Contributors’ Choice :: Jon Polk

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 6.14
By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

1 Corinthians 15.56-57
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

From John Tillman: This season of Readers’ Choice has been a joy. I’m pleased to wind it down with three selections from contributing writer, Jon Polk. We will be hearing from Jon in devotions this September as well. Thanks to all for sharing a few steps of your faith journeys with us.

Reflection: Contributors’ Choice :: Jon Polk
Selected by contributing writer, Jon Polk, from Hong Kong

Theology is Like a Watch
Originally posted, January 30th, 2019

Jon: It is easy for us to forget that Jesus likely would not have been considered a “good church member” because he was always ruffling the feathers of the church leadership of his day! When he broke or bent Jewish laws, he did so both to demonstrate that he had come to fulfill the law and that he was Lord above the law. Baxter’s analogy of theology as a watch with intricate pieces reminds us that we should read all of scripture through the “Jesus lens.” 

“‘Theology is a curious, well-composed frame. Just as it is not enough that you have all the parts of your watch or clock, but you must see that every part is in its proper place, or else it will not go, or answer its end; so it is not enough that you know the various parts of theology or law, unless you know them in their true order and priority.’

When Jesus is asked what the two greatest commandments are, his answer tells us how to set our watch by the two guideposts on which hang the entire law—Love God and love others.”

Our Opportunistic Opponent
Originally posted, February 18th, 2019

Jon: This post is an excellent reminder that Satan is neither as powerful as we often like to make him out to be, nor is he uninvolved in the world. Wouldn’t it be much easier to resist temptation if the devil always showed up in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork? 

“Temptations are a time for us to come to terms with our limitations and recognize our sinfulness. In times of tempting, when we feel our limitations, there is comfort knowing that our tempter is also limited. His opportunity to torment us will come to an end. By Christ’s mercy we can resist Satan and he will flee. But just as when Satan left Jesus in the wilderness, he is only waiting for an opportune time to return.”

He Stoops to Raise
Originally posted, June 18th, 2019

Jon: While I acknowledge that the Resurrection is the miracle which provides our hope for salvation, I’ve always felt that the deep miracle of the Incarnation is more profound. God himself, acquiesces to human limitations, being born as a helpless human baby, totally dependent on human parents. God willingly sets aside his divine nature in order to walk among us so that we might know him. What a sacrifice! May it inspire us to do the same, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others.

“He strips himself.
He lays aside
His Heaven
His throne
His clothes
His life

He lowers himself
Steps down, descends
He stoops
He kneels
Head bowed
He bends”

Divine Hours Prayer:  A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Disciple is not superior to teacher, nor slave to master. It is enough for the disciple to grow to be like his teacher, and slave like master…” — Matthew 10.24-25

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 23 (Listen – 4:18) 
1 Corinthians 4 (Listen – 3:15)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 24 (Listen – 3:36), 1 Corinthians 5 (Listen – 1:58)
1 Samuel 25 (Listen – 7:12), 1 Corinthians 6 (Listen – 3:03)
1 Samuel 26 (Listen – 4:30), 1 Corinthians 7 (Listen – 6:09)

Thank You!
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Read more about Too Much to Hold
Jesus is more than death can hold. It tried. Death can hold worlds, countries, massive unnumbered masses. But Christ could not be contained or held back.

Read more about Supporting our Work
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Servants in the Age of Showboats :: Readers’ Choice

SSelected by reader, Lucy, from Texas
As I made a couple of visits to members of our church who are “shut-ins”,  and cannot attend church anymore, I was reminded by my visitation partner that these visits are hopefully a blessing to those we visit. But they are truly a blessing to us. The Servant Leader may not get his name in a headline,  but he will be blessed by being a blessing.

Scripture Focus: Acts 18.26-27
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.

Reflection: Servants in the Age of Showboats :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published July 31st, 2019
By John Tillman

The book of prayers that our Worldwide Prayer series come from was published in 1998. I have read through this book before, but this prayer jumped off the page at me as if it was voiced yesterday.

How deeply damaged is our idea of what a leader is! We cannot seem to cease from grasping at the hems of emperors and kings rather than at the hem of the humble carpenter of Galilee. Whether in politics or in the church, so many of our leaders lead in the opposite way that Jesus described to his disciples, each lording their power over one another.

Truthfully, our emperors have no clothes. They think they are rich, but they are poor, blind, and naked. Our true leader bids us follow him through tears, blows, blood, and shame, carrying our cross. May we set our face toward our Jerusalem and in his power and with his mercy, humble ourselves and follow him into servitude.

Servants in the Age of Showboats
A prayer for servant leadership from the USA
Dear Jesus,

We live in an age where the proud, unethical, immoral showboat leader is honored and glorified. We have seen how this type of leadership has affected our witness to the world. We are praying for leaders whose greatness is evident through their love for you and their service to people. We pray for a revival of servant leadership around the world.

We pray for the relationships of our leaders.

  • That each leader will keep in constant contact with you
  • That they will only seek your approval
  • That they will not waste time judging others
  • That their hearts would be open, listening, and faith-filled

We pray for the actions of our leaders.

