Immortality and Resurrection

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 7.2
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.

At the end of tax season in the US, we take a look back at this 2015 post from The Park Forum. The issues discussed are, of course, immortal. — John

Reflection: Immortality and Resurrection
The Park Forum

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. — Benjamin Franklin

Franklin could not have foreseen Silicon Valley. Today’s tech elite feel differently (possibly about both issues, but we’ll focus on the desire to upgrade life for this weekend.)

“Death makes me very angry. Premature death makes me angrier still” says Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle who has invested over $430 million into anti-aging research.

Peter Thiel — who co-founded PayPal and Palantir, and has a net worth over $2.2 billion — told Sonia Arisen, “The great unfinished task of the modern world is to turn death from a fact of life into a problem to be solved — a problem towards whose solution I hope to contribute in whatever way I can.”

The Washington Post describes Thiel as, “the embodiment of Silicon Valley culture at its individualistic, impatient extreme,” and he is at the helm of modern tech’s latest quest: to end death.

Max Anderson posted on Forbes about Thiel’s recent conversation with N.T. Wright:

“For Thiel, life is a self-evident good and death is the opposite of life. Therefore death is a problem, and as he says there are three main ways of approaching it. ‘You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.’ Whether we can successfully fight death is a question about the nature of nature and about our ability to understand it. Whether we should try to fight death is a question of our philosophy and our theology.”

Anderson quotes N.T. Wright from Surprised by Hope:

“The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present — by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself — will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
W can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life; For the ransom of our life is so great, that we should never have enough to pay it. — Psalm 49.10

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 7 (Listen – 3:37)
2 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 8 (Listen – 2:41) 2 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:48)
Ecclesiastes 9 (Listen – 3:13) Titus 1 (Listen – 2:24)

The Weekend Reading List
Peter Thiel, N.T. Wright On Technology, Hope, And The End Of Death by Max Anderson
Tech Titans’ Latest Project: Defy Death by Ariana Eunjung Cha
100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith by Sonia Arisen (Basic Books, 2011)
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright (HarperOne, 2008)

Remember Jesus Christ

Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:8
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.

Reflection: Remember Jesus Christ
By Jon Polk

Instructions to remember are commonplace across the landscape of Scripture.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. (Ex. 20:8)
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. (Deut. 15:15)
These days should be remembered and observed in every generation. (Est. 9:28)
Remember the law of my servant Moses. (Mal. 4:4)
This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. (1 Cor. 11:24)

Remembering in Scripture is often a calling to focus on God’s commands or to recall God’s intervention in history.

The apostle Paul in his role as mentor encourages his protégé, the young minister Timothy, that when doing the work of the gospel, we must “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.” Paul also tells Timothy to “Keep reminding God’s people of these things.”

Why? Because apparently many in the church were arguing about unimportant matters.

The most commonly quoted verse from 2 Timothy 2, “Do your best to present yourself to God as a worker approved,” is nestled between injunctions to cease “quarreling about words” and to “avoid godless chatter.”

When public discourse becomes volatile and contentious, it is far too easy for us to become distracted by matters of lesser importance. To become God’s workers who “correctly handle the word of truth,” we must focus on remembering God’s faithfulness to us, particularly through the resurrected Christ. Remembering helps us to keep the main thing the main thing.

Remembering the good news of the risen Christ provides perspective for our lives.

Remembering the resurrection also recalls Christ’s suffering and reminds us that we may experience suffering, too.

Remembering the Messiah who was in the lineage of David encourages us that God can and will work through the frailness of our own humanity.

The call to remember Jesus Christ as our focus, our goal and our hope, is echoed by a phrase in the Barmen Declaration, written in 1934 by Karl Barth and the Confessing Church in response to powers seeking to use the church in service of the nation of Germany:

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

As the shadow of Easter Sunday begins to lengthen, let us diligently continue to remember.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me. — Psalm 101.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 6 (Listen – 1:44)
2 Timothy 2 (Listen – 3:17)

Unsurprising Oppression

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 5.8-9
If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.

