TD Fri. – “A TD Thanksgiving feat. Offerings 8”!

Hey TD!

This Friday is “A TD Thanksgiving feat. Offerings 8”! Woohoo! It’s going to be great time of giving thanks to our ever-so-gracious God through food, fun, fellowship, and Offerings 8! We’ll meet at the Hsiehs’ home at 6:30 p.m. to begin the festivities.

Potluck

Each small group member will bring primarily main dishes and sides, while one person in each group will bring drinks and one person will bring dessert. Let your small group leaders know what you’ll be bringing.

Offerings 8

The theme is “Engage!” and is an invitation for us to engage with God and one another creatively and artistically by giving Him an offering of music, art, writing, reading, recitation, whatever.  You may be hesitant or nervous about giving Him a public offering, but we encourage you take a risk and go for it.  It will not only be a blessing to others, but to yourself as well.  If you haven’t signed up yet, sign up with your small group leaders today!

I posted this interview last with the one and only Jill Carattini month, but it’s a great reminder as to why the arts are an important component to the Christian life and the Christian community.  I’d encourage you to watch it again and respond:

 

See you Friday! – Arthur

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TD Vlog – “How the Arts Can Deepen Your Faith” w/Jill Carattini

Hey Masterpieces of God!

This summer, while at ReFresh with in Atlanta with some TD’ers, I had a chance to spend some time with dear friend, Jill Carattini, writer extraordinaire on the deeper spiritual life, managing editor of Ravi Zacharias Int’l Ministries’ (RZIM) Slice of Infinity, and curator of RZIM’s formal art gallery, Stillpoint.

Jill agreed to come on camera with me and share with you TD’ers how the arts can deepen and energize your faith, and help you to get a greater apprehension of who we are. It’s spiritually insightful and very personal and vulnerable, reflecting her journey, my journey, … and for many of you … your journey. Where she was is where many of you are at. It will be a worthwhile viewing.

With Offerings 8 coming up on November 16, I thought this would be a great time to give you some inspiration and perspective, so you can prepare to give a meaningful offering to the Lord. Enjoy! – Arthur

Confessions of a Churchgoer

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Introducing Jill to Almond Green Milk Tea with Boba (or bubble tea, as they say in Atlanta)

Hey TD!

The old maxim says, confession is good for the soul.  As I was reading today’s A Slice of Infinity by my friend, Jill Carattini, I must confess that I too share the same shortcomings that she references in her Slice. Read on, fellow churchgoer, and see if you do too. If so, let’s confess, repent, believe, and let God continue His redeeming work in our lives, so we can share the greatest confession of all:

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

– Arthur

Confessions of a Churchgoer

In a world of finger-pointing, Tetsuya Ishikawa paused instead to confess guilt. After seven years at the forefront of the credit markets, he took the idea of a friend to write a book called How I Caused the Credit Crunch because, in the friend’s analysis, “it sounds like you did.”(1) In the form of a novel that discredits the notion of the financial sector as a collaboration of remote, unthinking forces, he admits in flesh and blood that he believes he is guilty, too. Though reviewers note Ishikawa does not remain long with his admission of responsibility, he succeeds in showing the financial markets as a reflection of human choices with moral dimensions and, ultimately, the futility of our ongoing attempts at finding a better scapegoat.

Whenever the subject of blame or fault comes about in any sector of life, whether economic, societal, or individual, scapegoating is a far more common reaction than confessing. Most of us are most comfortable when blame is placed as far away from us as possible. Even the word “confession,” the definition of which is concerned with owning a fault or belief, is now often associated with the sins of others, which an outspoken soul just happens to be willing to share with the world. We are interested in those confessions of a former investment banker/warlord/baseball wife because the “owning up” has nothing to do with owning anything.

