July31

Modern Persecution and Religious Violence :: The Weekend Reading List

“The future of Christianity in the region of its birth is now uncertain,” writes Eliza Griswold in The New York Times Magazine. “ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.” Griswold’s stores of families torn apart, mass beheadings, crucifixion, displacement, forced labor, and rape are heart wrenching.

Sadly these atrocities are not unique to the Middle East — active persecution is present in well over 100 countries according to a Pew Study. Even more disheartening, violence, persecution, and harassment of religious minorities is occurring at greater levels every year.

Religion and Violence
The lack of awareness around modern persecution is striking. It is one of a few global issues that are treated with passivity. This may be the fruit of the misguided cultural assumption that violence is the natural path of religion.

In her book Fields of Blood, which explores religion and the history of human violence, Karen Armstrong draws a key historic trend to the surface. The New York Times Book Review summarizes her thesis:

“First, throughout most of human history, people have chosen to intertwine religion with all their other activities, including, notably, how they are governed. This was ‘not because ambitious churchmen had mixed up two essentially distinct activities,’ [Armstrong] says, ‘but because people wanted to endow everything they did with significance.’

“Second, this involvement with politics means that religions have often been tied up with violence: Crusaders, conquistadors, jihadists, and many more. But — a point Armstrong cares about so much that she makes it dozens of times — the violence almost always originates with the state and spills over to religion, rather than vice versa.”

“Third… ‘As an inspiration for terrorism… nationalism has been far more productive than religion.’”

Persecution’s Root
Armstrong’s argument is important because it reveals the fact that religion is not the world’s problem (a point missing in many current debates). Of course the mishandling of religion, by people, governments, or radicals, is not the core problem of our world either. If humankind’s problems were so simple we would surely have come to our own rescue by this point in history.

Our world aches and groans under the brokenness, pride, and destruction of an evil we cannot conquer. The good news of Christ is that we are not left to our own resolve — he has secured the victory we could not.

While we await the full fruit of his righteousness we join together to remember those languishing under the scourge of persecution. We can give ourselves to them in prayer, as well as direct action through groups like Voice of the Martyrs.

Together we join in the cry of the church throughout history: come quickly, Lord Jesus.

 

Today’s Readings
Judges 14 (Listen – 3:35) Acts 18 (Listen – 4:06)

This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Judges 15 (Listen – 3:13); Acts 19 (Listen – 5:47)
Sunday: Judges 16 (Listen – 5:59); Acts 20 (Listen – 5:22)

The Weekend Reading List

For more visit TheParkForum.org

July30 (1)

Above the Interruptions :: Throwback Thursday

Acts 17.28
[Paul said,] “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’”

By Samuel Annesley

If a man loves his life so much, why should he not love God more, by whom he lives, and from whom he expects greater things than this life? Love to God must go through and possess our whole nature, and all the powers of it.

Loving God With all your Heart
We are to love God with the whole heart positively and negatively. Positively, where all powers of the will are set to love God. Negatively, you shall so love God that nothing contrary to the love of God is entertained in thy heart. These things we cannot do perfectly while we are travelers in this world — we must await our heavenly country.

Loving God With all your Soul
Plainly, and in short: it is not enough to love God in our will, but we must not admit any thing contrary to the love of God in our sensual delights. Whatsoever sensualists do for the gratifying of their lusts and desires, let those things be drained from the dregs of sin and consecrate them all unto God.

Loving God With all your Mind
To love God with our minds is to have our understanding moved and commanded by the love of God. To assent unto those things that are to be believed, and to admit nothing into the understanding which is contrary to the love of God. We must always converse with God in our minds and thoughts; our thoughts must kindle our affections of love.

Our love to God must get above interruptions. All the powers of soul and body must be taken up into his service.

  • That our eyes, beholding the wonderful works of God — the sun, moon, and stars, the clear evidences of his Divinity, — may be in love with him.
  • That our ears, piously hearkening to his instructions, may be in love with him.
  • That our mouth may love to praise him.
  • That our hands may act for him.
  • That our feet may be swift to run the way of his commandments.
  • That our affections may be withdrawn from earthly things and delivered over to the love of God.
  • That whatever is within us “may be bound over to the service of God.”

– Excerpt from How May We Attain to Love God With all our Hearts, Souls, and Minds?

