Archive for December, 2010

December 31, 2010

2010 to 2011: Planning a Relationship

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 31, Romans 15

THE FRUIT OF PLANNING

Melodie and Brenton know that meaningful results require forethought and planning. Thus, they spent 12 hours designing and 40 hours building their gingerbread house from 3 batches of hard candy, 40 sleeves of large Smarties, 8 bags of powdered sugar, and 12 square feet of gingerbread dough. The result? A magnificent replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

THE WISDOM AND ORIGIN OF PLANNING

According to Proverbs, the wise person makes plans [1]. For example, the “wife of noble character” has a plan for each day (“she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants”) and for her household (“she considers a field and buys it”) [2]. Similarly, Paul planned to take the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, where he hoped to establish an operational base, and then to Spain [3]. Interestingly, although his plan fell through when he was arrested in Jerusalem and then incarcerated in Rome, his plan inspired “the greatest letter ever written”, Romans [4]. Ultimately, however, we plan because we are God’s image-bearers and, as we saw during Advent, He promised and planned from the beginning [5]. Even Jesus, for example, refused to perform a miracle at Cana because His hour had not yet come [6].

THE SUBSTANCE OF PLANNING

When it comes to our spiritual lives, however, how much fervor do we put into forethought and planning? Even though we long for a more meaningful relationship with the Lord (as discussed yesterday), most of us do not know how to make plans to achieve it. Participating in the 843 Acres reading plan is a great way to get to know the Lord through His Word, but we must also plan to spend regular time praying and asking Him how He may want to use us. Therefore, how will you plan to know and enjoy the Lord in 2011? Will you set aside weekly time for planning?

THE PRAYER OF PLANNING

Lord, Your Word teaches us to plan for the days to come – even Your Son set His face to Jerusalem when He faced death on a cross because it was in accordance with the most loving and amazing plan ever crafted. Oh, Lord, as You planned for our joy, help us plan for Your glory [7]. And, to the extent that our plans are not Your plans, we submit to You as our loving and holy Father. Amen.

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[1] See Prov 6:6-7; 14:15; 15:22; 16:3; 24:2 | [2] See Proverbs 31:15-16 NIV. | [3] Romans 15:23-33 (see below). | [4] N.T. Wright | [5] SeeIsaiah 46:9-10; Ephesians 1:9-10; Acts 2:23. | [6] See John 2:4. He stayed with His plan – even though it meant death in Jerusalem. See Luke 9:51. See also John 10:18 (noting that Jesus was not driven against His will; the Father’s plan was His plan as well). | [7] Loosely quoting John Piper. | FN: In 2011, 843 Acres will follow a chronological reading plan, i.e., a plan that reads the Bible in the order of events as they occurred in real-time. Therefore, for example, a day’s readings may include an event in David’s life and then also the Psalm that he wrote in reflection on that event. For more information, check back on Monday and begin the reading plan and also visit the “About 843 Acres” page, where more information will be posted on Monday. Until then, prayers to you all this weekend as you plan for your relationship with the Lord! Happy New Year!

December 30, 2010

2010 to 2011: Striving for Contentment and Discontentment Simultaneously

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 30, Philippians 3

STRIVING FOR CONTENTMENT

In 2010, I dealt with a new threat to my contentment – financial insecurity. Prior to founding The Park Forum, the source of my income seemed certain – whether it was the Federal government, the NYSE or Simpson Thacher. Now, however, I am dependent on voluntary donors. Thus, in January 2010, I prayed for as much funding as possible so that I would not have to worry. As the year progressed, however, I found that God was faithful in providing as He determined – even though we never had an overabundance [1]. Today, although I pray for funding, I do not pray for a large reserve of resources. Instead, I ask the Lord to give us what He apportions as daily bread so that we are constantly dependent on Him: “[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” [2].

STRIVING FOR DISCONTENTMENT

In 2011, although I want to continue striving for grateful and peaceful contentment in all of the many wonderful gifts that He has given me, there is one thing in which I never want to be content – namely, the current state of my spiritual life. Like Paul, I want “to be content whatever the circumstances” [3], but I want more intensity in worship, depth in truth, purity and holiness in life, and determination in pursuing His kingdom: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him” [4].

