20160413

Praying for Political Leaders

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions. — 1 Timothy 2.1–2

“You don’t actually need a regression analysis to see that hate, not love, is driving the changes in American politics,” writes Ezra Klein. The (well documented) deep divides between political parties in the U.S. have grown at alarming rates.

When people are caught in a system dominated by hate there is an opportunity for Christians to participate in redemption. The preponderance of brokenness in our world today, both foreign and domestic, should drive us to prayer with extraordinary vigor. Yet we are often reticent to get involved in politics.

N.T. Wright, commenting on why the New Testament needs a command to spur Christians toward praying for political leaders and those under their rule, explains:

For many Christians today, particularly those who (like me) have grown up in the Western world and have never known war or major civil disturbance in our own country, this often seems quite remote…. Yes, we’d like our politicians to use our tax money more effectively, we grumble about some of their policies, but what they do doesn’t drive us to our knees to pray for them, to beseech God to guide them and lead them to create a better world for us all to live in.

Many Christians who are reasonably content with their country are tempted to think that praying for kings and governments is a rather boring, conformist thing to do. It looks like propping up the status quo.

Far from seeing prayer as the easy way out, Scripture challenges us to hold it as the most complex, efficacious, and important thing to which we can give ourselves.

Where we know victims by name we can bring them before God. Where we know of great needs, pain, or injustice without knowing any of the victims or leaders serving them, by name, we can repent. Wright concludes:

In the New Testament, the call to prayer is also the call to think: to think clearly about God and the world, and God’s project for the whole human race. Don’t rest content with the simplistic agendas of the world that suggest you should either idolize your present political system or be working to overthrow it. Try praying for your rulers instead, and watch not only what God will do in your society but also how your own attitudes will grow, change and mature.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 31 (Listen – 2:50)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen – 1:38)

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20160412

Grace for the Future

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. — 1 Timothy 1.16

The grace of God, Søren Kierkegaard explains, “is applied in such a way that one sinks deeper and deeper so as to require continually more and more grace.” This progression from sin to grace, to more grace, is the message of 1 Timothy 1.

Yesterday we read, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Today our minds focus on, “mercy for this reason,” and “perfect patience.” Kierkegaard explains:

Consider a person who is conscious of his guilt and offense. For a long time he goes about in quiet despair and remorsefully broods over it. Then he learns to flee to grace, and he is forgiven everything; everything is infinitely forgiven.

But, the moment he shuts the door of grace, as it were, and goes out full of holy resolve to begin a new life, alas, blissfully stirred by the thought that now all is forgiven and he will never get into that situation again, that very same minute, that very same second, he is on the way to new guilt—in the form of “the best he can do.”

In that same moment he must return again and knock on the door of grace. He must say: Oh, infinite grace, have mercy on me for being here again so soon and having to plead for grace. Now I understand that in order to have peace and rest, in order not to perish in hopeless despair, in order to be able to breathe, and in order to be able to exist at all, I need grace not only for the past but grace for the future.

God’s grace isn’t the light switch that activates independence, but the very power that lights the house. His grace is made perfect in weakness—his mercy shines brightest in the dark. Christians have seen what lies on the inside, and instead of becoming lost in despair, we find our rest in future grace. Kierkegaard concludes:

The difference between an unbeliever and a Christian is not that the latter is without sin. The difference is how he regards his sin and how he is kept in the striving…. The Christian has a Savior…. Bold confidence is not necessarily irresponsibility, but a trusting in grace.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 30 (Listen – 3:51)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:59)

 

20160411

The Fountain of Christ

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. — 1 Timothy 1.15

“The opposite of sin is not virtue but faith,” Søren Kierkegaard famously observed. In many ways the philosopher echoed the voice of the New Testament. Contrary to the prideful response to sin—which sees brokenness as the problem of other people—the saints wrote of sin as a fundamental struggle into which they too had been swept up. Kierkegaard continued:

It is so easy to let a sinful thought sneak into the heart. No seducer was ever so adept as is a sinful thought! It is so easy… until at the end, when you must pay dearly for this first step that cost nothing at all. Very often sin enters into a person as a flatterer; but when the person has become the slave of sin, it is the most terrible sla­very.