Today’s Readings
Judges 13 (Listen – 3:44)
Acts 17 (Listen – 5:28)

July29 (1)

Church as an Irrelevant Social Club

Acts 16.22-23, 25
The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison… About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

“I have wept over the laxity of the church.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his 1963 Letter From Birmingham Jail. “But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise?”

“There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

“All too many,” observed Dr. King, “have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.

“I do not say that as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say it as a minister of the gospel who loves the church, who was nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its Spiritual blessings, and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

“If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

Prayer
Father, may your Spirit convict us where Dr. King’s words reveal our complacency. Encourage and strengthen us where we languish because of our faith. It is only by your grace we endure. We long for you.

Today’s Readings
Judges 12 (Listen – 2:21)
Acts 16 (Listen – 5:53)

July28

The Heart of the Gospel

Acts 15.11
Peter said, “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 

When it comes to the topic of religion, our culture frequently vacillates between two extremes. On one extreme, we are relativists. As comedian George Carlin once said, “Religion is like a pair of shoes… Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.”

On the other extreme, we are legalists. As the men from Judea insisted, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses [i.e., obey the letter of the law], you cannot be saved.”

Where does the gospel fit on this spectrum?

Here, in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council had to decide whether the new Gentile converts needed to be circumcised in order to receive the full blessings of Christ. Paul and Barnabas didn’t think they did. They argued that God had already given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles apart from circumcision. Why, they asked, should man place a requirement on them when God had not?

The Council agreed. But when they wrote to the new converts, they added some requirements — “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” How were these not legalistic add-ons?

Peter and Paul tried to contextualize the gospel as much as possible. Elsewhere Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

On the one hand, they avoided legalism — here, the requirement of circumcision. On the other hand, there is a point that our contextualization becomes permissive and leads to relativism. Here, the prohibitions they added were activities traditionally associated with idol worship. They were about the heart of the gospel, not mere marks of behavioral obedience.

Prayer
Lord, the love of Christ compels us because he died for us that we may no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised again. Yet we confess that we often tend toward relativism or legalism. We give you thanks, however, for giving us the ministry of reconciliation. Give us hearts full of courage and love. Make us “Greeks to the Greeks,” contextualizing the word in the world. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Judges 11 (Listen – 5:53)
Acts 15 (Listen – 5:49)

July27

A Spark of Faith Ignites

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. —Acts 14.3

“Christianity did not spread by magic,” quips N.T. Wright in The New Testament and the People of God. “It is sometimes suggested that the world was, so to speak, ready for Christianity: Stoicism was too lofty and dry, popular paganism metaphysically incredible and morally bankrupt, mystery-religions dark and forbidding, Judaism law-bound and introverted, and Christianity burst on the scene as the great answer to the questions everyone was asking. There is a grain of truth in this picture, but it hardly does justice to historical reality.”

Wright offers a half-dozen reasons the stories we read in Acts should not have happened in the ancient world. “Christianity summoned proud pagans to face torture and death out of loyalty to a Jewish villager who had been executed by Rome. Christianity advocated a love which cut across racial boundaries. It sternly forbade sexual immorality, the exposure of children, and a great many other things which the pagan world took for granted. Choosing to become a Christian was not an easy or natural thing for the average pagan. A Jew who converted might well be regarded as a national traitor. Even slaves, who might be supposed to have less to lose than others, and hence to appreciate an elevation of status through conversion, might face a cost.”

Christianity was not birthed under optimal conditions, nor did it spread because the church fathers were renown strategists. We miss the point of Acts if we look to it merely as a step-by-step guidebook of how to grow a church. It is the story of the Holy Spirit’s movement in and through the people of God.

In the book of Acts we discover what happened when those hurt deepest were restored by Christ and emboldened by the Spirit. They experienced grace writ large and gladly forfeited selfish pursuit in response. They sacrificed comfort, privilege, and esteem to share the love of God which had enveloped them.

“Why then did early Christianity spread?” Wright asks, “Because early Christians believed that what they had found to be true was true for the whole world.” By the power of the Spirit they shared the good news of Christ in word and deed — not just in grand public moments, but in the daily rhythms of life — and the message did not return void.

Today’s Readings
Judges 10 (Listen – 2:18)
Acts 14 (Listen – 3:54)

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