Divine Institutes can be found online from several sources.

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The Temptation of Power and “Success”

I was listening to Lectio 365 last year and was struck by a simple statement made as a part of the devotional for the morning. I jotted down the quote in my notes. It wasn’t really a new thought; but the simple, direct phrasing has remained with me ever since. Here is what was said:

Jesus lived in an age of tyrants, governors and bureaucrats. The temptation right from the start was for the Church to adopt the attitudes, hierarchies, and power structures of every other organisation, full of ambitious people seeking to climb the ladder of success. But Jesus turned it all on its head. If you want to be great, you must be servant of all.

from Lectio 365, Morning Edition, August 25, 2022

Of course, see the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 42-46, and other passages. Jesus is very clear on this topic. This seems such an important point in light of what we see in human organizations claiming to represent the church, both today and across 2000 years. Like the humans of Genesis 3, we humans are so quick to trust what seems good it us instead of listening to God.

I am reminded of the wisdom of Micah 6.8.

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The Second Coming

by William Butler Yeats (1919)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Read more about Yeats poem The Second Coming in Wikipedia.

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A Quote on Quakers and Abolition from the Empire Podcast

The current series being published on The Empire podcast covers the history of slavery. As usual, it has been quite good. I think the series is nearing conclusion; though it has not finished yet. I’ve heard quite a lot of reference to Quakers and The Society of Friends throughout the series. In a recent episode entitled Wilberforce and the Fight for Freedom, William Dalrymple asked a leading question of the guest historian, Michael Taylor, author of The Interest, a book about the resistance of the British establishment to ending slavery. He wanted Taylor to explain the connection of Quakers to abolition. Here’s what Taylor said in response.

So the Quakers probably deserve more credit than any other single group in terms of the whole sweep of the history of abolitionism. Benjamin Lay, the eccentric Philadelphian abolitionist in the early part of the 18th century… In the later part of the 18th century, it’s American Quakers and American abolitionists in the northern states, who produced some of the most persuasive and influential literature. And it’s this literature which they are sending across to their brethren in the United Kingdom that is absolutely vital to the growth of the abolitionist movement in places like Manchester. 

Dalrymple followed up asking what it is about Quakers that leads them to the conclusion that enslaving other human beings is wrong when apparently neither Anglicans nor Catholics saw it this way. Michael Taylor answers:

For the simple reason that within Quakerism, within the Society of Friends, there is no hierarchy of persons. They are no respecters of persons, so whilst there might within the Catholic and Anglican churches be a very strict hierarchy, a rigid order of things, Quakers have no such problems and they look at everybody as being on an equal plane.

Well, there it is. No hierarchy of persons. It’s just engrained in most Friends, who seem to learn Quakerism more by living among Quakers in community than through schooling – that was certainly my experience. And that’s why recent developments in some Friends groups to establish a ruling hierarchy is so troubling to me and others. It’s a fundamental shift away from Friends ways and the Friends understanding of humans in their relationship to Christ who comes to teach us Himself.

The lowest person in human society is not low in Jesus’ eyes, and can and should hear directly from Him – and speak as she or he hears. Lord Acton’s famous quote regarding the corrupting influence of power comes to mind. As power, particularly coercive power increases, morality so often lessens. Forsake power and speak the truth in love? Jesus, who had more coercive power available to Himself than any other human in history took up the cross. May we grow to be more like Him.

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