April 21, 2015

Fruit of Repentance

by Steven Dilla

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Psalm 32.5
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

The reason you can’t find peace, and the reason you can’t stop sinning, is because you love sin more than Christ. This is the near-crushing reality Thomas Chalmers explores in his sermon The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.

C.S. Lewis confronts his readers as well; “We are half-hearted creatures. Fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Both men expose the pride and brokenness of our hearts in order to drive us to a season of repentance. 

The third third century theologian Origen describes repentance as “the vomit of sin.” Puritan pastor Zachary Crofton expounds; “For it is the loathsome rejection of sin; an easing of the soul by evacuation of what burdened it; casting up with grief and pain what we cast off with detestation.”

True repentance extends beyond the confession of actions to the revelation of the darkness of the heart — the motivation behind the sin. Crofton continues, “Sin is an aversion from God; and repentance a conversion to God.”

What great cost Christ endured to relieve our sins. It is nonsensical to hide the pain of our pride and brokenness from the one who has already paid the price of our debt — and whose life is the light and peace of humankind.

This abounding grace cannot be earned by repentance; it is given freely. Watch how, in Jesus’ famous parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father runs to embrace his beloved son before the wayward man can say anything. 

When we do fall fully in love with Christ, Chalmers says, our love for him will immediately expel our love for sin and we will live at peace.

Prayer
Father, thank you for the great sacrifice you made on our behalf. Thank you for the richness of your love for us, for the greatness of your grace, and for the glory of your love. We are yours Lord; forgive us of our sins and fill us with your love.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 25 (Listen – 3:08)
Psalm 32 (Listen – 3:13)

Resting in Faith
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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April 20, 2015

What Makes A Person Resilient?

by Steven Dilla

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Psalm 31.5
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

Cases of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in U.S. soldiers spiked sharply during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the early 2000’s researchers and clinicians started a battery of tests and interviews to understand what made certain soldiers resilient in the same circumstances which seemed so harmful to others. 

Among the most remarkable findings were those from Dr. Dennis Charney, the Dean of Research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Charney’s research team worked with a group of 750 pilots from the Vietnam War, each of whom had spent 6-8 years as a prisoner of war. During their imprisonment most of the men had been tortured and subjected to solitary confinement.

From their work with these men, Dr. Charney and his team revealed “Ten critical psychological elements and characteristics of resilience.” Surprisingly, training — the task the military focuses most heavily upon — was the least important of the ten:

  1. Optimism
  2. Altruism
  3. Having a moral compass
  4. Faith and spirituality
  5. Humor
  6. Having a role model
  7. Social support
  8. Having faced fears
  9. Having a mission
  10. Training

While the list would make a respectable outline for a mentoring program or book, it also reveals the limitations of relying on such work to develop a person. No study has revealed how to successfully and consistently mature a person’s optimism, altruism, morality (or really anything else on the list). This kind of foundational change — heart-level change — requires someone or something which is capable of cultivating a flourishing human heart.

David’s cries in Psalm 31 are recorded in the tempest of crisis. He should be overwhelmed — everything he prays for is far from resolved. Instead of relying on his strength or character, David renews his trust in God. “You have redeemed me.”

“What David here declares concerning his temporal life, Paul transfers to eternal salvation,” observes John Calvin in his Commentary on the book of Psalms. “Surely, if David derived so much confidence from temporal deliverance, it is more than wicked and ungrateful on our part, if the redemption purchased by the blood of Christ does not furnish us with invincible courage against all the devices of Satan.”

Prayer
Father, we want to develop our character and strength, but our flesh will fail us. Teach us, Lord, to rely on you as the source of our hope, salvation, and peace. Renew us by your Spirit. Sustain us by your word.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 24 (Listen – 2:58)
Psalm 31 (Listen – 3:11)

Resting in Faith
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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April 17, 2015

Accepting Generosity

by Bethany

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Psalm 27.8-9
You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!

After the explosions at the Boston Marathon, one eyewitness recalled, “We gave the runners money so they could get on the T when it worked again. We gave them our coats. ‘How will I give it back to you?’ one runner asked as she shrugged on a dark green fleece. ‘You don’t need to. You never need to,’ a man next to me told her.”

Even in our most vulnerable moments, it is hard to know how to accept another’s generosity. In The Gift, Lewis Hyde distinguishes between a commercial economy, where the purpose of gifts is to make exchanges, and a gift economy, where the purpose of gifts is to create community. 

Hyde laments, “When exchange no longer connects one person to another, when the spirit of the gift is absent, then increase does not appear between gift partners, usury appears between debtors and creditors.”

The economy of the gospel is a gift economy, not a commercial one. God “masks” his love for us in gifts that he gives, but he calls us to seek his face, not his hands — to seek a relationship, not a transaction. 

