July 1, 2015

Rulers: Gospel and Government

by Steven Dilla

July1

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Rulers: Gospel and Government | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter 6: An Introduction to Christian Social Ethics by Dr. David Clyde Jones

The institutional separation of church and state, or more precisely, the separation of the government of faith communities from the government of civil society, is a separation devoutly to be wished. But that is not at all the same thing as the separation of religion and politics. 

The separation of church and state is highly desirable; the separation of religion and politics is simply impossible. Why is that? Because politics is the domain of public policy, and public policy proposals are inevitably the expression of some world-and-life view, some conception of the common good to be aimed at for human beings living in community. Public policy proposals are worldview dependent, and worldviews, theistic and non-theistic, are religious in nature as ultimate faith commitments.

This is especially important for the principle of sphere sovereignty sketched above. Not only are the governing authorities of church and state distinct, but also participation in the cultural spheres is religious activity on the part of believers just as much as their corporate worship and diaconal ministries in the visible church institute. 

That all of life is religious in this sense is important for understanding the full meaning of religious liberty. The idea of freedom of religious faith and practice was a long time in coming in political philosophy and remains a matter of controversy down to the present day.

Why [then] should we have such a work as Ministry to State? The rationale for special ministry to those in civil government is their special role in the government of civil society, a role that directly affects everyone and presents particular temptations for “selling out” one’s convictions in the pursuit of power and yielding to the temptation to the abuse of power once it is obtained. 

I think no one has captured this better than Martin Franzmann, [in his prayer] “For Charity Toward Men in Office” —

O God, remember in Your mercy
the men who bear the burden of this majesty,
men like us, easily bent by the pressure of temptation,
by the impact of expediency.
Remember them and strengthen them when they are moved
to shade the truth to their own ends,
to withhold what should be told,
to distort what must be told,
to disclose what does not serve our common weal.
Keep intact their honor and their credibility.

Summer Reading Series
Rulers: Gospel and Government
Charles M. Garriott
Riott Publishing, 2014

Steve Bostrom, a reader of The Park Forum, wrote the essay, “God, Give me the Humility of Jesus” that appears in Chapter 5 of this book.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 3 (Listen – 2:45)
Psalms 126-128 (Listen – 1:58)

Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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June 30, 2015

The Mission of God’s People

by Steven Dilla

June30

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

The Mission of God’s People | Summer Reading Series

Excerpt from Part Two: God and The Public Square.

By stressing human choices as well as God’s ultimate control, the bible avoids slipping into fatalism or determinism. It affirms both sides of the paradox: humans are morally responsible for their choices and actions and their public consequences; yet God retains sovereign control over final outcomes and destinies.

The Bible presents the public square — human life lived in society and the marketplace — as riddled with sin, corruption, greed, injustice, and violence. That can be seen at local and global dimensions, from sharp practices at the market stall or corner shop, to the massive distortions and inequities of international trade.

As Christians, we need a radical understanding of sin in its public dimensions, and we need to see part of our mission as being called to confront that prophetically in the name of Christ. For God, the corruption of the public square is not a reason to vaporize it, but to purge and redeem it.

Isaiah 65:17–25 is a glorious portrayal of the new creation — a new heavens and a new earth. It looks forward to human life that is no longer subject to weariness and decay, in which there will be fulfillment in family and work, in which the curses of frustration and injustice will be gone forever, in which there will be close and joyful fellowship with God, and in which there will be environmental harmony and safety.

The New Testament carries this vision forward in the light of the redemption achieved by Christ through the cross, and especially in the light of the resurrection. Paul comprehensively and repeatedly includes “all things” not only in what God created through Christ, but what he plans to redeem through Christ. 

The final vision of the whole Bible is not of our escaping from the world to some ethereal paradise. What will be brought into the great city of God in the new creation will be the vast accumulated output of human work through the ages. All this will be purged, redeemed and laid at the feet of Christ, for the enhancement of the life of eternity in the new creation.

Does that not transform our perspective on a Monday morning?

Summer Reading Series
The Mission of God’s People
Christopher Wright
Zondervan, 2010

Today’s Readings
Joshua 2 (Listen – 3:49)
Psalms 123-125 (Listen – 1:52)

Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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June 29, 2015

A Free People’s Suicide

by Steven Dilla

June29

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

A Free People’s Suicide | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter Four: The Golden Triangle of Freedom

Two things have consistently surprised me in my years in the United States: that the sole American answer to how freedom can be sustained is the Constitution and its separation of powers and that the rest of the founders’ solution is now almost completely ignored.

It was not always so. Historians point out that the modern elevation of the Constitution as the sole foundation and bulwark of American freedom reached its present height in the 1930s. That was no accident. Significantly, it came right on the heels of a general secularization of American law that has led in turn to a general legislation of American life. 

