Daily Prayer :: Wind

First steps on the journey of faith and community

October 20 — Evil and the Justice of God

Today we begin  a week and an half pondering a work of N.T. Wright called Evil and the Justice of God (versions these posts were first published in 2012). In this book, Wright is working with the perennial question: “Why is there evil?” and “What is God doing about it?” The lectures that provide the basis were first TV shows on the BBC.  (See the intro on YouTube). The lectures came in response to 9/11, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina and then the earthquake in Pakistan. One of his main thoughts is: “’The problem of evil’ is not something we will ‘solve’ in the present world…[O]ur primary task is not so much to give answers to impossible philosophical questions as to bring signs of God’s new world to birth on the basis of Jesus’ death and in the power of the Spirit, even in the midst of ‘the present evil age’” (p. 11). Let’s think along with him.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read James 4:13-5:6

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Thoughts to ponder

It seems remarkable that the belief in progress still survives and triumphs. The nineteenth century thought it had gotten rid of original sin; of course, it had to find replacements, and Marx and Freud offered some, producing explanatory systems and offering solutions to match: new doctrines of redemption which mirror and parody the Christian one. And somehow, despite the horrific battles of Mons and the Somme during World War I, despite Auschwitz and Buchenwald, despite he truth-telling of Dostoyevsky and Barth, people still continue to this day to suppose that the world is basically a good place and that its problems are more or less solvable by technology, education, “development” in the sense of “Westernization,” and the application, to more and more regions, of Western democracy – and, according to taste, of either Western social-democratic ideals or Western capitalism, or indeed a mixture of both.

This state of affairs has led to three things in particular which I see characteristic as the new problem of evil. First, we ignore evil when it doesn’t hit us in the face. Second we are surprised by evil when it does. Third, we react in immature and dangerous ways as a result. – N. T. Wright in Evil and the Justice of God, pp. 23-4.

Suggestions for action

Hopefully, as you read the quote, you thought about whether you are brainwashed into believing the myth of progress. And you also doubted Marx’ and Freud’s god-less re-dos of a salvation narrative. Ponder the three reactions to evil that Wright finds beneath our dignity.

  • Have you been hit in the face by evil and been forced to notice it, lately?
  • Has any evil “surprised” you, lately?
  • Did you “invade an Afghanistan” in response?

Try making a list of what you are thinking so you can see it. It is very easy to put the headphones on and cling to denial.

October 19 — Light in the postmodern era

We must be doers of the word.
In the postmodern era it is even more important to speak the truth in love, and a love in Christ.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read Ephesians 4:1-24

Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… You must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves.

More thoughts for meditation

The philosophical rules of the modern era (approx. 1500 to the present) still rule the world, especially through the scientific process. But the postmodern deconstruction of modern thinking and the world that thinking built is making big changes. Once again, as has happened throughout history, people are putting on another version of “the futility of their minds.” The former rules that organized work, government and relationships are rapidly changing. People are confused. You might be confused too.

In this changing era, the Apostle Paul’s understanding of reality is increasingly foreign to people. He assumes that something outside himself (in His case, the living God), is responsible for reality. The younger one is, the more likely they are to think that meaning is “made” as they experience it and name it themselves. People increasingly think that reality exists once people are done negotiating or fighting for their sensibilities to prevail in the social ferment. Contrary to that, Paul thinks that reality is made by God and is experienced in relationship with him and by living the meaningful life Jesus offers. Postmoderns are perfecting how to socially construct reality, they think. Paul thinks reality is in Christ⁠—Jesus followers carry that meaning in themselves; they are knit together in community by the Spirit of God and demonstrate the reality of God-with-us as a body.

Telling truths like Paul tells may seem inappropriate to the latest crop of people. So it is probably better to show it, not just argue it. Revealing the presence of God’s love will be more convincing than a good argument. Truth will need to get in there, but love will need to lead the way.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Keep my heart soft, Lord. Grow me up in every way into the light.

It is a confusing era for many believers. They feel attacked and sometimes scared. They feel like expressing or even having faith is somehow frowned upon. Tackling the problems of how to think and relate can be exhausting.

So let that problem go for a while. Spend a few minutes relaxing in God’s love right now. If you are reading on the train, you might want to sit down when you arrive at the station to be embraced by new life as you arrange the “clothing” of your new self and settle down to be led through a day full of hope. If you are getting ready for bed, lay down in light and let yourself sense God’s grace.

October 18 — How we learn

We must be doers of the word
We learn best person to person, not program to person.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read John 14:7-17

Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

More thoughts for meditation

In John 14 we can see a great example of God’s approach to teaching. It is person-to-person. God came to us as a person, not a concept. The Lord’s teaching was not focused on holding a “class;” it happened as he was moving along in life.

A few years ago, one of the most influential megachurches in the United States repented of being “program based.” Here are excerpts from a report on that from Leadership Journal:

Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business…

[They thought] “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put so many of their eggs into the program-driven church basket, you can understand their shock when the research revealed that increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more…

[Their pastor said] “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, Bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

People from churches organized like Willow Creek often feel the loss of participating in programs when they become part of Circle of Hope. Their Christianity was all about participating in a thing, not being a people. We are trying to live a life, not do a program. In a society dominated by business-practices, that takes some adjustment.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Lead me to do the works you do in the way you do them.

Can you take a few minutes to make two lists? Answer these two questions.

1) What does your life teach about Jesus? (Seriously, think that through; and don’t focus on the holes in the Swiss cheese of you).

2) What is our life together teaching you about Jesus? (Think about what is happening outside the meetings and this blog, too, but don’t devalue them).

« Older posts