Category: Bible and Theology

factory-workers1When faced with work that feels more like drudgery and toil than collaborative creative service, we are often encouraged to inject our situation with meaning, rather than recognize the inherent value and purpose in the work itself.

In Economic Shalom, Acton’s Reformed primer on faith, work, and economics, John Bolt reminds us that, when enduring through these seasons, we mustn’t get too concerned about temporal circumstances or humanistic notions of meaning and destiny. “As we contemplate our calling, we will not simply consider the current job market,” he writes, “but ask ourselves first-order questions about who we are, why we are here, how God has gifted us, and how we can best serve his purposes.”

This involves reexamining what our work actually is and who it ultimately serves. But it also involves fully understanding God’s design for humanity in the broader created order. As we harness the gifts and resources that God has given us, it is crucial that we understand the source and aims of our toil, and the obligation and responsibility that comes with our authority. (more…)

Human-Male-White-Newborn-Baby-CryingBirthrates across the globe are going down even as life expectancy increases. The former trend is marked particularly in developed nations.

There are lots of reasons for people to have kids or not have kids. Some of these reasons are economic. As I’ve argued previously, “One of the common concerns that drives prospective parents to put off having children is economic, specifically that they won’t have the financial resources to support a growing family. This is a worry that’s been around as long as there have been families.”

Perhaps it really is more difficult in America today to make the economic sacrifice (or perhaps better understood as investment) required for having kids.

But often these kinds of economic reasons end up being used as rationalizations. More honest, at least, is this characterization of a ‘rational’ approach to procreation:

Not having children isn’t selfish. Not having children is a perfectly rational and reasonable response given that humans are essentially parasites on the face of a perfectly lovely and well-balanced planet, ploughing through its natural resources, eradicating its endangered species, and ruining its most wonderful landscapes. This might sound misanthropic, and it is, but it is also true.

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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
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DSC_0700This is a post about that time that President Obama quoted Luther (Martin, the reformer, not the anger translator). Okay, maybe the President didn’t quote the monk with a mallet, but suspend your disbelief for a few more paragraphs at least.

Remember the kerfuffle when President Obama uttered those infamous words, “You didn’t build that”? It was, granted, a long time ago (3 years, in fact). But as I argued at the time, there was some truth in the basic sentiment, even if there was some ambiguity about the President’s intended antecedent.

Lately I ran across this striking passage from one of Martin Luther’s sermons, where he raises the stakes, so to speak, regarding the necessity of civil government for social flourishing. In a 1528 sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, Luther has this to say about the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread”:

When you pray this petition turn your eyes to everything that can prevent our bread from coming and the crops from prospering. Therefore extend your thoughts to all the fields and do not see only the baker’s oven. You pray, therefore, against the devil and the world, who can hinder the grain by tempest and war. We pray also for temporal peace against war, because in times of war we cannot have bread. Likewise, you pray for government, for sustenance and peace, without which you cannot eat: Grant, Lord, that the grain may prosper, that the princes may keep the peace, that war may not break out, that we may give thanks to thee in peace. Therefore it would be proper to stamp the emperor’s or the princes’ coat-of-arms upon bread as well as upon money or coins. Few know that this is included in the Lord’s Prayer. Though the Lord gives bread in sufficient abundance even to the wicked and godless, it is nevertheless fitting that we Christians should know and acknowledge that it comes from God, that we realize that bread, hunger, and war are in God’s hands. If he opens his hand, we have bread and all things in abundance; if he closes it, then it is the opposite. Therefore, do not think that peace is an accidental thing; it is the gift of God. (LW 51:176-177)

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Bishop Angaelos

Bishop Angaelos

The nation of Ethiopia has declared a state of mourning following confirmation that Islamic State terrorists have murdered more Christians in Libya. Numerous statements have been issued by religious leaders, including those from Patriarch Kirill, Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby, in Egypt for a “visit of condolence,” and al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Muslim authority. The following statement, published here in full, is from by Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom:

The confirmation of the murder of Ethiopian Christians by Daesh (IS) in Libya has been received with deep sadness. These executions that unnecessarily and unjustifiably claim the lives of innocent people, wholly undeserving of this brutality, have unfortunately become far too familiar. Once again we see innocent Christians murdered purely for refusing to renounce their Faith.

