Lovingly Named

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas to write in June of 2020 for The Park Forum. Each of them is pursuing a career in ministry and received free coaching on their writing as a part of the program. For more information about the program and a profile of each of our student writers, visit our Student Writers Month page.

Today’s student writer is Carolyn Soto Jackson, a student at Truett Seminary.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 62:3-5
3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
    and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.

Reflection: Lovingly Named
By Carolyn Soto Jackson

Falling in love is often described as a feeling of euphoria with an entertaining sense of exhilaration and confusion all at the same time. We are swooped up into another individual’s life and we want nothing more than to spend every waking moment together. Loneliness and emptiness give way to affection and adoration. Passionate glances and charming pet names like “baby” and “sweetheart” make us blush. 

Yet, the Lord’s delight in us is so much more triumphant than our human pleasures. Christ’s love is immeasurable and unfathomable. Christ takes great pleasure in his Beloved and he calls us by a new name. Our joy cannot be contained when we relish God’s love for us. Our jubilant responses include knees buckling in worship, tear-filled eyes, singing praises of his name, and hearts filled with rapturous, unconditional love. 

This is a love many do not ever encounter. 

Unlike human love which diminishes when we fall into sin, our God declares us his Beloved and patiently woos us back. 

Oh, what great love he lavishes upon us. 

Since the beginning of time, God stated he would not be still or rest until glory, righteousness, and salvation were established in Israel. Our Lord promised to continue working on Israel’s restoration despite their sinful ways. He did not give up on them nor will he give up on us now.

Their land, which was once described as forsaken and deserted, God christened as “My Delight is in Her” and “Your Land Married”. These new alluring names, Beulah and Hephzibah were bestowed upon Zion as a bridegroom would speak to his bride on their wedding night. Unlike the romantic love we have here on earth, God’s raw and tender agape love creates a longing within us to hear those names fall from His lips. No pet name will ever compare to the desirous names given to us by God. 

Our loyal, generous God pulls back the veil of his bride and rejoices tenderly as a newly wedded husband would do. 

Our God is faithful, even when we are not. He restores even when we rebel. Day after day, he delights in you and he delights in me. 

God brought us all out of a desolate place, rescuing us from death and destruction. So make yourself ready, wear your finest and brightest linens, for the time of the wedding is near.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good and to those who are true of heart. — Psalm 125.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 62 (Listen – 2:09)
Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:10)

Read more about His Loving Presence
Jesus chooses messy companionship over perfect solitude. He is the God who risks pain and death to gain our fickle friendship and vacillating love.

Read more about Realizing the Power of Love
The selflessness of God’s love in us, and the actions that should flourish from it have the power, with the Holy Spirit, to change our world.

The Gift of Unequal Exchange

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas to write in June of 2020 for The Park Forum. Each of them is pursuing a career in ministry and received free coaching on their writing as a part of the program. For more information about the program and a profile of each of our student writers, visit our Student Writers Month page.

Today’s student writer is Dennis Nicholson, a student at Liberty University.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 61:3
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— 
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Reflection: The Gift of Unequal Exchange
By Dennis Nicholson

What is justice?

If you ask an economist, you’ll probably hear something about equal exchange. Justice in this view is like a balanced scale, where each person receives an equal share in an exchange of goods. Intuitively, this definition of justice makes sense. A pound of apples for a dollar. A day’s wage for a day’s work. A light sentence for a light crime. This is equal exchange. This is just.

But in Isaiah 61, we receive a different vision for justice. The servant of the Sovereign Lord doesn’t come to settle accounts between God and Israel; he comes to fill Israel’s account until it overflows (Isaiah 61:7). He comes to proclaim good news to the poor and freedom for the captives, without asking anything in return (Isaiah 61:1).

How can this be? Because the one who’s speaking in this chapter isn’t Isaiah, but Jesus Christ. Jesus is the servant of the Sovereign Lord, whom God has sent to proclaim good news to the poor and rebuild the ancient ruins of Zion.

And at the center of Christ’s ministry—at the foot of the cross—we find a different economy of exchange. Jesus exchanges his body on the cross for the life of the world (John 6:51). 

He receives nothing from us and invites us to receive everything in him.
He places on our head a crown of beauty and takes on his own head a crown of thorns (Matthew 27:29).
He anoints us with the oil of joy and receives with joy the perfume of burial (Matthew 26:12).
He clothes us in a garment of praise and bears on his back a robe of mockery (John 19:2).
He plants us as oaks of righteousness and himself hangs on the cursed tree (Galatians 3:13).

In the injustice of Christ’s death, we find justice for our own lives. The mission of Isaiah’s servant becomes our own. We define justice not only as advocating for equal exchange for ourselves, but also as laying ourselves down in unequal exchange to serve the poor, the brokenhearted, and the captives.

