20160518

Suffering for Faith

By Søren Kierkegaard

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. — 1 Peter 5.10

You still have perhaps forty years to live, perhaps only ten, perhaps only a day. You can fill up this time with becoming just like the others: nice, amiable people, above all with whatever counts in having advantages in life, with whatever gains you pleasure.

Let us assume that you succeed in making this kind of life for yourself, and then you die.

You desire, of course, to be saved. But have you ever pondered this–I wonder if it is really true what the gushing preachers assure us, that “in eternity there is sheer joy and happiness.” Do you believe that “every suffering and pain is forgotten”? I do not.

The New Testament makes the very specific exception of one suffering: having suffered for the truth. Or do you believe that Christ’s suffering, and for that matter, anyone else’s who suffered for the truth, is forgotten in eternity?

The intensity of suffering is greatest when you have the power to free yourself from it. I must use my energy to force myself out into the suffering and then use it to endure the suffering.

Voluntary suffering is suspect at three points. First, I must use my strength to compel myself to go forth into the suffering. Second, I must use my strength to bear it. And third, I must put up with the advice of relatives and sympathizers who insist that I go too far. Such is the way of Christian suffering.

Voluntary suffering provides the double collision which is the mark of everything essentially Christian: to become hated, cursed, detested, to have to suffer. No one ever thinks of persecuting someone because he is in poverty against his will, but no one is as hated as the one who voluntarily renounces that in which people naturally center their lives. Only one who is marked by the voluntary can be entrusted with Christ’s command.

Oh Lord, not only do you know our sorrow better than do we ourselves, but you feel it, too. You understand the burden, the heavy grief that we bear. You are our refuge and our strength, and there is none other.

*Abridged from Søren Kierkegaard’s writings, compiled in Provocations by Charles E. Moorein.

Isaiah 17-18 (Listen – 3:44)
1 Peter 5 (Listen – 2:11)

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20160517

Love in Diversity

Love covers a multitude of sins. — 1 Peter 4.8

“One of the reasons why there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other Christians is because this is not an easy thing to do,” D.A. Carson explains. “The church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies.” It is Christ himself who unites faithful Christians—in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, “nothing more and nothing less.” Carson continues:

What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or any- thing else of that sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in the light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

Carson argues that unity is not intrinsically good. The first church was united around the work of Christ; the people in Babel were united around building glory for themselves. If you want to know what a community values most, look to what the members hold in common.

Churches formed around commitment to a political party—rejecting or ostracizing members of the other party—are confessing their idolatry. Churches which bind around economic status, hobbies, or ethnicity reveal their self-centeredness. Christian unity is an extension of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us, not a sign of our strength.

We are to love Christ more than our ideologies, but we are also to love him more than our desire to penalize or seek retribution from those who hurt us.

There is no Scriptural expectation that love will cover all sins between people. Abusive relationships, even marriages, are to be exited—with Scripture’s blessing—for the benefit of both parties. Short of this, love is expected to cover a multitude of sins. Why? Because living in a broken world exposes us to a multitude of grievances.

Ideological pettiness is the scourge of social media—and it’s bleeding into the real world a little more each day. Not-so for the faithful Christian. Carson concludes, “The reason why Christian love will stand out and bear witness to Jesus is that it is a display, for Jesus’ sake, of mutual love among social incompatibles.”

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 16 (Listen – 2:32)
1 Peter 4 (Listen – 2:50)

20160516

Christ Descended Into Hell

[Christ] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison. — 1 Peter 3.19

Christ, “descended into hell,” confesses the Apostles’ Creed. Because the verse in 1 Peter 3 is opaque, along with the smattering of other references the New Testament offers (Acts, Ephesians, and again in 1 Peter), there has always been great debate as to what the authors of Scripture are trying to convey.

The importance, of course, is not about this particular phrase itself, but what it means that Christ “descended,” to use the words of Ephesians. “We ought not omit his descent into hell,” John Calvin argues in his theological opus, Institutes. Though Orthodox and Roman Catholic views hold that Christ’s descent occurred in burial, Calvin believes Christ descended in death:

The point that the Creed sets forth, what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then appositely speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ’s body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.

Christ’s descent to hell—his separation from God—demonstrates that God’s love goes beyond emotionalism or mere platitudes. The event of God turning his back is so hellish it instantly ended Christ’s life: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ endured.

