Stories of the Oppressed :: The Weekend Reading List

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.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 15 (Listen – 4:38)
James 2 (Listen – 3:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chronicles 16 (Listen – 5:21) James 3 (Listen – 2:38)
1 Chronicles 17 (Listen – 4:14) James 4 (Listen – 2:25)

The Weekend Reading List


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Photo Credit: Mstyslav Chernov, UPAF.

This piece was co-published with OnFaith.


How to Pray for Wisdom :: Throwback Thursday

James 1.5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 

By Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.)

Almighty God, in whom we live and move and have our being, you have made us for yourself, so that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.

You know our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Set free your servants from all anxious thoughts for tomorrow; give us contentment with your good gifts; and confirm our faith accordingly as we seek your kingdom. You will not keep us from any good thing through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Grant us purity of heart and strength of purpose — that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, no weakness from doing it — in your light we see light and in your service we find perfect freedom through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Look upon us, O Lord, and let all the darkness of our souls vanish before the beams of your brightness.

Fill us with holy love, and open to us the treasures of your wisdom. All our desire is known to you, therefore perfect the work you have begun, and what your Spirit has awakened in us to ask in prayer.

We seek your face; turn your face to us and show us your glory. Then shall our longing be satisfied, and our peace shall be perfect.

The thought of you stirs us so deeply that we cannot be content unless we praise you. You have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.

*Adapted and language updated from three prayers of Augustine. The final two sentences are excerpted from the opening paragraph ofConfessions.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 13-14 (Listen – 6:47)
James 1 (Listen – 3:26)


The Fruit of Faith

Hebrews 13.7
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

People have just enough religion to make themselves miserable; they cannot be happy at a wild party and they are uncomfortable at a prayer meeting. — Dwight Moody

The subject of faith is discussed at a higher frequency in Hebrews, three dozen times in just 13 chapters, than any other book of the Bible. The author roots faith not in human experience, but in its object. “The nature of faith and the vitality of faith is rooted in what God is like, not what we are like,” observes John Piper. “You don’t find out what Christian faith is by consulting your felt needs. You find out by consulting the nature of God.”
The quintessential explanation of Christian faith is found in Hebrews 11, which opens with “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The sixth verse of the chapter is nearly identical to the first, bookending a single idea: faith is believing in God’s being and beauty.

A man with any sense will not follow after that which he conceives has no advantage in it; but when a man can honestly say, “The best interests of my highest nature depend upon my getting to God, becoming his servant, and having him as my Father and my Friend,” then it is that he diligently seeks him. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

The faithful in Scripture are contrasted not only with the irreligious, but also against the self-righteous and those who did nothing to cultivate their inherited faith. Charles Haddon Spurgeon examines the difference in his sermon “What is Essential in Coming to God?”

Of all the miserable things in the world, a little religion is about the worst of all. The joys of the world—and it has its delusions which worldlings call joys—they dare not go after; and for want of faith they dare not claim the joys of the Spirit of God; so they are wretched.

That man gets the most out of godliness who gives himself most to it. He not only seeks him, but seeks him with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.

Hebrews provides Christians with examples of faith to imitate, not to be confused with recipes of actions to mimic. Each person’s life presents the glory of faith in full bloom — the first fruits of salvation worth seeking after.


Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 11-12 (Listen – 11:59)
Hebrews 13 (Listen – 3:31)


Suffering, Punishment, and Discipline

Hebrews 12.6

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves.
The reason there is suffering in my life is because there’s suffering in the world. — Timothy Keller

The New Testament carefully parses the difference between suffering, punishment, and discipline. Suffering is often seen as the absorbed effects of sin outside of ourselves. Broken people rage against us while a broken world destroys our body through death and disease.

The faithful are instructed to persevere in suffering because God will be faithful to work in us through the suffering. In a series entitled, The Nature Of Faith, Timothy Keller explains, “This is a broken world. God has said he’s going to deal with it some day. Meanwhile, he’s going to bring good out of it somehow. I know this.”

Punishment and discipline come from another angle—God’s reaction to sin. The most simple way to parse the difference between the two comes in an instructive article to parents from Focus on the Family:

Punishment produces some very negative characteristics in your children: guilt, shame, bitterness, resentment, regret, self-pity, fear, and more. Because it’s focused on the past, children feel helpless. They can’t undo what they’ve already done, and they can’t change the circumstances that their behavior has produced.

Discipline, on the other hand, is future-focused, always pointing toward future acts. It has nothing to do with retribution and everything to do with redemption.

Punishment is retributive. Discipline is formative. Hebrews 12 opens by asking Christians to “look to Jesus.” It’s a challenge to consider the way he bore the discipline earned by our sin; “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Forcing suffering into the framework of discipline destroy’s people’s hope. Dr. Keller concludes, “A Christian says, I do deserve it, but it’s not punishment… God would never take two payments for the same debt.”

God disciplines those he loves. Again, Focus on the Family highlights the emphasis of a parent with their beloved child:
Whereas the purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, the purpose of discipline is to train for correction and maturity. Whereas the origin of punishment is the frustration of the parent, the origin of discipline is a high moti­vation for the welfare of the child. And whereas the result of punishment is fear and shame, the result of discipline is security. Discipline always holds the child’s best interests, not the parent’s anger, in the forefront. It is never out of control.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 9-10 (Listen – 7:48)
Hebrews 12 (Listen – 4:36)


Je Suis

We are scared and filled with hate at the same time. [It’s a] dark period, but we shall not give up. — Pascal Bruckner, from Paris

Although we now live in near-certainty of future terrorists attacks, they are becoming increasingly more difficult to detect and prevent. This weekend’s horrific attack was preceded by an ominous warning from Mark Trévidic, a former French anti-terrorism judge. “The real war that ISIS intends to wage on our soil has not yet begun,” Trévidic told Paris Match last September, “our darkest days are ahead.”

“Darkness” is a spiritual metaphor—one that has reentered language of the state and the world of literature at a remarkable clip since what is considered to be the turning point of international terrorism, 1979. As people of faith, we agree — terrorism is a vile expression of the darkness that has torn apart humanity since evil entered our world. Moreover we also see that humanity’s attempts to be its own source of light have catastrophically fallen short.

The creators of dynamite, the submarine, and the machine gun all believed their inventions would bring peace to mankind. AT&T’s chief engineer in the 1890’s prophesied that the telephone would usher in an era of, “peace on earth, good will towards men.” He was working on the precursor to the cell phone, now used to coördinate attacks and trigger bombs.

“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and every­thing evil,” wrote St. Justin Martyr in the second century. Then, drawing from the prophecy of Isaiah, he pictured the world for which our heart longs:
All of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the crucified one.

Millions have said they are praying for Paris — it is an act with an impact we cannot underestimate. Judge Trévidic was careful to warn not just of the oncoming attacks, but for the way we respond, “Terrorism is one-upmanship. It must always go further, hit harder.”

The solution to our suffering, of which terrorism is a fruit, is found in the one who called himself, “I am.” It is the Savior who laid down his life to bring resurrection to the dead, healing to the broken, and the return of all that has been lost.

And so we weep with the broken. We pray for those suffering. We enter into one of the most difficult Christian expressions of worship and pray for our enemies. We join the history of the church, crying, “Come, Lord Jesus” — our hearts and our world need the restoration of the great Je Suis.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 7-8 (Listen – 9:04 )
Hebrews 11 (Listen – 6:22)