Critique that Builds Up

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 14.3, 26
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort…What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Reflection: Critique that Builds Up
By John Tillman

As an actor, director, and teacher of theatre, I have a heightened appreciation for many aspects of theatre and a broader palette of theatrical taste than the average entertainment seeker. But in the wrong circumstances I can turn into a cynical critic of performances, spotting errors that others don’t notice and cringing at choices that seem fine to the audience.

A similar thing can happen to those experienced in leading worship in any capacity. When they are not leading, those who are experienced leaders and designers of worship can be the most passionate participants, but can also be the most bitter of critics.

Dissatisfaction with forms of worship is not new. (Jesus clearing the Temple comes to mind.)

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul seemed especially concerned that Christian worship develop an ordered and discernable form. He desired that the form would have functions both of edification of believers and evangelization of non-believers and outsiders. He wanted believers not to simply be emotionally entertained, but intellectually informed. He wanted believers not to display mere intellectual prowess, but to faithfully demonstrate the power of God.

Paul speaks in the manner of a director giving notes, or a stage manager calling the cues:

“Two or three should speak. No more. Don’t pull focus. Don’t improvise things that are over the audience’s head. If they can’t understand it, they won’t come back. Stop talking over other people’s lines!”

One of the most valuable things that a healthy experience in theatre can teach is how to give and take criticism. You learn to “take the note.” This means to own the mistake, as well as the responsibility for correcting it. When you get a note, you are being called out for an error. But healthy notes are given in love—love for the participant, for the source material, and for the audience.

As critical as Paul is, he never loses the love for what is happening. He doesn’t allow critique to turn bitter and cynical. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church is tumultuous and passionate. In the messiness of this scandal-filled church, we see a mirror held up to our modern institutions of worship.

May we seek the passion of Paul for worship done well, without losing his love for worshipers even when they do everything wrong.
May our critiques be loving and build others up—never cynical call-outs and tear downs.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless God in the congregation, bless the Lord, you that are of the fountain of Israel. — Psalm 68.26

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 3 (Listen – 6:35)
1 Corinthians 14 (Listen – 5:40)

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 Lewis on Liturgiology — Part 1
Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore.

Read more from Lewis on Liturgiology — Part 2
The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

Chastened Towards Freedom

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 11.31-32
But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

Reflection: Chastened Towards Freedom
By John Tillman

Does Paul teach perfectionism? Must we attain holiness by our self-will? In his book, True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer addresses this confusion:

“If I lay hold upon the blood of Christ in faith, reality rests here: not in trying to live as though the Bible teaches perfectionism. That is no basis for reality; that is only a basis either for subterfuge or despair. But there is a reality here: the reality of sins forgiven…This is the reality of restored relationship.”

Schaeffer uses the word “chastening” in his writing, taking it from the New King James translation from which he taught:

“The chastening of a child of God does not have a penal aspect. That was finished on the cross. There is no double jeopardy when the holy God is the Judge. Our guilt is gone, once and forever. Therefore if we judge ourselves, we are not chastened.”

There are multiple words here. The way we are to “judge” ourselves is diakrinō, meaning to separate, to make a distinction, or to discern. The “judgment” (krinō) which believers may avoid is that which means to be sentenced or punished. Instead, we are “chastened” (paidĕuō), which means trained, educated, or disciplined.

We are not taught perfectionism in Paul, but rather confession and submission to the Holy Spirit:

“This is what Paul was urging upon us. It is overwhelmingly better not to sin. But is it not wonderful that when we do sin, we can hurry to the place of restoration?”

Sin does more than separate us from God. We are isolated, marooned and abandoned by our selfishness.

“Man is first of all separated from God, then from himself, and finally from his fellow men and from nature. The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ will give an absolute and perfect restoration of all these things when Jesus comes. But in the present life, there is to be a substantial healing, including the results of the separation between a man and himself. This is the first step towards freedom in the present life from the results of the bonds of sin.”

