Category Archives: Topical & Current Events

Good Things

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Bradley Yam, Saybrook ’21. Bradley is majoring in Ethics, Politics and Economics.

Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

            I am more blessed than I dare imagine. I am blessed with a loving family. I am blessed with generous, kind, and understanding friends. I am blessed with a place of privilege at Yale. I am blessed with many good things. It is possible that I am blessed with so many things I could hardly list them here even if I wanted to. And yet, why do I still anxiously scramble from place to place, why do I constantly fret and worry about the future, and why am I often dissatisfied with what I have?

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

            The light shines brighter in the darkness. Water tastes best in the desert. It is easier to choose the better thing amongst bad options, than when surrounded by good but deceptive ones. Christianity is often chalked up to a kind of asceticism; a denial of the self for the sake of heavenly rewards. If this is true, then it is only the most basic of truths, for what becomes of the heavenly rewards when heaven must eventually meet earth? Must they not also incarnate, as our Lord Jesus has?

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

            St Matthew’s formulation seems superficially transactional. If we seek first the Kingdom, the things of God, then we will get everything else we want. Let’s disabuse ourselves of this notion. If we seek the Kingdom for the sake of these other good things, then we are actually seeking these other good things, and instrumentalizing the Kingdom. In this case, we get neither the Kingdom nor the good things. To truly receive good things, we must earnestly seek the Kingdom for its goodness itself.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”

            The Kingdom seems abstract enough, but perhaps this is how we tell when we have found it: when our attention on the Kingdom is healthy, then we will suddenly become alive to the true goodness of the good things in our lives. C.S. Lewis, in his essay “First Things”, said: “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things.” We seek the Kingdom because its goodness shines forth from all the good things that are already around us, and by seeking it, we receive the ability to enjoy the good things we already possess. These good things shine in their roles as sub-luminaries, declaring and announcing the final, ultimate, singular, perfect Good: The Good King himself, returning to reclaim his Kingdom.

God’s Assurance in Academic Chaos

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

by Bella Gamboa, Jonathan Edwards ’22.

            In many ways, the month of April is one of unrivaled busyness on campus. It seems that sources of anxiety in every sector conspire to cause a certain chaos and even franticness as students finish midterms, look forward to the summer, and, for a quarter of the undergraduate population, prepare to leave. I was startled by and caught up in the tumult of this season, one in which academic and extracurricular stressors seem at odds with the (slowly) improving weather, longer, sunnier days, and desire to enjoy the last weeks of whatever stage of college we are in. In this clamor, I regrettably have found myself distracted from the deeper significance and proper focus of the next few weeks — not the pile of readings or pages of writings I must tackle, but a man, at first glance a remarkably ordinary one, who died on a cross two millennia ago.

            Although such a connection between this collegiate time and Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, with its annual celebration on Easter, may seem tenuous or irrelevant, it is vital to how I conceive of (or, more honestly, try to conceive of) the endless activities and tasks that are present not only in April, but almost constantly. And God’s relevance is equally ever-present.

             Christianity does not merely offer platitudes with which we ought to bolster ourselves or paste over difficulties. Rather, the claims of the Gospel truly require a reorientation in our understanding of ourselves that cannot but impact even aspects of life from which it seems removed. While reading through the Psalms recently, I was struck by the beginning of Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.… It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2). These verses shocked me in the way they spoke to my rather frazzled and sleep-deprived state. Unless rooted in and coming from God, my labor is futile; only in Him is there meaning and provision. I found this both comforting — an all-loving and all-powerful God will provide for me, even when my schedule seems to be making life unnecessarily challenging — but also an important exhortation. It is all too easy to work away in this sort of futility, fulfilling assignments out of obligation, or even for ourselves, but not through or for God.