Perhaps like many of us in our own confessing, Charles Templeton’s 1996 book, Farwell to God, and the confessions of a former Christian leader, is filled with moments of confession in both senses of the word—honest commentary and easy scapegoating. In his thoughts that deal with the Christian church, it is particularly apparent. Pointing near and far and wide, Templeton observes that the church indeed has a speckled past: “Across the centuries and on every continent, Christians—the followers of the Prince of Peace—have been the cause of and involved in strife. The church during the Middle Ages was like a terrorist organization.”(2) He admits that some good has come from Christian belief, but that there is altogether too much bad that has come from it. He then cites the church’s declining numbers as evidence that the world is in agreement; people are losing interest because the church is failing to be relevant. Pews are empty; denominations oppose one another; the church is floundering, its influence waning—except perhaps its negative influence, according to this confessor.

Paul Klee, City of Churches, pen, pencil, watercolor, paper, 1918.

Of course, many of these confessions regarding the church are indeed riddled with difficult truths that someone somewhere must indeed own. Other assertions are not only difficult to posit as relevant, but are simply dishonest attempts to point blame and escape the more personal, consistent answer. As Templeton determinedly points out the steady decline of attendance in the church as reason to disbelieve, it is unclear how this supports his personal confession that Christian beliefs are untrue. Does the claim of the church’s decline (the veracity of which is debated) say anything about whether Christianity is based on lies, lunacy, or fact? Jesus spoke of those who would turn away, churches that would grow cold, faith that would be abandoned. Moreover, if one is truly convinced that Christianity is an outlandish hoax, isn’t it odd that so much energy is taken in criticizing the church in the first place—as if one had a vision of what the people of God should look like?

Of course, responding to Templeton’s darker admissions regarding the church, I am at times tempted to make a scapegoating confession of my own. Specifically, if I could reasonably judge God by some of God’s followers, I would surely say farewell as well. Like Templeton, I have seen so many lives badly wounded by the pulpit, people trampled by those who call themselves Christians. I have been more disillusioned within the church than I ever have outside of it. Templeton confesses in his book that the church “has seldom been at its best,” and on this point, I couldn’t agree more.(3) But I would also have to add a critical addendum; namely, that I am rarely at my best. I am a part of this church who fails to love well, who says things that hurt, and falls short of its best on a regular basis. But if the church is truly meant to be the place where followers learn to become more like Christ, then I also can’t imagine a better place to be holding such a confession. Failings and all, it is the community that communes with the one who longs most for our human flourishing, who embodies God’s hope for humans at our best. Of the one who meets us in this human place, it was once confessed: “The righteous one shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:12).

It was with such a conviction that G.K. Chesterton responded to a newspaper seeking opinions on the question “What’s wrong with the world?” in one sentence. “Dear Sirs,” he replied, “I am.” In confessions of dark or disappointing realities, can our own hearts really be excluded? It was with visions of war and brokenness around him that David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”(4) It was before the cross scarred body of the human Christ that Thomas confessed, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” This, I believe, is humanity’s best confession.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Sathnam Sanghera, “Confessions of the Man Who Caused the Credit Crunch,” The Times Online, April 20, 2009, http://timesonline.co.uk, accessed April 21, 2009.
(2) Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996), 129.
(3) Ibid., 127.
(4) Psalm 51:10.

Something to Consider on Good Friday

Hey TD!

Blessed Good Friday to you. Have you ever wondered why it’s called Good Friday? There are reasons people have offered: that what God was doing was ultimately good, or that it was really God Friday and morphed into Good Friday, etc. One answer that seems quite plausible is that the word good used to mean holy; so, Holy Friday was more the idea than the usual meaning we ascribe to the word good. 

On this Holy Friday (holy means set apart), please take extra time to commune and relate with our Lord, in remembrance, in appreciation and thanksgiving, in prayer, in meditation and contemplation.  Fill your senses and faculties and imagination with Him. Make it all about Jesus.

Below is a Slice of Infinity by our friend, Jill Carattini, that will give you something to consider this Good Friday.  Blessings – Arthur

The Absence of Beauty

Posted by Jill Carattini on April 14, 2017
Topic: A Slice of Infinity

I stood in front of the painting long enough that my neck hurt from craning upward, long enough to make the connection that onlookers that day likely held a similar stance as they watched Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. Francisco de Zurbarán’s massive 1627 painting The Crucifixion hangs in gallery 211 of the Chicago Art Institute. Viewers must stand back from the piece and gaze upward in order to take it all in. Zurbarán depicts the point just before Christ takes his last breath. His body leans forward from exhaustion; his head hangs downward. All details of any background activity are absent, the black backdrop a jarring juxtaposition beside his pale, bruised skin. The artist’s use of light intensifies the stark pull of sympathy towards a body that is both clearly suffering and yet somehow beautiful. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I believed about Christianity. But there was something about the painting I couldn’t stop trying to grasp.