May we “judge” ourselves with sober judgment, knowing our Judge is Christ, and yearning to yield to any chastening of his Spirit that may come.
May the Spirit chasten us towards freedom.

*Quotations from, True Spirituality by Francis A. Schaeffer.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick…And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners. — Matthew 9.12-13

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 31 (Listen – 2:03) 
1 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:20)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 1 (Listen – 3:54), 1 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 4:25)
2 Samuel 2 (Listen – 5:07), 1 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:23)

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 Prayer for Older Brothers
One son was humiliated by his own scandalous behavior.
One son was humiliated by his father’s scandalous grace.

Read more about We Confess
The gospel is better served by time spent confessing our own sins than time spent accusing the world of theirs.

Slavery to Maturity

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 10.3-5
They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Reflection: Slavery to Maturity
By John Tillman

In his 2015 book, Onward, Russell Moore penned a prescient paragraph or two about the political future:

“The church of Jesus Christ ought to be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues. After all, the church bears the Spirit of God, who gifts the Body with discernment and wisdom. But too often we do. We receive celebrities simply because they are ‘conservative,’ without asking what they are conserving. If you are angry with the same people we are, you must be one of us. But it would be a tragedy to get the right president, the right Congress, and the wrong Christ. That’s a very bad trade-off….”

It’s a stunningly accurate picture of today’s political reality that relates to our reading.

Events recorded in scripture are not always for our emulation. Sometimes, like the accounts of the Israelites in the desert, they are cautionary. Paul describes a liberated nation of Israel who gained political freedom, yet were morally and spiritually fragile and prone to deceptions by Balaams and Ba’als and idols of the desert.

Israel’s desert journey can be analogized as our journey of personal or cultural spiritual growth. The spiritual maturity of American Christianity and all Western Christianity has long been called into question. Long years of cultural ease have left us as ignorant of God as the Israelites long years of slavery in Egypt. In Egypt, the Israelites’ were well fed physically but not spiritually. The same could be said of Western and American Christianity. Perhaps the best thing God can do for our spiritual maturity is to lead us through a desert of trials, mistakes, and dangers.

In the desert, there will be false prophets and deceptions. We pressure our leaders to make Golden Idols and they, like Aaron, do so. We suffer. We thirst. We hunger.

To survive we need to become so familiar with the daily “bread from Heaven” that we grow tired of it and long for meat, which God will also provide.

May our feeding on the spiritual food of God’s Word lead to the kind of maturity and discernment we need to stand on the gospel of Christ and not on the shifting sands of human leaders, political promises, or political parties. Like Israel in the desert, we are outcasts from every kingdom of earth. They offer us little other than idolatry and eventual betrayal.

We are sojourning to the kingdom of Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.” — Matthew 5.13

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 29-30 (Listen – 6:33) 
1 Corinthians 10 (Listen – 4:04)

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 Spiritual Markers
We, like the Israelites, excel at forgetting God and we are especially good at forgetting him when we are comfortable, wealthy, and prosperous.

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Let the warning of the Holy Spirit be heard by those who are followers of Christ, do not harden your hearts towards God.

Complaint to Commission

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 9.1
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?

Reflection: Complaint to Commission
By John Tillman

In his book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore relates a rebuke he received and took to heart. Moore and several others were discussing a topic that often arises among pastors and even among laypersons—the pitiful state of the church. Moore asked rhetorically if there was any hope for the future of Christian witness.

Many believers may have despondent questions regarding this topic that bring our spirits low.

Isn’t it terrible how leaders with no scruples are staining the church’s reputation?
Isn’t it terrible how church attendance is such a low priority for so-called “believers?”
Isn’t it terrible how many young leaders are apostatizing and publically leaving the faith?

Complaining can turn into unspiritual grumbling but it can also initiate lament in our lives and communities. To spur our thinking in the right direction, we sometimes need a wise answer to our complaining questions.

