Ben Franklin’s Birthday Suit, Duffle Bag Boys, NYC & the Liturgy Letter - Stuff We Like #10

God has made this world good. Which is why there's so much stuff we like!

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Books I Like

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Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey

This book is sheer gold! Want to know what Sartre at for breakfast? Want to know what Jonathan Edwards did on his walks? Want to know what Agatha Christie's desk looked like? You'll find all that and more in this account of the mundane life of hundreds of brilliant people. 

A few tidbits:

  • Benjamin Franklin would rather sit naked in the cold than take a bath. 
  • The novelist Marcel Proust wrote the entirety of In Search of Lost Time while lying in bed. And he hardly ever ate more in a day than café au lait and two croissants. 
  • The philosopher Soren Kirkegaard liked his sugar with coffee.
  • Jane Austen didn't have a private space of her own, but wrote her novels in the sitting room of her family cottage. 

The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell

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World War I ended one hundred years ago this November 11. This book is a study of the effect of the war on the psyche of Western civilization through the lens of its literature. And it is BRILLIANT.  Originally touted as "The War to End All Wars", it quickly became the war that many believed would never end. Edmund Blunden, writing of the catastrophic attack on the Somme, said this:

By the end of the day both sides had seen, in a sad scrawl of broken earth and murdered men, the answer to the question. No road. No thoroughfare. Neither race had won, nor could win, the War. The War had won, and would go on winning.

The modern world is, in many ways, a product of WWI. And this book reveals it expertly. 

 

Sites I Like

The Liturgy Letter

This site is excellent. It publishes a weekly newsletter with resources for Christian worship and prayer from both ancient and modern sources. It includes art, poetry, hymns, Spotify playlists, and links to various other resources. For example, I learned last week that Van Gogh preached (!!!) a sermon on October 29, 1876. And today I learned that it is the feast of St. Antipas of Pergamum (see Revelation 2:13). 

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Cities I Like - NEW YORK!!!

I love just being in New York City. It's where I moved for my first job out of college. It's where Kathy and I met. It's where God called me into ministry. It's the greatest city in the… United States of America (Paris is the greatest city in the world, guys).  

Kathy and I had the chance to take a (NOT babymoon) trip there last week, and I was reminded of three things I especially like about NYC:

Book Stores

 The Strand is incredible. 18 miles of books!

The Strand is incredible. 18 miles of books!

Old Bars

 Old Town Bar was founded in 1892 and was a speakeasy during Prohibition. 

Old Town Bar was founded in 1892 and was a speakeasy during Prohibition. 

Museums!!! 

 The Met is the best!!! 

The Met is the best!!! 

These are a few of my favorite things. 

Podcasts I Like

One Shining Podcast

The Duffle Bag Boys are the best. They break down the NCAA basketball scene as no one else can. They are funny, self-effacing, and entertaining as all get out. March Madness is done for now, but come next season, if you want to keep up with college hoops, you should subscribe. 

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What stuff do you like? Share in the comments below!

Sermon Recap: The Wonder of Breakfast (John 21:1-14)

This is a recap of our Easter Sunday sermon

If you had all the power in the world, what would you do with it? Rule it with an iron fist? Make everyone enjoy the same things as you? Have as much fun as possible? When Jesus rose again from the dead, He had “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). What did He do with all that power in John 21:1-14? He cooked breakfast.

Disillusioned & Done

A large percentage of people in our area would call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Many people are disillusioned. Jesus’s disciples were disillusioned too. They had given up everything—especially their careers—to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22). But now Peter and his friends are going fishing, going back to a life of depending, not on Jesus, but on themselves. 

Eventually, a disillusioned life of depending on self will end up putting me in the same boat as the disciples: “they caught nothing” (John 21:3). And that’s when Jesus shows up (John 21:5).

The Wonder of Breakfast

Jesus was a conquering hero, but He didn’t come with shining robes or golden crowns. He came cooking breakfast. Jesus isn’t like other Kings. He isn’t like others with power in our world. He doesn’t exalt Himself. He doesn’t lift Himself up. He doesn’t impose His will on others, force others to do His bidding, twist your arm until you cry uncle and do what He wants. Jesus brings Himself down to lift others up

That’s the wonder of breakfast. God Himself invites us to eat at His table. All we have to do is come.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. What would you do if you had all the money and power in the world? Be honest! How does this differ from Jesus in John 21?
  2. Think of a time when you have been judged by others? How did it feel? Why did it hurt? How did you respond? 
  3. When you become disillusioned—when your hopes go unrealized or your trust in others is broken—what do you do? How is your response similar to the disciples’? How is it different?
  4. Why does depending on ourselves fail to finally satisfy? What alternative does Easter offer?
  5. How does Jesus reveal Himself in this story (John 21:1)? What does his invitation to “come and have breakfast” reveal about Him?
  6. Jesus brings Himself down to lift others up. Where else in the Bible do we see this? 
  7. If this is the way the King of all things lives, what does it mean for us? How should we live?

Annihilation, Wild Wild Country, How God Messed Up My Atheist Life - Stuff We Like #9

It's amazing what you find if you allow yourself to get lost.

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As we think about what it means to "come alive" this week, read a testimony of how God doesn't just meet us in our intellect but in our emotions. Jesus came for every part of us and the gospel renews all of us, not just parts of us. It's why faith is not limited to what we know but how we live and experience it in everyday life. It's also why being on mission isn't limited to passing out tracts and apologetic standoffs but involves real relational engagement and compassion.

Body Work, by Barbara Ehrenreich

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The landscape of physical fitness options that are out there today call for cult-like devotion. They demand a certain level of intensity with a common language and context to foster their community, in essence pursuing justification by exercise. At what point does "beating/disciplining our bodies" to honor God becomes "beating/disciplining our bodies" to become like Him?

