20161118

Giving Thanks :: Weekend Reading List

“I have been thinking of something that stifles thanksgiving,” wrote Elisabeth Elliot almost 30 years ago—and, though it was neither politics nor family struggles, her insight cuts right to the heart: “It is the spirit of greed—the greed of doing, being, and having.” Elliot explains:

When Satan came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, his bait was intended to inspire the lust to do more than the Father meant for Him to do—to go farther, demonstrate more power, and act more dramatically.

This lifestyle of greed metastasizes in every corner of our soul—often expressing itself as we think of the worldly things for which we are thankful. But what if Thanksgiving was defined not by what we have accumulated but by rest from the demands of commerce and striving? Elliot continues:

The enemy comes to us in these days of frantic doing. We are ceaselessly summoned to activities: social, political, educational, athletic, and—yes—spiritual. Our “self-image” (deplorable word!) is dependent not on quiet and hidden “Do this for My sake,” but on the list the world hands us of what is “important.” It is a long list, and it is both foolish and impossible. If we fall for it, we neglect the short list.

Temptation comes also in the form of being. The snake in the garden struck at Eve with the promise of being something which had not been given. If she would eat the fruit forbidden to her, she could “upgrade her lifestyle” and become like God. She inferred that this was her right, and that God meant to cheat her of this.

Then there is the greed of having. There is no end to the spending, getting, having. We are insatiable consumers, dead-set on competing, upgrading, showing off (“If you’ve got it, flaunt it”). We simply cannot bear to miss something others deem necessary.

So the world ruins the peace and simplicity God would give us. Contentment with what He has chosen for us dissolves, along with godliness, while, instead of giving thanks, we lust and wail, teaching our children to lust and wail too.

Elliot’s soft rebuke reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s This is Water. Wallace, like Elliot, demands we question the “normal” and expand our thirst for what is possible when we give up the relentless pursuit of self.

I was also reminded of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s work The Sabbath. The rabbi parses the spiritual life in the realms of space and time—drawing us beyond the materialism that defines our modern world. “The solution of mankind’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it,” Heschel challenges. He explains:

Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time. In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space. To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective. Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence.

The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments. In a religious experience, for example, it is not a thing that imposes itself on man but a spiritual presence. What is retained in the soul is the moment of insight rather than the place where the act came to pass. A moment of insight is a fortune, transporting us beyond the confines of measured time.

So as we prepare to give thanks this week, may we find space. In the midst of travel, of difficult conversations, of the joys of friendship and family—may we find the holy moments where we can experience the power of the divine.

In this way we will experience Thanksgiving as an extension of eternity—a taste of the holy rest that awaits us. “Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath,” Heschel cautions, “one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come.”

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Amos 7 (Listen – 2:45)
Luke 2 (Listen – 6:11)

This Weekend’s Readings
Amos 8 (Listen – 2:16) Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)
Amos 9 (Listen – 3:08) Luke 4 (Listen – 5:27)

Receive a Daily Devotional in Your Inbox
Join Over 4,000 Daily Readers
100% Privacy. We don't spam.
20161117a

A Prayer for Harmony and Stability :: Throwback Thursday

By Clement of Rome (fl. 88-99 C.E.)

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” — Luke 1.46-47

Grant us, Lord, to hope on your name, which is the primal source of all creation, and open the eyes of our hearts that we may know you, who alone are highest among the high; you are holy, abiding among the holy.

We ask you, Master, to be our helper and protector. Save those among us who are in distress; have mercy on the humble; raise up the fallen; show yourself to those in need; heal the sick; turn back those of your people who wander; feed the hungry; ransom our prisoners; raise up the weak; comfort the discouraged.

Let all the nations know that you are the only God, that Jesus Christ is your servant, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.

For through your works have revealed the everlasting structure of the world. You, Lord, created the earth. You are faithful throughout all generations, righteous in your judgments, marvelous in strength and majesty, wise in creating and prudent in establishing what exists, good in all that is observed and faithful to those who trust in you, merciful and compassionate: forgive us our sins and our injustices, our transgressions and our shortcomings.

Give harmony and peace to us and to all who dwell on the earth, just as you did to our ancestors when they reverently called upon you in faith and truth, that we may be saved, while we render obedience to your almighty and most excellent name, and to our rulers and governors on earth.

You, Master, have given them the power of sovereignty through your majestic and inexpressible might, so that we, acknowledging the glory and honor that you have given them, may be subject to them, resisting your will in nothing.

Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony, and stability, so that they may blamelessly administer the government that you have given them. For you, heavenly Master, King of the ages, give to human beings glory and honor and authority over the creatures upon the earth.

Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and pleasing in your sight, so that by devoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority that you have given them they may experience your mercy.

*Abridged from 1 Clement 59.3-61.3.

Today’s Reading
Amos 6 (Listen – 2:13)
Luke 1:39-80 (Listen – 9:26)

 

20161116

Christ—Ruler of Political Leaders

By N.T. Wright

You shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” — Luke 1.31-33

In trying to understand that present reign of Jesus, though, we have seen two apparently quite different strands. ly the one hand, we have seen that all the powers and authorities in the universe are now, in some sense or other, subject to Jesus. This doesn’t mean that they all do what he wants all the time, only that Jesus intends that there should be social and political structures of governance.

