Hope In Times of Terror

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” — Matthew 28.5-6

If, as Jill Lepore has said, “watching people shoot one another has become an obligation of American citizenship,” then watching people around the world weep in the wake of terror has become an obligation of global citizenship.

We want to look away. Every few weeks I spend a day writing from a coffee shop nestled 8,200’ up in the Rocky Mountains. Inside The New York Times gets stacked upside down whenever images of terror take over above the fold. After watching, I realized it’s not the employees, but the customers who reposition the paper.

Jesus did not look away. When faced with the brutality of death, Jesus walked toward it—and wept. We must reflect on this—God, broken with us at the brutality and injustice of our world.

Then—when everyone thought it was too late and that God had, yet again, missed his opportunity to make everything alright—he called out Lazarus from the grave. What was lost was restored. Injustice of death’s sting replaced by the celebration of resurrection.

And so we cling to this hope. English poet George Herbert said the promise of resurrection is that death is no longer an executioner, but a gardener. “When he tries to bury you, he’s really planting you, and you’re going to come up better than before.”

And so, for today—for a world shattered by terror—a meditation from from Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

Pause and reflect.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Pause and reflect.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Pause and reflect.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 14 (Listen – 3:51)
Matthew 28 (Listen – 2:39)

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Faith and Black Lives Matter :: Weekend Reading List

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 11 (Listen – 4:09)
Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 12 (Listen – 3:06) Matthew 26 (Listen – 10:01)
Jeremiah 13 (Listen – 4:11) Matthew 27 (Listen – 8:45)


Blessed Riddance :: Throwback Thursday

By A.W. Tozer

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray.” — Matthew 24.3-4

Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves—blessed riddance.

The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.

Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward Whom it is directed. Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus.

Sin has twisted our vision inward and made it self-regarding. Unbelief has put self where God should be, and is perilously close to the sin of Lucifer who said, “I will set my throne above the throne of God.” Faith looks out instead of in and the whole life falls into line.

When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is “Thou God sees me.” When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth.

O Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to Thee and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision till I see Thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Thine own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon Thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 10 (Listen – 3:51)
Matthew 24 (Listen – 5:59)


When Church Leaders Let Us Down

[Jesus instructed,] “Do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do.” — Matthew 23.3

Jesus was fantastically under-impressed with the religious leaders of his day. And yet this didn’t diminish his love for God, faithfulness to live according to the Scriptures, or passion for the Church in the slightest.

Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of the Bible, highlights the reasons behind Christ’s frustration and the way he resets the conversation on failed leadership:

Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules… They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help.

Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’

Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do.

Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

J.R.R. Tolkien, in a letter to his son who was thinking of leaving the church, confessed, “I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests.” Even still, the elder Tolkien revealed, he would not leave the church over failed clergy.

His reasoning is profoundly similar to the argument Christ makes: “For myself, I find I become less cynical rather than more—remembering my own sins and follies.”

Leaders of the church fail because they are not the leader of the church. They are, like you and I, fellow sinners and sufferers who sit under the authority of Christ. So how should we respond when church leaders let us down? By grace. This is, of course, the heart of Christianity—and a choice—as Tolkien reminds, “faith is an act of will, inspired by love.”

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 9 (Listen – 4:38)
Matthew 23 (Listen – 4:53)


Taxes and Worship

[Jesus replied,] “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” — Matthew 22.21

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Though the Pharisees’ question was designed to ensnare Jesus, they likely formed it from legitimate concerns in their day. How should a faithful person live under the rule of a pagan government?

The stakes couldn’t be higher during Jesus’ day. Taxes were more than financial support of corrupt systems, they were worship. In Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus Lois Tverberg reimagines Jesus’ interaction with the religious elite:

As the priest’s hand fumbled through the folds of his robe to withdraw a coin, guffaws arose from the crowd. As the shiny disk glinted in the sun, the realization dawned on him that he had just revealed his own hypocrisy. Denarii were strictly forbidden from the Temple, because they bore Caesar’s blasphemous claim to be divine.

Some purists, like the Essenes, refused to touch or even look at this particular coin. But the cleric had no qualms about carrying these pagan money pieces in his pocket. The man’s face reddened as he saw how easily the Galilean rabbi exposed his insincerity.

Now it was Jesus’ disciples turn to smirk. With a look of feigned innocence, Jesus inquired, “Whose image, whose likeness is on this coin?” Caesar’s, of course. It was precisely that image that made the coin forbidden in the Temple. No graven images were permitted, especially not the likeness of an emperor who insisted that he be worshiped as deity. Caesar’s taxes were not just about financial support, but about religious veneration. You were honoring the “god” Caesar by paying tribute to him.

In his reply we see the length at which Jesus believed the words the Spirit would inspire Paul to write: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

More importantly we see that Christ’s concern was far greater than our worldly battles. Tverberg concludes:

Caesar’s face is stamped on the coin because the coins are Caesar’s. They belong to him, they bear his image. Jesus was pointing out that because God had stamped his image on us, God’s reign was far beyond anything Caesar could imagine—it is over all of humanity. Humans are God’s coins, meant to be spent on his world, proclaiming God’s kingdom wherever we circulate.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 8 (Listen – 3:52)
Matthew 22 (Listen – 4:56)