Shows I Like

Wild Wild Country (Netflix)

Usually, a documentary about a cult is grossly tragic because of a mass suicide or showdown with the FBI and/or disturbing because of perverse acts of worship or oppressive practices to recruit and retain members. What makes this six-part series interesting is how quickly this cult took over a whole city in Oregon and how quietly the whole thing went away. It has tons of firsthand footage as well as current-day interviews with people integrally involved with the cult, some of whom are still strong adherents to the belief. You come away with a realization that these are real people who genuinely believe what they do and an empathy and brokenness for where they are led because of it.

Movies I Like

Annihilation

A visually pleasing sci-fi film, it explores the question of how we deal with suffering and/or self-destruction and our desire to escape it. For some, it's a deeper trek into the "heart of darkness" while others simply will find the quickest way out. The last 30 minutes were entrancing, confusing, and immersive all at the same time. 

Isle of Dogs

I'm including this movie not because I necessarily liked it (I didn't) but because it provoked complicated feelings in my heart. Putting aside my general apathy toward Wes Anderson movies, watching a movie set in an Asian country with large portions in an Asian dialogue where the heroine who rescues the day happens to be a foreign exchange student who speaks non-accented English was unsettling. By no means do I believe this movie owes me a different ending or different characters but it just felt off. Does it have cute dogs and fun dialogue? Absolutely! Incredible stop-motion? The sushi-making scene is immaculate! Will Hollywood ever accurately portray or understand my cultural purview, even when it's going for light-hearted, animated/stop-motion movies? Not going to bet on it.

Sermon Recap: The Spirit & Mission (John 16:7-11)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

In John 16:7-11, Jesus promised He would send the disciples the Holy Spirit to give them the strength, the wisdom, and the love necessary to be about that mission of loving liberation. He sends His Spirit so He can send us on mission. 

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1. Sent Spirit, Sent Church

Jesus sent His Spirit so He could send His church on this mission: to tell the world the good news that there is hope. There is freedom from sin and self. There is a new, true, good life available to them if they believe in Him (John 16:9)

2. Just Spirit, Just Church

We live in a world that longs for true justice, but can’t find it. Jesus was crucified by the false justice of this world (John 16:10). Christ called us to be salt and light and sent His just Spirit so we could be a just church and point the way to Him.

3. Liberating Spirit, Liberated Church

The ruler of this world was judged at the cross and resurrection (John 16:11). By humbling Himself and willingly dying, He sets us free from sin and disarmed spiritual evil in this world. And Christ sends the Spirit to the church to set us free from the power and persuasion of spiritual evil in this world.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. How does sin stop us from being able to freely enter God’s love in Christ? 
  2. What are you tempted to be enslaved by? Ego? Approval-seeking? Fear? Self-doubt? Anger? Hatred? Selfishness? How can the Spirit set you free from these?
  3. What new purpose does Christ give to us as His people? Why is this a more fulfilling purpose than the ones we give ourselves?
  4. “Justice” and “righteousness” mean the same thing in Greek. What are the implications of this?
  5. Why do you think it’s important that the Spirit is just? Why is it important that the church walk in God’s justice? What are some ways that we fail to do this?
  6. What kind of freedom does Christ give us in the gospel? Why is it important for Christians to live in freedom? 
  7. How does gospel freedom fit together with gospel witness? Why is it important to keep the two of them together?

Marriage + Kids = Hard, Emotion & Spirituality, and the Madness of March! - Stuff We Like #8

So much things to say right now… It's Stuff We Like!

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Books I Like

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality - After preaching on the Spirit and Emotion a couple weeks ago, I spoke with many of you about how to pursue a healthy emotional and spiritual life. Pete Scazzero's book is fantastic on this topic. He identifies the following ten symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality:

  1. Using God to run from God
  2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear 
  3. Dying to the wrong things 
  4. Denying the past’s impact on the present 
  5. Dividing our lives into “secular” and “sacred” compartments 
  6. Doing for God instead of being with God 
  7. Spiritualizing away conflict 
  8. Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure 
  9. Living without limits 
  10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey
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It's convicting. I don't agree with everything he says (who agrees with everything anyone says???), but the truth in this book will help open you up to areas of growth you may not be aware of and help you give them more and more to Jesus. 

Sports I Like

The Madness of March!!! - This year's NCAA tournament has been CRAZY! My favorite moment so far (besides the historic upset of #16 UMBC defeating #1 overall UVA) was the Michigan buzzer beater to beat Houston, advancing them to the Sweet 16. Love it!

Articles I Like

Decolonized Discipleship, by Ekemini Uwan. Please proceed into this article with extreme caution. It is intense. It is written to people of color. It digs deep to apply the gospel to the challenges of the American church, particularly the theologically conservative, Reformed tribe from which many of us hail. White supremacy gets called out. It's serious, applied theology that is not for the faint of heart. 

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Key quote:

[W]e need to evaluate whether or not the theology we subscribe to in our churches derives from the Kingdom or the Empire. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: Does this theology call me to a deep love for God that causes me to pursue holiness and radical love for my neighbor? Does this theology benefit the privileged at the expense of the marginalized? Is this theology good news for everyone, regardless of their racial and socioeconomic status? Does this theology cause me to look in the mirror and marvel at God’s handiwork instead of despising my reflection…? Your answer to each of these questions will indicate whether or not you have been indoctrinated by Kingdom or Empire theology.

Satan colonizes the human race, enslaving us in sin. Jesus is the Liberator of peoples colonized by sin and systems of oppression. Needless to say, this article has prompted me to reflect a lot.

