Faith, Love, and Apps :: Readers’ Choice

Faith, Love, and Apps :: Readers’ Choice
Steven Dilla (originally published July 20, 2015)

Readers’ Choice

“This opened my eyes and moved my mind out of its box of what’s comfortable and taken for granted. A topic that needs to be addressed thoughtfully, prayerfully, and unselfishly by any calling themselves followers of Christ.” — Sam

Acts 7:55
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Steve Jobs famously admonished Stanford’s graduating class a decade ago. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” The message was reverberant; Follow your passion became the central career goal of an entire generation.

Steve Jobs got to do what he loved because tens of thousands of laborers on the other side of the world did not have access to such privilege. They labored daily — and still do — to painstakingly assemble tens of millions of electronic devices for the western world’s insatiable consumption.

We don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to see such effects from technology. The on demand economy is roaring into the mainstream — lead by the likes of Uber, a so-called unicorn, valued at $50 billion.

Uber has over 130,000 drivers worldwide — none of them are employees. They do not get healthcare, holidays, vacation, or overtime. Drivers in California are fighting back — but Uber’s plans for the future don’t appear to be focused around making life better for drivers. The company recently lured 40 robotics engineers away from Carnegie Mellon. Drivers are a stop-gap until the robots take over.

The world does not need another impotent social media campaign against injustice. It needs Christians who, like Stephen in Acts, are willing to lay down their lives because they have a clear vision of God’s glory.

I struggle with this reality. I regularly punch through emails on my iPhone while riding through Midtown in an Uber. I try to connect with my drivers on a personal level, to tip, and to enter into even small moments of redemption in what can otherwise be a dehumanized transaction. But I feel like there is more to be done.

Job’s exhortation, “don’t settle,” which he repeats in the speech, is apt advice. God’s grace frees us from demanding our every need be met and from expecting to spend each day in comfort while others suffer. Christians can engage differently in the on demand economy — starting a conversation around this in our communities would be a first step. We can also encourage one another not to simply make the vocational choices of least resistance or most benefit, but to passionately engage our faith in our work.

We remember Stephen not because he did what he loved, but because he gave up everything to follow the one he loved.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 18 (Listen – 4:30)
Romans 16 (Listen – 3:30)


Thwarted Plans :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published April 22, 2015)

“‘The glory of grace’ is something I somehow manage to overlook in daily life. How amazing that God would give his only Son for me? That the pain of my sin would fall on his shoulders? And yet, He loves me. He loves me.” — Anna

Psalm 33:10-11
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Stephen Colbert mocked the terrorists, saying their intentions were thwarted by the very people they tried to hurt: “But here is where these cowards really don’t get. They attacked the Boston Marathon. An event celebrating people who run twenty-six miles on their day off … And when those bombs went off, there were runners who, after finishing a marathon, kept running for another two miles to the hospital to donate blood. So here’s what I know. These maniacs may have tried to make life bad for the people of Boston, but all they can ever do is show just how good those people are.”

In Psalm 33, the Psalmist sings, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” Thousands of years ago, “lawless men” sought to silence the King of Glory, but God frustrated their plans. 

As Peter said, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

In Spectacular Sins, John Piper writes, “In the death of Christ, the powers of darkness did their best to destroy the glory of the Son of God. This is the apex of evil. But instead they found themselves quoting the script of ancient prophecy and acting the part assigned by God. Precisely in putting Christ to death, they put his glory on display—the very glory that they aimed to destroy. The apex of evil achieved the apex of the glory of Christ. The glory of grace.”

Lord, although much about the bombings in Boston remains a mystery to us, we know one thing—when we see terrorists try to spread fear and hatred and, instead, spread love and compassion, we see your glory. No plan of yours can be thwarted—not even when evil appears to have won. Give us a vision for spectacular sins that achieve the apex of Christ’s glory. Amen.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 17 (Listen – 8:59)
Romans 15 (Listen – 4:32)


The Hardest Prayer :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published July 17, 2015)

“When friends ask me to pray for their prodigals I always ask permission before I pray as I do for my own children: ‘Whatever it takes, Lord!’ That prayer takes a little courage and a lot of trust because He may not answer the way I would choose.” — Sam

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness. —Acts 4.29

I pray the safest prayers for the people closest to me. Praying risky things for myself seems slightly more natural: my prayer, my life, my risk. Sometimes I pray for strength and courage for a martyr I’ve read about, partially because I’m not sure how else to pray for them. Their faith is deeper than mine.

Then I get to my family and closest friends. I’m quite content praying for safety, comfort, instant healing, and a host of other luxuries. I just want things for them to be fine.

I’ve often gotten lost looking at the picture of Martin Luther King Jr. pulling a burnt cross out of his lawn. Hatred came to his home. Radical anger burned in his front yard. His young son stands next to him as he pulls the charred cross out of the lawn. Dr. King’s prayers and bold response to the gospel put his family at great risk. Every day.

Surely he meditated Acts 4. In the account, Peter and John have just been released from questioning. They have been threatened with jail — a threat with the subtext of beatings and possibly death — and yet they pray for boldness.

