Stories of the Oppressed :: Readers’ Choice

The night before we had been discussing how our government leaders should respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. The conversation was tense as we found ourselves on different ends of the political spectrum. This devotional came at just the right time to remind us of our shared Christian call to love, empathize, show compassion, and demonstrate the faithfulness of Christ. This became our prayer for our leaders. — Hillary

Readers’ Choice (Originally published November 20, 2015)

What if, while America was asking questions about safety and risk management, Christians were asking, What is God doing? — David Crabb

How quickly our global discourse has changed since the body of 3-year old Aylan washed ashore seven weeks ago. It was the same week 11 other Syrian refugees met a similar fate, but this struck the world differently. “Image of Drowned Syrian Boy Echoes Around World,” proclaimed the Wall Street Journal. Echoes fade into darkness far too quickly.

political firestorm ignited this week as 26 U.S. state governors responded to the horrific attacks in Paris by banning refugees — solely on basis of race — from entering their states. One state leader even praised the systematic racism that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor. State-sponsored internment camps were later deemed unnecessary and described as having stemmed from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” in a law passed by President Reagan.

As for Paris, The Washington Post reports that, “All the identified assailants are so far citizens of European Union countries.” Yet because one of the attackers was carrying a forged Syrian passport, the tides of favor have turned against Syrians fleeing terrorism in their own country.
Currently 1 of every 122 people alive on earth are displaced. Over 1.1 million people sought asylum last year — 25,300 of whom were children unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

According to data from the United Nations, this is the largest number of displaced people since WWII. And though 43 percent of the Syrian population is displaced the U.N. notes, “Major new displacement was also seen in Africa – notably in Central African Republic and South Sudan.”

This can be a difficult subject for Christians seeking to live faith in the modern world. The mandate to embrace displaced people is foundational to both the Old and New Testaments. ExodusLeviticusZechariahMark, and Luke, among numerous others, all instruct the faithful to welcome outsiders. Jesus, teaching in Matthew, goes as far as saying that those who do not welcome, feed, and care for “strangers” are not welcome in the kingdom (a similar prophecy is found in Malachi).
The Scriptures are the stories of refugees embraced at great risk and cost. Indeed our posture is to be like Christ, who offered his love while we were still enemies of his kingdom and its leader.

International Association for Refugees — which works with churches to seek the welfare of forcibly displaced people in Europe, Africa, and the US — observes that, “From beginning to end, Scripture is filled with stories of forcefully displaced people.” They chronicle examples of God’s embrace regardless of the reason for displacement — sin (Adam and Eve), invading kings (Lot), human trafficking (Joseph), famine (Jacob), exile (Daniel), political persecution (Jesus), or religious persecution (most early church leaders).

The stories of the displaced in our own world are harrowing. Last month The New Yorker profiled Ghaith, a 22-year-old Syrian law student who was working two jobs while studying to become a judge.Ultimately he had to flee Damascus, treacherously crossing 10 boarders before finding refuge in Sweden.

“All my friends were either dead or gone,” Ghaith reflected. His reasons for leaving, however, weren’t just self-preservation. The young Syrian knew he would face a mandatory military enlistment upon graduation. “The thing that frightened me most was that I would become a victim of the civil war — or, even worse, a killer in it.” Ghaith fled to avoid being forced to slaughter his neighbors. And while he counts himself fortunate, he will never be the same:
I made it, while thousands of others didn’t. Some died on the way, some died in Syria. Every day, you hear about people drowning. Just think about how much every Syrian is suffering inside Syria to endure the suffering of this trip… In Greece, someone asked me, ‘Why take the chance?’ I said, ‘In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.’

Ghaith’s story is one of hundreds that The U.N. Refugee Agency, Refugee ActionThe Washington Post, and others are tracking. These accounts open up our ability to empathize, but empathy can be quickly sapped up by fear-mongering.

