July24

Immortality and Resurrection :: The Weekend Reading List

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” — Benjamin Franklin

Franklin could not have foreseen Silicon Valley. Today’s tech elite feel differently (possibly about both issues, but we’ll focus on the desire to upgrade life for this weekend.)

“Death makes me very angry. Premature death makes me angrier still” says Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle who has invested over $430 million into anti-aging research.

Peter Thiel — who co-founded PayPal and Palantir, and has a net worth over $2.2 billion — told Sonia Arisen, “The great unfinished task of the modern world is to turn death from a fact of life into a problem to be solved — a problem towards whose solution I hope to contribute in whatever way I can.”

The Washington Post describes Thiel as, “the embodiment of Silicon Valley culture at its individualistic, impatient  extreme,” and he is at the helm of modern tech’s latest quest: to end death.

Max Anderson posted on Forbes about Thiel’s recent conversation with N.T. Wright:

“For Thiel, life is a self-evident good and death is the opposite of life. Therefore death is a problem, and as he says there are three main ways of approaching it. ‘You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.’ Whether we can successfully fight death is a question about the nature of nature and about our ability to understand it. Whether we should try to fight death is a question of our philosophy and our theology.”

Anderson quotes N.T. Wright from Surprised by Hope:

“The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present — by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself — will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Today’s Readings
Judges 7 (Listen – 4:39)
Acts 11 (Listen – 3:52)

This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Judges 8 (Listen – 5:08); Acts 12 (Listen – 3:49)
Sunday: Judges 9 (Listen – 8:22); Acts 13 (Listen – 7:36)

The Weekend Reading List

July23

The Success of Redemption :: Throwback Thursday

Peter said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. —Acts 10.34-35

by Jonathan Edwards

Soon after Christ had entered into the holy of holies with his own blood, there began a glorious success of what he had done and suffered. Never had Christ’s kingdom been so set up in the world.

The glorious success of the gospel among the Jews after Christ’s ascension, began by the pouring out of the Spirit upon the day of Pentecost. So wonderful was this effusion, and so remarkable and swift the effect of it, that we read of three thousand who were converted to the Christian faith in one day.

Thus the Christian church was first formed from the nation of Israel; and therefore, when the Gentiles were called, they were added to the Christian church of Israel, as the proselytes of old were to the Mosaic church of Israel. They were only grafted on the stock of Abraham, and were not a distinct tree; for they were all still the seed of Abraham and Israel.

After the success of the gospel had been so gloriously begun among the Jews, the Spirit of God was next wonderfully poured out on the Samaritans; who were the posterity of those whom the king of Assyria removed from different parts of his dominions, and settled in the land which had been inhabited by the ten tribes, whom he carried captive.

The next thing to be observed is the calling the Gentiles. This was a great and glorious dispensation, much spoken of in the Old Testament, and by the apostles, as a most glorious event. This was begun in the conversion of Cornelius and his family.

Thus the gospel-sun which had lately risen on the Jews, now rose upon, and began to enlighten, the heathen world, after they had continued in gross heathenish darkness for so many ages.

This was a great and new thing, such as never had been before. The Gentile world had been covered with the thick darkness of idolatry; but now at the joyful sound of the gospel, they began in all parts to forsake their idols, and to cast them to the moles and to the bats.

They now learned to worship the true God, and to trust in his Son Jesus Christ. God owned them for his people; and those who had so long been afar off, were made nigh by the blood of Christ.

Today’s Readings
Judges 6 (Listen – 6:15)
Acts 10 (Listen – 5:49)

July22

God Can Surprise Us

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. —Acts 9.1-2

One of the worst feelings in life is fatalism – that is, the feeling of resignation that this is the way things will be forever and nothing will change. This is the way that I am or my spouse is or my kids are or work is or my small group is or government is or society is. I am powerless to do anything about it. It will go on this way forever and, most likely, it will just get worse.

On the day that Stephen was killed, a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, which scattered the believers throughout the region.” One of the main leaders of the persecution was a young Pharisee named Saul: “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

Imagine how hopeless the church felt – they had no Bill of Rights to protect them, the Roman government was hostile toward them, and the religious leaders had letters of authority to imprison them. The momentum against them was enormous. Would this ever change? Would there ever be peace?

Then, out of nowhere, God took Saul and turned him around. Saul was on his way to Damascus, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” and God opened his heart. He changed so much that he went from being the worst enemy of Christ to being his strongest advocate.

