Hope for Hypocrites

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 Joshua B. Fikkert, a student at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 48:1-2
1 “Listen to this, you descendants of Jacob,
    you who are called by the name of Israel
    and come from the line of Judah,
you who take oaths in the name of the Lord
    and invoke the God of Israel—
    but not in truth or righteousness—
2 you who call yourselves citizens of the holy city
    and claim to rely on the God of Israel—
    the Lord Almighty is his name:

Reflection: Hope for Hypocrites
By Joshua B. Fikkert

Hypocrites. Pharisees. Frauds. We all know one or two. The judgmental church lady in the front row. The theological expert who can always find something wrong with the sermon. The teacher’s pet who always sidles up to church leaders. Regardless of their form, we can easily identify them.

But seldom do we ever consider that we might actually be one. 

If we take Scripture seriously, we ought to examine ourselves, turning the mirror on our own hearts (Romans 12:3). The ease with which we can point out hypocrites should make us wonder if our hearts are any different from theirs. 

Isaiah 48 gives us a chilling reminder that it’s easy to be a hypocrite and a religious pretender. The people of Judah have all of the right credentials. They are God’s chosen people. They have a glorious heritage as descendants of Jacob. 

Despite this, Isaiah calls them frauds. They call on God’s name falsely. They think they know the Scriptures and that they know God, but Isaiah insists they don’t. 

Many of us subtly believe the same things Judah did. We think we have the right credentials. We’ve read the right books, and we attend church regularly. We think we’ve got the whole Christianity thing figured out. 

Have we done these things in truth and righteousness or have we done them in pretense and pride? 

When I examine my own heart, I am confronted with the reality that my motivations are often wrong. I am resting on my credentials, my own efforts, and my “self-imposed” religiosity (Colossians 2:23). However, God doesn’t want our credentials. He wants humble worshipers with “broken and contrite hearts” (Psalm 51:17). 

For hypocrites like you and me, Isaiah extends good news. Our hypocrisy will not have the last word. God will have the final say. The Lord, Yahweh, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, will not abandon Judah or you or me (Exodus 34:6-7).

God promises to refine Judah, and he promises the same thing to us who believe. Pharisees like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Paul show us that Jesus can redeem even the worst hypocrites (John 19:38-42; Philippians 3:4-11). We, like them, must cling to the Suffering Servant, Jesus, whose voice we can hear whisper in verse 16. Jesus beckons us to humbly follow him as servants, putting aside pretense and falsehood and living in light, truth, and fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-10).

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
To the Jews who believed in him, Jesus said: “If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will come to know the truth and the truth will set you free.” — John 8.31-32

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 48 (Listen – 3:39) 
Revelation 18 (Listen – 4:48)

Read more about Philemon’s Speck and Our Log
Our food is prepared for us, our coffee is customized for us, our packages are delivered for us, by servants.

Read more about The Worst Churches in the Bible
Down with the hypocrites. Down with the failures. Let rise the greater and wiser leaders of a more humble and sacrificial church. But this is just new idolatry to replace the old.

The Idol of Control

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 Erin Newton, a student at B. H. Carroll Theological Institute.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 47:13, 15b
All the counsel you have received has only worn you out!
Let your astrologers come forward, 
those stargazers who make predictions month by month,
let them save you from what is coming upon you…
All of them go on in their error;  there is not one that can save you.

Reflection: The Idol of Control
By Erin Newton

Science instructs us that the orbit of planets will not give us control over our present troubles. Yet, we often wait outside in order to place our hope on a falling star.

In the Ancient Near East, one method of predicting the future depended on looking at stars. Rulers attempted to hold the reigns of an uncontrollable world through the advice of astrologers, magicians, or sorcerers. Isaiah condemns the Babylonians who sought the counsel of professional stargazers in order to avoid disaster. God assured them that the pursuit was in vain; their methods were worthless.

Today, we find ourselves immersed in a sea of advice, tips, and information. When crises threaten our lives, we turn to the internet and search for security. We look for ways to prevent illness, raise perfect children, ensure a high paying job, and avoid any personal discomfort possible. The cacophony of voices try to tell us what to do, think, or feel. The abundant and conflicting counsel from the world is a burden with no promise of peace.

