Racism is Not a New Challenge

We take a look, this week, at the overarching theme in Acts of the Holy Spirit’s work to overcome racism in the early church and its implications for us today. — John

Scripture: Acts 18.6
When they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.

Reflection: Racism is Not a New Challenge
By John Tillman

In Dr. David Y. Hirano’s autobiographical account, included in Stormy Road for This Pilgrim by Dr. Nelson Hayashida, he discusses his role as a Japanese American minister attempting to mediate between White Christians in a Boston suburb and the Black Power movement.

While working in the local church I was also working for justice on the denominational scene. I thought that I, who was neither black nor white could mediate between the two.

The Black Power movement had a great effect on me. Even though I did it laughingly I could speak of “yellow power.” In working with black people I was finding my own identity. I began to see consciously the impact racism had on me.

No matter our racial identity—whether we are a minority or majority in our context—racism has an impact on each of us. Racism was a given in every ancient culture. (And if we are honest it is in ours as well.) The early followers of Christ were not exceptions to this cultural racism.

Many Jews, although a persecuted minority, had lost the original meaning of being chosen by God to bless the other nations of the world. Instead, being “chosen people” had become the root of an attitude of racial purity and exceptionalism. It is partly this exclusionary attitude that drives Paul, a “Hebrew of Hebrews” to abandon speaking to his own people about Jesus and to devote his life to ministering outside his race.

Dr. Hirano experienced similar frustration in his work to mediate racial tensions during the Civil Rights era, such that he eventually focused his efforts elsewhere.

The gains we made came hard and took a long time. There were people hurt by them and relationships were strained…if white racism was to be eliminated, then white people had to do the job themselves.

Dr. Hirano’s observation from the depths of the Civil Rights movement is still true today. The church—whether the early church, that of Dr. Hirano’s and Dr. King’s generation, or the church of our generation—doesn’t struggle with racism because Christians are racist, but because humans are.

Each generation must deal with racism. Racism is not a new barrier to Christianity or a new challenge that Christians must now navigate. Part of the story of Acts is the story of the Holy Spirit smashing every barrier between the message of the Gospel and the peoples of the world. One of those barriers was the racism of the early Christians and their surrounding cultures.

Our modern world would little care about racism if Christianity had not led the way slowly over 2000 years in proclaiming the equal value of all men before God. But gains of the past have been hard won and can be lost. We must continue to find identity in Christ and escape the cultural traps of racial identity or apathy. We must not fail to contend for the oppressed and to keep our hearts soft to cries for justice.

The Cry of the Church
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 14 (Listen – 3:35)
Acts 18 (Listen – 4:06)

Resting in Hopelessness :: Readers’ Choice

I’ve been pestering God lately about what my “next step” should be. He’s been pestering me about my need to rest content in where I am right now. He’ll present that next step when He wants me to take it and not a moment sooner. So I wait. Contented. — Sam

Conclusion or contentment? My choice would be closure. Get things done and move on to the next objective; that’s my fallback. This devotion reminds me that it is in the relinquishing of control and the drive for perfection that God brings me face to face with my own need for the Gospel. — Donna

Readers’ Choice (Originally published October 4, 2016)

For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. — Psalm 88.3

If Christianity has lost anything in the transition from its eastern roots to modern western culture it is surely its emphasis on contentment. It takes enormous energy to find contentment in the day-to-day of material-oriented life—let alone to find it in the depths of pain and discomfort.

The journey of contentment is often short-circuited by our appetite for conclusion. Contentment requires one to sit in the midst of whatever is happening without longing for “the next step.” It necessitates performance-oriented people relinquish their commitment to get everything right. Sitting in contentment isn’t about getting answers, but gaining understanding.

In The Resurrection of the Son of God, bishop N.T. Wright contrasts what the authors of scripture ought to have felt with the reality they confess in their deepest struggles:

When this strong faith in YHWH as the creator, the life-giver, the God of ultimate justice met the apparent contradiction of the injustices and sufferings of life, at that point there was, as we have seen, a chance of fresh belief springing up. Not that the sufferings of Israel always evoked this response. Psalm 88, and the book of Job, are evidence to the contrary.

Psalm 88 is disturbing not only because, as Spurgeon says, it is, “the darkest of all the Psalms; it has hardly a spot of light in it,” but because it doesn’t even try to move forward out of the abyss.

The psalmist pours out pain, frustration, and disappointment before God. The lament is unapologetic and lacks a move toward restoration: it weeps, aches, complains, and accuses. Then it ends.

Contentment, in this way, is not satisfaction in the moment but the ability to be fully present. It creates margin for the exploration of the soul and space for transparency in what was found. Contentment’s fruit is born not in resolution, but in presence.

We fear contentment because it has become conflated with complacency. How can we rest at peace when there are great things to accomplish, proper beliefs to be held, and greener pastures in which we could find ourselves? And so we press on—unaware, performing, and restless.

The invitation of Psalm 88 is to stop. Discover where you are—don’t judge it against where you ought be, or what you ought believe—just find yourself. It’s only here that the journey of authentic community and renewal in the gospel can take root.

