Augustine on Political Leadership :: Readers’ Choice

I love this post. In our incredibly divisive political climate Augustine puts our focus where it needs to be. — Jason

Readers’ Choice (Originally published November 2, 2016)

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

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! — Psalm 123.1

We do not attribute the power of kingdoms and empires to anyone except the true God. It is He who gives happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven to the righteous. And it is He who gives kingly power on earth, both to the righteous and the unrighteous, as it pleases Him. His good pleasure is always just.

He is the one true God who never leaves the human race without justice and help. He gave a kingdom to the Romans, as He also did to the Assyrians—and even the Persians, who, as their own books testify, only worshiped two gods—to say nothing of the Hebrew people, who, as long as they were a kingdom, worshiped none save the true God.

The same One who gave to the Persians harvests gave power to Augustus and also to Nero. To avoid the necessity of going over all of those to whom He has enthroned: He who gave power to the Christian Constantine also gave it to the apostate Julian—whose gifted mind was deceived by a sacrilegious and detestable curiosity, stimulated by the love of power.

Are not all things ruled and governed by the one God as He pleases—and if His motives are hidden, are they therefore unjust?

For if you are awaiting an opportunity, not for liberty to speak the truth, but for license to revile, may you remember Cicero, who says concerning some, “Oh, wretched are those at liberty to sin!” Whoever deems himself happy because of license to revile, he would be far happier if that were not allowed at all.

The cause of the greatness of the Roman empire is neither fortuitous nor fatal. (Some call things fortuitous which have either no causes or causes which do not proceed from some intelligible order; others call that which happens independently of the will of God and man fatal.) In a word, human kingdoms are established by divine providence.

Now, against the sacrilegious and impious darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it.

God is supreme and true—He can never be believed to have left the kingdoms of men, their dominations and servitudes, outside of the laws of His providence.

*Abridged and adapted from The City of God.

The Refrain
Our God is in heaven; whatever he wills to do, he does.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 2 (Listen – 3:19)
Acts 6 (Listen – 2:35)

When Suffering Lingers :: Readers’ Choice

We have been shown that God will get us through times of struggle. “Though we burn, we are not consumed” is a good reminder. — Lucy

Readers’ Choice (Originally published February 20, 2017)

Because the schooling of suffering is so dangerous, it is right to say that this school educates for eternity.
― Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Exodus 3.5

The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.

Reflection: When Suffering Lingers
By Steven Dilla

The burning bush appeared at the height of Israel’s suffering. Early rabbinic writings understood the bush to be a symbol of ancient Israel—persevering under the flame of Egypt’s brutality.

The Greek philosopher Philo expanded the rabbi’s imagery to include all of humanity. “For the burning bramble was a symbol of those who suffered wrong, as the flaming fire of those who did it,“ he explained in his work On the Life of Moses.

Philo was a contemporary of Christ, although the two never would have met (Philo was an aristocrat in Alexandria). The philosopher spent his life exploring the synergy and tension of Jewish scriptural study and Stoicism. His writings reveal through scripture what he could not find in philosophy—meaning in suffering.

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful,” writes Timothy Keller In Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. “There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”

Though we burn, we are not consumed. This is the mere beginning of God’s grace. Endurance is the deposit guaranteeing great reward. God’s promise to those who suffer is not only that the flame will be extinguished, but that all it has burnt will be restored.

The prophets joyfully proclaim God as the one who will return the wasted years. The New Testament crescendos with no more tears, no more death, no more pain—all of it replaced by  new life.

It is the cross that is the enduring symbol of the Christian faith, not the burning bush. The bush reminds us that God always hears the cry of his people. The cross shows us that God stops at nothing—moving heaven and earth, even sacrificing his beloved—to bring them restoration.

The Greeting
Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O Hope of all the ends of the earth.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 1 (Listen – 5:08)
Acts 5 (Listen – 6:49)

God’s Power in Rejection :: Readers’ Choice

It is so often easy to fix our eyes on what we would like our lives to look like, who we would like to be, the kind of success we would like to achieve…and yet, Jesus, who achieved the most important thing in the history of the world, who was “the cure all creation longed for,” appeared to fail, was rejected by His Father. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness; His thoughts and plans are so far beyond our capability to think and plan! May we look to Him instead of ourselves for the victory. — Elisabeth

Readers’ Choice (Originally published October 24, 2016)
By Steven Dilla

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. — Psalm 118.22-23

Picture Joseph: his dreams rejected by his father; cast out by his brothers; thrown out by the Egyptian elite—and yet, cornerstone of Israel. Then David: neglected by his father when the prophet arrived to anoint a king; hated by Saul; hiding in caves—and yet, cornerstone of Israel. The great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon remarks:

Be not afraid, O ye persecuted ones, for you shall fulfill your destiny. It has happened again and again in history that those who have been destined to do great things for the Lord have first of all been compelled to pass through a trying ordeal of misunderstanding and rejection….