PRAYER

Lord, In 2011, let us strive for contentment with all that You have apportioned to us, but let us strive for discontentment in our relationship with You. There is always more of You to know and experience because You are infinite and Your wonders and glory are eternally inexhaustible. Although we confess that we know so little of You because of our sin, we ask one thing from You: “that we may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of our lives, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple” [5]. Amen.

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[1] Due to our 400-word limitation, I do not have the space to tell you about the generous donor in January (who told me how much he loved the mission and wanted to support it any way that he could) or the surprise donor in June (who unexpectedly gave online enough to keep us alive for several months) or our monthly donors (who give us stability and faithful commitment) or the many other generous donors (who give with cheerful hearts) or the people who attended our launch event (who came to support us even if they could not give) or the kind friends and family (who treat me to dinner or take me shopping) or the non-financial “donors” (whose gifts of encouragement have no monetary value but whose emails or notes I keep in a special file and read on the tough days). Even as I write this list, I think of how many of you, as readers, contribute financially, spiritually and emotionally. When we started The Park Forum, we chose to do the first Subway Series on Philippians because, to me, it is the sweetest and tenderest of Paul’s letters. I am convinced that his heart is evident in that letter because he considered the Philippians to be his “partners in the gospel,” since they were the only ones who financially contributed to him, suffered alongside him, and sent people to him to help bear his burden. As I look back on 2010, I echo Paul’s words when I think of each of you: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV). I love you and I thank you for being a part of God’s answer to my prayers. |  [2] Proverbs 30:8-9 NIV  |  [3] Philippians 4:11 NIV  |  [4] Philippians 3:8-9 NIV  |  [5] Psalm 27:4-5 NIV (Ed. Note: I changed “I” to “we” for grammatical accommodation) |   If you would like to contribute to the work of The Park Forum at year-end, see here (and thank you!).

December 29, 2010

2010 to 2011: Moving from Being Snared to Being Free

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 29, Luke 12

FEAR OF MAN

In September 2010, I decided to take a two-month sabbatical from alcohol to seek the Lord about a certain issue. Although I didn’t think that it would be a big sacrifice, I was wrong. The difficulty was not in craving alcohol, however; it was in fearing man. I had not yet realized how much single life in the City revolves around alcohol – it is a go-to casual first date option, an easy after-work meet-up with a friend, and a requirement at some of my favorite places like Rockwood Music Hall. Thus, every time that I met up with someone or saw a friend perform, I confronted the inevitable questions and confusion about my voluntary abstinence.

TRUST IN GOD

The first few weeks were hard because God was showing me that I cared too much about making sure that people knew that I was not crazy. He was molding me to care more about His opinion than the opinion of others. As Solomon wrote, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe” [1]. Likewise, Jesus – who remained silent before His wrongful accusers – said, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do … Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God … Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” [2].

SOBER MINDSET

As I let go of others’ opinions, I ended up loving my sabbatical. I found creative cocktail alternatives like crushed strawberry lemonade and discovered that Rockwood lets you order tea or seltzer. In 2011, I want to continue pursuing a “sober” mindset that loves and craves the opinion of my Lord more than the opinion of others. I want to obey Him and have fun finding new and creative ways to do so.

PRAYER

Lord, Quiet and faithful obedience is difficult in a culture that does not care about pleasing You. As a result, many of us struggle with things that the world loves but You despise, e.g., alcoholism, sexual sin, mental impurity. This year, open our hearts to see the joy that obedience to You brings, as You mold us into people who love Your opinion more than the opinion of others. Amen.

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[1] Proverbs 29:25 ESV  |  [2] Luke 12:4-7 ESV |  For an extended reflection on fearing God more than fearing man, I highly recommend When People Are Big and God Is Small by Ed Welch.  |  If you would like to contribute to the work of The Park Forum at year-end, see here (and thank you!).