The Cry of the Church
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 11:12-40 (Listen – 5:53)
Acts 15 (Listen – 5:43)

This Weekend’s Readings
Judges 12 (Listen – 2:21) Acts 16 (Listen – 5:53)
Judges 13 (Listen – 3:44) Acts 17 (Listen – 5:28)

Deepest Desire :: Readers’ Choice

Its a powerful thought that humility will bring out other positive traits. A nice contrast to pride, which has the opposite effect. — Jason

Readers’ Choice (Originally published February 6, 2017)

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

― Timothy Keller

Scripture: Genesis 39.17-18

And she told [Potiphar] the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

Reflection: Deepest Desire

The Park Forum

Every ancient culture had a standard for how to respond to adultery. Few of these standards were humane by any modern definition. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest legal writings in human history—and is the source for numerous cultures’ standards afterward—commands:

If a man’s wife should be seized lying with another male, they shall bind them and cast them into the water; if the wife’s master allows his wife to live, then the king shall allow his subject (i.e., the other male) to live.

This law is very similar to another in the Torah, as well as to how the Egyptian elite would have responded to Joseph’s alleged infidelity with Potiphar’s wife. From a legal perspective it is stunning he lived. From an emotional perspective it is more stunning he did not offer himself in response to a woman’s desire.

Centuries after Joseph, Ambrose of Milan would observe:

Though [Joseph] sprung from the noble family of the patriarchs, he was not ashamed of his base slavery; rather he adorned it with his ready service, and made it glorious by his virtues.

He knew how to be humble who had to go through the hands of both buyer and seller, and called them, Lord. Hear him as he humbles himself: “Because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

Full of humility are his words, full, too, of chastity. Of humility, for he was obedient to his Lord; of an honorable spirit, for he was grateful; full, also, of chastity, for he thought it a terrible sin to be defiled by so great a crime.

Chastity, in other words, was not Joseph’s chief virtue. Somewhere along the way Joseph had learned to see past himself—every decision he made was a derivative of his humility. Something other than personal satisfaction became Joseph’s deepest desire.

The Request for Presence
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 10-11:11 (Listen – 7:11)
Acts 14 (Listen – 3:54)

The Sojourner’s Trust :: Readers’ Choice

The last sentence has been the zinger for me for the last few months! The over-arching question asked, “What do you really want out of life?” is one I’ll be bringing up with a granddaughter! — Barbara

Readers’ Choice (Originally published January 25, 2017)

Do not rush after the planned work; trust that the time to finish it will be given sometime, and keep a quiet heart about it.

― Annie Keary

Scripture: Genesis 26.3

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.

Reflection: The Sojourner’s Trust
By Elisabeth Elliot

What do we really want in life? Sometimes I have the chance to ask this question of high school or college students. I am surprised at how few have a ready answer. Oh, they could come up with quite a long list of things, but is there one thing above all others that they desire?

One thing have I asked of the Lord,” said David, “this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” To the rich young man who wanted eternal life Jesus said, “One thing you lack… go sell everything.” In the parable of the sower Jesus tells us that the seed which is choked by thorns has fallen into a heart clogged with the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things.

The apostle Paul said, “One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

A quiet heart is content with what God gives. It is enough. All is grace. Response is what matters. Remember that our forefathers were all guided by the pillar of cloud, all passed through the sea, all ate and drank the same spiritual food and drink, but God was not pleased with most of them.

Their response was all wrong. Bitter about the portions allowed they indulged in idolatry, gluttony, and sexual sin. The same almighty God apportioned their experiences. All events serve his will. Some responded in faith, most did not.

God came down and lived in this same world, as a man. He showed us how to live in this world, subject to its vicissitudes and necessities, that we might be changed—not into an angel or a storybook princess, not wafted into another world, but changed into saints in this world. The secret is Christ in me, not a different set of circumstances.

*Abridged from The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter, March/April 1995.

The Refrain
Happy are the people whose strength is in you; whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 9 (Listen – 8:22)
Acts 13 (Listen – 7:36)

The Lord Be With You :: Readers’ Choice

 I love how this separates God’s presence from success and his absence from failure. How many of us need to shed the circumstantial “god” for the reality of Christ. — Jason

Readers’ Choice (Originally published February 8, 2017)

Since the Lord was with him there he was comforted; it would be infinitely better to be there with God than on the throne of Pharaoh without God.

― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Scripture: Genesis 41.14

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit.

Reflection: The Lord Be With You
By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Scripture frequently sums up a man’s life in a single sentence. Here is the biography of Joseph sketched by inspiration: “God was with him”—so Stephen testified in his famous speech recorded in Acts.

Observe, however, that the portraits of Scripture give us not only the outer, but the inner life of the man. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart; and so the Scriptural descriptions of men are not of their visible life alone, but of their spiritual life. Here we have Joseph as God saw him, the real Joseph.

Externally it did not always appear that God was with him, for he did not always seem to be a prosperous man; but when you come to look into the inmost soul of this servant of God, you see his true likeness—he lived in communion with the Most High, and God blessed him.

Furthermore, “The Lord was with Joseph,” but it did not screen him from temptation of the worst kind: it did not prevent his mistress casting her wicked eyes upon him. The best of men may be tempted to the worst of crimes.

The presence of God did not screen him from slander: the base woman accused him of outrageous wickedness, and God permitted Potiphar to believe her. You and I would have said, “If the Lord be with us how can this evil happen to us?” Ah, but the Lord was with him, and yet he was a slandered man.

The divine presence did not screen him from pain: he sat in prison wearing fetters till the iron entered into his soul, and yet “The Lord was with him.” That presence did not save him from disappointment. He said to the butler, “Think of me when it is well with thee”; but the butler altogether forgot him.

Everything may seem to go against you, and yet God may be with you. The Lord does not promise you that you shall have what looks like prosperity, but you shall have what is real prosperity in the best sense.

*Abridged and language updated from A Miniature Portrait Of Joseph by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

The Request for Presence
Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 8 (Listen – 5:08)
Acts 12 (Listen – 3:49)

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