What we see in this picture of Christ is the depth of his obedience, the price of our sin, and the radiance of the Father’s grace. In speaking of the doctrine of Christ’s descent, The Gospel Coalition observes:

Two of the three ecumenical creeds affirm this doctrine, and the early church theologians all discuss Jesus’s descent to the dead and see great importance in it. We cannot simply throw out creedal language and ignore the history of doctrine.

Christ descended because of our sin. Moreover, he ascended because of God’s grace. If hell is separation, heaven is unity—it is where everything is exactly as God wills. Heaven is where what was lost to the clutches of evil is restored, where what was shattered by the brokenness of our world is renewed, and where everything that goes unfulfilled in this life ultimately blooms in the light of Christ.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 15 (Listen – 1:34)
1 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:30)

20160513

Terrorism and The Gospel :: Weekend Reading List

“Religious extremism cannot be fully addressed by acting as if man can live from bread alone,” writes Thomas K. Johnson, “without addressing the deeper human needs that lead to extremism, and these needs include the search for meaning.” Johnson, a Religious Freedom Ambassador to the Vatican, draws from Viktor Frankl’s views on Christianity, suffering, and meaning to address the modern terrorism crisis. He explains:

Frankl, who was an Austrian Jew trained as a psychiatrist, noticed… that those prisoners who found meaning in life often survived the Holocaust under conditions that should have killed them, while those who lost any meaning usually died. Meaning was a source of life.

Johnson argues that European teens are statistically more likely to join extremist groups—even when compared to majority-Muslim nations like Indonesia—because their culture has lost meaning. Groups like ISIS give the appearance that they can replace European secularism with ultimate religious meaning through Islam and secondary civil meaning through the caliphate.

Religious extremism has always torn people apart. American’s don’t have to look far to find examples—former Westboro Baptist member Megan Phelps-Roper confessed that relational and emotional disintegration were among the primary reasons she left her father’s church:

Church members disdained human feelings as something that people worshipped instead of the Bible. They even had a sign: “GOD HATES YOUR FEELINGS.” They disregarded people’s feelings in order to break their idols.

The gospel—fully integrated into every sphere of life and faith—is the only sufficient answer to meaning. The Christian gospel provides not only a robust spiritual meaning, but a powerful civil meaning as well. Faith communities must work intentionally to draw these two meanings to the forefront of worship and discipleship—something Johnson doesn’t believe happens often enough:

Obviously, addressing the need for meaning is a central task of faith communities, but within faith communities, to the extent of my experience and observation, the emphasis naturally falls on ultimate meanings. Within Christian churches we talk constantly about the hope of eternal life, about grace and forgiveness, about faith in “the gospel.” Within churches we sometimes talk about how God’s grace should equip us to become salt and light within the civil communities.

Again on Easter I heard that there are rational reasons to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But there is a difference in the relation between faith and reason, depending on whether we are talking about ultimate or secondary meanings. In the realm of ultimate meanings, I believe it is far better for all of us if we do not completely leave rationality behind. And in the realm of secondary meanings, when we are talking about ethical principles that should provide meaning to civil communities, it is simply foolish if we pretend to leave our respective faith identities behind.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 11-12 (Listen – 3:39)
James 5 (Listen – 3:01)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 13 (Listen – 3:11) 1 Peter 1 (Listen – 3:53)
Isaiah 14 (Listen – 5:04) 1 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:48)

Nov26

A Hymn and Prayer for Thanksgiving

“Feeling new strength,” Beethoven scribed across one of the last string quartets he would write. It’s a remarkable statement; the master was completely deaf at this point and had just recovered from a near-fatal illness. Far from despondent, he titled the third movement of his string quartet opus 132, “Holy Song of Thanksgiving by a Convalescent to the Divinity, in the Lydian Mode.”

We offer Beethoven’s Hymn of Thanksgiving today along with the words of David. This prayer of thanksgiving, found in Psalm 103, holds the words of another man who knew both glory and suffering yet chose to rest in thankfulness and worship:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; or the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!

Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Listen: Beethoven’s Hymn of Thanksgiving: String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132: III. Molto adagio. Tokyo String Quartet (16:03).

Read more and listen to the entire String Quartet No. 15 on NPR Music.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 22 (Listen – 3:25)
1 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:30)