Undefiled at Heart

Daniel 1.8
…he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

Reflection: Undefiled at Heart
By John Tillman

Pastors and teachers regularly turn to Daniel as an example of how to live undefiled in a culture that is radically opposed to faith.

Defilement, however, was a way of life for exiles. It was defiling to be a slave as every exile was. It was defiling to live among foreigners as every exile was forced to do. It was defiling to eat with foreigners as Daniel and his friends did. It was defiling to sleep with or marry foreigners as Esther did.

Consider that the story in today’s reading, about Daniel’s struggle to eat a diet of vegetables and water instead of the “rich food” from the king’s table, happens in the same country where Ezekiel begs God not to force him to defile himself by eating food cooked over human feces.

For Daniel and his friends, God gifts them with strength, health, and intelligence far beyond the other candidates, and this event is the beginning of their rise to prominence and power. For Ezekiel, God relents and allows him to cook his food over animal feces instead. It’s no wonder we teach about Daniel’s story more often.

I’ve never heard of a church doing an “Ezekiel fast” but “Daniel fasts” have enjoyed massive popularity. Some even suggest that this is how Christians should eat year round. It is clear that we’d all prefer Daniel’s kind of struggle to Ezekiel’s.

In a way, being personally defiled through their experience was a part of the exiles’ punishment from God and a path to their repentance and healing.

Our outer circumstances may not be in our control as exiles. We may be in service to an evil government as Daniel and his friends are. We may be sexually exploited as Esther was. We may be forced to swallow unclean things as Ezekiel was.

In all circumstances, we must seek God’s guidance as we attempt to live in way that is pleasing to him. And at times, like Daniel, we must beg for permission from governments and employers to follow our consciences. That the government may not relent, and we may be forced to eat what is given is a part of being an exile.

As we live as exiles we must seek God to determine, as Daniel did, where the lines may be drawn for us and how we can best adapt to keep our hearts pure, even when everything we touch or interact with in our culture is defiled.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Mark those who are honest; observe the upright; for there is a future for the peaceable…The Lord will help them and rescue them; h will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them, because they seek refuge in him. — Psalm 37.37, 40

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 1 (Listen – 3:22)
Psalm 105 (Listen – 4:02)

Additional Reading
Read More about In Denial about Greed and Power
If there is anything that can still be shocking in today’s world, it is that we still don’t fully admit or understand the destructive nature of the sins of greed and power.

Read More about The Idol of Immorality, Impurity, and Greed
Paul reveals to us that what is truly at the root of sexual immorality, is exactly the same thing that is at the root of greed—selfishness.

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Christ: Temple, River, and City

Ezekiel 48.35
“And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

Reflection: Christ: Temple, River, and City
By John Tillman

Ezekiel spends a huge amount of his text describing the terrors, the corruption, and injustice of the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. Then, in his final chapters, he gives us a vision of a new temple, a river, and a city to come.

This temple and city Ezekiel describes bear little resemblance to the temple he knew or the temples to come in the future. In just one example, in chapter 47, Ezekiel describes a river that flows from the restored Temple. The river grows deeper and wider, until it can no longer be crossed. When this river meets the Salt Sea, the Dead Sea, it makes it alive again, bringing back to life not only the aquatic life, but the entire ecological system.

If Ezekiel’s visions sound familiar, it may be because, in Revelation, John’s visions of God’s city and the river flowing from it are remarkably similar.

Just because God’s city and temple have only been seen by visionaries and prophets, doesn’t mean they aren’t real or accessible to us today. John and Ezekiel may not intend to show us a physical temple or city that we will ever see on earth, but rather something else entirely.

Perhaps the temple of Ezekiel has never been seen on Earth because it is not a temple built by human hands. Perhaps the temple Ezekiel sees is the same one Christ told the Pharisees could be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.

Christ himself is our temple. He is the gate, the doorway, through which we enter to worship. He is our priest, he is the offerer of the only sacrifice capable of covering our sin and our only mediator before God.