There is indeed something about beauty that for many of us is intensely spiritual. Whether peering into the natural beauty of a majestic waterfall or the exquisite lights of the Eiffel Tower, many describe a connection between beauty and the transcendent in religious terms—at times, even contradictingly so, our own theories of the world either undercutting or cutting off the very possibilities we want to espouse. For many of the minds I admire today, beauty is both a compelling part of their faith and compelling evidence for God’s existence. A blind and mechanistic universe cannot answer for the longings stirred by earthly beauty. Stated more personally, I could not account for the longings stirred by the beauty of a suffering God in person. Staring at Jesus in The Crucifixion, I could not explain the quality of beauty that seemed distinctive of his very soul—choosing even in pain and death to forgive tirelessly, though surrounded by people who do not. As a hen uses her wings to gather her chicks, there are indeed times I suspect the Spirit uses beauty to bring us quietly before the Son.

There are also times when the opposite is true and it is the absence of beauty that leaves us scattered and scurrying, aware and afraid, and longing for the shelter of divine wings. Good Friday offers such an occasion. In Christian churches all over the world yesterday, the last moments of Jesus were remembered and reenacted in various ways. In his final moments before he would be tortured and killed, he shared the Passover meal with his closest friends. He washed his disciples’ feet and he tried to comfort them, though death no doubt loomed with suffocating force. In some services, following a foot washing ceremony or a last celebration of the Lord’s Supper before Good Friday, a ceremony called theStripping of the Altar concludes the worship service.

I was privileged to participate in such a service one year at King’s College Chapel, the stunning cathedral built by Henry VI in 1446. With a deafening silence that amplified the sense of heaviness at the approach of the crucifixion, objects were removed piece by piece from the altar: communion chalice and plate, the altar cross, the holy Bible, the altar candles, the liturgical coverings. As the altar was slowly stripped to a stark table, the dramatic Tudor glass windows were simultaneously growing dark as the sun set. I was struck with the impending sense of death. What happened next unexpectedly heightened that sense. Behind the altar, a massive painting by the artist Peter Paul Rubens portrays Jesus as an infant in Mary’s arms; the magi are gathered around in adoration, leaning toward the child expectantly. The sound of the painting being shut was jarring; the echo sounded like the closing of a tomb.

But it was the image of the baby suddenly and jarringly absent, beauty extinguished, that finally compelled tears. As the congregation exited in silence, I left thinking about the crucifixion in way I hadn’t before. I left with the disquieting thought of God’s absence—a Son crucified, a mother mourning, a world without Christ.

In his famed Nobel Prize acceptance speech Alexandr Solzhenitsyn eloquently hoped aloud that when the day comes that truth and goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through cultures and minds, then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of beauty will push through and soar to that very same place.(1) Today, on this Good Friday, it is the absence of Christ, the death of truth and goodness and beauty himself, that pushes through, pleading with a noisy world to stop and listen to the deafening silence, which just moments earlier heard him plead: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

 

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture in Literature 1970, from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.: 1993).

 

TD Fri. – “Holding What We Believe”

Holding

Hey TD!

This Friday will be a special time of sharing Christ together as we learn to view and appreciate our Lord more holistically, in some ways that are clearly biblical, yet have been largely lost on us modern Christians.

This will be largely derived from a session taught by the editor of Slice of Infinity, Jill Carattini, at RZIM’s 2016 Summer Institute.  It was a very meaningful session for me, and one that really helped enhance my perspective of the Lord’s Supper.

It will be a very meaningful time.  Make your plans to be there!

