Jan01

My Brother’s Keeper :: The Weekend Reading List

If we cause a tree to be chopped down in a forest—but the forest is on the other side of the world, so we won’t necessarily hear it—will we care? This is the cultural way to ask the biblical question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Another way yet; are we responsible for the pain inflicted on others because of our emotions and desires?

Up until 1979 the city of Shenzhen, which links Hong Kong to mainland China, was home to 15,000 people. Today it has exploded to a population of 15 million—almost twice the size of New York City. The growth has primarily been driven by its designation as a “Special Economic Zone,” allowing corporations to operate outside of Communist business restrictions.

The now-smog-covered metropolis is home to hundreds of electronic manufacturing companies. Chances are, if you use a smartphone, television, camera, copy machine, or computer on a regular basis you carry with you the fingerprints of the citizens of Shenzhen.

The cause and effect of consumerism is rarely as clear as in Joseph Bernstein’s piece for BuzzFeed on the connection between western consumer whims and the quality of life of Chinese assembly workers in Shenzhen.

The story of manufacturing the ever-changing wishes of westerners is the story of eking out a living. “When we see a demand, we change our business direction; it is about survival.” a general manager at a factory in Shenzhen said. A young saleswoman echoed his sentiment: “Last year the selfie stick was very popular… But we need to change with the market or we’ll die.”

Bernstein examines one of the most popular electronic toys this Christmas: the hoverboard—a two-wheel, self-balancing device made popular by celebrities and social media.

The hoverboard industry that has unfurled (in China) hands us the playthings of social-media-driven seasonal diversion. It is the funhouse mirror reflection of the viral internet, the metal-and-cement consequence of our equally flexible commercial hype machine. It happened before with selfie sticks, and before that with drones. It may soon happen with virtual reality headsets and body-worn police cameras. — Joseph Bernstein

The average assembly worker at Foxconn and Pegatron (who manufacture for Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Dell, HP, Blackberry, and many more) works a 60-hour workweek, lives in a dorm with seven other people, and makes $3,800/year.

BBC undercover report of Apple’s iPhone 6 production uncovered 12-hour work days and documented workers regularly falling asleep on the assembly line. The Hong Kong Free Press also reported a major factory closing on Christmas day: over 2,000 workers lost their jobs last week, all of whom are owed back wages.

Memeufacturing is proof that our never-ending digital output, our tweets and Vines and Instagrams and Facebook posts, has the power to shape the lives of people on the other side of the world. — Joseph Bernstein

“Memeufacturing,” a term Bernstein coined, is the production of electronics in response to their success online. On the western side of the equation we consume without regard to consequence. “It is understood that hoverboards come from China in the same way it is understood that Spam comes from pigs: vaguely and glibly,” Bernstein quips.

The role of faith in such a world cannot be understated. If we are people who believe prayer has power we would find ourselves interceding for the millions of people marginalized by unfettered consumerism. If we believe part of Christ’s path is sacrifice we would curtail the desires the social web and advertising arouse in our souls. Most importantly, as faith communities, we would work out how to love our global-neighbors as we love ourselves—we would become our brother’s keeper.

Today’s Reading
Ezra 1 (Listen – 2:03)
Acts1 (Listen – 3:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezra 2 (Listen – 5:25) Acts 2 (Listen – 6:35)
Ezra 3 (Listen – 3:01) Acts 3 (Listen – 3:33)

The Weekend Reading List

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Jan28

The Real Scandal of the Resurrection

Matthew 28.5-6a
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”

The resurrection is Christianity’s ever-present scandal. The first conspiracy theory arises less than a handful of verses after the women find the tomb. “The disciples stole the body.” Centuries of alternative explanations follow. The modern mind, however, is far less likely to cry scandal than it is to declare, nonsense.

“The Christian view of resurrection, absolutely unprecedented in history, sprang up full-blown immediately after the death of Jesus,” observes Timothy Keller. Cultural and material explanations for the resurrection have always lacked sufficient grounding. Perhaps our desire to materially explain the resurrection is less to satisfy the healthy pursuit of thoughtful faith and more to distract our heart from the reality of the gospel. [1]

“We pretend to be unable to understand [the Bible] because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly,” Kierkegaard proclaims. “Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be left alone with the New Testament.” [2]

The resurrection verifies what Christ held closest on the cross. According to the gospels his friends had abandoned him. His sole earthly possession, the very clothes on his back, had been taken. Union Presbyterian professor Jack Kingsbury observes, “On the cross Jesus held fast to God in trust, even as he relinquished his life. In raising Jesus from the dead, God certifies the truth of Jesus’ words and the efficacy of his trust.” [3]

Evil isn’t the only thing vanquished on the cross. The illusion that we can pull it together and do it ourselves was also destroyed on Golgotha. The idea that Christ would die on our behalf and offer freely what we are helpless to obtain ourselves is scandalous. To this the scriptures call us to abandon our selfish pursuits and look to the one who came to serve. He withheld nothing—even his own life—to show how wide, long, and deep is the love of the Father for us.

Prayer
Lord, we confess that we chase after so much to fulfill our lives. We confess our attempts to find fulfillment through self, career, possessions, and experiences. None are sufficient — for you knit us together with longings for things far greater. Only you can bring fulfillment. Only you can deliver us from the insufficiency of our world. Draw us near, our God.

Justice Through Christ
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 29 (Listen – 4:45)
Matthew 28 (Listen – 2:39)

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Footnotes

[1] Timothy Keller, Apologetics (City to City Incubator Session 4), p.26. | [2] Søren KierkegaardProvocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. | [3] Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew as Story, pp. 90-91.

 

Justice and Injustice

Matthew 27.13-14
Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. 