Esther Perel on Why Marriage After Kids is So Hard (and How to Fix It), by Haley Nahman - There is a lot of great, common grace wisdom in this article. I appreciate the way Perel wisely tells parents that they have the right to be human. And that, in fact, the more fully human we are as parents, the better parents we'll be for our kids. Also, she says one of the best things that mom and dad can do for our kids is to have more sex, which is something I am 100% in favor of. 

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Shows I Like

Atlanta - We're only 3 episodes in, but season 2 of Atlanta is just as funny, offbeat, and weird as the first one. It's Robbin' Season, and I love it.

What about you? What stuff do you like? Share in the comments below!

Sermon Recap: The Spirit & Suffering (John 15:18-16:2)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

In John 15:18-20, Jesus promised that those who follow Him would suffer. That does NOT sound like good news to many of us. But He promises that He would send His Spirit to work in us and through us in the midst of suffering.

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1. Suffering Is Inevitable

We live in a world that hates and fears suffering. But Christians serve a King who became King by suffering on a wooden cross. We worship a God who was unjustly tried and convicted and executed. Who was abandoned by His friends and hated by nearly everyone around Him on the day of His death. For the Christian, suffering is inevitable.

2. Suffering Incapacitates the Self-Reliant

In John 16:1-2, Jesus promises suffering to keep his disciples from falling away. He brings us through suffering to incapacitate us. To teach us that we can’t do it on our own. To show us our brokenness; our weakness; our deep need for others; our need for Him. Suffering leads us to humble dependence upon His Spirit.  

3. Suffering Is Invaluable to the Spirit's Purpose

In John 15:26-27, Jesus tells his disciples that they will suffer for Him. And suffering is invaluable to the Spirit’s purpose in our lives, because we wouldn’t rely on Him if we didn’t suffer. We’d get distracted by stock options or kids recitals or finding The One or the latest tech gadget. Suffering draws us out of ourselves into reliance on the Spirit. And it reminds us of the glorious, incredible truth that, by faith, Christ is in us by the Spirit! 

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. How do you respond to suffering? What's your first response to it? Why?
  2. Do you believe that suffering is inevitable for followers of Jesus? How does that make you feel about being His disciple?
  3. What are some examples of people who suffered for God in the Bible? How did God use suffering in their lives? How did their story end? 
  4. Who are you in community with that you can lean on in the midst of suffering? Who can lean on you?
  5. How much do you rely on the Holy Spirit in your daily life? How often do you see your deep need for Him? How might suffering affect that?
  6. Read Psalm 56. What does David say about God's heart toward him in his suffering? What does that teach you about God's heart for you in yours?
  7. How might the Spirit use suffering in your life to make you a greater witness to the gospel of Jesus? What are some ways that suffering makes us more effective witnesses to Christ?

Easter Week Bible Reading Plan

To help you trace what the Lord Jesus was doing during each day of Easter Week, we have created a Bible reading plan beginning Palm Sunday (3/25), and ending on Easter Sunday (4/1). You can find each day's reading below. May these readings draw us all deeper into the gospel story and lead us face to face with Christ Jesus by faith!

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Click here for a printable copy of our Easter Week Reading Plan

  • Palm Sunday, 3/25 – The Triumphal Entry: Luke 19:28-44 & John 12:23-28

  • Monday, 3/26 – Jesus Cleanses the Temple: Mark 11:15-19; Psalm 69:1-9

  • Tuesday, 3/27 – Jesus Teaches the Crowds: Mark 11:27-12:44 & John 12:44-50

  • Wednesday, 3/28 – The Plot Against Jesus: Luke 21:37-22:6

  • Maundy Thursday, 3/29 – The Last Supper: John 13:1-14:6

  • Good Friday, 3/30 – The Cross: John 19:1-42

  • Holy Saturday, 3/31 – The Grave: Psalm 13:1-6

  • Easter Sunday, 4/01 – The Resurrection: John 20:1-21:25

Easter Week 2018 (March 25-April 1)

Easter Week is when we remember the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the highest season of celebration for disciples of Jesus, when we see on full display the undeserved love of God for us on the cross and the victory He won over sin and death at the empty tomb. 

This week will also mark the 5th anniversary of Grace Alameda! Our church launched on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013. God has been at work among us in such generous, unforeseen, sometimes painful, but always gracious ways in the past 5 years. To give sufficient time to our anniversary celebration, we will be having a party on April 15 after church!

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Come Alive: Our Easter Theme and a Chance to Welcome Others

Easter is a unique opportunity to invite our friends and neighbors to church who wouldn’t come otherwise. Our theme on Easter Sunday will be “Come Alive.” The sermon will be from Romans 8:9-11, and everything we do on Easter will be geared towards worshiping Jesus and inviting newcomers to enjoy new life in Him. 

Our Design Team has put together an invitation for print and social media sharing. We are encouraging all of our members: invite your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers to worship Jesus with us on Easter Sunday! We are praying that the Spirit would pack out our sanctuary on Easter and that He would move powerfully in people’s lives!