In fact, his former Jewish colleagues and brothers began conspiring to murder him. What happened to the church? In the entire region, it “had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

Prayer
Lord, You are near and strong and interested in the affairs of this world and in the mission of your church. You continue to change us and make us into your image to reflect the glory of your name. Today, remind us – especially those of us who struggle with despairing without hope – that you are full of surprises for churches, nations, families and individuals. Give us expectant hearts about our futures and increase our faith in your freedom and sovereignty. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Judges 5 (Listen – 4:36)
Acts 9 (Listen – 6:05)

July21

The Object of Our Faith

Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. —Acts 8.35

Coming to belief in Christ is a mysterious and wonderful thing. As Augustine explained, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.”

Acts 8-9 recounts the stories of salvation among the least likely of subjects: a racially oppressed group, a mystic, a pagan leader, and ultimately a radical extremist who had dedicated the first half of his life to terrorizing the early Christians.

What each held in common was their willingness to forfeit their previous systems of belief as a response to the glorious grace set before them. Because the stories move so quickly from one to another it’s easy to miss the struggle each would have faced in yielding their worldview to an outside source.

This struggle has not diminished today. Timothy Keller recounts the story Duke University professor Stanley Hauerwas tells of his philosophy students and their assumption that modern individuals must determine truth for themselves.

The professor explains that “Every religion and culture was different, but every culture before our culture said, ‘Right and wrong is determined by something outside the self, and it’s the job of the self to harmonize with it.’ We are the first culture, Hauerwas says, that is marked by “expressive individualism.”

“Expressive individualism is the view that right and wrong is not determined by outside the self, but right and wrong is determined by what you find in your own consciousness.”

Hauerwas challenges his students with this; “‘I’m not going to argue which of these views is right. All I’m going to tell you is this: When an American says you have to think and determine truth for yourself, you are not thinking for yourself at all. You are adopting a particular way of thinking, a particular view of truth and spiritual reality. It is a Western, almost tribal, white European way of thinking based on the Enlightenment, based on Romanticism, those European movements, and you’re believing it not because you’re thinking for yourself, but because your culture has told you to do it.’”

Responding to Christ challenges our assumptions, pride, and illusion of self-sufficiency. The alternative, assimilating God into our personal worldview, is just as much an act of faith, but one rooted in selfishness. Augustine put it another way, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”

Today’s Readings
Judges 4 (Listen – 3:57)
Acts 8 (Listen – 5:10)

July20

Faith, Love, and Apps

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. —Acts 7.55

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Steve Jobs famously admonished Stanford’s graduating class a decade ago. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” The message was reverberant; Follow your passion became the central career goal of an entire generation.

Steve Jobs got to do what he loved because tens of thousands of laborers on the other side of the world did not have access to such privilege. They labored daily — and still do — to painstakingly assemble tens of millions of electronic devices for the western world’s insatiable consumption.

We don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to see such effects from technology. The on demand economy is roaring into the mainstream — lead by the likes of Uber, a so-called unicorn, valued at $50 billion.

Uber has over 130,000 drivers worldwide — none of them are employees. They do not get healthcare, holidays, vacation, or overtime. Drivers in California are fighting back — but Uber’s plans for the future don’t appear to be focused around making life better for drivers. The company recently lured 40 robotics engineers away from Carnegie Mellon. Drivers are a stop-gap until the robots take over.

The world does not need another impotent social media campaign against injustice. It needs Christians who, like Stephen in Acts, are willing to lay down their lives because they have a clear vision of God’s glory.

I struggle with this reality. I regularly punch through emails on my iPhone while riding through Midtown in an Uber. I try to connect with my drivers on a personal level, to tip, and to enter into even small moments of redemption in what can otherwise be a dehumanized transaction. But I feel like there is more to be done.

Job’s exhortation, “don’t settle,” which he repeats in the speech, is apt advice. God’s grace frees us from demanding our every need be met and from expecting to spend each day in comfort while others suffer. Christians can engage differently in the on demand economy — starting a conversation around this in our communities would be a first step. We can also encourage one another not to simply make the vocational choices of least resistance or most benefit, but to passionately engage our faith in our work.

We remember Stephen not because he did what he loved, but because he gave up everything to follow the one he loved.

Today’s Readings
Judges 3 (Listen – 4:30)
Acts 7 (Listen – 8:49)

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