Christ is our river, flowing as the Holy Spirit into our lives, into our cities, into our dead, dry, and poisoned environments. His river-like spirit brings life to what is dead and healing to what is sickened by the waste products of our sins’ industrious and destructive revolution.

Christ is our city. He is our refuge and rest—our strong tower and protected place—our park of peace in the midst of a frantic and fracturing world.

We say, “amen” to these visions.
May we regularly enter the peace of this city, be nourished by this river, and be made righteous in this temple.
May the temple, the city, and the river of these visions come.
May we dwell in the city called, “The Lord is there.”

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let those who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 48 (Listen – 6:15)
Psalm 104 (Listen – 3:37)

Additional Reading
Read More about Last Priest Standing
We can rest in the security of knowing that our eternal priest ,Jesus the Christ, is forever working for the salvation of those who seek him and he is alive to intercede before God on our behalf.

Read More about A High Priest Like No Other
Our great high priest Jesus has provided each of us with access to God’s throne of grace in any time of need. May we live our lives in faithfulness and gratitude for the great high priest who redeems.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Created Anew

Psalm 100.1-2
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness!

Reflection: Created Anew
By Steven Dilla

The rabbis speak of “right intentions”: yetzer ha-tov (the good inclination) vs yetzer ha-ra (the evil inclination). It is possible to serve the Lord out of joy and it is possible to serve him out of duty. On the outside, acts of service appear the same: “but the Lord looks at the heart.”

This could be the difference between God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice and rejection of Cain’s. One brother sacrificed with joy, the other out of duty, and some commentators note that God accepted the sacrifice that was given in joy—or, in this case, love—and rejected the one given from obligation—void of relationship and the joy that comes from it.

Likewise this is how the rich young ruler could obey every observable letter of the law and still walk away from Christ. No one objected when the young man said he obeyed the law—on the outside he looked righteous. Yet, the rhythms of relationship with God were foreign to him.

Christianity doesn’t offer religion as the solution for irreligion. The scriptures identify our core problem as a lack of relationship. We do not know God, we don’t understand ourselves, and we are distanced from others; even our relationship with the planet and its climate are deeply fractured. You can’t solve for lack of relationship through performance—religious or otherwise.

The joyful intimacy the Psalms display is a direct result of worship. Psalm 100 is the closing Psalm in a series (starting at Psalm 93) that renders praise to God because he is sufficiently worthy of all praise, affection, and hope. The first three verses of the Psalm focus on the spiritual act of service, the last two verses draw our attention to worship.

The separation of work from worship is a distinctly modern construct. The faithful have always viewed their work as worship—and been acutely aware that true worship requires labor. Work can thus be seen as our vocation and the labor of focus required for intimacy.

The pride and brokenness that mar our world are the result of worshipping unworthy objects—worship without focus. We bow before our own pride and chase after false gods to find fulfillment.

We are created anew each time we place ourselves before the creator and sustainer of this world. We rejoice in God not as our duty, but as our joy. In the words of the Psalmist, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying: “…So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are useless servants: we have done no more than our duty.'” — Luke 17.10

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 45 (Listen – 4:50)
Psalm 99-101 (Listen – 2:48)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 46 (Listen – 4:49) Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45)
Ezekiel 47 (Listen – 4:08) Psalm 103 (Listen – 2:07)

Additional Reading
Read More about Praying Through the Stress of Work
In his journals Jonathan Edwards reveals the way his spiritual life is burdened by stresses of his vocation. He creates space to recenter himself on Christ through the scriptures, prayer for others, and community.

Read More about Seeing Work Through New Eyes
Those whose view of vocation has been redeemed, Ecclesiastes says, “eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward.”

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Forging Faith :: Throwback Thursday

Psalm 98.6
With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

Reflection: Forging Faith :: Throwback Thursday
By Steven Dilla

The beauty of an orchestra is formed not only through the dedication of its members, but the forging of its instruments. Ductility—the ability to be shaped without losing strength—is essential to shaping the trumpet and horn that praise God in Psalm 98.