The greatest gift we can receive is God’s presence, not his presents — or, as the psalmist declares, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”

Prayer
Lord, expel our thinking that we are debtors and you are our creditor. Ingrain in our hearts that you say to us, “You don’t need to pay me back. You never need to.” That is our only hope because, indeed, we cannot pay you back. Instead of making an exchange with us, you have given us a gift. You have cloaked us in Christ. We, in turn, share that gift with others out of an overflow of your love. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 21 (Listen – 3:08)
Psalms 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)

Cultivating Faith
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Leviticus 22 (Listen – 4:41); Psalms 28-29 (Listen – 2:41)
Sunday: Leviticus 23 (Listen – 6:31); Psalm 30 (Listen – 1:32)

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April 16, 2015

TBT: How We May Grow in the Knowledge of Christ

by Steven Dilla

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Psalm 25.9
The Lord guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

TBT: How We May Grow in the Knowledge of Christ (an excerpt) | by Nathaniel Vincent (c.1639–1697)

You must not lean to your own parts and understandings.

Men of the greatest natural capacities have been men of the greatest mistakes and the foulest errors; and herein they have embraced for the truths of Christ: and the reason is, because, their hearts being proud, God thwarted them, and their pride blinded them. 

In your ordinary, secular affairs, it is not safe to confide in your own wisdom; but even here you are to acknowledge God. Certainly then, when searching into the mysteries of the gospel, you must be sensible that the sharpest understanding has need of illumination from above. You must indeed “be fools, that you may be wise.” A sight of your folly and weakness must make and keep you very humble. Such the Lord has promised to “guide in judgment, and to teach his way.” 

Heedfully attend to the word of the truth of the gospel.

This is the great means to infuse and to increase the knowledge of Christ. It is called “the word of Christ:” “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom;” because Christ is the author of it, and the principal subject therein treated of. 

The gospel informs you of his natures, divine and human; of his offices, prophetical, priestly, kingly; of his benefits, justification, adoption, regeneration, strong consolation, and such-like. 

The gospel informs you what he did, what he suffered, and how he eyed his church’s good in both. It informs you where Christ is gloriously present,—in the highest heavens; where he is graciously present,—he “walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks,” and accompanies his own institutions with a mighty and gracious efficacy. 

O study this gospel more — take it in at your eyes, by reading it; at your ears, by hearing it; nay, receive it into your very hearts. The gospel is that which brings you to the knowledge of Christ, and so “makes you wise unto salvation.”

Prayers from the Past
We pray you, merciful Father, God from whom all encouragement comes, give us strength to act as befits men with such a vocation, such calling to worship, such newness of life. We mean to observe the sacred commands of the divine law; we long to come closer to you, closer today, long to have light from you, light to know you and serve you.

— Anonymous fourth century prayer; acquired by Egyptian Antiquities in 1911.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 20 (Listen – 4:18)
Psalms 25 (Listen – 2:18)

Cultivating Faith
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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April 15, 2015

Peace in a Restless World

by Steven Dilla

CultivatingFaith4

Psalm 23.1-3 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

“Depth and strength underlie the simplicity of this psalm,” observes Derek Kidner in his book, Psalms. Often quoted in times of trial and suffering, Psalm 23 offers hope to the faithful.

The reality of the peace that comes from God is far from naive and simplistic. In his book Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, Abraham Joshua Heschel asserts, “It is hard to dismiss the popular concept that religion is a function of human nature, an avenue in the wild estate of civilization. We have been indoctrinated with the idea that religion is man’s own response to a need, the result of craving for immorality, or the attempt to conquer fear.”

Heschel, who walked arm-in-arm with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Al, knew this at a far deeper level than most of us have experienced. “Many people assume,” he continues, “that we feed our body to ease the pangs of hunger, to calm the irritated nerves of the empty stomach. As a matter of fact, we do not eat because we feel hungry but because the intake of food is essential for the maintenance of life, supplying the energy necessary for the various functions of the body. Hunger is the signal for eating, its occasion and regulator, not its true cause.”

“To restrict religion to the realm of human endeavor, or consciousness would imply that a person who refuses to take notice of God could isolate himself from the Omnipresent,” Heschel expounds. “Religion is not a cursory activity. What is going on between God and man is for the duration of life.”

To say, as the Psalmist does, that “I lack nothing” is to acknowledge the full peace of God. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom which points to the holistic peace which is a result of the presence and pleasure of God.

“Peace is not escape; its contentment is not complacency,” Kidner concludes: “There is readiness to face deep darkness and imminent attack, and the climax reveals a love which homes towards no material goal but to the Lord Himself.”

Prayer Fill us, dear Father, with your peace. Renew our hearts and engage our minds. You are our hope and our future, and we long for your peace to make right all that we suffer in this world.

Today’s Readings Leviticus 19 (Listen – 3:08) Psalms 23-24 (Listen – 2:03)

Cultivating Faith Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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