The Christians of Egypt and Ethiopia have had a shared heritage for centuries. Being predominantly Orthodox Christian communities with a mutual understanding of life and witness, and a common origin in the Coptic Orthodox Church, they now also share an even greater connection through the blood of these contemporary martyrs. (more…)

kuyper-portrait-paintingIn the latest issue of Themelios, Robert Covolo reviews  Abraham Kuyper’s newly translated Scholarship alongside Richard Mouw’s Called to the Life of the Mind, examining the common traits that emerge from two perspectives on scholarship from the “Kuyperian strain.”

Outside of the differences in tone and audience that one might expect from authors separated by a century (and an ocean, for that matter), Covolo notices each author’s emphasis on scholarship as a distinct “sphere,” thus involving a distinct calling. “It is hard not to recognize a strong family resemblance” between the two authors, he writes.

First, a taste of Kuyper:

Kuyper contends that Christians entering academic work must do so recognizing “a distinctive calling in life and a special God-given task” (p. 5). In stark contrast to those who jump through academic hoops merely to secure a good job, Kuyper calls budding Christian scholars to appreciate the privilege afforded them, considering theirs a holy calling as priests of learning. For, according to Kuyper, to be a true Christian scholar requires more (though not less) than sustained and careful thinking, reflecting, analyzing, methodical research, attention to form and an understanding of academic etiquette. It also calls one to a life of humility, prayer, service, pure living and sincere piety. Indeed, Kuyper claims no area of one’s life—from financial planning to taking care of one’s body—is unaffected by this call.

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Jesus Christ the Apple TreeToday is the 70th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the Flossenbürg concentration camp. I’m privileged to offer a brief reflection on Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy over at Public Discourse.

I’ve been working on Bonhoeffer’s thought for over a decade now, and I’m often struck by the depth of his conviction and insight in such troubled times. One of the things about him that I try to highlight in the Public Discourse piece is how Bonhoeffer’s courageous action for the world today was rooted in hopefulness for the world to come. As so many others have often pointed out, and rightly so, Bonhoeffer’s theology and biography are intimately related.

For example, in principle Bonhoeffer affirmed God’s institution of marriage: “Through marriage human beings are procreated for the glory and service of Jesus Christ and the enlarging of Christ’s kingdom.” But even when faced with the dangers of resistance to Hitler and the travails of war and social discord, he took the step of proposing to Maria von Wedemeyer. Planning to marry her was an act of courage, a concrete form of affirming and accepting God’s will for this world.

There is an apocryphal saying attributed to the sixteenth-century reformer Martin Luther, that “if I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” As Scott Hendrix writes, this saying (although it has precedent in a story attributed to Francis of Assisi) actually arises from the Nazi era in Germany: “Scholars believe it originated in the German Confessing Church, which used it to inspire hope and perseverance during its opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.”

Bonhoeffer lived out his own form of that insight through his engagement to Maria in 1943, shortly before his arrest and eventual execution. May Bonhoeffer’s life and work continue to inspire hope and perseverance even in the midst of our suffering and confusion.

Hilarion

Hilarion

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a high ranking bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, commented on a new poll that showed a growing number of Russians are viewing the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in a positive light. Hilarion’s comments amount to a verbal cup of black coffee for those intoxicated with Stalin (1878-1953), one of the most murderous dictators in history. Stalin, who blew up Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 1931, was described by historian Robert Conquest as a man who combined ruthlessness, deception and terror in the extreme. The historian quoted a Russian scholar who said of Stalin’s dictatorship: “We wiped out the best and brightest in our country and, as a result, sapped ourselves of intelligence and energy.”

Metropolitan Hilarion:

“I think that to sober up, some need to go to the Butovo firing range on the outskirts of Moscow,” Ilarion said during a program aired by Channel One on Monday, according to media reports.

