The Fountain of Christ

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. — 1 Timothy 1.15

“The opposite of sin is not virtue but faith,” Søren Kierkegaard famously observed. In many ways the philosopher echoed the voice of the New Testament. Contrary to the prideful response to sin—which sees brokenness as the problem of other people—the saints wrote of sin as a fundamental struggle into which they too had been swept up. Kierkegaard continued:

It is so easy to let a sinful thought sneak into the heart. No seducer was ever so adept as is a sinful thought! It is so easy… until at the end, when you must pay dearly for this first step that cost nothing at all. Very often sin enters into a person as a flatterer; but when the person has become the slave of sin, it is the most terrible sla­very.

In his letter to the Romans Paul revealed, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Far from defeated, the apostle viewed personal pride and brokenness—in light of Christ’s salvation—as vehicles for sanctification. Kierkegaard explained:

In the case of temptation the right thing to do may be to fight it by avoiding it. In the case of spiritual trial, however, one must go through it. Temptation should be avoided? Try not to see or hear what tempts you? Temptation is best fought by running away? But this does not work with thoughts that try the spirit, for they pursue you. If it is spiritual trial, go straight toward it, trusting in God and Christ. When you are weak, he is strong.

Honesty toward pride and brokenness not only fosters humility, it also prevents the sinful placement of faith in good works. “Of all the brilliant sins, affected virtues are the worst,” Kierkegaard warns, concluding:

As long as there are many springs from which to draw water, anxiety about possible water failure does not arise. But when there is only one source! And so it is when Christ has become a person’s one and only spring that spiritual trials begin. Spiritual trial is the expression of a concentration upon Christ as the only source. This is why most people have no spiritual trials.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 29 (Listen – 2:44)
2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 2:16)

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How Technology Can Erode Community :: Weekend Reading List

The average person checks their phone 85 times a day. That’s 26% more often than the average amount of notifications (63.5) people receive daily. This type of perpetual connection has rewired conversation. “We are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens,” remarks Sherry Turkle.

In The Flight From Conversation, Turkle acknowledges, “We are tempted to think that our little ‘sips’ of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation.“ Turkle, a researcher at M.I.T., continues:

Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.

Personal screens rewrite the world—holding users, in a glowing spotlight, as both the most powerful and important subject. C.S. Lewis, though he could not have specifically addressed smartphones or social networking, foreshadows some of what’s happening today when he writes, “Man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power,” in The Abolition of Man.

Lewis speaks of modern technology as an extension of science, and science as an extension of magic, or man’s way of gaining independence from God. He explains:

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.

Though technology will serve in ever-increasing roles in daily faith, we cannot look to it as a replacement of the flesh, tears, laughter, sacrifice, forgiveness, and beauty of the face-to-face community of the Church. This may be more difficult than we imagine, Turkle concludes:

We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship. Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 26 (Listen – 2:37)
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 27 (Listen – 2:43) 2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:52)
Proverbs 28 (Listen – 3:07) 2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:32)


Vocation as Spiritual Practice :: Throwback Thursday

2 Thessalonians 3.11
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work.

By Thomas Cole (1627-1697)

We are called to Christianity by the preaching of the gospel of Christ. We are called to outward worldly calling by God’s special appointment: “Six days shalt you labor and do all your work.” Every man has his work — a full business which must not be neglected — we are called to our particular employment by Providence.

Many of the duties and graces of our Christian calling follow us into our particular callings and into all the works of our hands. Your present duty lies in your present work, in the daily business of your particular callings. If you seek only yourselves — your own profit and pleasure — this is not serving God, but yourselves. You must do what you do in faith, as to the Lord; and then every thing you do will be an act of worship, because it carries in it a religious respect to the will of God.

Herein lies the nature of all practical holiness; whatever you are doing, be sure exercise some grace: there can be no godliness without grace. Grace in the heart guides the hand. These gracious dispositions toward God follow a saint into all his employments, inclining him to holiness in all his ways.

What I am pressing you to is your present duty — what is past cannot be recalled. Your present duty is to repent of past sins, and to walk with God in your callings for the time to come. Be upright in your way; admit nothing into your particular callings that is inconsistent with the principles of your general calling, as you are Christians.

