20160720

Through the Faith of Another

And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. — Mark 2.4

Near the middle of the 13th century Thomas Aquinas assembled a remarkable commentary on the Scriptures entitled Catena Aurea. The Saint quotes the works of over 80 church fathers—curating a work that is not only remarkably diverse, but also revealing of Aquinas’ own perspective.

Aquinas begins his commentary of the paralytic, whose friends cut a hole in a roof to lower him before Christ, with the arresting observation, “The desire of hearing Him was stronger than the toil of approaching Him.”

We, in the western world, do not have to toil to reach much of anything. Toil is understood as inefficiency which ought be eliminated. When it comes to faith we are then faced with a myriad of realities: It’s not toilsome to press a few buttons on our phones to read a devotional, but what happens when living our faith becomes costly? How our hearts recoil when they need to suffer a bit for the sake of another.

Aquinas’ commentary continues to follow the young men as they carry their friend to Christ:

Finding the door blocked up by the crowd, they could not by any means enter that way. Those who carried him, however, hoping that he could merit the grace of being healed, raising the bed with their burden, and uncovering the roof, lay him with his bed before the face of the Savior.

There follows: “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

He did not mean the faith of the sick man, but of his bearers; for it sometimes happens that a man is healed by the faith of another.

The mens’ action was remarkably toilsome. Aside from digging through the layers of an ancient roof, they likely faced the scorn of the homeowner, the cost (and possibly labor) of repair, not to mention the disdain of the religious leaders who were only there to begrudge Christ.

We are remarkably efficient at performing real time cost-benefit analysis. Yet we are also surrounded by people whose lives could be transformed by the toil of our faith. Like Aquinas, our voice can be shaped by the multitude of the faithful who walked before us—a cloud of witnesses encouraging us to toil on behalf of others.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 16 (Listen – 3:52)
Mark 2 (Listen – 3:55)

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20160719

A Plunge into the Unknown

[Jesus proclaimed,] “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” — Mark 1.15

How Jesus’ command to “repent and believe in the gospel” is interpreted significantly shapes what day-to-day faith looks like. For moralists, the command is a linear progression: repent of moral fault and then believe (e.g. pray a prayer of some sort). This understanding leads to a lifetime of confronting outsiders with a perspective on morality in order to trigger a moment of belief.

Legalists interpret Jesus’ words as an circular process. Repentance is limited to a list of modern actions, based upon interpretation of Scripture, that must be confessed each and every time there has been a transgression. Belief is an instrument of guilt for transgressors and an instrument of pride for those whose list of moral interpretations has not been violated.

Jesus words aren’t referring to a momentary decision nor an infinite loop of guilt and pride. When we read them together they describe the recursive act of faith.

“Repent and believe in the gospel.” In other words, you already believe in other things for your own goodness, worth, and freedom—turn your back on those things. Stop counting on your financial status for security and on your job for identity—repent and believe in the gospel. Stop looking to your own power and past success to thrive—repent and believe the gospel.

British philosopher Alan Watts explains the difference between belief and faith:

In general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would “lief” or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes.

Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.

The opposite of believing the gospel isn’t disbelief, it’s unfaithfulness. You can fully “believe” the gospel and yet rest none of your faith inside of it. To repent and believe the gospel is to divest one’s faith from everything in the world except Christ.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 15 (Listen – 3:49)
Mark 1 (Listen – 5:05)

20160718

Hope In Times of Terror

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” — Matthew 28.5-6

If, as Jill Lepore has said, “watching people shoot one another has become an obligation of American citizenship,” then watching people around the world weep in the wake of terror has become an obligation of global citizenship.

We want to look away. Every few weeks I spend a day writing from a coffee shop nestled 8,200’ up in the Rocky Mountains. Inside The New York Times gets stacked upside down whenever images of terror take over above the fold. After watching, I realized it’s not the employees, but the customers who reposition the paper.

Jesus did not look away. When faced with the brutality of death, Jesus walked toward it—and wept. We must reflect on this—God, broken with us at the brutality and injustice of our world.

Then—when everyone thought it was too late and that God had, yet again, missed his opportunity to make everything alright—he called out Lazarus from the grave. What was lost was restored. Injustice of death’s sting replaced by the celebration of resurrection.

And so we cling to this hope. English poet George Herbert said the promise of resurrection is that death is no longer an executioner, but a gardener. “When he tries to bury you, he’s really planting you, and you’re going to come up better than before.”

And so, for today—for a world shattered by terror—a meditation from from Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

Pause and reflect.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Pause and reflect.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Pause and reflect.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 14 (Listen – 3:51)
Matthew 28 (Listen – 2:39)

20160715

Faith and Black Lives Matter :: Weekend Reading List

In our world, the phrases we repeat are either untrue (“Best movie of the year!”) or run against normative behavior (“If you see something, say something.”) The more untrue or unnatural the phrase, the more often we repeat it. This is one of the reasons the daily and ubiquitous refrain “black lives matter” is so confrontational.