In his letter to the Romans Paul revealed, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Far from defeated, the apostle viewed personal pride and brokenness—in light of Christ’s salvation—as vehicles for sanctification. Kierkegaard explained:

In the case of temptation the right thing to do may be to fight it by avoiding it. In the case of spiritual trial, however, one must go through it. Temptation should be avoided? Try not to see or hear what tempts you? Temptation is best fought by running away? But this does not work with thoughts that try the spirit, for they pursue you. If it is spiritual trial, go straight toward it, trusting in God and Christ. When you are weak, he is strong.

Honesty toward pride and brokenness not only fosters humility, it also prevents the sinful placement of faith in good works. “Of all the brilliant sins, affected virtues are the worst,” Kierkegaard warns, concluding:

As long as there are many springs from which to draw water, anxiety about possible water failure does not arise. But when there is only one source! And so it is when Christ has become a person’s one and only spring that spiritual trials begin. Spiritual trial is the expression of a concentration upon Christ as the only source. This is why most people have no spiritual trials.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 29 (Listen – 2:44)
2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 2:16)

 

20160408

How Technology Can Erode Community :: Weekend Reading List

The average person checks their phone 85 times a day. That’s 26% more often than the average amount of notifications (63.5) people receive daily. This type of perpetual connection has rewired conversation. “We are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens,” remarks Sherry Turkle.

In The Flight From Conversation, Turkle acknowledges, “We are tempted to think that our little ‘sips’ of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation.“ Turkle, a researcher at M.I.T., continues:

Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.

Personal screens rewrite the world—holding users, in a glowing spotlight, as both the most powerful and important subject. C.S. Lewis, though he could not have specifically addressed smartphones or social networking, foreshadows some of what’s happening today when he writes, “Man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power,” in The Abolition of Man.

Lewis speaks of modern technology as an extension of science, and science as an extension of magic, or man’s way of gaining independence from God. He explains:

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.

Though technology will serve in ever-increasing roles in daily faith, we cannot look to it as a replacement of the flesh, tears, laughter, sacrifice, forgiveness, and beauty of the face-to-face community of the Church. This may be more difficult than we imagine, Turkle concludes:

We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship. Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 26 (Listen – 2:37)
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 27 (Listen – 2:43) 2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:52)
Proverbs 28 (Listen – 3:07) 2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:32)

20160407

Augustine’s Redemption from Sexual Sin :: Throwback Thursday

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God — 1 Thessalonians 4.3–5

By Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.)

What delighted me more, except to love and be loved? But, the moderate relation of mind to mind was not maintained according to the bright bond of friendship. Rather, the mists of slimy lust of the flesh and of the bubbling froth of puberty rose like hot breath clouding and darkening my heart. It is thus not possible to distinguish the serenity of love from the dark mist of lust.

[Lord,] I moved farther from you and you permitted it. Through my sexual sins, I was scattered and poured out, and my happiness was dissipated; and you kept silent. O how late came my joy! You were silent then, and I still wandered far from you, through more and more sterile seeds of sorrow; proud in my debasement; disturbed in my weariness.

Your hand can blunt the thorns which have no place in your paradise. For your omnipotence is never far from us, even when we are far removed from you. Or I might have listened more carefully to your voice thundering from the clouds; I might have more happily awaited your embraces.

But miserable person that I was, I boiled over and left you, following the violence of my flooding passions. I broke the bonds of your lawful restrictions yet did not escape your punishments. What mortal can?

You were ever present, mercifully angry and befouling all my illicit pleasures with most bitter aversions, so that I might seek to enjoy inoffensive pleasure. Where could I have found this? Certainly not in anything outside of you, O Lord, not outside of you. 

To whom am I telling these things? Not to you O my God; rather, I tell them before you to my own kind, to the human race, no matter how few men may chance upon these pages. For what reason? So that I, and whoever reads this, may realize out of what depths one must cry to you. What is closer to your ears than a heart that is penitent and a life founded on faith?

O God, you are the one, true, and good Lord of your field, which is my heart.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 25 (Listen – 2:56)
1 Thessalonians 4 (Listen – 2:24)