Through Gates of Splendor :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published September 25, 2014)

“I love this post because it both affirms and convicts me. The first half vindicates my intuition that life is irreducibly complex and that reductionistic ways of thinking about God are likely to be wrong. Yet the second half reveals how difficult it is to rest in the ‘happy ending of God’s story’ in the face of everyday disappointments.” — Scott

Psalm 77:9-10
Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion? Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

Elisabeth Elliot , Through Gates of Splendor (1957), Epilogue II (1996)
There is always the urge to oversimplify, to weigh in at once with interpretations that cannot possibly cover all the data or stand up to close inspection. We know, for example, that time and again in the history of the Christian church, the blood of martyrs has been its seed. So we are tempted to assume a simple equation here. Five men died. This will mean x-number of Waorani Christians.

Perhaps so. Perhaps not. Cause and effect are in God’s hands … God is God. I dethrone him in my heart if I demand that he act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice … There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude that says, ‘God has no right to do this to five men unless …’

Those men had long since given themselves without reservation to do the will of God … For us widows, the question as to why the men who had trusted God to be both shield and defender could be allowed to be speared to death was not one that could be smoothly or finally answered in 1956, not yet silenced in 1996 …

I believe with all my heart that God’s Story has a happy ending … But not yet, not necessarily yet. It takes faith to hold on to that in the face of the great burden of experience, which seems to prove otherwise. What God means by happiness and goodness is a far higher thing than we can conceive …

The massacre was a hard fact, widely reported at the time, surprisingly well remembered by many even today. It was interpreted according to the measure of one’s faith or faithfulness–full of meaning or empty. A triumph or a tragedy. An example of brave obedience or a case of fathomless foolishness … But the danger lies in seizing upon the immediate and hoped-for, as though God’s justice is thereby verified …

A healthier faith seeks a reference point outside of all human experience, the Polestar which marks the course of all human events, not forgetting that impenetrable mystery of the interplay of God’s will and man’s … We are sinners. And we are buffoons … It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on. It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God’s and the call is God’s and everything is summoned by him and to his purposes …

Daily Reading
1 Samuel 2 (Listen 6:09)
Romans 2 (Listen – 4:13)

Praying Through the Stress of Work :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published June 12, 2015)

“I love the Park Forum’s consistency and point of view on how faith and work intersect. It really helps me reframe my mornings” — Leiv

Psalm 104.1
Bless the LORD, O my soul! 

The beauty of the psalms is they are not simply inspiration and instruction, but example. In hearing and praying through the psalms we find spiritual vitality in a world austere to the divine. 

The idea of commanding one’s soul to bless the Lord, as the Psalmist does five times in Psalms 103-104, can seem trite and overly emotional — but this is far from the holistic rejoicing the psalmist had in mind.

In his journals Jonathan Edwards reveals the way his spiritual life is burdened by stresses of his vocation. He creates space to recenter himself on Christ through the scriptures, prayer for others, and community. And in this, he rejoices in the joys of his Heavenly Father:

Tuesday, June 26. In the morning my desires seemed to rise, and ascend up freely to God. Was busy most of the day in translating prayers into the language of the Delaware Indians; met with great difficulty… But though I was much discouraged with the extreme difficulty of that work, God supported me; and especially in the evening gave me sweet refreshment. 

“In prayer my soul was enlarged, and my faith drawn into sensible exercise; was enabled to cry to God for [them]; and though the work of their conversion appeared impossible with man, yet with God I saw all things were possible. 

“My faith was much strengthened, by observing the wonderful assistance God afforded his servants Nehemiah and Ezra, in reforming his people, and re-establishing his ancient church. 

“I was much assisted in prayer for dear christian friends, and for others that I apprehended to be Christ-less… [I] was enabled to be instant in prayer for them; and hoped that God would bow the heavens and come down for their salvation. It seemed to me there could be no impediment sufficient to obstruct that glorious work, seeing the living God, as I strongly hoped, was engaged for it. 

“I continued in a solemn frame, lifting up my heart to God for assistance and grace, that I might be more mortified to this present world, that my whole soul might be taken up continually in concern for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom: longed that God would purge me more, that I might be as a chosen vessel to bear his name among the heathens. Continued in this frame till I dropped asleep.

Daily Reading
1 Samuel 1 (Listen 4:13)
Romans 1 (Listen – 5:02)

Christ, Our Hope – Black Lives Matter :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published April 13, 2015)

“AMEN to this reflection. I long for the day when those of us with the power give up our power. And make intentional decisions to live lives that modeled Christ’s serving those around him.” — Brian

Psalm 20.7
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Civil Rights, let-alone equality, for African Americans have been notoriously difficult for The United States to secure, structure, and maintain. Names like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and now Walter Scott, shot eight times in the back by a police officer in South Carolina last week, have become representatives of this national tragedy.

Few in our country believe governance and the mental resolve of the masses alone are sufficient to solve such an insidious problem. In this way we observe part of the words of the Psalmist: we no longer trust in chariots (governance) and horses (power). Yet few of the dominant voices in American culture would offer up “the Lord our God,” as the Psalmist does, as the solution to racism. Perhaps this is to our detriment.

History has its share of those who maligned Scripture to condone racism, slavery, and worse — but it was the words and work of Christ that ultimately crumbled the foundation slavery sat upon. 

Throughout the 1790s William Wilberforce worked tirelessly to eviscerate slavery’s justification in English jurisprudence. “Wilberforce’s embracing of the anti-slavery cause was from the direct effect of embracing the Christian worldview,” The Wilberforce School reports.