May we delight greatly in the Lord, for he has exchanged our bloodstained garments for garments of salvation (Isaiah 61:10).
May righteousness spring up in us before all nations, that we might exchange the justice of earth for the justice of heaven (Isaiah 61:11).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 61 (Listen – 2:23)
Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:09)

Read more about Convicted by Job’s Righteousness
We confess, Lord. (Job 31.14-15)
We have dishonored and disenfranchised those in the womb, though they, just like us, are being formed by the hand of God.
And we have discriminated against those who are born, who are our brothers and sisters, born equal before God but treated by our hands as unworthy and spoken of as if they were animals.

Read more about God’s Justice
If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.

Living Justice

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas to write in June of 2020 for The Park Forum. Each of them is pursuing a career in ministry and received free coaching on their writing as a part of the program. For more information about the program and a profile of each of our student writers, visit our Student Writers Month page.

Today’s student writer is Meghan Hendrickson, a student at Truett Seminary.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 58:2
“For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.”

Reflection: Living Justice
By Meghan Hendrickson

The most chilling word of Isaiah 58 is seem

“They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them,” (Isaiah 58:2). To say Israel seems eager to know God’s ways and for God to come near them implies they are not.

Could the same be said of us?

Israel is caught up in rituals rather than their Redeemer. God says, “day after day they seek me out,” yet God calls Isaiah to shout like a trumpet against Israel’s sinful rebellion (Isaiah 58:1-2). Who, or what, are they seeking?

Are we eager to know God’s ways?

We know God’s ways by examining the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross (Luke 9:23). The way of Jesus is one of self-sacrifice for the sake of our neighbor and to the glory of God.

Are we eager for God to come near us?

When God comes near us, he humbles us and shows us the oppressed we are freed to free, the hungry we are filled to feed, and the naked we are clothed to clothe (Isaiah 58:6-7).

What if God clothes us with his Holy Spirit that we may clothe the naked of our own day with dignity and grace? What if everything God has done for us he intends to do through us?

Israel asks why they have fasted and humbled themselves before God without applause (Isaiah 58:3). Israel was not worshiping God as much as themselves.

God declares the fasting he desires from his people is justice (Isaiah 58:5-7).

When we seek to know God’s ways and are eager for God to come near us, God calls us to a life of justice. In God’s kingdom, justice is not a distant ideal. Justice is an ongoing activity spurred on by a confident hope in a future reality.

The entire life of Jesus, culminating at the cross, is a demonstration of God’s justice.

How are we, as followers of Jesus, demonstrating God’s justice?

God’s command is clear and constant: love God and love our neighbor, just as God first loved us (Mark 12:30-31, 1 John 4:19). If we humble ourselves and walk in God’s way of justice, Isaiah tells us both our help and our joy will be found solely and wholly in the Lord, and our light will rise in the darkness (Isaiah 58:9-10, 14).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the King’s son…
For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper.
He shall have pity on the lowly and the poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight. — from Psalm 72

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 58 (Listen – 3:09) 
Matthew 6 (Listen – 4:35)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 59 (Listen – 3:54) Matthew 7 (Listen – 3:31)
Isaiah 60 (Listen – 3:55) Matthew 8 (Listen – 4:09)

Readers’ Choice Begins!
As we wrap up Student Writers Month, it is also time for us to start accepting your selections for Readers’ Choice posts that will begin in August.

This is a time of year when you, our community members, can encourage one another by sharing about the posts that blessed your spiritual walk this past year.

What devotional this year did you share with a friend? What devotional this year did you tell your small group about? What devotional this year did you email us about to thank us for it? Tell our community about how these devotionals helped you in your walk.

Submit your selections via this link.

Read more about Praise God for the Justice of the Gospel
Seeking justice for the oppressed, demanding changes when our justice system fails, and working to rehabilitate and redeem those convicted in our justice system are a part of our calling to serve as God’s representatives on earth.

Read more about A Worn Out Welcome
“Defend the oppressed.” (Isaiah 1.15)
“Defend the oppressed” can also be translated as “correct the oppressor.” Will you confront the powerful?

Seeking Righteousness

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas to write in June of 2020 for The Park Forum. Each of them is pursuing a career in ministry and received free coaching on their writing as a part of the program. For more information about the program and a profile of each of our student writers, visit our Student Writers Month page.

Today’s student writer is Vienna Scott, a student at Yale University.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 57:1-2
1 The righteous man perishes, 
   and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
    while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
2 he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
    who walk in their uprightness.