Here’s How We Can Celebrate Together

  • Week of Prayer and Fasting
    • We are calling the church to a week of prayer and fasting. Each day of that week (beginning Monday, 3/25), we will send out a prayer topic for the church to keep in prayer. 
    • During that week of seeking the Lord together, we want to encourage you to fast. You may choose to fast from food, from technology, or from something else to help you focus more deeply on the meaning of the cross and resurrection. 
    • A major topic of prayer will be for Alameda and the East Bay, and for our neighbors who don’t know Jesus. May the Lord bring people to new life by faith in Christ this Easter!
  • Easter Week Bible Reading Plan
    • We have created a Bible reading plan to draw us all deeper into the gospel story beginning Palm Sunday (3/25) and ending on Easter Sunday (4/1). May it lead us face to face with Christ Jesus by faith!
  • Special Times of Prayer and Worship
    • We will hold special times of prayer and worship throughout the week to set our hearts on Christ together. Click the links below for more information on each event:
      • Morning Prayer Meeting, Wednesday, 3/28 & Friday 3/30 (6:30AM at the church office: 1516 Oak St. #227)
      • Good Friday Worship at 7PM on Friday, 3/30
      • Easter Sunday Worship! - 10:30AM at 2521 Santa Clara Ave.
  • Invite Your Neighbors!
    • Take a handful of invitations this Sunday and next to hand out to your neighbors and welcome them to worship with us! 

I am excited for Easter Week and the privilege of seeking together with you the Lord Jesus who suffered, died, and rose for us. I pray this is an opportunity for us to recalibrate our hearts in line with heaven’s agenda for our lives and our church. And I pray you are built up and Christ is glorified through it all!

James Cleveland, Ugly Delicious, Sanctification Through Song - Stuff We Like #7

It's what we do when we do what we do.

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Songs I Like

You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened, by James Cleveland

Gospel music gets into your soul a certain way that no other genre can. It's not necessarily one that comes natural to me but it sure does resonate in a way that other genres of music simply don't. Now make it a live recording and you've got pure Holy Spirit fire. Check out the 2:02 mark when people wild out at the chorus and tell me you don't get caught up in glory. It's amazing how saying "Jesus is the best thing" comes across so vastly different than when James Cleveland sings it. A further reminder that song and praise matters to our spiritual health.

Live at the Harlem Square Club, by Sam Cooke

Since we're on the live performance tip, this might be my favorite of all time. You can just feel the beads of sweat forming on your head as one of the greatest soul singers gets the club jumping. A good album will make you want to see the artist live in concert at any point in the future. This album makes me wish I was packed inside this Miami hotspot in January 1963 just this one time. It's one of the few reasons why I think we someone should build a time machine.

Shows I Like

Ugly Delicious (Netflix)

I love food television because I really love food. There is great appeal for me in watching an Asian-American chef work who wants to believe in the unifying power of food while navigating the complexities of race and class that are thoroughly intertwined with cuisine. David Chang can be abrasive but he has the courage to ask questions and at least explore and listen, even if he doesn't agree. There's an air of confession and therapy in this show that makes it vastly different from most food and travel shows out there. The "fried chicken" and "fried rice" episodes alone make for thought-provoking television.

Bojack Horseman (Netflix)

Animated shows are typically meant to tickle your funny bone and not do much else. What sets Bojack Horseman apart from the Simpsons and Bob's Burgers of television is that not only is it ridiculous (a pseudo-Mr.Ed in a world of anthropomorphic animals who dwell alongside humans) but it poignantly and thoughtfully explores issues of mental health, addiction, and self-destruction in ways you don't see in the entertainment industry. If anything, it's an advantage for this show to be animated as it allows viewers to enter into these worlds and thinking about these issues without being so visceral that they get lost in them. But even if that sounds heavy, it's also hilarious, fun, and worth watching.

Articles I Like

Sanctification Through Song, by Ann Lowrey Forster

We talked about this last week in Grace Academy, how singing aloud is part and parcel of worship that is incarnated and embodied. Our engagement in this singing praise with God's people on a day set aside for His worship is not because He needs us to do it but because we need to do it so we might know Him better. Our faith is strengthened, our countenance is changed, our hope is renewed not just by what we say but by what we sing. 

Sermon Recap: The Spirit & Emotion (John 16:20-24)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

There is an unavoidable connection between the Spirit’s work in us and our emotional lives. Jesus helps us understand in John 16:20-24 that, as God’s adopted children in Christ, we can humbly receive the gift of emotion. 

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1. Jesus Gives Us Permission to Feel

Emotion is something God in His love and wisdom has given us for our good. Emotion is a gift because it puts us in touch with the reality of the world around and inside us. And in John 16:20, Jesus gives His disciples—and us—permission to feel. 

2. The Spirit Redeems Emotion

Our emotional lives are enslaved to sin, to society, to the expectations of others and ourselves. We see our emotions as inconvenient, untrustworthy, or even dangerous. But in John 16:22, we see that the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to our hearts by faith and redeems our emotional lives. 

3. Faith Renews Our Emotional Lives

Pastor Pete Scazzero writes, “It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” Spiritual maturity—real faith in Christ—frees us to be who we are and renews our emotional lives.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Why does Jesus give His disciples permission to feel in John 16:20-24? How was that important for their present and future circumstances?
  2. In what ways is emotion a gift from God? What keeps us from seeing it that way?
  3. Our emotions help us see the reality of what’s going on around us and inside us. Think of some ways you have experienced this in your life.
  4. How do you typically respond to emotion? Do you tend to express it? Do you tend to suppress it? 
  5. Do you believe your emotional life is important to God? Do you believe He wants you to experience a rich and full emotional life? Why or why not?
  6. How does the Spirit set us free to feel? How do you need Him to set you free?
  7. How does faith renew our emotional lives? Do you agree that “It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”

Finance Seminar Refresher

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At the end of January, we had the wonderful privilege of having Pastor Rod Miles from Grace Marin come and share godly wisdom about practical ways to manage personal finance in light of the gospel. There were a lot of helpful thoughts to consider as we discern how to be good stewards of what God has given to us. We know some of you were not able to make it and others would love to be refreshed and reminded. With that in mind, we've made the audio and the material from the slides available below!