            And I do think that only in God can we work in a valuable, sustainable, and truly fruitful way. If we work primarily to excel for our own sakes, to get that internship or that job, any failure becomes crushing, even though, as human beings, we will inevitably fail at times. But the Biblical message about our shortcomings is quite antithetical to such an understanding of our work. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul offers one of the many possible responses to such an impulse: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Not only are we incapable of attaining salvation, or even simpler matters like academic perfection, but God calls us to receive, not to work and prove ourselves in any way. Rather, our salvation has already been attained on our behalf through Jesus Christ, and our only choice is to accept this freely given gift. Our labors no longer have such power or exert such pressure over us, because there is nothing we can do to further or lose what has already been achieved for us.

            Thus, Jesus’ death on the cross, the significance of which we should always try to appreciate but which we particularly celebrate on Easter, offers a critical reminder and comfort as this holy season coincides with remarkable busyness — we are not what you achieve or do; our labors do not give us value or salvation. We must, and really only can, lean on what Jesus has already accomplished for us, and which we could never do ourselves — in his death, he defeated and saved us from sin and death. Rather than getting caught up in the springtime tumult and exerting, even exhausting yourself, perhaps attempt in this Lenten season to instead admit our own helplessness and insufficiency, and joyfully receive a gift which we can never repay.

The True Giver

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Serena Puang, Davenport ’22.

In high school, I was always busy. My Saturdays were filled with debate tournaments, band competitions, and rushing around trying to do homework in between. I thought I would have time in college to rest, but something about having the freedom to organize my own schedule didn’t pan out the way I hoped. I spent a lot more time doing work than I wanted to, and I felt like I didn’t even have time to eat in dining halls, much less “take a break” as everyone told me to do. I was tired, but it would be worth it right?

It’s so easy to fall into a routine of busy-ness. Deadlines are constantly around the corner, opportunities are floating around waiting to be grasped, and there’s always someone you’re supposed to catch up with. Our lives are filled with noise, and that’s why youth groups, churches, and fellowships across the nation flock to retreat centers. I’ve loved my times there. Something about getting away from the chaos of life is really life giving, and I know so many people who have heard from God while at retreat (myself included). It just bothered me that sometimes, that’s the only place people feel like they hear from God. We pray for God to “meet us” up on the mountain, and we ignore that He’s there with us all the time. Why is it that I could read my Bible for two hours at a retreat but the aspect of doing so at home seemed out of the realm of possibility? I thought a lot about that at Winter Retreat this year. At the October Retreat the semester before, I resolved to have a morning a month that I spent with God–just reading my Bible for like 3 hours and praying; three months later, I had yet to actually follow through. During winter retreat, we talked about spiritual disciplines, and fasting in particular stood out to me. My roommate (who’s a Muslim) has talked throughout the year about the fasting she does for Ramadan, and I realized I’ve never truly fasted anything. Christian fasting calls us to empty ourselves so we can turn toward the things of God and be filled with Him. Through the process of fasting, we learn to depend on God more and trust Him in ways we probably wouldn’t otherwise.

I wanted to try it, so I decided that I wanted to observe the Sabbath (for me, this is sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday but people do it differently) and fast from working for 24 hours each week. I told some friends and my roommate to keep me accountable, and that next Friday, I worked like crazy up till the sun went down, and then when it did, I shut my computer mid-sentence and went to go to an inter ministry worship night. It wasn’t easy the first time, but on my second week, I kind of got excited as the sun started to set, and by the fifth week, I shut my computer half an hour early. The thing is, I thought I was making a big sacrifice giving up my time so I could do things like prepare for leading Bible study through prayer or eat dinner with friends I haven’t seen in a while or have my 3 hour quiet time Saturday morning, but instead, God has used that time to bless me, give me rest, and help me grow in my faith. My fast from working has given me opportunities to be a good friend to those I may be too busy to chat with otherwise. It’s made time for me to meet non-Yale members of my church and for me to pray over big life decisions like what to do with my summer. All this time I thought I was struggling to give a gift to God, but it turns out that He was trying to give a gift to me.