This image of formation is so striking, Augustine pauses in his reflections on the Psalms:

Ductile trumpets are of brass: they are drawn out by hammering. It is by hammering—by being beaten—you too shall be trumpets, drawn out unto the praise of God. You improve when in tribulation: tribulation is hammering, improvement is the being drawn out.

Job was a ductile trumpet, when suddenly assailed by the heaviest losses, and the death of his sons, become like a ductile trumpet by the beating of so heavy tribulation. He sounded like this: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

This is one of the most difficult teachings of Christianity: you are not yet perfect and must be shaped. This shaping is the foundation of how we thrive. It is not in spite of pain, but because of it, that we discover the strength, beauty, and joy we were created to display. Augustine concludes:

This ductile trumpet is still under the hammer. We have heard how he was drawn out; let us hear how Job sounded: “What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” O courageous, O sweet sound! Whom will that sound not awake from sleep? Whom will confidence in God not awake—to march to battle fearlessly against the devil; not to struggle with his own strength, but His who proves him.

See how even the apostle Paul was beaten with this very hammer: “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me.” He is under the hammer. Listen to how he speaks of it: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”

His Maker wished to make this trumpet perfect; I cannot do so unless I draw it out. In weakness is strength made perfect. Hear now the ductile trumpet itself sounding as it should: “When I am weak, then am I strong.”

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who sustains my life. — Psalm 54.4

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 44 (Listen – 5:32)
Psalm 97-98 (Listen – 2:19)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Crucible of Suffering
There is a deep richness that comes to people who face suffering biblically. A key to this richness is a joy and a contentment that difficult experiences cannot steal.

Read More about Suffering for Our True Identity
John is direct with his readers—it is not our goal to get the world to like us. In fact, we should not be surprised when they hate us. Though a beloved author now, Madeleine L’Engle experienced what John meant and she might have added that we can’t even guarantee that other Christians will like us.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Faith Requires Humility

Psalm 95.6-8
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts…”

Reflection: Faith Requires Humility
By John Tillman

One reason faith is so difficult for today’s culture is that we devalue humility. And faith cannot exist without humility.

Humility doesn’t make it on the airwaves. Braggarts shout down the humble in a war of saucy soundbites. Humble men get called weak. Humble women get called doormats. And God help you if you express the slightest hint of doubt, equivocation, or willingness to compromise.

Our world worships the strong. When the strong trample the weak, the world applauds the victor. Our culture embraces the evolutionary principle that the strong deserve to survive and the weak suffer due to their flaws.

Our culture demands that we be experts. The economy demands that we project our worth and defend our value. The business world invests in companies based on confidence. In fact, simple confidence is often not strong enough. The quality the world has elevated to prominence is bravado.

It is difficult not to be flavored by the stew of our culture in which we soak, and too often Christians join in this worship of strength. In fear and uncertainty, we often grasp at earthly solutions that are a splintering staff that injures our hand as it crumbles and we fall. This image is a repeated theme in the Old Testament, referring specifically to Israel longing for Egypt to be their political savior, restoring them to greatness.

Too often we mistake bravado for faith—it is anything but.

Humility is a precursor of faith because faith is confidence outside of ourselves. Faith is having confidence in what we cannot see, in part because we humbly acknowledge that what we can see (our own capability) is insufficient. Humility recognizes our lack so we can trust beyond the knowable.

Bravado is either bluster in the face of our insufficiencies or ignorance of them. Sooner or later, it will fail spectacularly, leaving those who trusted in it injured.

If we would spot the wolves among the sheep, we would do well to watch carefully for the brusque tones of bravado and bluster. It is an early sign of a heart hardened to the voice of God.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The same stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. — Psalm 118.22

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 43 (Listen – 5:15)
Psalm 95-96 (Listen – 2:37)

Additional Reading
Read More about Crucified, By Nature
Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross. — Martin Luther

Read More about Idolatry of Self-Confidence
Only when our confidence in ourselves as god is shaken do we actually reach out to discover that there is a true God in whom we can safely place all our confidence and hope.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

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