  • That they would not avoid difficult decisions to win approval or to be liked
  • That they would be willing to sacrifice and take risks for the building of your kingdom
  • That they would never stray from the mission you have called them to
  • That their “personal experiences” would help them to see their gifts more clearly and rely on you

Lord, give us leaders who will…

  • Know when it is appropriate to shout and cry as long as those tears spill over into appropriate action in your name
  • Be totally passionate and righteously committed to excellence for the glory of God

In the name of Jesus, who taught us how to lead as servants.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 21-22 (Listen – 6:35) 
1 Corinthians 3 (Listen – 3:05)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Resisting Herods
The Herods epitomize the kind of people that the Jesus community is so often drawn to in hopes of gaining their approval.

Read more about The Context of The Widow’s Mite
This scripture has more to say about unscrupulous religious leaders than about generous poor people. It tells us that judgment is coming on leaders who take advantage of the poor.

A Discipline for the Anxious :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Melissa from Texas
Praying in this way has helped me. I really appreciate the comparison of meditation to inoculation rather than an antidote. 

Scripture Focus: Psalm 77.2-3
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.

Reflection: A Discipline for the Anxious :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published September 25th, 2018
By John Tillman

We live in distressing times. If there are corners of our world not touched by division, aggression, worry, and angst, you probably can’t get email there.

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are on the rise—especially among younger adults. National Survey of Children’s Health researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety among children ages 6 to 17, between 2007 and 2012. The American College Health Association found that anxiety, rather than depression, is the most common reason college students seek counseling services and that in 2016, 62 percent of undergraduates reported “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. (An increase from 50 percent in 2011.)

Studying this, science is discovering things that are not exactly new under the sun. A recent Harvard study found that church attendance paired with spiritual disciplines such as meditation and prayer have a beneficial effect on mental health. In a Forbes article, study author Ying Chen noted that being raised religiously, “can powerfully affect [children’s] health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”

The psalmists would not express surprise at these findings. Though we think of our society as facing pressures unknown to humanity until now, we would be mistaken to think of ancient times as idyllic and calm.

David and the other psalmists certainly knew what it was like to live under threat, under financial pressure, under the constant weight of political instability and the wavering loyalty of an unpredictable government.

Amidst such pressures, they had a safe haven. Their help for the stresses of life was meditation and prayer.*

The psalmist writes of being “too troubled to speak,” yet he cries to God. He writes of insomnia, yet he rests in God. He writes of doubts and of feeling that God has rejected him, that his love has vanished, that he had forgotten to be merciful. Yet in the midst of doubts and fears, he remembers God’s faithfulness in the past. He meditates on these memories in the heated moment of stress.

Although the benefits of meditation can help in a crisis, meditation is not a quick fix. It is not a fast-acting antidote for the world’s venom, but an inoculation to be taken ahead of time.
When beginning (or returning to) meditative prayer, start small and short. Use the prayer provided at the end of this devotional (Psalm 119.147) as a start. Spend two to five minutes simply re-reading the prayer with an expectant heart, asking God to be with you.

*We are in no way implying that meditation should be pursued in lieu of proper medical treatment. If you are in need of counseling and professional services, please consider the following resources:

Mental Health Grace Alliance
Not A Day Promised Resource Page
Life Recovered (Resources for Ministers)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 20 (Listen – 6:42) 
1 Corinthians 2 (Listen – 2:26)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about The Practice of Meditation :: Running
One way of thinking of meditative prayer is exercise to expand your spiritual lung capacity, allowing you to breathe in God’s spirit more naturally at any time—including during a crisis.

Read more about The Practice of Meditation :: Tea
Allow the scripture to soak in your mind, repetitively dip it in your thoughts as you would a tea bag into warm water. 

A Berean Palate :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason, from Texas
The Internet is one of the most amazing inventions of our age. However, instead of using it to expand our creativity or eradicate suffering, we often allow it to lull us into a state of indifference or, worse, a cesspool of hate. One might wonder if having the sum of the world’s information and opinions at our fingertips has hurt us more than it helped.

Scripture Focus: Acts 17.11-12
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Reflection: A Berean Palate :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published July 30th, 2019
By John Tillman                                                                              

The contrast between the Bereans and the Thessalonians has come up in our devotionals before. Despite the Thessalonians having two epistles in the New Testament, Luke tells us in Acts that the Berean culture was more intellectually mature. Maybe Thessalonica just needed more help.

Truthfully, most of Paul’s letters were intended to be read by all the churches in the area. So Thessalonian letters were likely read to the Bereans as well.

But as for us, there is little doubt that our modern culture is more Thessalonian than Berean. 
The Thessalonians were prone to being riled up by exaggeration and falsifications. Just like we are. From our earlier post on this topic:

“If you think people today are more sophisticated, more cultured, or more intellectual than those of the ancient world, you have been paying attention neither to ancient history nor to Facebook.”