 

Reimagined Dreams

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

Bryce McDonald ’21 is a Classics concentrator in Leverett House.

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.”
–Psalm 126:1-3

Whether we are aware of it or not, we naturally discern between proper and improper ways of dreaming. When Martin Luther King asks us to buy into his dream for humankind, we enthusiastically tell him to take the lead—he seems to give us a direct path to achieve it, primarily through various forms of political activism. His dreaming is meaningful because it changes how he lives in the present. On the other hand, we often use the term “dreamer” derogatorily for someone who is air-headed and unrealistic, as in John Lennon’s line in the song “Imagine,” “You may say I’m a dreamer // But I’m not the only one.”

Among the dreams we often encounter in our society’s collective conscious, the American Dream looms large. The idea that anyone can attain material distinction through his own great effort seems to be a trope ingrained in the historic essence of the United States. Yet, many people today have ceased to be awestruck by the magnificence of this dream. Perhaps the reason why can be found in the Scripture readings for today.

John 12 tells the story of Mary, whose brother Lazarus had been raised from the dead by Jesus. In this episode, she is seen pouring out an entire jar of very costly perfume straight onto the feet of Jesus. She did this knowing that Jesus would soon go up voluntarily to Jerusalem and suffer a horrific death at the hand of the Jewish leaders.

From a purely economic point of view, this was pure delusion. Judas (Jesus’ friend who would later betray him to be killed) represents this perspective clearly (verse 5), complaining at the impracticality of this act, though actually disappointed that he was not able to embezzle a portion of it for himself.

For Mary, this perfume was an enormous sacrifice, almost a whole year’s wages. From a material, traditionally American perspective, her devotion makes no sense. However, when he brought her brother Lazarus back from death, Jesus had given Mary a small taste of what was to come at the end of time. Accordingly, she was immediately able to reorient her priorities to anticipate that spiritual reality. This is simply a manifestation of her renewed ideals.

Through the story of the Gospel, the dream referred to in Psalm 126 has become reality, as we have been adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God. The Gospel is found in microcosm in the story of Lazarus: once, we were dead, and have been raised to life through the loving work of Christ. How then do we successfully make that dream more real for ourselves, as Mary did so naturally?

First, we must snap ourselves out of another dream, the dream of self-reliance. We go about our lives in a dream, a haze of ambition, chasing down priorities which align exactly with those of the rest of our culture. In its undiluted form, this kind of dream is a delusion of autonomy, and succeeds in shutting God out of our lives.

Mary rightly behaved towards Jesus as though she were in a dream. She saw how the gleam of material possessions pales in comparison with the infinite value of our Savior’s love. We must hope to imitate her as the apostle Paul did, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). This is the sort of dream, the vision of the afterlife, which makes us more invested in the current day. Unlike the Gatsby-like idealist, the Christian ought to be more concerned about this world, about aligning our desires and actions with those of Christ, not less. Our “body of sin” must be cleansed, not left behind, by submitting it to the will of God, one bit at a time, minute by minute. (Romans 6:6) For, under Christ’s dominion, each facet of creation is sacred, imbued with value and goodness by the love of God.

This kind of dreaming and forward-looking lifestyle explains why materialists cannot begin to understand the “irrational” hope of the Christian, and the “mechanics” of a sacrificial life. Unlike the American Dream, Christianity rests its hope not on social, but spiritual mobility, holding that because of Christ’s incredible sacrifice for us, through faith we are destined for everlasting life with Him, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

It is Done

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Audrey Huang, Branford College ’21.

“When he received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30, NIV)

What did You mean Jesus, when You said that it is finished, it is done?
That everything, every stone put in place for the temple to our Father,
     every part of this body You have helped shape into an image for His glory —
     that every event that has happened in joy or sorrow,
     we’ve drank from the well,
     we’ve poured out our jars of perfume,
     we’ve wept at Your feet
             — it’s already been done?