The easy thing for Peter and John would have been to have a prayer meeting about the government’s overreach and pray God would stop it. The comfortable thing would have been to pray for blessing and a new leader. But the Church’s growth would have stopped in that moment.

Like Dr. King, it was the disciples’ boldness, risk, and willingness to sacrifice for the sake of Christ that moved the gospel into the forefront of civic and social life.

Faith atrophies in the pseudo-comfort of modern life. Children who grow up without taking risks or engaging their beliefs against opposition, or friends who never work through hardship and forgiveness together, become intolerable. It is only in great difficulty that people discover the strength woven into them as image-bearers of God. Only when someone is overwhelmed do they look beyond their own strength to a God who loves and cares for them.

The hardest prayers are often the most loving prayers we can pray. They grow our trust in God, engage our faith in the complexity of the world, and challenge our communities to unite around the gospel. God grow our faith.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 16 (Listen – 3:45)
Romans 14 (Listen – 3:28)


Rest For the Weary :: The Weekend Reading List

“My mood would darken until, by Saturday afternoon, I’d be unresponsive and morose,” writes Judith Shulevitz, in her piece for the New York Times Magazine. Shulevitz, who left Judaism at a young age, explores the personal, societal, and structural difficulties of reclaiming sabbath.

My normal routine, which involved brunch with friends and swapping tales of misadventure in the relentless quest for romance and professional success, made me feel impossibly restless. I started spending Saturdays by myself. After a while I got lonely and did something that, as a teenager profoundly put off by her religious education, I could never have imagined wanting to do. I began dropping in on a nearby synagogue.

It was only much later that I developed a theory about my condition. I was suffering from the lack [of a Sabbath]. There is ample evidence that our relationship to work is out of whack. Ours is a society that pegs status to overachievement; we can’t help admiring workaholics. Let me argue, instead, on behalf of an institution that has kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands of years.

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.

The benefits from time off have not escaped secularism: creating regular moments of rest is a thriving topic of modern fascination. Even Alain de Botton, the author of Religion for Atheists, has called for a sabbatarian approach to media. But it is possible to take time off without finding the restoration of Sabbath. In a white paper for leaders at Redeemer Presbyterian Timothy Keller draws the distinction:

Sabbath is about more than external rest of the body; it is about inner rest of the soul. We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves — to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have. Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation. Only then will you be able to “walk away” regularly from your vocational work and rest.

In sabbath we are restored through communion with the divine as we engage in rest, nature, friendship, and devotional practice. We become recipients of mercy and grace, finding healing from the wounds of our callous world. We discover joy and strength as we give ourselves to resting in God. For it is in Christ we find our hope, which transcends circumstance, to make strong our weary souls.

Today’s Reading
1 Samuel 13 (Listen – 3:54)
Romans 11 (Listen – 5:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: 1 Samuel 14 (Listen – 9:01); Romans 12 (Listen – 2:58)
Sunday: 1 Samuel 15 (
Listen – 5:46); Romans 13 (Listen – 2:35)

Weekend Reading List


Bringing the Gospel to Life :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published July 16, 2015)

“I often lack compassion towards homelessness, but was grieved reading this post and learning of the pain they feel when people stop looking them in the eye. I regret the times I have unknowingly dehumanized a homeless person by simply looking away. God, please give me eyes that meet their eyes and see these precious people the way You see them” — Kara

Peter directed his gaze at [the crippled man], as did John, and said, “Look at us.” —Acts 3.4

The Sunshine Hotel opened in 1922 on the Bowery in lower Manhattan. At $4.50 a night the flop house has given tens of thousands of men a four foot by six foot room, crowned with a chickenwire ceiling, and a cot. Many of the men struggle with addiction, isolation, and a host of pain — but each has a story worth hearing.

For years a raspy-voiced man named Nathan Smith sat inside the metal caged reception room at the Sunshine. Smith cared deeply for the men, helping them find jobs, homes, and treatment programs. “He saw a lot of beauty there that a lot of us couldn’t see,” his daughter said when Smith passed away in 2002.

The hotel’s sign was removed years ago and there are fewer rooms available, but there are still full-time residents. It can be easy to miss the faces of these men today, the Sunshine now is eclipsed by a high-end grocer and a $50 million art museum.

Homeless people regularly say the most painful part of living on the street is that other people stop looking them in the eye. It was the same in Acts 3. Peter has to ask a beggar to look at him. Hundreds are streaming by, a few toss some money in his cup to assuage their guilt of not caring. Peter wants to connect.

It is a profound act of faith to discover another person’s humanity — draw it to the front of the conversation — it’s also the context for miraculous things to happen. Faith is always cultivated in the context of relationship.

This year a group of young professional New Yorkers started visiting the Sunshine Hotel to document the stories of the men they found there. Operating under the name Hear the Hungry, the group says, “We aim to create a moving portrait of the human condition.”

It is the work of the church to extend our time, energy, and effort to the marginalized and oppressed, but it starts with listening. Hear the Hungry asks, “What can we do as a society to lift up our neighbors and help seal the cracks that these people fell through?” It is the faith to ask questions, and the courage to reorient our lives in response to what we learn, that brings the gospel to life.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 12 (Listen – 4:19)
Romans 10 (Listen – 3:21)