The framers also held that, though the Constitution’s barriers against the abuse of power are indispensable, they were only “parchment barriers” and therefore could never be more than part of the answer. And in some ways they were the secondary part at that. 

The U.S. Constitution was never meant to be the sole bulwark of freedom, let alone a self-perpetuating machine that would go by itself. The American founders were not, in Joseph de Maistre’s words, “poor men who imagine that nations can be constituted with ink.”

Many educated people who scorn religious fundamentalism are hard at work creating a constitutional fundamentalism, though with lawyers and judges instead of rabbis, priests and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical. But unlike the better angels of religious fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism has no recourse to a divine spirit to rescue it from power games, casuistry legalism, litigiousness—and, eventually, calcification and death.

Sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them—both of which are far more than a matter of law. The Constitution, which is the foundational law of the land, should be supported and sustained by the faith, character and virtue of the entire citizenry, which comprises its moral constitution, or habits of the heart. 

Together with the Constitution, these habits of the heart are the real, complete and essential bulwark of American liberty. A republic grounded only in a consensus forged of calculation and competing self-interests can never last.

Summer Reading Series
A Free People’s Suicide
Os Guinness
IVP Books, 2012

You can also watch Dr. Guinness present on this topic at Socrates in the City.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 1 (Listen – 3:11)
Psalm 120-122 (Listen – 2:12)

Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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June 26, 2015

A Bible That Confronts

by Bethany

June26

Psalm 119.97
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

“Americans may love the Bible or loathe it,” wrote Ann Monroe in Mother Jones. “But for the most part, they read it the same (when they read it at all): as the manifesto of a God who has a lot of laws and a definite inclination to punish those who don’t follow them.” 

We may think that an authoritative text precludes intimacy, but a personal relationship requires someone who talks back. A one-sided relationship is exploitive, not personal. How can we pursue a relationship with God in which our will is crossed and our thoughts are contradicted?

The Psalmist celebrated the Word for its authority and ability to cross and contradict us. For the Lord’s wisdom transcends the wisdom of those from whom we traditionally seek it: “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.”

In Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney writes, “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. 

“The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how to live in a way that is pleasing to God as well as best and most fulfilling for ourselves. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be Godly, we must know the Word of God – intimately.”

Prayer
Lord, We need more than just words to survive. We need the Word himself. Since the Bible is the essential place to find him, we turn to it and long for a more disciplined intake of it. Make it our meditation all the day. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 31 (Listen – 4:57)
Psalm 119.97-120 (Listen)

Ancient Word in Modern Life
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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June 25, 2015

TBT: Prevailing Prayer in Times of National Trouble

by Steven Dilla

June25


Psalm 119.90
Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. 

TBT: Prevailing Prayer in Times of National Trouble | by John Collins (c. 1632–1687)

Human strength and human wisdom may be able to do little; the power and policy of enemies may be too hard for the wisdom and strength of the godly: but when you can do least yourselves, you may engage God, by prayer, to do most. “He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength.”

Think, how many times have the prayers of the saints prevailed with God in the like cases. Moses’s prayers prevailed to deliver Israel, when the Egyptians so closely pursued them: “Why do you cry to me?” and at other times. Asa’s prayer prevailed against Zerah and his Ethiopian army, and Jehoshaphat’s against the Ammonites.

And if prayer has been so prevalent, why may it not be so still? It is an old, tried means, which has not failed: do not say that these were more eminent saints, and so could do more with God by prayer than you can. You have the same God to pray to that they had, and he delights as much in prayer now as then he did, and can do as much for us as he could for them.

You pray with the same kind of faith that they did. Your faith is grounded on the same promises; they are still the same. The Mediator, who is to present your petitions to God, is still the same. His interest in those that fear him, and his concern for them, is still the same as it was. Then why wouldn’t prayer prevail as much now as formerly?

If you do prevail, it will be both your honor and comfort, to have been instrumental in keeping off public judgments, and procuring public mercies. So far as your prayers have been of use for the obtaining such mercies, so far they are your mercies, and you will have comfort in them. Any mercy is sweet, when obtained by prayer; much more, such as are of advantage to others as well as yourselves. 

If you should not prevail for public deliverance your prayers shall not be lost. They shall “return into your own bosom,” in deliverance for yourselves. It will be no small comfort to have done your duty and to suffer without the guilt of negligence. 

If you that are godly do not prevail in prayer, none else are likely to do it.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 30 (Listen – 3:12)
Psalm 119.73-96 (Listen)

*Today’s devotional is abridged, with updated language, from, “How The Religious Of A Nation Are The Strength Of It.”

Ancient Word in Modern Life
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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