20160426

What Remains :: Readers’ Choice

My prayers so often go to prayers of safety—of manipulation—not to prayers of surrender. How I long for the focus of my prayers to move beyond myself and refocus on God. — Emily

Readers’ Choice (Originally published April 26, 2016)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. — Hebrews 1.3

On most days I don’t actually want God; I just want someone more powerful than I am to manipulate things into going my way. Wanting benefits from God versus wanting God is the difference between believing in God and experiencing God. In his sermon The Gospel and Your Self Timothy Keller explains:

If the distance between the earth and the sun (92 million miles) was reduced to the thickness of a sheet of paper, then the distance between the earth and the nearest star would be a stack of papers 70 feet high and the diameter of the galaxy would be a stack of paper 310 miles high. That’s how big the galaxy is. Yet the galaxy is nothing but a speck of dust, virtually, in the whole universe.

The Bible says Jesus Christ holds this universe together with the word of his power… Is this the kind of person you ask into your life to be your assistant?

The safest way to live the Christian life is to relegate God to creating individual comfort, success, and prosperity. This is why, Kierkegaard believes, we insulate ourselves from truly experiencing God:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

The book of Hebrews provides both a promise—Christ is sufficient where everything else fails—and a confrontation—Christ is superlative and following him is consuming. “When God becomes real,” Dr. Keller concludes, “that gets into your heart as an irreducible, unavoidable, inescapable, permanent principle you’ll never be able to escape.”

The unending love, never-failing grace, impartial justice, and unspeakable holiness of God surrounds us in this broken world. The author of Hebrews rejoices, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain.”

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 51 (Listen – 10:15)
Psalm 30 (Listen – 1:32)

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20160715

Faith and Black Lives Matter :: Readers’ Choice

I am still convinced that Black people do not matter to White people. Not yet. And our testimony suffers for this heresy and hypocrisy. — Brian

Readers’ Choice (Originally published July 15, 2016)

In our world, the phrases we repeat are either untrue (“Best movie of the year!”) or run against normative behavior (“If you see something, say something.”) The more untrue or unnatural the phrase, the more often we repeat it. This is one of the reasons the daily and ubiquitous refrain “black lives matter” is so confrontational.

Research from Barna reveals that though 94% of evangelicals believe the Church plays an important role in racial reconciliation, only 13% say they support the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. There is an important faith conversation not only around the phrase itself, but the movement of Black Lives Matter that must be recovered.

Author Stephen Mattson observes that, “Many white Christians will be afraid to say [Black Lives Matter] because they think it’s too political, or too progressive, or too liberal, or too unfair, or too controversial.” But confessing that “black lives matter” doesn’t have to come at the expense of other lives. Historically, it has been when faithful Christians took up the banner of human rights that structural change started to occur.

Wilberforce, who was mentored and encouraged by the Anglican pastor John Newton, was the first to stand up against slavery in Parliament. “Wilberforce’s embracing of the anti-slavery cause was from the direct effect of embracing the Christian worldview,” says The Wilberforce School. Similarly, Martin Luther King Jr.’s message during the civil rights movement was profoundly Christian—even the crescendo of Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech was the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 40.

The greatest threat to the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t the police or a conservative pundit, it’s the lack of voices supplying it a robust theological vision. Where can you justify human rights without God? As a worldview, evolution robs minorities of rights—bestowing them only on the fittest. Progressivism—humans have rights because we’ve progressed as a society—need only protect human rights as long as it’s agreed upon by the majority (present circumstance, case-in-point).

It is God—the creator of the world and everyone in it—who imbued each human being with dignity and promised not only to serve justice, but to restore all that has been lost.

Yet the chorus of Christian voices has not risen in unity for the oppressed.

We are, of course, socially adept enough to articulate our reasons: Black Lives Matter is not a Christian organization, nor does it seek a theological vision. But we should tremble when our understanding of theology removes us from the world. In Jesus’ story of The Good Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite each had their own reasons for avoiding the victim of a broken world.

Activist Michelle Higgins distills the tension many Christians feel and confronts the insinuated lack of evangelistic passion:

In the conversations I’ve had with people, they are afraid to affirm any part because they fear that it means they are affirming the whole. The fear of association is so huge. The discomfort with standing side by side with somebody who doesn’t believe in Jesus is depressing to me.

Looking back at history, “fear of association” has always been a primary motivator when the Church missed its role in doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Author Stephen Mattson outlines our history in stark binaries:

During the Indian Removal Act, Native Americans weren’t Christian enough to defend. During times of nativism, the Catholics and immigrants weren’t Christian enough to defend. Throughout the segregation era black Christians didn’t have the support of many white Christians, and when the U.S. put its Japanese citizens in internment camps during WWII, mainstream Christianity was largely silent.

In every modern opportunity to be a radical countercultural force for good in the U.S., many white Christians blew it by conjuring up excuses, looking the other way, and even being directly complicit in the subjugation of other human beings.

So here we are again, facing a historic crisis, where people are fighting for their rights and dignity, and once again many Christians will have to choose whether or not to act. Which begs the question: If Christians have nothing to do or say to support the lives of the marginalized and abused, what good is Christianity at all?

The abolition of slavery and Civil Rights Movement were profound transitions for American society—yet as brutal and difficult as both were, they didn’t accomplish the most difficult part: redeeming the broken hearts that lead to racism.

This is a magnificent opportunity for the Church—but we have to choose. “We don’t see a pursuit for justice because we’ve been conditioned to pursue wealth and acclaim and not necessarily the flourishing of our neighbors,” Higgins laments. Taking the first step toward reconciliation, she writes, “means that you no longer find yourself as the center and most important part of your story.”

