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)

God’s Presence in Vocation :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published January 16, 2015)


“We are in full-time service to our Lord as he gifts us with our talents, be it in engineering, carpentry, medicine, trash collection, missions, the arts or whatever.'” — Audrey


Exodus 31.1-6
The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel… and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab… Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you.”

There are particular places we expect God to be present. In ancient Israel’s day we see God’s Spirit reside in the holy of holies — a space distinct from every part of common life. We also see the special relationship Israel’s leaders and pillars of faith had with him (Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron to name a few).

Bezalel and Oholiab are outliers to this expectation, but not to the way God’s Spirit works. Both men are tradesmen who are filled with God’s Spirit to engage in their vocation in a unique and transcendent way. (They are not the first to have this happen.)

God creates work as an invitation into creation and empowers it as a pathway into deeper relationship with Him. Work’s transcendent value comes from him.

“If the God of the Bible exists,” posits Timothy Keller in Every Good Endeavor, “and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest of ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”

God’s presence reaches into every part of the world as his Spirit empowers people of faith in each vocation. 

“No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest,” insists Abraham Kuyper. As an advocate for God’s presence in all things, Kuyper proclaims, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Prayer
Father, thank you for creating, empowering, and valuing work. Give us the ability to engage in our vocations in ways which bring honor and glory to you. Give us vision for your Kingdom in our fields and in the lives of those we work with. Help us to see our work, as Dr. Keller says, as your “assignment to serve others.”

Daily Reading
Judges 19 (Listen – 4:52)
Acts 23 (Listen – 5:15)

The Emptiness of Scrapping The Supernatural :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published January 16, 2015)


“This prayer from so long ago glorifies Christ. So much of the time our prayers, including my own, are about ourselves! This is a reminder of ‘Jesus the Christ.'” — Antonette


Matthew 16.15-16
“But what about you?” [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In 1819, while sitting in Monticello, Thomas Jefferson finished working on his book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. The book would later be given the moniker, The Jefferson Bible. For countless nights Jefferson painstakingly worked his way, with razor and glue, through English, French, Latin, and Greek copies of the New Testament piecing together his own account of Jesus. The book holds Jesus as a key leader in thought and ethics, scrapping any reference to supernatural works or divine claims. 

Jefferson looked to Christ exclusively as a moral guide. The Founding Father’s Naturalist views informed his work as he helped lay the foundation for American government and thought. (He began talking about the book two decades prior to its publication, in the years preceding his presidency.) Reading through Jefferson’s creation as an American is enlightening. Much of our culture’s tendency to reduce religion to moralism is set like an orchestra to the tuning pitch of Jefferson’s perspective of Christ. Reading The Jefferson Bible as a Christian, however, is disheartening.

Jesus is never given the chance to connect speech to action in Jefferson’s account. I found myself startled  at the end of the Jefferson Bible. Jesus was hung on the cross and breathed his last. He spoke nothing to the heavens. After the account of his death, I turned the page and the book was over. The earth did not tremble at the loss of its redeemer. No women anointed the body of their lost friend and savior. There was certainly no resurrection in Jefferson’s account. As I sat in silence I realized that the Jefferson Bible leaves its readers only with a moral burden. 

Jesus’ teachings give us aspirations for a great life and clarity of our mistakes. This was Jefferson’s lone pursuit. But the jig is up for most of us today; we know moralism can’t deliver. It’s Jesus, the Son of God, who came to take away the sins of the world. He gives us hope, joy, meaning, and peace. Peter’s proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah seems odd in an age of skepticism, but it’s the heart of why everything else in the Christian faith matters. 

Prayers from the Past:
He that is immortal suffered much for us: Jesus, the Christ. 

Celestial offshoot of David’s race: Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus, the Christ; glorified throughout the world, the only Son, the deathless: Jesus, the Christ.

In His mercy he came down from heaven to earth: Jesus, the Christ. 

From all eternity he has pointed out the true way of life: Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus Christ, Son of Mary.

— Prayer in an Egyptian sarcophagus, unknown date.

Daily Reading
Judges 18 (Listen – 4:39)
Acts 22 (Listen – 4:26)

The Cost Of Forgiveness :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published February 10, 2015)

“My family was profoundly betrayed at levels we could never have imagined. Knowing we had to forgive, this post helped us to understand not only what forgiveness is but what it isn’t as well.” — Lisa

Genesis 43.31, 34
After Joseph had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.” […and] they feasted and drank freely with him.