– Arthur

The Suffering of Forgiveness

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Hey TD,

This is a must read.  Truly forgiving someone can be one of the hardest things to do in life.  As this essay from our friend Jill Carattini of RZIM uncovers, it’s partly because there is suffering in forgiveness.  And this is at the heart of the gospel.  Please take the time to READ this and let it affect the way you live life for the Lord! – Arthur

The Suffering of Forgiveness

In four horrific months in 1994, at the urging of the Rwandan government, the poorer Hutu majority took up bayonets and machetes and committed genocide against the wealthier Tutsi minority. In the wake of this unspeakable tragedy, nearly a million people had been murdered.

In August of 2003, driven by overcrowded prisons and backlogged court systems, 50,000 genocide criminals, people who had already confessed to killing their neighbors, were released again into society. Murderers were sent back to their homes, back to neighborhoods literally destroyed at their own hands, to live beside the few surviving relatives of the very men, women, and children they killed.

With eyes still bloodshot at visions of a genocide it failed to see, the world still watches Rwanda, looking with a sense of foreboding, wondering what happens when a killer comes home; what happens when victims, widows, orphans, and murderers look each other in the eyes again; what happens when the neighbor who killed your family asks to be forgiven. For the people of Rwanda, the description of the Hebrew prophet is a reality with which they live: “And if anyone asks them, ‘What are these wounds on your chest?’ the answer will be, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends’” (Zechariah 13:6). How does a culture bear the wounds of genocide?

For Steven Gahigi, that question is answered in a valley of dry bones which cannot be forgotten. An Anglican clergyman who lost 142 members of his family in the Rwandan genocide, he thought he had lost the ability to forgive. Though his inability plagued him, he had no idea how to navigate through a forgiveness so costly. “I prayed until one night I saw an image of Jesus Christ on the cross…I thought of how he forgave, and I knew that I and others could also do it.”(1) Inspired by this vision, Gahigi somehow found the words to begin preaching forgiveness. He first did this in the prisons where Hutu perpetrators sat awaiting trial, and today he continues in neighborhoods where the victims of genocide live beside its perpetrators. For Gahigi, wounds received in the house of friends can only be soothed with truth-telling, restitution, interdependence, and reconciliation, all of which he finds accessible because of Christ.

In fact, the work of reconciliation that is taking place in Rwanda in lives on every side of the genocide may be difficult to describe apart from the cross of Christ. While it is true that forgiveness can be explained in therapeutic terms, that the act of forgiving is beneficial to the forgiver, and forgiveness releases the victim from the one who has wronged them, from chains of the past, and a cell of resentment; what Rwandans are facing today undoubtedly reaches far beyond this. While forgiveness is certainly a form of healing in lives changed forever by genocide, it is also very much a form of suffering. Miroslav Volf, himself familiar with horrendous violence in Croatia and Serbia, describes forgiveness as the exchange of one form of suffering for another, modeled to the world by the crucified Christ. He writes, “[I]n a world of irreversible deeds and partisan judgments redemption from the passive suffering of victimization cannot happen without the active suffering of forgiveness.”(2) For Rwandans, this is a reality well understood.

And for Christ, who extends to the world the possibility of reconciliation by embodying it, this suffering, this willingness to be broken by the very people with whom he is trying to reconcile, is the very road to healing and wholeness. “More than just the passive suffering of an innocent person,” writes Volf, “the passion of Christ is the agony of a tortured soul and a wrecked body offered as a prayer for the forgiveness of the torturers.”(3) There is no clearer picture of Zechariah’s depiction of wounds received at the house of friends than in a crucifixion ordered by an angry crowd that lauded Christ as king only hours before. And yet, it is this house of both murderous and weeping friends for which Jesus prays on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Far from the suggestion of a moralistic god watching a world of suffering and brokenness from a distance, the costly ministry of reconciliation comes to a world of violence and victims through arms that first bore the weight of the cross. For Steven Gahigi, who facilitates the difficult dialogue now taking place in Rwanda, who helps perpetrators of genocide to build homes for their victims’ families, forgiveness is indeed a active form of suffering, but one through which Christ has paved the hopeful, surprising way of redemption. Today, wherever forgiveness is a form of suffering, Christ accompanies the broken, leading both the guilty and the victimized through valleys of dry bones and signs of a coming resurrection.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Johann Christoph Arnold, Why Forgive? (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis books, 2010), 202.
(2) Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 125.