Where we Focus our Attention

Galatians 6.2
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

One year ago today the first of 11 cases of Ebola was confirmed in the United States. Though nine of the patients would fully recover, media coverage of stateside cases spread at pandemic levels. reports that at its peak the six major networks ran over 400 segments on ebola during just one week’s worth of evening news.
Well over 11,000 people lost their lives to ebola last year; deaths in the U.S. represented 0.0002% of the global total.

At some level we comprehend these numbers — and their disproportionate impact on Africans. On another level it’s easy to get discouraged into inaction by their immensity.

At the end of Galatians Paul spurs the church to care for one another and the world. He is not disillusioned to the size of need, but focused on the size of God’s grace expressed through the Body of Christ. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The absurd prioritization of stories which directly impact Americans is a lesson in distraction to anyone trying to live out this type of faith. The gospel’s ability to reorient our attention is critical in a culture where the possibility of water on other planets and a billionaire reality tv show star consume headlines. Especially today.
“There is no side interested in the future of Christians. We are the sacrifice of the war.” — Unnamed Syrian priest in response to the unfolding crisis

Around 220,000 Syrians have already lost their lives. The war has left another 12.8 million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid (which is not-yet coming in any meaningful way). Over 4 million refugees have fled the country, at tremendous risk, to seek any form of protection or aid.

Christianity’s care for the refugee and selfless service to the marginalized can fundamentally reorient the national conversation away from partisan blather and into action. This crisis is massive — but where we focus our attention, as a state and an individual, matters.
On Monday the President tweeted a link to ways Americans can get involved in helping refugees around the world. We can add these to UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency, and other international options for action.

The pain of our world is deep — and we await Christ for full relief and the restoration of all that is lost. In the meantime we give ourselves to joining God in the restoration of all things, remembering Paul’s encouragement, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 2 (Listen – 7:45)
Galatians 6 (Listen – 2:18)

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Bringing Good News to Life

Galatians 5.13
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom. — Alexis de Tocqueville

True freedom is one of the richest fruits of Christianity. By it those who follow Christ are able to invest their faith into a broken world in profoundly diverse ways — participating in redemption through acts of service and vocation.

But freedom can be misused to allow a life of pride or apathy that disconnects the Christian from the world. In the worst cases the phrase “Christian freedom” is used as a defense against calling these acts what they really are — sin.

Paul explores freedom deeply in his writings. He defines its true acts as the Fruit of the Spirit and gives warning to those living in true freedom; “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

The Greek word for “conceited” can be literally translated, “vain-gloried” and occurs only here in Scripture. The United Bible Society clarifies its meaning:

In its use in secular literature, it is often associated with boastfulness and has the sense of “glorying in vain things” or “seeing value in things not really valuable.”
“Our natural condition is to be ‘glory-empty’, starved for significance, honor, and a sense of worth,” observes Timothy Keller. “This condition is rooted in sin.”

Sin makes us feel both superior (because we are trying to prove to ourselves and others that we are significant) and inferior (because at a deep level we feel guilty and insecure).

In different people these deep currents express themselves in different ways. Some people’s ‘glory-emptiness’ takes the form of bravado and pride; some people’s ‘glory- emptiness’ takes the form of self-deprecation and self-loathing. Most of us are in the middle, wracked by both impulses. — Timothy Keller

Through Christ we inherit freedom from this pomposity and crushing discouragement. This is the good news for us individually. When our freedom bears fruit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — we become agents of human flourishing.

True freedom reorients our lives around acts of renewal — bringing the gospel to life in ways this world is desperate to experience.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 1 (Listen – 7:52)
Galatians 5 (Listen – 3:22)


The Spirit of Adoption

Galatians 4.5
[Christ redeemed] those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The borrowed use of the word adoption in the context of new technology and puppies has diffused our understanding of an ancient concept once associated with honor and legacy. Adoption for the purpose of redefining family and future was common in ancient Rome; records recovered from the ashes of Pompeii reveal nearly one in every ten city senators grew up in adoptive homes.
In Roman adoption the adoptee legally rescinds their past — canceling debts and expunging records — and receives a future defined by the rights, status, and inheritance of their adoptive family.

Adoption ceremonies in Roman Culture began with the adoptive father paying the price for the adoption. The name of this part of the ceremony, mancipatio, shares a root from which we derive the English word emancipation. Because of the price paid in mancipatio, the past no longer held sway over the adoptee’s future.

The adoption ceremony continued with a legal justification for the transference of fatherhood. This presentation placed the adoptee under the rights and record of the new father — including giving the new child full rights to participate in the inheritance. For most adoptees in Roman culture this was a significant step up — so much so the Romans called this part of the ceremony vindicatio — vindication.
The message of the New Testament announces to Christians the price God paid for our adoption. The Holy Spirit, through Paul’s words in the first part of Romans, lays out the legal argument both for our emancipation as well as our vindication and future.
Because of Christ’s work we can rest in the rights, status, and inheritance of our adoptive family. The Scriptures assure us:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. — Colossians 3.1-3

The modern cultural desire to imbue consumption (of devices, animals, or otherwise) with the deeper meaning of adoption should not only make us leery of ascribing unnecessary value to the temporal, but point us toward the richness of our lives as adopted sons and daughters of the King.

Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 24 (Listen – 4:48)
Galatians 4 (Listen – 4:13)


A Vision for the Future :: The Weekend Reading List

I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers. — Thomas Merton

In his address to a Joint Session of Congress yesterday the Pontiff quoted from Thomas Merton’s autobiography (above), then shared his appreciation for the priest. “Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”

Pope Francis presently enjoys a favorability that rivals that of John Paul II among catholics. He has even garnered the approval of 68% of those who have no religious affiliation, according to Pew Research Center. These numbers are directly linked to his ability to speak to modern issues with boldness and clarity, as he did in Bolivia this past July:

The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil.” An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind.

Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home. — Pope Francis

Yesterday the Pope opened his speech to Congress by reminding them, “You are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.” The full transcript reads less like an agenda, as his opponents feared, and more like a reminder: the most destructive forces in our world are directly limited, and promoted, by the action (and inaction) of the government of the world’s most powerful nation.

It isn’t exclusively this message that makes Francis unique in his role. In the Pope’s first exclusive interview he was asked, point-blank, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” The Jesuit journalist who framed the question, Father Antonio Spadaro, records that “The pope stares at me in silence. I ask him if this is a question that I am allowed to ask…. He nods that it is, and he tells me:”

I do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner… I ​​am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me. — Pope Francis

In this we see a glimpse of a new kind of Pope. Perhaps someone who will not only represent Christian interests among world leaders, but someone standing with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. (After exiting the Capitol yesterday the Pope went directly to a tent outside to eat with those who are homeless.) Could it be approval ratings change when people see a leader who chooses to leverage power rather than bask in it?

In the words selected from Thomas Merton’s biography: prayer, thinking, challenge, new horizons, and dialogue — we see both Pope Francis’ way of understanding the faithful of the past as well as the framework by which he crafts his own future.

Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 21 (Listen – 4:34)
Galatians 1 (Listen – 3:05)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 22 (Listen – 5:22) and Galatians 2 (Listen – 3:44)
2 Samuel 23 (Listen – 5:38) and Galatians 3 (Listen – 4:39)

The Weekend Reading List