Research on forgiveness has surged, according to a PBS series on mental health. Those who forgive, “are more likely to be happy, serene, empathetic, hopeful, and agreeable,” the series summarizes, adding that forgiving people also experience:

  • Fewer episodes of depression
  • Higher self-esteem
  • More friends
  • Longer marriages
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Closer relationships
  • Fewer stress-related heath issues
  • Better immune system function
  • Lower rates of disease

It’s important to clarify what we mean by forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the same as (1) reconciliation, (2) forgetting, (3) condoning or excusing, or (4) justice, clarifies Sonja Lyubomirsky in, The How of Happiness.

Forgiveness is an act of faith where the offended party chooses not to be taken captive in a cycle of retribution. It’s a way for the offended to release themselves from the control of the offender. 

Forgiveness always has a cost. The deeper the wound, the higher the cost. We see this in the story of Joseph’s feast with his brothers in Genesis 43. The most significant cost wasn’t financial or social, although Joseph sacrificed in both ways. (Feasts were expensive and ancient Egyptians considered eating with Israelites an abomination).

The greatest cost was the toll forgiveness and restoration took on Joseph. He retreated to his private room to weep after he saw his brother Benjamin. Upon returning Joseph intentionally blessed the brothers who cursed him.

By hosting a feast for his brothers, Joseph was inviting the source of his deepest pain to partake in the fruits of his greatest blessing. 

Forgiveness rarely comes out on top in a cost/benefit analysis. The only sufficient reason to forgive is if we look beyond the parties of the offended and the offender. Forgiveness for the Christian is less about conjuring an emotion and more about praying to God for the ability to extend his forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

In Joseph’s case, being willing to endure the cost of forgiveness laid the groundwork for an entire nation and ultimately for Christ — the suffering servant who would forgive us all.

Prayer
Our Father in heaven, holy is your name. We see that your calling to forgive others is better for us, yet we struggle in the realities and pains of life. Strengthen and guide us to forgive as you have forgiven. We ask for this in Jesus’ name.

Today’s Readings
Judges 17 (Listen – 1:50)
Acts 21 (Listen – 5:55)

Modern Persecution and Religious Violence :: The Weekend Reading List

“The future of Christianity in the region of its birth is now uncertain,” writes Eliza Griswold in The New York Times Magazine. “ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.” Griswold’s stores of families torn apart, mass beheadings, crucifixion, displacement, forced labor, and rape are heart wrenching.

Sadly these atrocities are not unique to the Middle East — active persecution is present in well over 100 countries according to a Pew Study. Even more disheartening, violence, persecution, and harassment of religious minorities is occurring at greater levels every year.

Religion and Violence
The lack of awareness around modern persecution is striking. It is one of a few global issues that are treated with passivity. This may be the fruit of the misguided cultural assumption that violence is the natural path of religion.

In her book Fields of Blood, which explores religion and the history of human violence, Karen Armstrong draws a key historic trend to the surface. The New York Times Book Review summarizes her thesis:

“First, throughout most of human history, people have chosen to intertwine religion with all their other activities, including, notably, how they are governed. This was ‘not because ambitious churchmen had mixed up two essentially distinct activities,’ [Armstrong] says, ‘but because people wanted to endow everything they did with significance.’

“Second, this involvement with politics means that religions have often been tied up with violence: Crusaders, conquistadors, jihadists, and many more. But — a point Armstrong cares about so much that she makes it dozens of times — the violence almost always originates with the state and spills over to religion, rather than vice versa.”

“Third… ‘As an inspiration for terrorism… nationalism has been far more productive than religion.’”

Persecution’s Root
Armstrong’s argument is important because it reveals the fact that religion is not the world’s problem (a point missing in many current debates). Of course the mishandling of religion, by people, governments, or radicals, is not the core problem of our world either. If humankind’s problems were so simple we would surely have come to our own rescue by this point in history.

Our world aches and groans under the brokenness, pride, and destruction of an evil we cannot conquer. The good news of Christ is that we are not left to our own resolve — he has secured the victory we could not.

While we await the full fruit of his righteousness we join together to remember those languishing under the scourge of persecution. We can give ourselves to them in prayer, as well as direct action through groups like Voice of the Martyrs.

Together we join in the cry of the church throughout history: come quickly, Lord Jesus.

 

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

This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Judges 15 (Listen – 3:13); Acts 19 (Listen – 5:47)
Sunday: Judges 16 (Listen – 5:59); Acts 20 (Listen – 5:22)

The Weekend Reading List

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