While ancient astrologers and sorcerers hoped to read the divine plan in the sky, the prophets spoke of a greater divine work—God would write upon the hearts of humanity. Those searching for the will of God no longer need to aimlessly look for cosmic signs. The Spirit will guide believers in truth and teach them all things. (John 16.13)

Is the onslaught of voices in the world burdensome? Is the attempt to control circumstances causing us to struggle with a lack of peace? Jesus calls us to abide in him. We can lay our weary head upon his shoulders. Rest in his unfaltering plan. True peace comes from trusting in the wisdom, plan, and counsel of God. It is good to gain advice among God’s people but we must ensure that we listen first and foremost to God’s wisdom.

In our pride, we attempt to use the wisdom of the world to create a sense of control over our uncontrollable futures. Our love of control manifests through our anger, anxiety, or willful avoidance when life becomes uncomfortable. Our idols are revealed in our responses. In this, we are no better than the Babylonians. We struggle against the crises in life when we refuse to rest in the wisdom of God. Let us release our grip upon the future and abide in Him. 

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, at once he starts to reap because the harvest has come.” — Mark 4.26-29

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 47 (Listen – 2:52) 
Revelation 17 (Listen – 3:19)

Read more about A Sin We Are Proud Of
Pride and selfishness don’t seem that bad or dangerous. Storing up for ourselves is prudence. Seeking our own peace and prosperity is honorable. God thinks otherwise.

Read more about A Discipline for the Anxious
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.

All I Want

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 Leah Jarvis, a student at Abilene Christian University.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 44:9-11
All who make idols are nothing,
    and the things they treasure are worthless.
Those who would speak up for them are blind;
    they are ignorant, to their own shame.
Who shapes a god and casts an idol,
    which can profit nothing?
People who do that will be put to shame;
    such craftsmen are only human beings.
Let them all come together and take their stand;
    they will be brought down to terror and shame.

Reflection: All I Want
By Leah Jarvis

What do you want?

It’s a simple question, really. A waiter asks this of customers at a restaurant. Santa Claus asks little kids this at Christmas. But when it comes to asking ourselves this question, most often we ask it in light of larger concerns than just ordering pasta.

What do I want my career to look like? What do I want in a spouse? What do I want to be known for?

These are all huge, defining desires that shape who we are. Our wants have weight. They’re not bad by nature. The discipline of holding ourselves to long-term goals can be a good thing.

Isaiah explores desires through the narrative of two craftsmen. These men work in service of an idol, realizing at their conclusion that they have essentially made nothing, and that their very lives are built on serving something that will never see or know them. Their reward is empty, tasteless, dead.

Though their idols are physical, ours are more abstract. We carve stone images of what we want, only to turn around and find that what once seemed to matter has melted away like wet clay in the rain. The passage echoes Jesus’s words about the cost of following him (Luke 14.27) and his later warning to the rich man who cannot let go of his wealth (Luke 18.23-25). Not only is this a reminder that we must be willing to set aside our greatest desires, but that an attempt to hold onto them brings only sorrow when they inevitably disappoint us.

These sobering verses don’t exactly tug on the heartstrings and can feel accusatory. The point, however, is not to guilt-trip us into “doing better.” God’s plea reminds us to open our hands. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12.31)

This could not be further from ashes. What we find when we remember our place in God’s kingdom outweighs every goal, every success, every earthly reward. It secures us as victorious, joyful sons and daughters, filled with glorious purpose.

May we love and serve God and one another—our many scattered desires set aside in favor of the One.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. — Psalm 90.14

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 44 (Listen – 5:12) 
Revelation 14 (Listen – 3:51)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 45 (Listen – 4:39) Revelation 15 (Listen – 1:29)
Isaiah 46 (Listen – 2:12) Revelation 16 (Listen – 3:17)

Read more about To Whom We Draw Near
We are called to have a single love and to be faithful to God alone, satisfying ourselves in God and clinging to him to the exclusion of all others.

Read more about Prayer and Faith
Do we feel that God is distant from us? It is we who have moved. Draw near in prayer.

Hope and Promise

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 43.10
“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.”

Reflection: Hope and Promise
By Meghan Hendrickson

We are God’s witnesses. We have seen and beheld God as our Savior.