Godly Financial Stewardship - Audio

Godly Financial Stewardship - Slides

 

Chris Rock, Disney's Dark Side, The Boss, & MJ > LeBron - Stuff We Like #6

The interwebs are full of things. Here are a few worth your time.

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Basketball Players I Like

Michael Jordan was the greatest player to ever lace up his sneakers. LeBron James is pretty good. In recent years, some people have been comparing them, wondering if LeBron is the greatest of all time. That is dumb. 

But The Ringer did a Jordan vs. LeBron week at the end of February that was chock full of great content. From a profile of Luc Longley, to Jordan's greatest plays, to imagining how LeBron could end his career on a better note than MJ, the content was top-notch in general. My favorite: 5 Jordans vs. 5 LeBrons on NBA 2K. 

Articles I Like

I have forgotten how to read, by Michael Harris - The ability to become immersed in text that demands our attention, imagination and focus is a quickly fading skill in our culture. The author worries that, "In a very real way, to lose old styles of reading is to lose a part of ourselves."

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By Day, a Sunny Smile for Disney Visitors. By Night, an Uneasy Sleep in a Car, by Jennifer Medina - In a sermon illustration a while back, I imagined what the life of a young woman who plays Cinderella at Disneyland would be like. In my imagination, it was pretty bleak.

As it turns out, my aunt and uncle are her next door neighbors! Her life isn't so bad. 

But this NYT article looks at the lives of many workers at the happiest place on earth and discovers that the happiness often doesn't translate to employees.

Music I Like

Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run

From the first beats of the record to the heights and depths of the title track, this is one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time. It gets me every time. 

Books I Like

Presence in the Modern World, by Jacques Ellul

This is the best book I've read this year so far. It is not an easy book. But it is full of truth that I desperately want to learn. Ellul was a 20th century scholar who wrote dozens of books and served as a lay leader in the Reformed church in France. Presence unveils realities about the modern world that otherwise remain hidden, and helps Christians to live faithfully in light of these realities.

He says that we have a tendency to "turn the living person of Jesus Christ into an abstraction." But, he writes, God became incarnate; it is not our job to disincarnate him." In much of the book, his goal is to show the way for Christians to live incarnate, fully human lives to the glory of God in a dehumanizing, materialistic world. Highly, highly recommended. 

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Shows I Like

Tambourine, Chris Rock [VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED]

Chris Rock is rich. Famous. Successful. And divorced. Following on his divorce, he gets intensely personal in this 1 hour Netflix special. If you can handle the often crass humor and foul language, there is deep truth about marriage and relationships that every married person should digest. 

Sermon Recap: The Spirit and Self-Awareness (John 16:8-11)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

Throughout history, philosophers and artists have sought to understand the connection between knowing who God is and knowing ourselves. For the Christian, the Spirit helps us see ourselves for who we truly are so we might see who Christ truly is and turn to him by faith alone.

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1. Aware of Our Failure

True knowledge of self isn't about self-realization or self-discovery as our culture defines it. It's much closer to understanding, as Calvin puts it, our "shaming nakedness" and "teeming horde of infirmities". The Spirit's work involves helping us to see the sin in our lives we often ignore, the righteousness we pretend we have enough of, and the judgment to come that we hope never does. So much of our lives are dedicated to avoiding these realities yet it is God's desire by His Spirit to reveal them to us.

2. Aware of Our Freedom

However, the Spirit doesn't only give us the bad news. The Spirit also is sent to show us what Jesus has done to deal with the sin we are all burdened with. The Spirit points us to Jesus who is our righteousness, how he lived righteously for us. The Spirit also lets us see that Jesus took the judgment death for the punishment that we rightly deserve.

This is the difference between how the Spirit works and the devil works. The Spirit convicts, giving us clarity and specificity about how we actually are rebelling against God so we might repent of our ways. The devil accuses us of wrongdoing and wants us to remain an emotional mess, living in a cloud of confusion and shame. The Spirit points us back to Jesus, the devil wants us to dwell in self-loathing and guilt.

This is why we need knowledge of God and Jesus Christ to address the harsh reality of knowing ourselves. For whatever kind of failure, quitter, loser, or messed up person we've been, the Spirit reminds us that Jesus has done something about it and wants to re-establish us in the good graces of our Heavenly Father and welcome us back into the family.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. What do you think it means to know yourself well? How do you think you do it? In what ways do you think you know yourself well? 
  2. How has the Spirit of God revealed to you the sinfulness, brokenness, and helplessness in your life without Jesus? Is there a particular way in which the damage of sin, your lack of righteousness, or knowing what kind of judgment you deserve convict you of who you really are without Jesus?
  3. How does the Spirit not only take us into the valley of our sin and brokenness but He also leads us out of it and to Jesus. In what ways does He do it regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment? How have you seen this happen in your own personal life?
  4. In what ways have you ever experienced the devil accusing you in light of your sin rather than the Spirit convicting you of sin? How did it affect your heart and emotional state? 
  5. Are there any areas of your own life where you still feel deep-seated shame or guilt and have trouble coming out of? How does the gospel speak to this? After discussing how the Spirit lifts you out of this by the cross of Christ, take some time to pray for freedom from your shame and guilt by God's power and Spirit.
  6. Read John 21. How do you think the disciples felt after being welcomed and fed by Jesus? How do you think Peter felt after being restored and re-commissioned by Jesus? Do you believe that this is what Jesus yearns to do with you in your sin every single day? 

Loneliness, Phantom Thread, The Good Place - Stuff We Like #5

Straight kickin' game with a capital G. Get your learn on!

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Articles I Like

In Solitude What Happiness?, by Maggie Fergusson

“What does loneliness feel like?” “It’s like being offered a full meal, and not being able to eat it.”