In what could be considered an act of national irony, the top new song in Apple Music this week in the U.S. — while political commentary turns against the marginalized and oppressed — is a rendition of Great is Thy Faithfulness from the TV show, The Voice.
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Those most vulnerable will suffer unimaginably as our world writhes under the weight of evil. And complexities of the current crisis demand more than an either/or response to those seeking shelter from the storm. Our country needs Christian leaders asking questions like those David Crabb asked this week on Desiring God, “What if, through the senseless evil of civil war, God was bringing unreached people groups to our cities? What if, through great tragedy, God was bringing about the triumph of the gospel?”

My prayer is that our leaders (political, religious, and others) would enter into dialogue, taking action to care for the broken and continuing to protect our nation. May we echo the faithfulness of Christ, may we not cast a shadow of turning, may our compassion fail not — this is how a wounded world will experience the love of Christ.

The Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 25 (Listen – 6:12)
Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 26 (Listen – 4:04) Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)
Jeremiah 27 (Listen – 3:52) Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

Get Involved

Photo Credit: Mstyslav Chernov, UPAF.

This piece was co-published with OnFaith.

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Taxes and Worship :: Readers’ Choice

Given our perpetual engagement with politics at present, your article was an excellent reminder of what we treasure. — Steve

Readers’ Choice (Originally published July 12, 2016)

[Jesus replied,] “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” — Matthew 22.21

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Though the Pharisees’ question was designed to ensnare Jesus, they likely formed it from legitimate concerns in their day. How should a faithful person live under the rule of a pagan government?

The stakes couldn’t be higher during Jesus’ day. Taxes were more than financial support of corrupt systems, they were worship. In Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus Lois Tverberg reimagines Jesus’ interaction with the religious elite:

As the priest’s hand fumbled through the folds of his robe to withdraw a coin, guffaws arose from the crowd. As the shiny disk glinted in the sun, the realization dawned on him that he had just revealed his own hypocrisy. Denarii were strictly forbidden from the Temple, because they bore Caesar’s blasphemous claim to be divine.

Some purists, like the Essenes, refused to touch or even look at this particular coin. But the cleric had no qualms about carrying these pagan money pieces in his pocket. The man’s face reddened as he saw how easily the Galilean rabbi exposed his insincerity.

Now it was Jesus’ disciples turn to smirk. With a look of feigned innocence, Jesus inquired, “Whose image, whose likeness is on this coin?” Caesar’s, of course. It was precisely that image that made the coin forbidden in the Temple. No graven images were permitted, especially not the likeness of an emperor who insisted that he be worshiped as deity. Caesar’s taxes were not just about financial support, but about religious veneration. You were honoring the “god” Caesar by paying tribute to him.

In his reply we see the length at which Jesus believed the words the Spirit would inspire Paul to write: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

More importantly we see that Christ’s concern was far greater than our worldly battles. Tverberg concludes:

Caesar’s face is stamped on the coin because the coins are Caesar’s. They belong to him, they bear his image. Jesus was pointing out that because God had stamped his image on us, God’s reign was far beyond anything Caesar could imagine—it is over all of humanity. Humans are God’s coins, meant to be spent on his world, proclaiming God’s kingdom wherever we circulate.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 24 (Listen – 1:54)
Mark 10 (Listen – 6:42)

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Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

Thanks for being part of The Park Forum community. We are so thankful to be part of your devotional rhythm.


The Angry Watchmaker :: Readers’ Choice

Pardon the pun, but I LOVEd your 1 Corinthians 13 remix. Because of it, I’m starting to look for ways to make sometimes-too-familiar Scripture passages part of my heart-song and not just one more bit of knowledge in my head. — Sam

Readers’ Choice (Originally published May 25, 2016)

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. — 1 John 4.8

In the mid 18th century William Paley formulated what is known as the ‘Watchmaker Argument.’ Though Paley’s analogy was meant to provide a God-centered explanation of scientific creation, “There cannot be design without a designer,” it greatly impacted the trajectory of theology in the western world.