Jesus himself pointed out to Pilate that the authority that the Roman governor had over him and been given to him “from above.” Once that has been said, we should not only be shy about recognizing—however paradoxical it seems to our black and white minds—the God-givenness of structures of authority, even when they are tyrannical and violent.

Part of what we say when we say that a structure is God-given is also that God will hold it to account. We have trained ourselves to think of political legitimacy simply in terms of the method or mode of appointment (e.g., if you’ve won an election). The ancient Jews and early Christians were far more interested in holding rulers to account with regard to what they were actually doing. God wants rulers, but God will call them to account.

Where does Jesus come into all this? From his own perspective, he was himself both upstaging the power structures of his day and also calling them to account, then and there. That’s what his action in the Temple was all about. But his death, resurrection, and ascension were the demonstration that he was Lord and they were not.

The calling to account has, in other words, already begun—and will be completed at the second coming. The church’s work of speaking the truth to power means what it means because it is based on the first of these and anticipates the second.

What the church does, in the power of the Spirit, is rooted in the achievement of Jesus and looks ahead to the final completion of his work. This is how Jesus is running the world in the present.

*Excerpt from Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright.

Today’s Reading
Amos 5 (Listen – 3:44)
Luke 1:1-38 (Listen – 9:26)

 

20161115

The Church’s Primary Role

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! — Psalm 150.6

It is easy to forget, in the deluge of political conversations that have consumed the past few months, that although the church’s role in this world necessarily involves politics, it is not itself political.

The book of Psalms spans every possible human emotion, reflects on geopolitics, laments evil, and cries out for godly leadership on earth—yet it concludes with three psalms dedicated entirely to praise.

The psalmist not only calls the Church to worship, but rebukes every earthly system of power and authority that will ultimately prove insufficient to deliver what humankind needs most. N.T. Wright, as he concludes his book Simply Jesus, reflects on how the church can maintain its focus on God’s calling and sovereignty amidst shifting political powers:

We must give full weight to the difficult but important biblical vision of God’s sovereignty over the nations and his determination to shape their fortunes to serve his higher purposes. This belief is so important for any vision of what it means to speak of Jesus’ kingship in the present time that we must spell it out slightly more fully before drawing the threads together.

First… God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic. He intends to bring that order to the world through the work, the thought, the planning, and the wisdom of human beings….

Second, even when the rulers are wild or wicked, God can bend their imaginings to serve his purpose…. Third, then, God will in the end call the nations to account….

Yes, God can and does work in all sorts of ways outside the church. There are many movements of thought and energy totally beyond the life of the church in which wise Christians can discern and celebrate God’s sovereign and gracious presence….

But we do not, because of that, lose sight of one of the church’s primary roles: to bear witness to the sovereign rule of Jesus, holding the world to account. And when I say “bear witness,” I mean it in the strong sense I spoke of earlier. Like a witness in a law court, we are not just telling about our private experiences. We are declaring things that, by their declaration, will change the way things are going.

Today’s Reading
Amos 4 (Listen – 2:21)
Psalms 148-150 (Listen – 3:04)

 

20161114

Trust and Self-Giving Love

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. — Psalm 146.3-4

There are two significant benefits to following a devotional reading plan. The first could be called an asynchronous benefit: scheduled reading leads us to places in Scripture we would otherwise not align with daily life (minor prophets, anyone?) and we are exposed to the full light and life of God’s word.

The synchronous benefit of reading Scripture along a pre-determined plan is that we see how often this sacred word collides with daily life. At The Park Forum we read a variant of the historic M’Cheyne Reading Plan—expanding the 19th-century preacher’s one year plan over two years. And today we come to a passage which could not be more timely.

Civilizations throughout history have looked to their leaders to save them—and though modernism has secularized this pursuit, it has not managed to mitigate it. Today the political right celebrates while the left laments—both confess their all-consuming trust in the leaders of our world. In Simply Jesus N.T. Wright reflects:

We treat political leaders as heroes and demigods; they carry our dreams, our fantasies of how things should be. When we find out that they are only human after all, we turn on them, blaming them for the intractable problems that they, like their predecessors, haven’t been able to solve.

Wright then asks the question all too often glossed over in Scripture: “Why did people think that Jesus might be any different?” How is it that Christ offers a better solution?

Could it be that the paradoxical call of servant leadership, demonstrated through the moral character Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, offer a better way—a way in which God can be seen, known, and restore the brokenness of our world? Wright concludes:

When God wants to change the world… he sends the meek, the mourners, those who are hungry and thirsty for God’s justice, the peacemakers, and so on. Just as God’s whole style—his chosen way of operating—reflects his generous love, sharing his rule with his human creatures, so the way in which those humans then have to behave if they are to be agents of Jesus’ lordship reflects in its turn the same sense of vulnerable gentle, but powerful self-giving love.

Today’s Reading
Amos 3 (Listen – 2:11)
Psalms 146-147 (Listen – 3:09)