Butovo was the site of the largest number of political executions in the Moscow region under Stalin. “The firing range has a museum, photographs of people, it tells you what was happening there: Every day they brought in and shot 200, 300, 400 people,” Ilarion was quoted as saying. “There were 15-16-year-old children. Why were they shot?” (more…)

When struggling with “work that wounds”— work that’s “cross-bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing,” as Lester DeKoster describes it — we can content ourselves by remembering that God is with us in the workplace and our work has meaning.

But although these truths are powerful, God has not left us with only head knowledge and philosophical upgrades. When we give our lives to Christ and choose a path of transformation and obedience, the fruits of the Spirit will manifest in real and tangible ways, despite our circumstances. We will find meaning, but we will also experience peace, patience, and joy, even when it doesn’t make sense.

In Music Box, a classic Christian film from the early 1980s, we see an apt demonstration of this. The joy of the Lord is indeed our strength, not just as some abstract idea, but in real and noticeable ways through the application of mind to hands and hands to creative service. The Gospel breathes new life, even into the most dark and plodding situations.

Watch it here:

In the film, we see a tired and moping man, who lives a life of drudgery at a factory, followed by misery and disconnect at home. The solution? On his way home from work, he finds a magical music box that triggers a chorus of angels. God reminds him of the gift of Jesus — a lesson that sets the man about gift-giving of his own joy and purpose to other people, a newfound capacity that God continues to stretch throughout the film. In short, he’s awakened to the reality that all is gift. (more…)

Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653In his newly translated primer on the book of Matthew, Reformed pastor Cornelis Vonk writes powerfully about the monumental moment of Jesus’ death.

Summarizing the heart of the Gospel and its profound implications for human freedom, Vonk reminds us of the lasting power of God’s incredible sacrifice.

“Death did not overcome Jesus,” Vonk writes, “for he was so willing to lay down his life himself.”

Shortly before dying, Jesus is forsaken by God. This happened when, in addition, an hour-long darkness had spread across the whole (Jewish?) land….We do not know the cause of this darkness, but we do know who caused it: God must have done that.

With that darkness he showed something incomprehensible to our understanding. What was that? That at the end of his life on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ bore the full wrath of God, his wrath against the entire human race. And for what purpose did this happen? So that everyone who one day wanted to enter into eternal life would remain pardoned from condemnation under that divine wrath. How could this be? By Jesus functioning as the perfect substitute who bore that hellish condemnation. Jesus did not need to do that for himself. He had never thought or done anything bad, nor had he been conceived and born in sin. Nevertheless we know that he was condemned by God, forsaken by God.

He said so himself when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 46).

…But Jesus did not die as everybody else up to that point had died. They had to die. But Jesus placed his own life in God’s hand. Matthew writes that he released “his spirit,” that is, his breath. John writes that he “surrendered” the spirit. That word is even more clear. Death did not overcome Jesus, for he was so willing to lay down his life himself. He could do that (John 10:17–18). He had the power to do that, the divine power. And as man, or we say, “according to his human nature,” Jesus had sufficient strength to speak with a loud voice.

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BroadwayUMC-naveIn the early 2000s, Broadway United Methodist Church had a series of outreach programs, including a food pantry, after-school program, clothing ministry, and a summer youth program that served up to 250 children per day. Today, these programs are completely absent, and it’s no accident.

“They’ve been killed off,” writes Robert King in a fascinating profile of the transformation for Faith and Leadership. “In many cases, they were buried with honors. But those ministries, staples of the urban church, are all gone from Broadway. Kaput.”

“One of the things we literally say around here is, ‘Stop helping people.’” says Rev. Mike Mather, the church’s pastor. “I’m serious.”

Although Mather was the first to initiate many of these programs, with some efforts going back as far as the late 1980s, after a series of circumstances, including a series of community tragedies, he began to believe that a new approach was needed. “I started paying attention to what they really cared about,” he says. (more…)