If you struggle with loneliness, please read this article. As someone who has dealt with this in different parts of my life, this resonated with me on so many levels. There is an overwhelming, silent shame that people who struggle with loneliness often drown in that is often hard to describe. This article doesn't necessarily offer answers. What I hope it does is put words to describe what your loneliness feels like.

You are not alone in your loneliness. Don't be afraid to admit it and talk to others about it. More importantly, in Christ, you are neither defined by your loneliness, your solitude, or your shame. Your God will never leave you nor forsake you for He is always with you by the Spirit and your life is hidden in Christ. And if you want someone to talk to about it, I'm here. kai@gracealameda.org.

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In Defense of Thoughts and Prayers, by Scott Jones

Amidst the constant politicizing of a tragic situation, one of the most common refrains that regularly gets mocked by people of all cultural stripes is how useless "thoughts and prayers" are in dark times. There are a whole host of reasons why people might be right to criticize those that carelessly toss out the phrase but there are very good Christian reasons for why believers should be lifting up their thoughts and prayers after dark tragedy. This article gives us a few important ones.

Movies I Like

Phantom Thread

A movie where every camera angle is masterfully shot and each word spoken with intent and conviction. Paul Thomas Anderson has churned out some of the most engrossing movies of this century such as "There Will Be Blood" and "The Master". Teaming with Daniel Day-Lewis again meant I was going to watch this film. Not only does DDL display primal intensity and precision, actress Vicky Krieps more than holds her own. It's a unique and thought-provoking dive into moral depravity, heart idolatry, and self-justification. The plot twist aggravates, titillates, and shocks you into plunging deeper with the film.

Black Panther

The hype train has arrived at its station and it is for real. I can't help myself to most comic book movies but the incredible track record of director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan's partnership (Fruitvale Station, Creed) made this a no-brainer. Not often do Marvel movies explore new fantasy worlds this richly yet still manage to tie it into our current world (Oakland specifically!) in a meaningful manner. Most movies get clunky attempting to address systemic racism, how minorities should engage the world around them, and how one overcomes oppression. You certainly don't expect a Marvel movie to do it yet it does it thoughtfully and carefully. Then you add a Kendrick Lamar curated soundtrack, amazing outfits, and green screen panoramic views that take your breath away. I know it doesn't exist but my goodness I would love to live in Wakanda.

Shows I Like

The Good Place (Netflix)

A thoughtful comedy where Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristin Bell) dies and finds herself in the Good Place, where everyone has a soul mate and her attempts to cuss always come out as "bullshirt". The problem is that deep down inside, she knows she's there by mistake and doesn't belong. She's surrounded by a whole cast of crazy characters and hilarity ensues. What makes this show so great isn't just the armchair moral philosophy references they run through in every episode (regular mentions of Kant, Kierkegaard, utilitarianism, etc.) but how they put their philosophies into the plot of the show. Are you good based on what you do or why you do it? Is an afterlife where you get whatever you want, whenever you want, truly a good place? 

It's a fun, light-hearted, silly show but still gets you thinking. Start from episode one because it's got a great twist near the end. Check out the first season on Netflix. They just finished their second season on NBC.

Sermon Recap: Led by the Spirit (John 16:13-14)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

In a crowd, tour guides will often hold a flag or umbrella up high so that their group can follow them easily. In John 16:13-14, Jesus teaches us the tools the Holy Spirit uses to show Himself to us so that we can faithfully follow His lead.

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1. Led by the Book

The Holy Spirit doesn't operate independently from the Word (John 14:23). Knowing and keeping God's Word is part and parcel of being in Christ by the Spirit. The Scriptures is the primary means the Holy Spirit uses to lead God's people in Christ's ways.

2. Led by the Body

Jesus doesn't speak to individuals in John 16:13-14. He doesn't say the Spirit will lead you (singular) into all truth. He says the Spirit will lead "yous" (plural) into all truth. we don’t relate to God primarily as individuals. We relate to Him as the Body of Christ, the community of His people, His church. To be led by the Spirit means to be led by the Body. 

3. Led by Bowing Down

In John 16:14, Jesus says the Spirit's job is to glorify Jesus. We glorify Him when we obey His commands (John 14:21). I believe the main reason we aren’t more led by the Spirit is that—if the Spirit told us what to do, we wouldn’t want to do it. Our hearts’ desire is not to obey. It’s to get our own way. To be led by the Spirit, we must be bowed down in heart and life to His will. 

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Read 1 John 4:1-2 and 2 Peter 1:20-21. How is the Holy Spirit involved in leading God's people through the Scriptures? 
  2. Have there been times in your experience where the Bible has been used to judge, belittle, or even hate others? Have you been part of a Christian community that defined itself by what/who they are against? How can this quench the Spirit's work in a community's life?
  3. How do you see Paul being led by the Spirit through the Body in Acts 13:1-4? What can we learn from this for our own decision-making process?
  4. Do you make decisions in community, or do you make decisions on your own and then inform your church community? Why is the Body so important in being led by the Spirit?
  5. What is one decision/area in your life that you don't want to bow in submission to the Lord? Why is this hard to submit? How can you remember the truth of the gospel that submission to Christ by the Spirit is the good life? 
  6. What is one instance in your life where you felt clearly led by the Holy Spirit? How were you led by the Book? The Body? By bowing down?
  7. What is one area in your life where you would like to receive clear guidance from the Spirit? How will you pursue this in the Book? In the Body? By bowing down?

Sermon Recap: The Spirit and Prayer (John 14:13-14)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

In John 14:13-14, Jesus gives us a blank check to the bank of prayer, right in the midst of His most extensive teaching on the Holy Spirit. This indicates an inseparable connection between our prayer lives and the work of the Spirit.