In the Church, the phrases we repeat mean the most to us. “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” What we repeat serves as a catalyst for expressing faith and reminds us what we’re trying to live into. What we repeat expresses our longings for Christ’s incarnation through his Church. What we repeat has power through Christ. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Amen.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 48 (Listen – 7:31)
Psalm 25 (Listen – 2:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 49 (Listen – 7:15) Psalms 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)
Jeremiah 50 (Listen – 8:42) Psalms 28-29 (Listen – 2:41)

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Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

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Dec2

Hurting through the Holidays :: Readers’ Choice

This is so good and speaks eerily to my heart and mind (and) will certainly help me navigate the season in a God-honoring way, one day at a time. — Anne

Readers’ Choice (Originally published December 2, 2015)

Physical and emotional pain can make the holiday season feel like a torrent of expectations to appear happy. The unspoken demand of “Christmas joy” weighs on those mourning the loss of a loved one, suffering a long-term illness, or carrying the pressures of daily anxiety or depression. At some point this converges with the seasonal stress of wrapping up the final quarter of the year, scheduling events, and traveling through busy airports.The musical messages that flood every store and streaming site are less than helpful. While festive, the top 10 Christmas songs in the U.S. are unapologetically devoid of spiritual joy. From Lennon’s Christmas-as-political statement, “Happy XMas (War Is Over),” to Mariah Carey’s, “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which desperately pleads with a lover to fill a need far too large for any person, these songs speak of happy feelings but miss transcendent peace.

Settling for happiness as proxy for true joy isn’t a recent change in America’s Christmas tradition. In 1944 Judy Garland sang, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the song mandates merriness—challenging, “from now on your troubles will be out of sight,” while predicting, “through the years we’ll all be together”—yet offers no sufficient solution as to how any of this will come to be.

The season of Advent, contrary to demanding a facade of holiday spirit, is an invitation to rest in the promise of Christ’s redemptive joy. When Christ talked about anxiety and trust he wasn’t minimizing the stresses of life, he was revealing the sufficiency of his love.

It’s only by placing our faith in the gospel that we are given the opportunity to displace it in ourselves and our circumstances. We stop looking to calm daily anxieties with our own success, appearance, or accolade—which change far too often to offer the security and hope we need.

“In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus said to his followers. “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Lord, renew in us, this Advent, the hope of your victory, the promise of your relief, and the joy of your redemption.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 47 (Listen – 1:21)
Psalm 23-24 (Listen – 2:06)

Editor’s note: When Christ talked about anxiety, or discouragement, his words were focused on the daily pressures common to all people. He was not, nor are we above, trying to speak to mental health conditions that persist despite great effort and desire. In all things we look to Christ, but in many we find ourselves holding on for future relief, future glory, future joy—Christ will return, he will make all things new.

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Sept16

The Surprising Results of Forgiveness :: Readers’ Choice

I love today’s message. — Dee

Readers’ Choice (Originally published September 16, 2015)

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5.18

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” — Miroslav Volf

Yesterday we examined harrowing acts of restoration following the Rwandan Genocide. On the other side of the same continent, and also in 1994, a recently freed political prisoner took the presidential office in South Africa.

Of the moment when Mandela was released from 27 years of imprisonment and forced labor Ghanna’s President, John Dramani Mahama writes for the New York Times;

The world was spellbound. We wondered what we would do if we were in his shoes. We all waited for an indescribable rage, a call for retribution that any reasonable mind would have understood…

Yet, the man insisted on forgiveness. “To go to prison because of your convictions,” he said, “and be prepared to suffer for what you believe in, is something worthwhile. It is an achievement for a man to do his duty on earth irrespective of the consequences.”

Mandela’s life illustrates the reality that when we have been hurt there is a debt which must be paid. We can either force the perpetrator pay, or we can forgive. Mandela’s presidency, and his legacy of dismantling structured racism in South Africa, were the results of his decision to forgive — the decision to absorb the debt.

When someone really wrongs you, there’s always a loss. You’ve lost reputation, or you’ve lost some opportunity you didn’t have and you never will get again. There’s a real debt. It’s not a monetary debt, but there’s a debt. You feel it, and you feel the person owes you. You feel the person is liable to you, but what are you going to do? — Timothy Keller

Moralism demands we forgive. The gospel goes farther. Jesus not only teaches about forgiveness, he offers up his life and blood of as payment for our own debts, as well as those we incur as the result of others’ sins. As I’ve written before, forgiveness is less about mustering up an emotion and more about extending the forgiveness God has already offered.

The weight of this reality did not escape Paul, who saw forgiveness as a foundational task in evangelism. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ — God is making his appeal through us.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 45-46 (Listen – 5:51)
Psalm 22 (Listen – 3:49)

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20160317

How to Find Freedom :: Readers’ Choice

As with the biblical transfiguration story, we’re not allowed to live on the mountain—yet. It’s no surprise that Peter, James, and John all likely wanted to pitch a tent and stay there for a while; but that’s not how it works. We are I think called to live very real lives in society, but to live them with an awareness of new mountaintop realities. — Greg

Readers’ Choice (Originally published March 17, 2016)

By Thomas à Kempis (c. 1379-1471)

Jesus has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting.

All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection.

Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things.

If a man has great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private affections. For truth itself has said: “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say: “I am alone and poor.” No one, however, is more wealthy than such a man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all things and think of himself as the least of all.

*Abridged from The Imitation Of Christ.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 44 (Listen – 6:10)
Psalms 20-21 (Listen – 2:37)

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Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

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