“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked. Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, had brought the accusation using Jesus’ own words from the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21.33-45). Jesus risked losing his freedom, possibly his life, if he affirmed the charge. The religious elite likely couldn’t imagine a scenario where a man would go to that length. If he denied the charge he might escape legal consequences but, most importantly, he would lose his influence with the people. 

“The universe held its breath as it waited for Jesus’ answer,” imagines Scottish theologian William Barclay. Surely Jesus wanted justice. The trial was anything but just. Jesus’ reply to Pilate revealed an expectant and quiet trust in the face of injustice. “You have said so.” With that, just two words in Greek, Jesus spoke his first and last of the trial. [1]

Even Pilate sensed the injustice of the moment and offered to spare a man’s life as a sign of mercy. First he presented Jesus, in whom he could find no fault. Then Pilate brought them Barabbas, a known violent criminal. Jesus had already prayed to his Father, “your will be done.” The people cried out for Barabbas. In no subtle way, the freeing of the criminal Barabbas was a sign of the people’s foolishness. But it was also more than that. 

In Christ’s condemnation for Barabbas’ freedom we see a foreshadowing of everything God was working on all along.

Jesus seemed expectant for God to bring justice, even in the injustice of this world. Barabbas, whose Greek name translates “son of the father,” walked free because Jesus laid down his life. Barabbas wasn’t the only one to go free that day. All the guilty were set free through the sacrifice of the One, Holy innocent. 

Prayer
Father, thank you for giving your only Son on our behalf. He endured the worst injustice and absorbed the blow of your justice. He laid down his life, defeating sin and evil, and offered his victory to anyone who would accept. We stand in awe of your sacrifice. We want to sit under your goodness and justice. We fall at the foot of your throne and offer our lives to you.

Justice Through Christ
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 28 (Listen – 3:17)
Matthew 27 (Listen – 8:45)

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Footnotes

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 2:392.

Without a Cup of His Own

Matthew 26.27-28
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Aside from consumption of wine, one of the roles that chalices play throughout history is “of demonstrating the status of the owner or drinker,” notes the British Museum Magazine. As an example the museum offers the Lacock Cup, currently on display. The cup dates from 15th century England, weighs over two pounds, and is fashioned of gold and silver. The museum adds that the cup would have been a, “costly and showy item to own.” [1]

It is likely Jesus drank from a cup that was not his own during the Last Supper. It was standard etiquette, as late as medieval times, for the host to provide their guests with chalices. We also know from Scripture that Jesus owned few personal items, denying himself what most would consider essential. “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” It’s likely owning his own chalice was a luxury Christ did not experience.

Later that night Jesus embraced a second cup that was not his own. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he told his disciples. “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.’”

Neither the cup of riches nor the cup of suffering held sway over him. Jesus left the riches of heaven for the poverty of earth. He endured pain and destruction on our behalf. When faced with God’s refusal to answer his prayer and remove the cup of suffering, he conceded, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he stood and walked, “like a lamb to the slaughter.”

Although neither cup was his, he embraced what was inside. From the cup of justice he drank all that we could not. He paid a price we could not pay. From the cup of heavenly riches he offered what we could not afford. He gave a gift we could not earn. [2]

Prayer
Father, our hearts find their rest in you. That you would freely offer us life through the costliness of your son’s death shows a love we struggle to grasp. While the cup of your Kingdom is something we could not afford, we embrace what is in it with joy and gratitude. May your love overflow from it into our own lives and into the lives of everyone around us.

Justice Through Christ
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 27 (Listen – 6:25)
Matthew 26 (Listen – 10:01)

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Footnotes

[1] From a Table to the Alter. The British Museum Magazine. Spring/Summer 2014, Issue 78, pp. 44-45. | [2] Scripture references, in order of appearance: Matthew 8.20; Matthew 26.38-39; Isaiah 53.7

 

Weeping Over Jerusalem

Daily Reading
Genesis 24 (Listen – 9:42)
Matthew 23 (Listen – 4:53)

Matthew 23.37

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

This is usually the time of year when New Year’s resolutions begin to break down. It’s a lovely season for year-round gym attendees; classes get easier to book. It’s an unfortunate season in what it reveals about the condition of our souls. Yet again we are betrayed by the idea that intentional fortitude is all that we lack to change the affections of our hearts.

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem because he knows the people will be unfaithful to him. Although the religious elite have already rejected him, the people of the city will welcome him with an entry fit for a king. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Days after their triumphalism the people would sentence Jesus to die.

God is under no illusions that we will keep our promises. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” Christ doesn’t weep that the people will soon break their promises. Humanity’s disloyalty to God, despite intentions otherwise, is a repetitious theme in Scripture. Jesus went to the cross to take care of that reality, its root cause, and all its vicious implications. 

Christ weeps out of the depth of his love for humanity. He left the riches of heaven, to endure the poverty and brokenness of earth, so that we might inherit the righteousness of God. He is the sufficient answer to every one of our problems. He is the one good and true lover of our souls — even while we were yet sinners. He is faithful in our unfaithfulness — loving when we are unlovely. Christ’s teachings draw lines in the sand; no doubt. But we miss the foundation for everything Jesus says and does if we overlook the depth of his love and brokenness. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Prayer
Father, you are wonderful. To see your son weep over the lost is arresting. Truly you love us more than we know. Thank you for your vast, unfailing love. Thank you for pursuing us, even when we deny you. Help us to overflow with your love for us, that we would become vessels carrying your love to others.

This week: For These Things, I Weep
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Weekend Readings

Saturday: Genesis 25 (Listen – 4:18); Matthew 24 (Listen – 5:59)
Sunday: Genesis 26 (Listen – 4:31); Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

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Footnotes

[1] Scriptures quoted today (in order of appearance): Matthew 23.38; Jeremiah 17.9; 1 Corinthians 8.9; John 15.13