Years later, back in the United States, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life to see needed changes in governance and society. We know from his writing and teachings that King knew the catalyst for this change was Christ — the gospel was the solution.

Rev. Dr. King’s seventh “I have a dream” statement — the crescendo of his seminal I Have a Dream speech — quotes the Messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 40.3-5. King was sure to have known this is the only section of the Old Testament quoted in all four gospels — inaugurating the incarnation of Christ in each. 

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope.”

Social activism can raise awareness. Governance can eliminate impunity and protect the vulnerable. Only Christ is sufficient to change the hearts of men, bring justice to the wicked, and heal the broken.

Daily Reading
Ruth 3-4 (Listen – 6:22)
Acts 28 (Listen – 4:56)

The Fruit of War :: The Weekend Reading List

“War is America’s central liturgical act necessary to renew our sense that we are a nation unlike other nations.” — Stanley Hauerwas

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. As a society we keep our language about war as logical and academic as possible. In the church we do this through debating “just war” or exploring pacifism.

It should not surprise us that one of American journalism’s greatest pieces is about war. Nor should it surprise us that it is often forgotten. In 1946, following a year of research and writing, John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” was published in The New Yorker. Reaction to the piece was not all positive, but sold out at newsstands, was republished in newspapers, and read live on the radio. The brutal and personal reality of what happened that day is arresting.

As Mrs. Nakamura stood watching her neighbor, everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen… She had taken a single step (the house was 1,350 yards, or three-quarters of a mile, from the center of the explosion) when something picked her up and she seemed to fly into the next room over the raised sleeping platform, pursued by parts of her house.

Timbers fell around her as she landed, and a shower of tiles pommelled her; everything became dark, for she was buried. The debris did not cover her deeply. She rose up and freed herself. She heard a child cry, “Mother, help me!,” and saw her youngest—Myeko, the five-year-old—buried up to her breast and unable to move. As Mrs. Nakamura started frantically to claw her way toward the baby, she could see or hear nothing of her other children.

Hersey captures the ensuing chaos and, with unadorned observation, confronts American’s with the devastating reality of actions in war.

It [was improbable] that any of the survivors happened to be tuned in on a short-wave rebroadcast of an extraordinary announcement by the President of the United States, which identified the new bomb as atomic: “That bomb had more power than twenty thousand tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British Grand Slam, which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.”

Even if they had known the truth, most of them were too busy or too weary or too badly hurt to care that they were the objects of the first great experiment in the use of atomic power, which (as the voices on the short wave shouted) no country except the United States, with its industrial know-how, its willingness to throw two billion gold dollars into an important wartime gamble, could possibly have developed.

The devastation of war is horrendous. Pausing to examine it thoughtfully could change our national discourse. Perhaps the reason such conversations are avoided is that the root cause of war is even darker than its effects on humanity. It is a grotesque culmination of the fall of humankind for which we cannot muster a sufficient solution.

We weep at the brokenness of this world. We must not forget that Christ did not come to overthrow one evil government (who was starting wars all over vast parts of the world), but to defeat the cause of war. He is the Prince of Peace, and through his victory over death we find not just respite, but renewal and hope in a world at war.


Today’s Reading
Judges 21 (Listen – 3:47)
Acts 25 (Listen – 4:40)

This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Ruth 1 (Listen – 3:33); Acts 26 (Listen – 5:17)
Sunday: Ruth 2 (Listen – 3:56); Acts 27 (Listen – 6:09)

The Weekend Reading List

  • Hiroshima by John Hersey for the New Yorker, 1946.
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Finding Patience to Wait :: Readers’ Choice

Bethany Jenkins (originally published April 23, 2014)

Readers’ Choice

“The prayer at the end sums it up beautifully: Prayer: Lord, longsuffering is not passive, but aggressive. It takes power of soul.'” — Sam

Titus 2 11-14
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Waiting: We are all in the waiting room — for a test result, for a baby, for a wedding day, for a job offer. Here, in Titus 2, we read that we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” How do we wait, though, without growing cynical, idolatrous, and despairing?

Eros: Perhaps the old word for patience — long-suffering — better describes how we experience waiting. In Love Within Limits, Lewis Smedes contrasts patience born of natural love (eros) with patience born of divine love (agape). He writes, “Erotic love has no power for longsuffering. Eros is desire … It can be frustrated when we do not get exactly and enduringly what we long for. It can be betrayed when people renege on a promise to fulfill our need. It can be burned out when what filled us for a season suddenly leaves us empty. Born from suffering, eros is destined for suffering. That erotic love does not have power to suffer long is its built-in tragedy. It must suffer, but it has no strength for longsuffering. Eros cannot wait.”

Agape: Agape, however, “has the power to be creatively weak. Because it is not driven by ardent need, it has power to wait. It gives power to accept life, to find goodness in living while we are victims of situations we despise. This is the only way to explain two attitudes we observe in Jesus toward his own horrible suffering. In Gethsemane, we hear him plead with God to be spared the cross that lay ahead … The next day, as he bears his cross to Calvary, he tells the weeping women who follow him: ‘Don’t cry for me.’ Here we see his power to affirm himself as the loving Lord and free Savior who chose to suffer, to be a victim of suffering. He was not a helpless victim of tragedy; he was a powerful person who chose to be weak. He had the strength to become a victim even while he affirmed his own life as free in obedience to love.”

Prayer: Lord, long-suffering is not passive, but aggressive. It takes power of soul. Our only hope in waiting, therefore, is the power of your divine love that moves us toward one another and toward you. May we seek your face and find your love that we may be longsuffering. Amen.

Daily Reading
Judges 20 (Listen – 7:13)
Acts 24 (Listen – 4:11)

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