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1. The Spirit's Role in Prayer

Blank checks don't do you any good if you can't find the bank or if there are insufficient funds behind the check. The Holy Spirit's first role in prayer is to intercede for us—to bring us to God in Christ, giving us access to the vault of heaven. And, the Spirit is the power of God to accomplish our prayers. Whenever we call upon the name of the Lord, we are calling down the very power and presence of God Himself!

2. The Spirit's Goal in Prayer

In John 14:13 and John 16:24, Jesus tells us the Spirit's goal is to glorify God and to give us joy. In fact, Jesus seems to indicate one of the key ways God gets glory is by pouring out grace and giving us joy. If we lack joy, we need only ask—the Spirit will accomplish His goal in prayer!

3. The Spirit's Dole in Prayer

A dole is a gift, a handout. What does the Spirit give us in prayer? He gives us Jesus Himself! Jesus shows this in John 14:18 & 23, and Paul reiterates it in 2 Corinthians 3:17. The Lord Jesus is so intimately bound up with the Spirit, that Paul says the Lord IS the Spirit! When the Spirit is with us, so is Christ! 

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Depending on the Holy Spirit begins with prayer in our lives. What is your prayer life like right now? How frequently do you pray? Be honest. Tell the Lord!
  2. How do you pray? Do you pray like you flip on the light switch? Or do you pray in amazement that God Himself is with you whenever you pray? If you lack a sense of God's presence or joy, might you be simply going through the motions?
  3. How can you cultivate a sense of amazement and wonder in prayer? What is one practical thing you can do to grow in this?
  4. Do your prayers line up with Christ's name, His will (1 John 5:14-15)? Why or why not? 
  5. Do you lack joy in the Lord? Have you asked for it? Do you want it? 
  6. Do you believe that God Himself is present with you when you pray? If you see unbelief in your heart, repent and ask forgiveness! Then ask for faith in Christ's promises! (Pray Mark 9:24 if you need help.)

Francis and the Lights, The Ragamuffin Gospel, The Lost Art of Staying Put, and more - Stuff We Like #4

Helping you find something to pass the time with so you don't have to pick one for yourself. Since January 2018.

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Music I Like

Francis and the Lights - May I Have This Dance (Remix) [Feat. Chance the Rapper]

Nothing like a song with a wistful 80s feel. And Chance on any track is a cherry on top.

The Horrible Crowes - Behold the Hurricane

The loneliness of a lost heart brought to life where both song and video coalesce. When was the last time you were haunted by the weariness and sadness in a person's eyes like in the video?

Books I Like

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt Out, by Brennan Manning

There's nothing like a book that makes grace beautiful. That has the ability to pull you to one side and see Jesus anew, then yank you to another side and see him shine in a different light, like looking on each side of a diamond. This book leads me to worship, celebrate, and dance every time I go back to it.

Articles I Like

The Lost Art of Staying Put, by Lucy Ellmann

I inherited my father's wanderlust and love dreaming of places to go, sights to see, and things to eat. In an age where travel is the easiest it's ever been, more accessible in so many ways, and encouraged through so many avenues, Anthony Bourdain has my dream job. 

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But when I actually get to the airport, things become a little different. I get herded like cattle, pawed over by a gloved stranger, and forced to become an Olympic sprinter to make it to the gate. Then I have the lovely privilege of being uncomfortable in a gigantic metal tube and praying for protection against engine failure, food poisoning, and a toddler's inability to cover their mouth when sneezing. Oh and I get to link arms with my seat neighbors like marching for civil rights. It's unifying in all the wrong ways.

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This article reminded me home ain't too bad after all. Read for a reminder of why travel isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Stay for the last sentence which made me chuckle and choke on my morning coffee.

The Invasion of the German Board Games, by Jonathan Kay

There is a dark underbelly at Grace Alameda of board gamers. No, we're not talking about Candyland or Sorry! I'm talking the serious stuff, where intensity and competition are ratcheted up to unforeseen levels and explanation of the rules takes as long as actual game play. Where you'll be lucky to get more than one round of the game in before it's time to go home.  

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The Germans have finally landed on American soil and they have brought their board games with them. It's amazing how fast this market has expanded over the past decade. ($75 million in 2013 to $305 million industry by 2016!) They're fun to play because they do engage the mind, require some strategy, but allow for a lot of conversation and community building so long as you tie up and duct tape the mouths of the uber-aggressive competitive personalities. Anybody willing to part with a sheep for an ore?

Scouts' Honor: All Thin Mints are Not Created Equal, by Kara Baskin

This is the kind of hard-hitting journalism I would love to do. This would be me doing research for the article:

Sermon Recap: Being in Christ (John 15:1-17)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit

Many people want to do powerful, radical things for God. We all want to be important. We all want to make an impact. Jesus is teaching us in this passage that the most radical thing we can DO for God is to BE—in Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

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1. BE Because Christ’s Work is DONE

Branches don’t worry about bearing fruit. They bear fruit because they’re connected to their source of life and power. The day before Jesus went to the cross, He told His disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (v.13) We can BE in Christ and be connected to Him as our source of life and power by His own Spirit because His work has already been accomplished for us in His life, death, and resurrection. 

2. Being Bears Fruit

The Christian life is not about our hard work, our accomplishments. The best life we can live in this world is not achieved through our efforts or hard work. Christ calls us to BE in Him and that being will bear the fruit of love for others by the power of His Spirit in us.

