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Earlier this month I heard a talk by Chris Wright, an Old Testament scholar who serves as International Director of Langham Partnership and has written a number of books including The Mission of God, which is cosmic in scope (the book, that is, as well as the mission). He lives in London but was in town speaking at an event for the Surge Network. Two years ago he spoke in the same venue on faith in the marketplace, and at that time I summarized his main points.

This time around he was speaking on preaching missionally from the Old Testament—a topic clearly suited to the many church planters in the room, and not so much for those of us (like me) who are not pastors. But I’m enough of an armchair theologian to care about the topic, and I loved what he did with Jeremiah 29, his chosen passage for the day. Here’s a salient (and familiar) excerpt from the chapter:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (vv. 4-7).

Wright encouraged us to read Jeremiah 29 in light of Psalms 122 and 137, two passages of scripture that would have been quite familiar to the prophet’s original audience. In Psalm 122—as in Jeremiah 29—we’re exhorted to pray for the peace of a city, with the psalmist adding, “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good” (v. 9). Unlike Jeremiah’s exhortation, however, this has to do with the city belonging to “us” rather than “them.” In Psalm 137, the poet is homesick and in exile, wondering, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (v.4).

The people of God knew they were to pray for the flourishing of their own city and to seek its good. It made sense. What didn’t make sense was seeking the flourishing of a foreign city—a context in which they found themselves desperately homesick, and worse, in exile.

So when Jeremiah urges them to seek the shalom—the “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight”—of that foreign city, he wasn’t saying something predictable. He wasn’t saying something safe. He wasn’t saying something that made everyone feel warm and fuzzy inside. He was saying something that went against the grain of their natural inclinations. He was trying to cultivate in them a new set of virtues.

On the other hand, he wasn’t saying anything new. If anything, as Wright pointed out, Jeremiah was simply reminding the people of God of the mandate found in Genesis 12, when God commanded Abram:

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (vv. 1-3).

Jeremiah was reiterating the ancient truth that when God blesses his people, their neighbors are to benefit as well—and that God delights in this. It’s part of his plan.

But Jeremiah also seems to be anticipating the New Testament command of Jesus to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. In Wright’s observation, this is as close as we come in the Old Testament to that command. Granted, Jeremiah doesn’t actually say anything about loving the neighbors in the city to which we have been sent into exile. But as Wright put it, “It’s hard to hate someone when you’re praying for them.”

In Jeremiah 29, Wright says, we discover a surprising new perspective, a surprising new mission, and a surprising new hope. But at the same time, we find nothing but a reiteration of an ancient perspective, an long-standing mission, and an unchanged and unchanging hope. It’s that ancient-future perspective, that ancient-future mission, and that ancient-future hope we’re called to embrace today, wherever God has led us.

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Repaso: April 11, 2014

April 11, 2014 — 2 Comments

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+ Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus made war’s pain intimate. She was shot and killed in Afghanistan last week.

+ Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero who inspired Hotel Rwanda, warns of a “simmering volcano” in his country, even as it marks 20 years since the genocide began.

+ Really enjoyed the new Christianity Today cover story by Jason Byasee on N.T. Wright.

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+ In the third and final part of Ed Stetzer’s interview with Philip Jenkins, they discuss what the future of the global church might look like.

+ Our church has a new (and, dare I say, vastly improved) website. I especially appreciated Fr. Chris Schutte’s inaugural blog post, “Hints of Grace, Unlikely People & God’s Purposes.”

+ You don’t have to be Anglican to appreciate the Book of Common Prayer.

+ Seven ways books can help us, from none other than the book-loving Byron Borger himself.

+ Mike Cosper sees glimpses of hope in Wes Anderson’s films: “While his worlds are gorgeous and fantastical, his characters are deeply human.”

+ The D-backs have gotten off to a rough start this year. And then along comes this sobering analysis by Grantland baseball writer Jonah Keri, analyzing and questioning the team’s leadership in recent years. I’m holding out hope that 2014 won’t be another wasted season, but I’m concerned all the same.

+ Daniel Flynn reviews the new Johnny Cash biography: “A life overflowing with sad moments enjoyed a happy ending.”

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Repaso: April 4, 2014

April 4, 2014 — 2 Comments

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+ On Wednesday evening, Katie and I were at University of Phoenix stadium with our good friends A.A.ron and Kristine for the #USAvMEX “friendly.” By our estimation, those wearing green outnumbered those in red, white, and blue by a ratio of roughly 90-10, and we had beer spilled on us by one jubilant fan after Mexico’s equalizer. The match ended in a 2-2 draw, though replays demonstrate clearly that the newly uniformed Bomb Pops were robbed.