Grace will help you at every turn. If you thrive in your calling, grace will teach you to give God the praise, and to be thankful. If you sink and go backwards, grace will teach you quietly to submit to God; how to bear with cheerfulness all disappointments and losses that you meet with; how to receive evil, as well as good.

If God inclines your hearts every day to consider the spiritual act of your present duty, you will be always found in a holy frame and the blessing of God will be upon you. You will “flourish like the palm-tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon; bringing forth fruit in old age.”


*Abridged and language updated from Thomas Cole’s sermon, How May The Well-Discharge Of Our Present Duty Give Us Assurance Of Help From God For The Well-Discharge Of All Future Duties?

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 3 (Listen – 4:29)
2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 2:16)

Fresh Experiences in Ancient Traditions

2 Thessalonians 2.15

Stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us.

Acquisition of property was highly regulated under Roman law. Items, land, and even slaves abandoned during conquest could be claimed by Roman citizens under a section of the law entitled res nullius (literally: nobody’s property). Property passed from an existing owner to another fell under a different section called tradtio.
Traditio required two steps: the owner voluntarily placing the property into the care of another, and the recipient accepting ownership.
We derive the english word tradition from this process, in hope we can transfer significant parts of the human experience from one generation to another. In recent history, individualism has proven to be a hostile environment for tradition. Family traditions rarely extend beyond one or two generations. Political traditions are under fire. Religious traditions have been on the decline for decades.
A person who maintains intentional roots in past practices is labeled “traditional” — using the word in the pejorative sense: obsolete and old-fashioned.

When we turn away from tradition, from the past, we are left only with the present. As a result we try to recover what we’ve lost in tradition through flailing moments of intention. Mobile apps offer us help with a few minutes in the morning to control our breathing and turning habit formation into a game.

Hacks to reclaiming the moment aren’t bad — but they don’t lead us beyond ourselves. Surely one of the ways we gather strength from those who went before us, as Hebrews exhorts, is to be formed by what formed them. We experience something great inside ourselves when we join our faith to those who walked before us.
Liturgies are compressed, performed narratives that recruit the imagination through the body. — James K.A. Smith

Paul’s challenge to the Thessalonians to return to the traditions of the faith isn’t a cry to return to a nostalgic past. Quite the opposite, it was an invitation to gather strength from the saints and root their lives in something transcendent. The gospel is an invitation to community.

Yielding to tradition renews our ability to express the grace God first showed to us. Fresh experiences in tradition are a way we can experience ownership of our faith. But settling for a life unhinged from spiritual tradition is a way to deny the world has an owner and stake a claim of lordship over our own lives.

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 2 (Listen – 4:26)
2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:32)

Finding Meaning in Suffering

2 Thessalonians 1.4

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a bunch of conversations in which the unspoken assumption was that the main goal of life is to maximize happiness. — David Brooks

The scripture’s affirmation of suffering as part of life, and even as a spiritual practice, can be alarming at first. “Consider it pure joy when you face trials,” James challenges. Paul, as usual, takes it farther; “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” This profound acknowledgment of the reality of suffering, and ultimate purpose in it, stands in contrast to what we hear most often.

In an interview on suffering, Timothy Keller explains,
In secular culture the meaning of life is to be free to choose what makes you happy in this life. Suffering destroys that meaning. And so, in the secular view, suffering can have no meaning at all. It can’t be a chapter in your life story — it is just the interruption or even the end of your life story.
While it is possible to suffer without purpose, something David Brooks acknowledges in his exploration of What Suffering Does, the gospel draws us to the way Christ renews even our deepest pains. Keller continues:

On the one hand, God is absolutely sovereign over suffering. It’s never out of his control. It’s always part of his plan. On the other hand, God has come into the world himself and actually suffered with us.

No other religion says that God is both a sovereign and a suffering God. This is the theological foundation for why Christians can be so realistic and yet so hopeful about suffering at the same time.
Because there is meaning in suffering we can refocus our attention toward the outcome. Brooks concludes,
Notice this phenomenon. When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is, of course, the joy Paul found in his many sufferings. His heart for the first Christians was that they would experience it, too, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 1 (Listen – 3:13)
2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:52)