Reflection: Unsurprising Oppression
By John Tillman

The teacher of Ecclesiastes and the teacher of Galilee seem to agree that oppression and poverty are a condition of the world that should not be surprising to us, but that doesn’t make them apathetic laissez-faire economists.

Solomon, the teacher of Ecclesiastes, says we should be unsurprised to see oppression of the poor and systemic corruption in the government.

Jesus, the teacher of Galilee, says the poor will always be with us.

Neither of them would have expected their words to be portrayed as endorsements of a laissez-faire attitude toward poverty or oppression.

Rather than an endorsement, Solomon’s statement is a confession of complicity. The king himself profits from the fields. The profit of the corrupt system, and the guilt for it, passes up the chain of authority and distributes itself throughout the entire economic system to every citizen. And Solomon calls this profit, “meaningless.”

And in the case of Christ’s words, often misquoted by politicians looking to cut social spending, Jesus is referencing an Old Testament passage everyone in the room would have instantly recognized. The other half of the sentence from Deuteronomy that Jesus is referencing is, “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

Jesus is specifically referencing the abandoned economic practices of Jubilee. Under this system, debts (regardless of their origins or the wisdom of the debtors) were to be forgiven every seven years, including a complete reset of property rights once in a generation.

There is little biblical evidence that the system was ever followed as God prescribed it. If it had been followed generational poverty would be impossible. However, the pull of meaningless profit and gain for gain’s sake was too strong for ancient Israel and is too strong for us today.

As the teacher says:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.

The meaninglessness of accumulating wealth is a universal symptom of our sinful condition. We are all affected by it, from the top economic strata to the bottom.

May we be generous not just with tangible resources, but by influencing the way our culture thinks about poverty.

In a world in which the poor and oppressed are too often excoriated as complicit in their own oppression, may we speak words of truth and comfort backed up with tangible aid.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; he perceives the houghty from afar. — Psalm 138.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 5 (Listen – 2:50)
2 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:37)

Where Martyrdom Begins Part 1

Scripture: 2 Timothy 4.6-8
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.

Even though Western Christians are not facing anything that could truly be called persecution, it is still possible, even in a modern, Western, Christian church to be martyred. Over the next two days we will look back at a not-so-recent story of a martyr that never really made it into the headlines and reflect on where martyrdom begins for every Christian. — John

Reflection: Where Martyrdom Begins Part 1
By John Tillman

Does martyrdom begin when a knife is held to your throat? If laying down our lives for another shows the greatest love, is it not possible to show that love unless our lives are taken in violence?

On July 26th, 2016, near the city of Rouen, in France, a Catholic priest, Father Jacques Hamel, was killed in a vicious attack. The attack occurred during mass in the church at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, where, despite being of retirement age, the 85 year old had served as auxiliary priest since 2005.

It’s easy to think that when Jesus referred to laying his life down for his friends, he was referring to his imminent death on the cross. And we are right to do so. He died for us. He gave up his life on the cross. But stopping there simplifies what Jesus did — and what he said — into one single act.

Dying on the cross was not the only way that Jesus gave up his life for his disciples. On the cross it was finished, not begun. Jesus didn’t just live for himself his whole life and then in one grand gesture, decide to sacrifice his life for all of humanity. He gave up his life for his followers in little moments and big ones, bit by bit, in every minute that he was with them.

When Jesus talked about giving up his life and commanded his followers to do as he did, he hadn’t died yet. What he had just done was wash their feet. He had lowered himself from his position as leader to serve them. And he served them in a way that was unreasonable, even degrading, in the eyes of some.

Our laying down our lives for each other as Christ did may include physical martyrdom, but it definitely includes more than that. It is harder than that. Father Hamel spent seconds—perhaps minutes—dying for his flock. He spent more than a half-century serving them.

We are commanded to take up our cross daily, not finally. It is in the so-called small, everyday sacrifices that we give our lives for each other. We do it in each hour, each moment, that we remember to not stay in lofty positions as respected teachers and friends, but to lower ourselves, perhaps humiliatingly, to serve each other.