Theologian, Carl F. Henry was listening to Dr. Moore’s conversation and responded to Moore’s question:

“Why, you speak as though Christianity were genetic. Of course, there is hope for the next generation of the church. But the leaders of the next generation might not be coming from the current Christian subculture. They’re probably still pagans. Who knew that Saul of Tarsus was to be the great apostle to the Gentiles? Who knew that God would raise up a C.S. Lewis, once an agnostic professor, or a Charles Colson, once Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, to lead the twentieth-century church? They were unbelievers who, once saved by the grace of God, were mighty warriors of the faith.” 

It would be difficult to find a New Testament city more akin to our culture than Corinth. Our culture is equally pagan, sinful, and damaging. Paul’s long and passionate letters to the Corinthians show his own struggles, complaints, and problems with the church and its witness there. Paul also shows us how to go beyond complaint to the cure our culture needs—the gospel. 

These believers, who were formerly sinners of every kind, were dear to Paul’s heart. As we work to transform our culture with the gospel, the sinners around us must be dear to our hearts as well. 

We must be their apostle. The work of making disciples is not given only to the clergy. It is the calling and command to every believer. The disciples to lead the next generation of the church may be those we have yet to reach.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a tub or under the bed? Surely to be put on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light. Anyone has ears for listening should listen.” — Mark 4.21-23

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 28 (Listen – 4:04) 
1 Corinthians 9 (Listen – 4:04)

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 Blessed is the One :: A Guided Prayer
We are not blameless. We are not righteous.
When we honestly and humbly look in our hearts we find wickedness there.

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Sometimes when we read in the scriptures that there is no one who does good, we fool ourselves by thinking we are the exception.

The Best We Can Do

Scripture Focus: 1 Samuel 27.1
But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”

Reflection: The Best We Can Do
By John Tillman

We have to always be careful when reading the Bible not to assume that actions described in God’s Word were prescribed by God’s command. 

This is especially difficult with characters such as David. We tend to over-glorify David as a hero archetype who can do no wrong. We misapply the description of David as a “man after God’s own heart” to mean that every decision David made was wholly righteous. This is a terrible way to understand any Bible character, but an especially damaging way to understand David.  

Harold Wilmington, in his commentary on 1 Samuel 27 states that David did not seem to trust Saul, “Nor, apparently did he trust God to protect him.”

This is despite the fact that God has just miraculously assisted David in proving to Saul that David meant him no harm. David suggests that people near Saul must be poisoning him against David, telling David to “go serve other gods.” Saul has confessed that his pursuit of David is sinful, sworn off searching for him, and predicted great things for David.

After this spiritual and political victory, David does exactly what the people poisoning Saul against him suggested. David becomes a servant to king Achish, enemy of Israel, servant of Dagon.

This is a practical political decision (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”) but is not depicted as a spiritual decision. Scripture often tells us that David consulted the Lord or prayed, but here it tells us only his human thought process. (Scripture does not tell us that David prayed or consulted the Lord once while in Philistia, except in crisis when their town of Ziklag had been burned and captured.) David’s words are “The best thing I can do…”. 

Rather than the best thing, this decision may have been the worst thing David could have done. Through this decision, David becomes a liar, a war criminal, a slaughterer of women and children, and feigns madness to carry out his desperate plot. Achish, assuming David’s war crimes are against Israel, notes that David is now trapped and will be his servant forever.

The best we can do—in our strength and wisdom—may not be God’s best for us.

May God deliver us from decisions that are “the best we can do.” 
May we never be enslaved to decisions of political practicality.
May we never compromise our souls to maintain convenient alliances.
May we seek God’s best rather than our human best.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. — Psalm 67,1-2

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 27 (Listen – 1:59) 
1 Corinthians 8 (Listen – 1:54)

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 Christ, the True Hero
We cannot live up to oaths such as Psalm 101. Neither could David. David would eventually bring corruption, rape, murder, and the ravages of civil war to the city which in this Psalm he pledges to protect.

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Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his later days.

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