That we can walk with our heads held high, knowing that the pieces have been set in motion,
     the destination secured,
     the ending eternal,
     and You’ve already made a way for us,
          You’ve torn the veil,

You have already prepared a place for us in His house with You? It’s been done?
     That no matter how much we fight or toil under the sun,
     no matter what threatens us,
     no matter flood nor fire,
     You are the unshakeable foundation upon which we rest,
     You’ve taken those nails and the spear in Your side;

That we already drink Your blood,
     drink from the living water You poured into us;

That even if we fall short again and again,
     You love us,
     You did for us what cannot be undone,
     You’ve taken care of my whole past and my entire future
     — and the mountains that once lay before me:
          it is done?

That the moment You looked up and breathed Your last ‘It was Done’,
     we’ve conquered the grave,
     we’ve been freed from fear,
     that sin has been put away,
     we are reunited with You,
     seated at the right hand of the Father,
     we’ve been granted eternity,
     it is done,
     victory has already been won?

We praise Your holy name.

 

Quiet Confidence

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Angela Eichhorst ’22. Angela is a freshman living in Canaday.

Psalm 20
Music: Jesus Christ the Apple Tree- Anthony Piccolo

I have a quiet confidence. It is still but certain and based upon God’s love and words of truth. It is a confidence that my God loves to give me good things. He turns towards me relentlessly. He “answers me”, “defends me”, “sends me help”, “strengthens me” and “accepts me”. What a cause to rejoice! Sometimes I thank him with shouts of praise and songs that tumble out of my inmost being, but today I feel a small candle burning steady, untouched by the drafts that may blow in and out of my soul.

“May he grant you according to your heart’s desire.” My heart’s desire. What joy that my Lord longs to grant me my inmost longings. What is my heart’s desire? I don’t know. Though I bring my daily petitions for myself and others to God’s feet, what does my soul silently cry out for night after night? If I don’t know myself in this mess of a soul, God certainly does. For he formed my inmost parts. I take a deep breath and a song rises up: Jesus Christ the Apple Tree by Anthony Piccolo, words by Richard Hutchins. Lying on my bed at night my soul often sings “I’m weary with my former toil, Here will I sit and rest awhile: Under the shadow I will be Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.” Yes. My deepest desire is a safety and peace, to rest in God’s arms and on his promises. This assurance is joyfully given to me, “may the King answer us when we call.”

Standing Tall

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Lillian Yuan, Pierson College ’21. Lillian is majoring in Economics and Cognitive Science.

I did not know what Lent was until I came to college. I did not know what it meant to empty oneself for the Spirit, or to ponder the price of literal death. I searched for painted eggs instead of Jesus, for bunnies instead of repentance. I searched for promises backed by the frail echoes of my own words, and when they blew away with the wind, I did not try to retrieve them. I did not push or endure. Yet still the stone was rolled away, and I was saved.

I did not understand true joy until it became abundant. I did not feel the hand that shepherded me to green pastures, or led me beside still waters. I wept at the sadness that would not leave me, and I ran to my journal, never realizing that a different book could give me more guidance than sole catharsis. When I found that book, I clung onto the few words I could remember. Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. And he was with me.

I had not seen the narrow gates until I opened my eyes, one summer night before senior year of high school. I wept and raised my hands to the God that I now knew to be good, rejoicing in my return home, my being found after being lost, my life after death. I watched and watch many walk away from what I used to deem necessary and proper, and I longed to follow. I followed and follow, though I fall short.

I violate my fast; I fall short.
 I shower others with affectations; I fall short.
 I lash out in pride; I fall short.
 I chase after security; I fall short.
 I lust; I fall short.
I crave imperfect love; I fall short.
I am human; I fall short.

But though I fall short and fall short and fall short, I stand tall in the house of the Lord. I look in the mirror and stare, because I cannot and do not need to hide. Three years ago, I would have pitied my reflection or tossed my hair or turned away. Now, I simply gaze at myself made new. 

The cross carried my burdens, and I am set free.