Revised and abridged from a post on Garage For Faith.

The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you. — Psalm 25.19

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 14 (Listen – 5:06)
2 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:48)

Read More: Where Martyrdom Begins Part 2
Physically giving up your life — being martyred — on behalf of others is loving as Christ did on one day of his life. But giving up your rights purposely, embracing humiliating servitude to help others, and doing it with a heart of love and not resentment, is how Christ loved us on every other day of his life. 

The Heart of the Reformation

Scripture: 2 Timothy 3.14-15
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Reflection: The Heart of the Reformation
The Park Forum

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther, then a Catholic Priest, pounded his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Posting topics for debate on the church door was commonplace, and wouldn’t have felt monumental that particular day, but Luther’s confrontation of Catholicism would ultimately spark the Protestant Reformation.

While we want to fasten on the Word, we also want to show how we’re part of a chain in history that goes back, and back, and back. We’re not trying to be so innovative that we’re the first generation to get it all right. — D.A. Carson

Reading the language of Luther, John Calvin, and the other Reformers can be disheartening today. In addition to calling the Pope the “antichrist,” Calvin also hurled names like “pigs,” “riffraff,” and “asses” at his opponents.

“When you read Luther and Calvin, a lot of their polemical statements, a lot of the ways in which they talk about the Papacy, and so-on, you look at them and say, ‘you shouldn’t talk that way,’” concludes Timothy Keller. “But that was a different situation… It was life-and-death.”

The tension of orthodoxy and ecumenicism is the foundation for understanding how the Reformation affects faith today. In an article on the tendency to overuse the label “heretic,” Episcopal Priest Justin Holcomb observes, “We may be tempted to think that since theology so easily divides, we are better off simply agreeing to disagree.”

We must remember that the sum of what Christians should believe is not identical to the essentials we must believe for salvation. We need to leave room for believers to grow in their understanding of the faith. We believe in justification by faith in Christ, not justification by accuracy of doctrine. We are saved by grace, not by intellectual precision. — Justin Holcomb

This doesn’t mean the abandonment of disciplined and thoughtful faith, however. Holcomb reminds, “In order to love God aright, and to be assured of the salvation he offers, we must know who God is and what he has done for us in and through Jesus Christ.”

Modern believers won’t handle the relationship between the Protestant and Catholic Churches the same (even Dr. Keller admits, “I don’t own all that rhetoric”), but we can grow in our understanding of the gospel through the words of the Reformers.

The reason we believe the Reformation is so important is because we think they did get the Bible right. You had a massive movement in which people sought to look at Scripture and find out what the biblical gospel truly was. — Timothy Keller

Integrating the gospel-centrality of the Reformation with a humble and winsome unity with Christians from various theological backgrounds is critical today. And there may be greater opportunity as Protestant support of the Pope soars. For his part, Pope Francis has extended an olive branch. In a letter to Evangelicals and Catholics in Chicago the Pope writes:

We know that the visible unity of the Church is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit, who will bring it about in His time… The division among Christians is the fruit of our sin, and it is a scandal and our greatest impediment for the mission for which the Lord has called us: announcing the Good News of the Gospel.

Today, the blood of the many Christians slaughtered in diverse parts of the world cries out to heaven. The one that persecutes does not make a mistake, he doesn’t ask if they are Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox… they are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, and that is enough. This blood challenges us: Do we have the right to make our divisions a priority while the blood of our brothers is shed for the testimony of Jesus Christ?

This is the moment of reconciliation, to accept “the unity in reconciled diversity,” an expression of Oscar Cullman. We know very well what divides us, let us be more strengthened in what unites us: the common faith in Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior, the Word of God, and Baptism. — Pope Francis

Luther’s intention wasn’t division, but renewal. The heart of the Reformation is the recovery of the gospel, inside the Church, for the good of the world. The Reformers teach us that waywardness in the Church — whether theological heresy or structural division — is overcome by the work of Christ, and that by joining this work we plant seeds of faith for future generations.

The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 115.1

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 13 (Listen – 4:33)
2 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:21)

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