At this time, however, we shall confine our application of these verses to our blessed Lord himself, to whom they most evidently refer. Their meaning is focussed upon him, and in reference to him each word is emphatic.

Christ rejected: though he clamored for no earthly power; though he served the poor; though he was the cure all creation longed for. Spurgeon recalls that his was no ordinary rejection—it was unreasonably violent and indignant:

They were not content to say, “He is not the Messiah,” but they turned their hottest malice against him; they were furious at the sight of him. This precious stone was kicked against and rolled about with violence, and all manner of ridicule was poured upon it. Nothing would content them but the blood of the man who had disturbed their consciences and questioned their pretensions.

And yet, he is the cornerstone of Israel. He is exalted—and it is the Lord’s doing. The path of rejection reveals this. Spurgeon concludes:

If the Scribes and Pharisees had endorsed the claims of our Lord it might have been said that Christianity was grafted upon the old stock of Judaism. If Pilate, or Herod, or any of the great ones, especially if the Caesar of the day had accepted it, then the following ages would have said, “Oh yes, he derived his power, and was lifted to his place through the prestige of empire and the prowess of arms.” But it was not so. All the establishments on earth were against him: rank and station despised the carpenter’s son; superstition abhorred his simplicity and spirituality.

“My strength,” God says, “is made perfect in weakness,” and, as the Psalmist says, “it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The Concluding Prayer of the Church
…Preserve me with your mighty power, that I might not fall into sin, nor be overpowered by adversity…

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 24 (Listen – 5:49)
Acts 4 (Listen – 5:15)

CS Lewis on Hope :: Readers’ Choice

I daily need reminding that this world isn’t what I’m working for and won’t make me happy. This blend of Lewis and Scripture was a timely reminder particularly as I began 2017 when it’s easy to focus on worldly goals, ambitions, and blessings. Thank you, Park Forum, for reminding me that I must aim for Heaven first!  — Catherine

Readers’ Choice (Originally published December 27, 2016)
By Steven Dilla

Tolkien’s words yesterday seemed timely, yet nearly discouraging—though he would have wanted his letter to be quite the opposite. Today we turn to his contemporary and, often, sounding board, C.S. Lewis, to highlight the hope he and Tolkien shared.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis writes:

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.

It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.

It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters.

Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilization as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.

Most of us find it very difficult to want “Heaven” at all—except in so far as “Heaven” means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognize it.

Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.

The Refrain
Help me, O Lord my God; save me for your mercy’s sake.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 20-21 (Listen – 9:58)
Acts 1 (Listen – 3:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Joshua 22 (Listen – 6:16) Acts 2 (Listen – 6:35)
Joshua 23 (Listen – 2:31) Acts 3 (Listen – 3:33)

The Edge of Emptiness :: Readers’ Choice

So often we go to prayer with our shopping list and forget that God isn’t Walmart but Creator and Sovereign Lord. Trust is hard, but so worth the sacrifice.  — Sam

Readers’ Choice (Originally published January 18, 2017)
The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.

― Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Scripture: Genesis 18.32

Then [Abraham] said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” [The Lord] answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Reflection: The Edge of Emptiness
By Steven Dilla

Abraham was a Father of the faith whose prayer for Sodom was overruled. Zechariah a priest who was ignored by God for the overwhelming majority of his career (only when he was an old man did God invite him into his presence). Even Jesus—the Son of God himself—did not receive what he earnestly begged for in prayer.

To be holy, it would seem, is something significant, but it is not to live a life of uninterrupted answers to prayer.

Typically at this point, when writing about prayer, you switch gears and redefine the nature of how we are to understand prayer. Kierkegaard once explained:

The earthly minded person thinks and imagines that when he prays, the important thing, the thing he must concentrate upon, is that God should hear what he is praying for. And yet in the true, eternal sense it is just the reverse: the true relation in prayer is not when God hears what is prayed for, but when the person praying continues to pray until he is the one who hears, who hears what God is asking for.

But changing the definition of prayer may let us off the hook too easily. There is a deeper step that we are afraid to speak of.

“Prayer begins at the edge of emptiness,” observes rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Perhaps this is really why it is so difficult for the modern mind to find itself captivated in prayer—the cost of entry is our greatest fear.

Emptiness in a relationship only comes through trust. Emptiness forfeits its perceived future in order to discover a new reality in relationship. Emptiness never results in greater status, in admiration or accolade. But, while emptiness is the first step, it is not the end goal.

Abraham, Zechariah, and Christ were all filled with something greater than what they had before. Their unanswered prayers were not the end, but the beginning.

The Small Verse
My soul thirsts for the strong, living God and all that is within me cries out to him.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 18-19 (Listen – 9:59)
Psalms 149-150 (Listen – 1:26)

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