Reflection: Seeking Righteousness
By Vienna Scott

Like many places today, Isaiah’s Israel was a nation rife with unrest. The prophet writes to a people living under unjust and oppressive rulers. Her leaders failed to care for their people. Isaiah 57 outlines the cost of such tragedy. What happens to good people when they don’t live under good leaders? 

Isaiah warns that wicked leaders ignore and persecute the righteous. But God is still with them. The righteous man is taken away from calamity. He enters into peace. But it doesn’t guarantee that the world does. 

We don’t live in biblical-era Israel. But the question is pertinent nonetheless. In our own time, the lack of harmony between people and their rulers is causing strife. Christians should wonder what righteousness looks like when it isn’t clearly modeled by our leaders.  

Unlike in the time of Isaiah, freedom for the righteous is not tied to a physical place, Jerusalem. The gospel message brings the Holy Spirit into the hearts of his people. The fruits of the spirit are virtues we carry with us like peace, patience, and gentleness. Peace that was once found away from calamity can now be carried through it. 

These principles can help us navigate a time where anger and vengeance drive the hearts of many people. There should be a clear and recognizable difference in the way that Christians interact with social and political unrest because we are not a people of unrest.  However, our inner peace does not make us people at rest. We walk, or march, in uprightness. The fruits of the spirit are still relevant in such a time as this. We should allow His Holy Spirit to carry us forward, in the pursuit of justice, as sons and daughters of righteousness, as people of peace. 

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:16-18

Prayer:
Give us your peace
Grant us your wisdom
Enlighten our leaders
Deliver us from disorder

Make us peacemakers
Carrying our communities through calamity 
Sharing the fruits of the spirit
Sowing peace
And harvesting righteousness

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 57 (Listen – 3:37) 
Matthew 5 (Listen – 6:03)

Read more about Peacemaking Versus Peacekeeping
We should not waste our time or energy with peacekeeping. Instead, we should strive with all that we are to be peacemakers.

Read more about Righteousness Sets Things Right
Righteousness, as Job describes it is marked by formidable, positive actions on behalf of justice…When Job walked in, the powerful trembled. Who gets nervous when you approach?

To Maintain Justice

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas to write in June of 2020 for The Park Forum. Each of them is pursuing a career in ministry and received free coaching on their writing as a part of the program. For more information about the program and a profile of each of our student writers, visit our Student Writers Month page.

Today’s student writer is Tori Sherman, a student at Logsdon Seminary.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 56.1
This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.”

Reflection: To Maintain Justice
By Tori Sherman

Our God is a God of justice. He asks his people to maintain the justice he originated. The world we live in is an unjust place, and amongst all the brokenness, our Lord desires for us to do what is right. God knows our sinful state of being warped towards evil, yet he still calls us to seek justice. 

We should advocate for the oppressed, yet it does not come easy to stand up for the marginalized and facilitate justice. Our natural tendency is to go with the flow of the world around us. Despite this, God has shown time and time again that his response to injustice is to protect the suffering and punish the tyrants. Our God saves. (Psalm 10.17-18

The dictionary defines salvation as “preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss.” Salvation is an inheritance that never spoils. (1 Peter 1.4) The darkness of sin and wrongdoing is all around us. Yet, regardless if we are the ones causing the injustices and darkness or if we are the ones victimized, our Lord has come to deliver us from the harm and ruin of sin. This deliverance is a gift, an inheritance, that will never cease. 

If the Lord knew humanity would be so corrupt, causing affliction to the oppressed, why did God save us? His salvation is close at hand, but do we deserve to be rescued? God saves because of his nature, not ours. This is the beauty of the gospel—the salvation the Lord gives to his people is one we have not earned, one we do not merit. 

The offer of eternal life will never expire, so we can use the words of Isaiah to be encouraged to seek justice and plead for the oppressed—knowing our gift of salvation is close at hand. God’s desire is for us to choose righteousness. This demands his power rather than our own striving. That power can work through us if we choose this path to follow. 

May we reach out, stand up, and rescue. May we fight injustice to bring light in the darkness and to do what is right unto the Lord.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them be merry and joyful.
Sing to God, sing praises to his name; exalt him who rides upon the heavens; Yahweh is his name, rejoice before him!
Father of orphans, defender of widows, God in his holy habitation! — Psalm 68.35

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 56 (Listen – 2:11) 
Matthew 4 (Listen – 3:09)

Read more about God’s Sufficient Justice
Some have abused the notion that human justice is incomplete as an excuse to cease pursuing justice on Earth. Some even call seeking justice anti-gospel.

Read more about In Denial about Injustice
The sins that brought God’s judgment and caused the exile of Israel were multi-faceted. But there is a common thread—injustice.

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