The Watchmaker Analogy described creation as an intricate and complex pocket watch. God crafted the heavens and the earth, humans and culture, beauty and brilliance—he set everything in motion—and now sits, detached from his creation, in heaven. Paley explained:

The watch must have had a maker: there must have existed, at some time and at some place or another, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it: who comprehended its construction and designed its use.

The equivalence of the divine with a master craftsman—as fastidious as he is devoid of personal interaction with his creation after it is set in motion—guided many of America’s founding fathers, and continues to shape our culture’s de facto understanding of God.

Later American theology, perhaps in an overcorrection, depicts God as intimately involved—but only because his intense anger demands he wage war against humankind. Entire branches of modern theology start and end with God’s anger. Heaven, in this way of thinking, is the place where God fumes, standing ready to lash out on his categorically unruly creation.

Sin, and God’s anger toward it, are essential parts of Christian theology—how can God be good if he doesn’t bring justice? But God’s anger toward evil is neither the foundation of the Christian story, nor the culmination of it.

Heaven is not a distant place where God sits aloof and fuming; Heaven is where God’s character is in full affect. Scripture confesses that God is love—not just that he has love or shows love, but that his very nature is love. In this sense, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us who God is. The famous passage on love could be paraphrased:

God is patient. God is kind. God does not envy or boast. God is not arrogant. God is not rude. God does not insist on his own way. God is not irritable. God is not resentful. God does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. God bears all things for his children. God believes all things about his children. God hopes all things for his children. God endures all things for his children.

God’s love never ends.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 23 (Listen – 7:13)
Mark 9 (Listen – 6:16)

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Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

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Suffering is Not for Nothing :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (Originally published February 2, 2016)

For so long I couldn’t reconcile the idea of suffering and a loving God; this devotional reminded me I didn’t have to. For it’s precisely in God’s own suffering and the sacrifice of his son, that we make full sense of God’s love for us. Truly, suffering is never for nothing. — Hillary

By Elisabeth Elliot

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5.3-5

Malcolm Muggeridge said, “Supposing you eliminated suffering. What a dreadful place the world would be because everything that corrects dependency of man to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now. But he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.” Muggeridge gets at the heart of what I want to say. It’s not for nothing. Now how do I know that?

The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. Out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God. The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering. The greatest gifts of my life for example have been marriage and motherhood. And let’s never forget that if we don’t ever want to suffer, we must be very careful never to love anything or anybody. The gifts of love have been the gifts of suffering. Those two things are inseparable.

When I stood by my short-wave radio in the jungle of Ecuador in 1956 and heard that my husband was missing, God brought to my mind the words of the prophet Isaiah, “When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee.” You can imagine that my response was not terribly spiritual. I was saying, “But Lord, You’re with me all the time. What I want is Jim. I want my husband.”

We had been married twenty-seven months after waiting five-and-a-half years. Five days later I knew that Jim was dead, and God’s presence with me was not Jim’s presence. That was a terrible fact. God’s presence did not change the terrible fact that I was a widow. Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God—my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is—who He is in a way that I could never have known otherwise.

Where does this idea of a loving God come from? It is not man so desperately wanting a god that he manufactures him in his mind. It’s He, who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain—and He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know that suffering is not for nothing.

*Excerpted from an interview with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. For more see Elizabeth Elliot’s 7-part video series, Suffering is Not for Nothing.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 22 (Listen – 5:07)
Mark 8 (Listen – 4:29)

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Rats in the Cellar :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (Originally published March 4, 2016)

I think Lewis was dead-on in that the person who comes forward in the startled moment is the one who is most authentic. I hope and pray that should I be in such a situation I would reflect Christ. — Jason

By C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case.

When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed.

And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated.

On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is. Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth. If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul.

Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if what we are matters even more than what we do—if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about.

And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally have led to some very bad act?

But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.

*Abridged from C.S. Lewis’, Mere Christianity.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 21  (Listen – 2:35)
Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)

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Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

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