3. Being Brings Joy

Christ did all that He did and sent His own Spirit to us so that our “joy may be full” (v.11). Love Himself walked the earth and died for us to BE with us so we could BE in Him by His Spirit. Joy in Christ comes by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Can you think of any other places in the Bible when God’s people won a victory or escaped their enemies because God delivered them (not because of what they did to save themselves)? Why do you think God works this way?
  2. Why is it so important for us to recognize that Christ’s work is already done? What might happen if we didn’t understand this?
  3. What is radical about being in Christ? Why is this the way for us to experience God’s power in our lives?
  4. What kind of fruit does God want us to bear? Name one particular place in your life you believe God wants you to bear fruit. How will you rely on the Spirit to bear fruit in you?
  5. Why do you think Jesus wants us to have joy? Why does obeying His commandments lead to joy in our lives? 
  6. Describe your prayer life. What is one time/place that you can “empty out” so you can simply BE in Christ by the Spirit? Commit to doing this for a week and journal your experience. 

Aziz Ansari, Mississippi Delta, Sci-Fi, and Forgiveness as Spiritual Warfare - Stuff We Like #3

There's some fun and a LOT of heavy stuff this week. Because that's how I roll. 

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Messages I Like

Kai and I went to the Reconciliation and Justice Conference in St. Louis last week. We heard a lot of solid, challenging teaching from a variety of pastors and speakers. 

Our Struggle Is Not Against Flesh & Blood: Forgiveness as Spiritual Warfare

Pastor Tony Myles speaks powerfully to the nature of Christian forgiveness in the context of relationships. I was challenged and encouraged by this message (and it's only 20 minutes)!

Defeating Injustice in the Church through Forgiveness

Suzanne Bates is a Christian counselor and professor at Covenant Theological Seminary. Her talk is long but chalk full of brilliant content. 

Books I Like

Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis - This is one of my all-time favorites. Lewis takes the sci-fi genre and puts a brilliant Christian twist on it. Interplanetary travel becomes the vehicle for unique spiritual encounter. Angels long to look into these things—so will you!

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Music I Like

Sufjan Stevens: Tanya Harding (Single)

Only Sufjan get away with writing a song about Tanya Harding that is beautiful, funny, empathetic and true. 

LCD Soundsystem: American Dream

They supposedly called it quits in 2011. So glad they didn't. This record is full of 80s electronic rhythm, catchy hooks, and amusing (and sometimes poignant) insight.

Articles I Like

Turns Out Sex Is Still a Big Deal, by Sarah Condon

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The #MeToo movement has thrust sexual harassment and abuse into the cultural limelight. The case of Aziz Ansari's regrettable encounter with "Grace," has been the subject of much debate and led many to ask "where is the line" between consent and abuse. As a man who has never suffered anything close to what so many women have, I'm reticent to even have an opinion. (Kind of like them:)

That's why I appreciate this article. It takes a great big step back from the particular event and gets back to the nature of sex, sin, and what it means to be humans created in God's image. I don't agree with everything the author writes, but it is a helpful conversation starter to help us get thinking Christianly about sex.

Movies I Like

Mudbound (a Netflix film)

This movie takes on so many issues—race, gender, White supremacy, the brokenness of war veterans, the healing power of friendship—and weaves them into a beautifully told story of 1940s life in the Mississippi Delta post-WWII. It was a tough watch for me on a number of levels. But it is a compelling story of our nation's past and raises issues that are very relevant to our nation's future. 

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Sermon Recap: Spirit and Truth (John 14:26; 16:12-15)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our current series, Life in the Spirit.

There are perfect pairs in life that belong together: peanut butter and jelly, Romeo and Juliet, salt and pepper, Tom and Jerry. The Word of God and the Holy Spirit are a perfect pair as well. We know, believe, and proclaim God’s Truth in his Word only because the Spirit is at work in the Scriptures and within us.

1. Truth Revealed

While it would’ve been simpler to have Jesus forever teach us directly, it was always his plan to send us his Spirit to guide us. This isn’t a new idea for God has been revealing his truth by the Spirit since the beginning. From creation, where the Spirit hovered over the waters as God spoke earth into existence (Gen. 1:1-3) to the prophets who received a word of the Lord by the Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21), God’s Spirit has always worked hand in hand with God’s Word. You simply cannot separate the two.

2. Truth Believed

Knowing God’s truth however is different from believing it. It is here where the Spirit works again in bringing about faith in our hearts. Only the Spirit makes the Scriptures real to us. There is no need to look beyond the Bible for God’s truth because the Spirit is at work in it. It is the Spirit that also transforms how we live out our faith. The Spirit puts flesh on the bones of God’s Word, convicting us and placing desires in our hearts rooted in the foundation of God’s truth.

3. Truth Proclaimed

Finally, the Spirit was given to us for the purpose of proclaiming God’s truth to the world. A revival of the Spirit in our hearts and our cities only happens when we plant ourselves in God’s Word, trusting him in prayer. We need not new miracles but can bring forth his Word, the sword of the Spirit, as we take it to the nations.

Reflection and Application

  1. What or who are perfect pairs you can think of? What makes them go together so well?

  2. Why would the Bible and the Spirit be a perfect pair? What are various examples in the Bible where you see God’s Word working in partnership with the Holy Spirit?

  3. How does the Spirit’s work in our lives show that faith in the gospel is not just an intellectual exercise but actual spiritual change? Has this happened in your own life?

  4. In what ways do you see the Spirit “flesh out” God’s commands in Scripture? How does the Spirit make obedience to the same command in the Bible look different for each person?

  5. Why does the Spirit’s work in the Word lead us to be messengers of God’s truth?

  6. Why is the Spirit and the Word sufficient for God’s mission in this world? Why should we have boldness and courage in taking his Truth to the world?