December 28, 2010

2010 to 2011: Taking the Risk of Confession

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 28, James 5

I [HEART] NY

… but not for the reason that you may think. I do not love it for Broadway, Jean Georges, Saks or Tenjune. I love it for its people. New Yorkers are some of the most interesting, passionate, clever and successful people that I know [1]. Yet, these adventurous inhabitants can be quite intimidating. After all, they exude success and rarely show weakness.

MY CONFESSION

In 2010, however, I admitted weakness and found healing. One summer night, at a rooftop party downtown, I unexpectedly had a conversation with two friends that led to my confession of a hidden sin. Yet, it was not easy. I was ashamed and embarrassed, wondering if they would still love me after they knew that I was unattractive. Without hesitation, however, they embraced me and encouraged me that, although it was good to take sin seriously, it was also good to take grace seriously: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” [2], and “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” [3].

I WILL RISE

In 2011, I want to confess sins regularly and wisely. I want to be a person who admits that life is messy and that, although I long to live in a way that pleases my Lord, I oftentimes miss the mark. I want to be a part of a community that recognizes that, through confession and the redeeming work of Christ, we can defeat the Accuser’s power to paralyze us and kill our faith: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. Because I have sinned against Him, I will bear the LORD’s wrath, until He pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see His righteousness” [4].

PRAYER

Lord, You take our sin and Your grace seriously. You love to expose sin through confession because You love for us to live in the light, where we can be authentic and vulnerable. Show us where we are hurting ourselves and Your kingdom by keeping things private that we should be confessing, e.g., a grudge or a failure or a habit? Give us hope and joy in Your healing. Amen.

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[1] In his essay, Here Is New York, E.B. White wrote of the beauty of the composition of New York: “There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh yes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company … “  |  [2] Proverbs 28:13 ESV  |  [3] James 5:16 NIV  |  [4] Micah 7:8-9 NIV

December 27, 2010

2010 to 2011: Planning our Precious Yet Precarious Lives Without Presumption

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 27, James 4
This week, 843 Acres will consider the proverb that corresponds to the date (e.g., December 27 will consider Proverbs 27), as we look back on 2010 and forward to 2011.

PRECIOUS YET PRECARIOUS

In 2010, as I have walked alongside a dear friend battling cancer, I have been thinking about how life is precious yet precarious. We will not always have eyes to see a child’s surprise at Christmas or mouths to rejoice or legs to run on the beach. We will not always see snow falling or eat molten chocolate cake or read great novels by the fire. Indeed, life is precious yet precarious.

PLANNING WITHOUT PRESUMING

Recognizing this, what do we do? How do we live today? How do we write our 2011 resolutions? Solomon offered guidance, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” [1], and James wrote, “ Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” [2].

Thus, it is our boasting – not our planning – that displeases the Lord. After all, Jesus planned “tomorrow” when He set His face to Jerusalem, “He was determined to go to Jerusalem” [3], yet He also humbly submitted to His Father’s plan, “Not My will but Yours be done” [4]. Likewise, Paul planned “tomorrow” when he embarked on his three missionary journeys [5], yet he told the Ephesians, “I will return to you again, if God wills” [6]. Thus, as we recognize that it is God – not us – who holds every minute of our precious yet precarious lives in His good and wise hands, let us beg for humble hearts that cling to, “… if God wills.”

PRAYER

Lord, You decide how long we will live and what we will accomplish. As we plan our precious and precarious lives in 2011, give us strategic minds that plan and humble hearts that do not presume. Let us rest in the security of Your providence that is stronger than chance or storms or cancer. May Your will – not ours – be done. Amen.

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[1] Proverbs 27:1 ESV  |  [2] James 4:13-17 ESV  |  [3] Luke 9:53 NASB  |  [4] Luke 22:42 NASB  |  [5] See Acts 27-28  |  [6] Acts 18:21 NASB. See also 1 Corinthians 4:19 NASB (“I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills.”)  |  [FN] If you would like to make a year-end tax-deductible donation to The Park Forum, we would love it! You can do so here.

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