The Slavery of Plenty

Scripture: Galatians 4:6-7
Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Reflection: The Slavery of Plenty
By Jon Polk

Paul’s insinuation that we are slaves to forces outside ourselves is met with resistance by modern readers. We like to think of ourselves as independent beings in control of our own destinies.

We may acknowledge that those who live in countries around the world with oppressive political systems are in a form of bondage, as are those trapped by addictions to drugs or alcohol. But many who live comfortably, with good jobs, happy families and spacious homes, are reluctant to identify with the slave metaphor Paul uses to describe our fallen state.

However, although we may not recognize it, we are far too easily enslaved by our possessions, our comfortable way of life, or our status and authority.

Christians can find it difficult to resist the temptation to return to our old selfish ways. Paul is concerned for the Galatians because they “are turning back to those weak and miserable forces” (v. 9).

In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther acknowledges this difficulty, referring to our old nature as slaves to the Law.

If it thrusts its nose into the business of justification we must talk harshly to the Law to keep it in its place. The conscience ought not to be on speaking terms with the Law. The conscience ought to know only Christ. To say this is easy, but in times of trial, when the conscience writhes in the presence of God, it is not so easy to do.

The Holy Spirit living in us reminds us that we are daughters and sons of God through the sacrifice of Christ, who was sent by God to set us free. We are no longer slaves to our selfish nature or to the cultural forces of materialism and security that seek to draw our attention away from God. Luther encourages us,

If we could be fully persuaded that we are in the good grace of God, that our sins are forgiven, that we have the Spirit of Christ, that we are the beloved children of God, we would be ever so happy and grateful to God.

As we begin to grasp the depth of what God has done for us through Christ, we find ourselves on the road to freedom, discovering our true satisfaction in God alone.

A Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62:6

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 24 (Listen – 4:48)
Galatians 4 (Listen – 4:13)

Love, Suffering, and the Struggle for Racial Equality

Scripture: Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Reflection: Love, Suffering, and the Struggle for Racial Equality
By John Tillman

Racism was not “solved” in the 60s during the civil rights era. As we read from Dr. Hayashida’s remarks from forty years ago, we see clearly the struggle was still ongoing in 1978, and we must acknowledge that it is still ongoing today.

I believe ethnic minority Christians need encouragement. For although they are Christians, the biting reality remains that they are still ethnic minorities, people who continue to contest for equality in all phases of American society….

Laws are changing. But laws and societal restructuring represent mere surface modifications. Many living in American society are experiencing no great transformation of racial attitudes. It’s easier to melt steel than it is to soften the rigid sinews of a warped heart. Because of slow-changing racial attitudes, then, I feel ethnic minority Christians must be encouraged to understand their spiritual identity in Christ Jesus.

Dr. Hayashida goes on to encourage minority Christians to study 1 Corinthians 13 and to embody the “suffering” verbs in the King James translation: suffereth, beareth, believeth, hopeth, and endureth.

It is this bountiful love of God that powers an individual to endure his hurts.

I’m not suggesting that Christians stand idly by while evil and injustice run rampant. But a Christian is asked to endure while actively working for justice, which I recognize is often slow in coming. We must suffer for Christ’s sake—a task for the strong, not the weak.

Racism must never be thought of by Christians as a problem solved by some previous era or some significant historical event. History has taught us that racism springs to life anew in each generation. In the current racial struggles that our world is facing, denial equals complicity.

When we work for racial equality we are not doing political work—we are doing God’s work. We must struggle and suffer together with God as we engage in his work of bringing freedom and equality to every people. As we do, God suffers and works with us.

The Bible reveals a God who shares in the travails of his people…I know of no other religion that makes such ado about a transcendent God who grieves for and with his people (the saints) and all people (non-believers, as Jesus weeping for the stiff-necked city of Jerusalem).

As God suffers for mankind, learn to share his sensitivities. God truly identifies in your sorrows. You are not alone. God is with you. May we be with him.

A Reading
…Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. — Matthew 10:38-39

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 23 (Listen – 5:38)
Galatians 3 (Listen – 4:39)

The Responsibility of Racial Reconciliation

Scripture: Galatians 2:11
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

How can a careful study of Scripture help the Anglo-American find a base of support from which he can launch out to become a courageous instrument of God’s peace? Can a more defined awareness of the worth and dignity of a human being contribute to a healthier racial attitude? What can you do, as a white American Christian, to demonstrate the love and work of God in your life? — Dr. Nelson Hayashida

Reflection: The Responsibility of Racial Reconciliation
By John Tillman

In Stormy Road for This Pilgrim, written in 1978, Dr. Nelson Hayashida includes a chapter titled, “A Challenge to Anglo-American Christians.” His first recommendation for White Christians struggling to understand and deal with the racial tensions of the time was to study the confrontation of the early Apostles with racial groups.