Research from Barna reveals that though 94% of evangelicals believe the Church plays an important role in racial reconciliation, only 13% say they support the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. There is an important faith conversation not only around the phrase itself, but the movement of Black Lives Matter that must be recovered.

Author Stephen Mattson observes that, “Many white Christians will be afraid to say [Black Lives Matter] because they think it’s too political, or too progressive, or too liberal, or too unfair, or too controversial.” But confessing that “black lives matter” doesn’t have to come at the expense of other lives. Historically, it has been when faithful Christians took up the banner of human rights that structural change started to occur.

Wilberforce, who was mentored and encouraged by the Anglican pastor John Newton, was the first to stand up against slavery in Parliament. “Wilberforce’s embracing of the anti-slavery cause was from the direct effect of embracing the Christian worldview,” says The Wilberforce School. Similarly, Martin Luther King Jr.’s message during the civil rights movement was profoundly Christian—even the crescendo of Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech was the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 40.

The greatest threat to the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t the police or a conservative pundit, it’s the lack of voices supplying it a robust theological vision. Where can you justify human rights without God? As a worldview, evolution robs minorities of rights—bestowing them only on the fittest. Progressivism—humans have rights because we’ve progressed as a society—need only protect human rights as long as it’s agreed upon by the majority (present circumstance, case-in-point).

It is God—the creator of the world and everyone in it—who imbued each human being with dignity and promised not only to serve justice, but to restore all that has been lost.

Yet the chorus of Christian voices has not risen in unity for the oppressed.

We are, of course, socially adept enough to articulate our reasons: Black Lives Matter is not a Christian organization, nor does it seek a theological vision. But we should tremble when our understanding of theology removes us from the world. In Jesus’ story of The Good Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite each had their own reasons for avoiding the victim of a broken world.

Activist Michelle Higgins distills the tension many Christians feel and confronts the insinuated lack of evangelistic passion:

In the conversations I’ve had with people, they are afraid to affirm any part because they fear that it means they are affirming the whole. The fear of association is so huge. The discomfort with standing side by side with somebody who doesn’t believe in Jesus is depressing to me.

Looking back at history, “fear of association” has always been a primary motivator when the Church missed its role in doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Author Stephen Mattson outlines our history in stark binaries:

During the Indian Removal Act, Native Americans weren’t Christian enough to defend. During times of nativism, the Catholics and immigrants weren’t Christian enough to defend. Throughout the segregation era black Christians didn’t have the support of many white Christians, and when the U.S. put its Japanese citizens in internment camps during WWII, mainstream Christianity was largely silent.

In every modern opportunity to be a radical countercultural force for good in the U.S., many white Christians blew it by conjuring up excuses, looking the other way, and even being directly complicit in the subjugation of other human beings.

So here we are again, facing a historic crisis, where people are fighting for their rights and dignity, and once again many Christians will have to choose whether or not to act. Which begs the question: If Christians have nothing to do or say to support the lives of the marginalized and abused, what good is Christianity at all?

The abolition of slavery and Civil Rights Movement were profound transitions for American society—yet as brutal and difficult as both were, they didn’t accomplish the most difficult part: redeeming the broken hearts that lead to racism.

This is a magnificent opportunity for the Church—but we have to choose. “We don’t see a pursuit for justice because we’ve been conditioned to pursue wealth and acclaim and not necessarily the flourishing of our neighbors,” Higgins laments. Taking the first step toward reconciliation, she writes, “means that you no longer find yourself as the center and most important part of your story.”

In the Church, the phrases we repeat mean the most to us. “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” What we repeat serves as a catalyst for expressing faith and reminds us what we’re trying to live into. What we repeat expresses our longings for Christ’s incarnation through his Church. What we repeat has power through Christ. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Amen.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 11 (Listen – 4:09)
Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 12 (Listen – 3:06) Matthew 26 (Listen – 10:01)
Jeremiah 13 (Listen – 4:11) Matthew 27 (Listen – 8:45)

20160714

Blessed Riddance :: Throwback Thursday

By A.W. Tozer

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray.” — Matthew 24.3-4

Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves—blessed riddance.

The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.

Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward Whom it is directed. Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus.

Sin has twisted our vision inward and made it self-regarding. Unbelief has put self where God should be, and is perilously close to the sin of Lucifer who said, “I will set my throne above the throne of God.” Faith looks out instead of in and the whole life falls into line.

When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is “Thou God sees me.” When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth.

O Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to Thee and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision till I see Thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Thine own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon Thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 10 (Listen – 3:51)
Matthew 24 (Listen – 5:59)