+ Before we get into more substantial stuff, a public service announcement—with the advent of an app called Coffitivity, you can now get the ambient noise of coffee shops even in otherwise quiet working environments.

+ Kent Annan interviews development economist Bill Easterly for Christianity Today.

+ A day in the life of Tower of David, an abandoned and reclaimed skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela.

+ In Cuba, “The regime may want a makeover, but the scars will be hard to erase.”

+ A photo essay featuring artists in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

+ Sociologist Robert Brenneman (author of Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America, a book I highly recommend) on a unique approach to justice that religious NGOs are taking in Central America.

+ Over at the Lemonade International blog this week, Tita Evertsz wrote a reflection that was heavy but so, so good: “Let’s keep moving forward together. There is indeed hope.”

+ Ahead of this weekend’s landmark elections, 26 photos of young Afghans trying to live modern lives.

+ Some stunning shots here as part of the #azcanals photo challenge.

+ Last but not least, while my parents were in town, we visited the amazing Musical Instrument Museum in North Phoenix as well as the beautiful Desert Botanical Garden in Scottsdale, featuring Chihuly in the Garden, which will be open until May 18.

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+ With Opening Day just about upon us, here’s a look at how baseball changed a Dominican town—and how that town is changing baseball.

+ Speaking of baseball, ESPN has a really cool interactive project called Anatomy of a Pitch that features eight pitchers from the D-backs.

+ And while we’re at it, I dare you not to watch this .gif over and over and over…

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+ Arcade Fire makes “a compelling case for common grace in our theology of missions,” says Alan Noble.

+ For the time being you can stream Johnny Cash’s posthumous album, “Out Among the Stars,” over at Paste. The title track is especially strong, and “She Used To Love Me A Lot” has something to it as well.

+ Some über-talented artists are coming together to record some unreleased Bob Dylan tunes. Legendary producer T. Bone Burnett says, “Great music is best created when a community of artists gets together for the common good.”

+ James Duncan sees parallels (and, of course, key differences) between megachurch leaders and Walter White: “Celebrity pastors have turned their non-profits into personal profit centers.”

+ I appreciated these thoughts from Stephanie Summers on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the responsibility of governments to enact policies that support families.

+ Oscar Romero, killed this week in 1980: “A people is a community… where all cooperate for the common good.”

+ I’m heartbroken for those affected by the massive fire at La Terminal market in Guatemala City this week.

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+ Here’s an interesting look at the disillusionment about human rights and humanitarianism that shows up in the novels of Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini.

+ It’s true: storytelling changes attitudes and behaviors.

+ “Augustine was right: There are goods that we can possess only by dispossession.”

+ This is part one of Ed Stetzer’s interview with Philip Jenkins about global Christianity. For those familiar with Jenkins’ work, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. For those unacquainted, it’s a good introduction.

+ Thomas Cranmer wrote a prayer book, and shaped an entire society.

+ I resonate: “Anglicanism (at its best) faithfully expresses the fullness (breadth and depth) of the gospel.”

+ My parents are visiting us these days and last weekend we visited the Tonto Natural Bridge near the town of Payson. It’s a magical place.

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+ Tom Wright is coming to Phoenix, and I couldn’t be giddier. Really hoping something like this happens.

+ Pope Francis and Justin Welby are joining forces to unite Roman Catholics and Anglicans in the fight against human trafficking. “We are struggling against evil in secret places and in deeply entrenched networks of malice and cruelty,” the Archbishop of Canterbury says.

+ Though his feast day was overshadowed by that of another saint the day before, I learned some things this week I didn’t know about St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

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+ Internet Monk thinks that Bob Dylan’s 1967 record John Wesley Harding makes for good Lenten music.

+ Meanwhile, the novelist Jonathan Lethem defends Dylan’s 80s repertoire, despite the “aura of rejection and embarrassment still hovering over that decade in Dylanology.”

+ Interesting stuff afoot in El Salvador, as a Kuyperian vision of public justice takes root.

+ Bill Easterly always has interesting and provocative things to say about aid and development. This is just the tip of the iceberg: “We support dictatorships with our aid money.”

+ Two years after #KONY2012, what are Invisible Children and Jason Russell up to now?

+ David Koyzis had some interesting things to say about evangelicalism and emotion over at First Things.

+ I appreciated Jonathan Merritt’s interview with Molly Worthen about her book on the crisis of authority in evangelical circles.

+ How do we quantify the physical effect of the toxicity all around us? “Forty-one million IQ points. That’s what Dr. David Bellinger determined Americans have collectively forfeited as a result of exposure to lead, mercury, and organophosphate pesticides.”

+ Eric Miller writes for Comment, “If ideology is here to stay, religion had better be, too.”

+ Last but not least, Wes Anderson has a thing for symmetry, as @kogonada demonstrates here.