The Bereans’ nobility is specifically related to their openmindedness, and their mature evaluation of new information according to the scriptures. We may need this discipline now even more than they did.

Our social media feeds and the 24-hour news channels we frequent are like a neverending buffet of poorly-cooked, unsanitary, and ill-prepared foods. It is no wonder that uncareful consumers end up vomiting thinly veiled racism or totalitarianist dogma masked as a joke or a critique or a supposedly “logical” argument. We need to develop a more discerning palate concerning the articles, posts, and even memes that form the majority of our information consumption. If the posts we see were all simply political, that would be bad enough, but many posts, especially contentious political posts, either directly or indirectly address theological concepts. 

As Acts and much of the New Testament teaches us, “Fake News” is not new. Mobs and riots are not new. Hate-mongering political leadership is not new. What is new is that too many Christians care less about the facts, than they do about political victory. To this point, we often quote Ed Stetzer, who has said, “Facts are our friends.” 

May we develop a discerning, Berean palate that we not only apply to scripture but to our reading of our culture and our reading of all the information that algorithms and the hysteria factories called “newsrooms” can throw at us.

“Christians need to develop a more Berean attitude about not only the scripture we read but the news we share. It’s hard to share the incredible news of the Gospel when the rest of what we share is in-credible.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. — Psalm 144.5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 19 (Listen – 3:43) 
1 Corinthians 1 (Listen – 4:03)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more from A Berean Take on Fake News :: Readers’ Choice
It’s hard to share the incredible news of the Gospel when the rest of what we share is in-credible.

Read more about Honoring The Truth
Seeking the truth is not only a spiritual quest. It is sometimes a civic one. Or a legal one.

God Shivering on Concrete :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Pastor Terri Phillips, from Fort Worth, Texas.
My daily routine these days includes moments, or even hours, of inner rage about injustice. Most of the time, I am limited in my verbal response, and often my hands feel tied in responding in action. This post reminded me to look for evidence of God’s love, even in the most wretched of circumstances and events.  And to remind myself that the loving justice of God is sure. I may not be an instrument to render justice, as I fantasize to do, but I can more than imagine ways to deliver the fruit of the Spirit to the “least” of those around me. I don’t have to wait for a politicized, public moment to express love, kindness, joy, patience, and goodness. I can purpose to do that every time I see a need. I can share the Gospel, AND I can give a cup of cold water, give my finances, and shield the helpless.  When I am with Jesus on the Concrete, I am empowered by the Holy Spirit of God.

Scripture Focus: Psalm 119.50-53, 61, 64
My comfort in my suffering is this:
   Your promise preserves my life.
The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
   but I do not turn from your law.
I remember, Lord, your ancient laws,
   and I find comfort in them.
Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
   who have forsaken your law…
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
   I will not forget your law…
The earth is filled with your love, Lord;
   teach me your decrees.

Only the suffering God can help. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Reflection: God Shivering on Concrete :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published June 24th, 2019
By John Tillman

There is great wickedness in the world. Yet, in such a world, the psalmist proclaims God’s love, the power of God’s laws, and the strength of his desire to know his God more deeply.
Even in a world in which a person may be bound with ropes, or separated from their family, or denied justice, or put into a cage, or killed for the convenience of others, or hung from a tree, or gunned down in a church… Even in such a world, the psalmist tells us, “God’s love is evident.”

Wickedness is evident. But God’s love is also evident.

It is evident in the many Christian and secular organizations that move, at times into dangerous circumstances, to help the downtrodden, the poor, and those purposely excluded from justice. It is evident in the disaster that our God promises to bring upon a nation that ignores its responsibilities to the poor and to the foreigner. Our God humbles nations addicted to greed—including His own. Our God sends help to the helpless, no matter the owner of the goods, the ship, the truck, or the organization.

God’s love is evident in God’s help, but more so in his presence. Our God is with those who suffer. Our God lies on concrete floors under aluminum blankets with abandoned children. He bleeds on the floor of a sanctuary with victimized worshipers. His arms bear wounds of unjust captivity. He bears scars familiar to those who have been brutalized by government forces.

God’s love is, of course, most fully evident in what we call the gospel. The gospel puts wickedness to death in the way it deserves. Christ, through the cross, drags evil to Hell and abandons it there, setting free Hell’s captives. But merely chuffing about “the gospel” in the face of evil makes us into signposts on the road to Hell rather than gatekeepers in the house of our God.

One of the endlessly repeating themes of scripture and especially the Old Testament is that God’s people are to be kind and compassionate to foreigners and strangers.

Reach out in God’s love in any way that is available to you, whether through financial means or political. Even giving a cup of water in the name of Christ to the least of these will be remembered.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed be the Lord! For he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city. — Psalm 31.21

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 18 (Listen – 4:30) 
Romans 16 (Listen – 3:30)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about In Denial about Injustice
To judge our cities (to lead them) we cannot be in denial about injustice. Denying the existence of injustice is not how to be a patriot. It is how to get exiled.

Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
Remind us, Lord, that this world is not our home to defend, but it is the world you died for and we can expect to do no differently.

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