One of the most radical elements of Christianity has always been its assertion of racial equality. But that is not to say that the church has not struggled to assert this truth in our segmented and divided world. The New Testament is full of battles and arguments along racial and cultural lines—each step of the way moving the young faith closer to full acceptance of all races as being united in God’s kingdom.

It is notable that Greek Christians made little headway in being accepted on their own. They relied on their Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith to speak up for them. It was Paul, the “Hebrew of Hebrews” who was the most ardent spokesperson for the Gentile believers who were being marginalized and forced to, in essence, convert twice—once to traditional Judaism, and then, following that, to the Christian “sect” of Judaism.

In today’s racial climate, many seem to put the burden of overcoming societal barriers on the immigrant, the minority. But Dr. Hayashida was prophetically clear in 1978 that the unresolved racial strife of his time would not be solved by actions undertaken by the minorities themselves, Black, Asian, or otherwise.

Anglo-American Christians must be out in the forefront in the drama of this battle. They are the ones entrusted with the major responsibility for enhancing the evolution of a societal atmosphere in which equality, justice, and respect abound for all Americans.

It is the responsibility of the more powerful party to ensure the equitability of any reconciliation. And it is up to White Christians today to not grow complacent or be in denial about the very real struggles that disproportionately affect our racial minority brethren.

Reconciliation requires both parties in any conflict to participate and either party can make the first move. However, if one party refuses to acknowledge the conflict and maintains their innocence, there can be no forward movement.

The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31:23

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 22 (Listen – 5:22)
Galatians 2 (Listen – 3:44)

Overcoming Hatred :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: Galatians 1:22-24
I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me.

As a culture, we hate our neighbor, this I know, for the data tells me so. Our collective obsession with hate shows in our tweets, in our clicks, in our content views, and in how many times we watch gifs of our enemies getting punched or hit with objects. Then the algorithms of our news feeds, regurgitate back to us content similar to what we’ve already digested.

Hatred is often fueled by injustice—at times merely perceived injustice. The injustices visited on most of us could not compare with that of our Liberian brothers and sisters. Yet this prayer’s blunt confession is one that our culture deeply needs to pray. We are consumed by hatred.

God have mercy on us. — John

Overcoming Hatred :: Worldwide Prayer
A Prayer for Strength to Forgive from Liberia

My Lord and my God,

Even though your nature is love I find that sometimes I am consumed by hatred.

Because I and my people have been treated so unjustly by fellow human beings it is hard not to hate.

My desire has always been to do your will and I know your will in this matter is for me to forgive.

Dear Jesus, you love me and you gave your life for me. You forgave all my sins, all the wrongs I have done against you and against my fellow human beings.

Even though my inclination is to keep on hating and to seek the downfall of those who oppress me, yet, because you have revealed your loving nature by dying on the Cross for me I know I must love just as you love—and forgive as you forgive.

Give me the strength, dear Lord to continue to love and forgive those who hurt me, to your glory, honor, and praise.

Amen.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

The Refrain
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 21 (Listen – 4:34)
Galatians 1 (Listen – 3:05)

Meaning In Suffering

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12.10
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a bunch of conversations in which the unspoken assumption was that the main goal of life is to maximize happiness. — David Brooks

Reflection: Meaning In Suffering
The Park Forum

The scripture’s affirmation of suffering as part of life, and even as a spiritual practice, can be alarming at first. “Consider it pure joy when you face trials,” James challenges. Paul, as usual, takes it farther; “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” This profound acknowledgment of the reality of suffering, and ultimate purpose in it, stands in contrast to what we hear most often.

In an interview on suffering, Timothy Keller explains,

In secular culture the meaning of life is to be free to choose what makes you happy in this life. Suffering destroys that meaning. And so, in the secular view, suffering can have no meaning at all. It can’t be a chapter in your life story — it is just the interruption or even the end of your life story.

While it is possible to suffer without purpose, something David Brooks acknowledges in his exploration of What Suffering Does, the gospel draws us to the way Christ renews even our deepest pains. Keller continues:

On the one hand, God is absolutely sovereign over suffering. It’s never out of his control. It’s always part of his plan. On the other hand, God has come into the world himself and actually suffered with us.

No other religion says that God is both a sovereign and a suffering God. This is the theological foundation for why Christians can be so realistic and yet so hopeful about suffering at the same time.

Because there is meaning in suffering we can refocus our attention toward the outcome. Brooks concludes,

Notice this phenomenon. When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is, of course, the joy Paul found in his many sufferings. His heart for the first Christians was that they would experience it, too, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 18 (Listen – 6:16)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:46)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 19 (Listen – 5:00) 2 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 3:54)
2 Samuel 20 (Listen – 4:51) 2 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:19)

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