Though times have changed, God remains unchanged (Malachi 3:6). Likewise, our identity as children of God remains constant (Romans 8:14-17). 

The beauty of Scripture is that the same words God spoke to Israel through Isaiah long ago, are the same words God speaks to us today.

God did not call us to know about him and believe in him. Rather, God called us to know him and believe him. Do you see the difference? 

God does not call us to a life of observation. Rather, God calls us to a life of participation and proclamation.

We can testify there is no rescue apart from the one true God (Isaiah 43:11). 

Child of God, come get to know your Redeemer and your King (Isaiah 43:14-15). Listen to the words of hope and promise God is speaking over you today.

God loves you and you are precious in his sight (Isaiah 43:4).

Child of God, though the waters rise, the Lord is with you (Isaiah 43:2). Holding you by the hand, God has led you through rushing rivers of opposition before (Isaiah 41:13). God promises he will walk you through the raging seas surrounding you now. Do you believe him?

Child of God, though the flames grow hotter still, you will not be burned (Isaiah 43:2). The very fires the enemy hopes will destroy you, God will use to refine you (Isaiah 48:10). God has done it before. Do you believe he will do it again?

As we come to know and believe God we better understand he is God. Apart from him, there is no other (Isaiah 43:5).

Child of God, how has God grown your understanding of him this week?

God has chosen you to be his witness and his servant. Since we know and believe God, and we understand he is God, we are set apart to serve him. Jesus demonstrates this by saying, “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45).

Though the waters rise, and the flames grow hotter still, God will show us his glory and make a way for us to serve him.

Sometimes the greatest way we can serve God is by believing and testifying he is God, even when circumstances try to convince us he is not.

Child of God, how is God inviting you to serve him today?

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad: he has gone from his home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own work to do; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, or dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I am saying to you I say to all: Stay awake!” — Mark 13.33-37

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 43 (Listen – 4:06) 
Revelation 13 (Listen – 3:20)

Read more about Humble, Welcoming Servants
Help us to be servants to all-comers, not contestants against all-comers.

Read More about The House God Desires
Christ, the true son of David, is building the house that God desires—a house with rooms for all his children.

God Shivering on Concrete
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.

Seeking God’s Servant

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country 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 Allison Tinsely, a student at Truett Seminary.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 42:6-7
“I, The LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

Reflection: Seeking God’s Servant
By Allison Tinsely

This “servant song” foreshadows Christ as the Servant whom the Father will raise up for His purposes (Matthew 12.18-21). It is God’s job description for His servants, which applies both to Israel and us as believers. Christ is the perfect fulfillment of this role, and like Israel, we are called despite our disobedience.

God is identified in this chapter as a “champion” and “warrior” who does not hesitate to display His fury and might (Isaiah 42.13), but the description of God’s servant is different than would be expected of a king or worldly leader. This servant will not shout out loud to make his voice heard above the rest. This servant will not use violence against anyone (Isaiah 42.1-3). This servant will be led by God in seeking out righteous justice (Isaiah 42.3-4).

These are the tasks of God’s servant. We see that Israel comes up short, however, failing to understand their role and thus being blind to God’s will. Israel sees without truly observing and hears without listening. Despite this ignorance, they are still called. God promises to “lead the blind” down a road they have not yet known (Isaiah 42.16). God will redeem this blindness, turning darkness into light and making His pathway clear. God will be Israel’s Guide, using them for His purposes despite their sin, rebellion, and failures.

God continues to call us and pursue us throughout the present time. We are all blind, deaf, and broken in different ways, yet we are all still called to be God’s servants. God looks beyond our shortcomings and equips us for service in His Kingdom. Not only is God a strong and mighty King, but He is a King who loves us in a way that contradicts power-hungry, tyrannical leadership. Blind and hard of hearing as we may be to His ultimate purpose, God leads us and calls us to be His humble servants.

God, open our eyes and lead us in Your light. Take away our deafness and make Your message to us clear. Remind us of Your goodness and of our calling to serve You. Forgive us of our sins and look beyond our failures to use us for Your glory, for You give us a purpose in life. Let us never forget Your ultimate Servant, Christ, who redeems us in order that we may know You. Amen.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O God of hosts, show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. — Psalm 80.7

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 42 (Listen – 4:11) 
Revelation 12 (Listen – 2:58)

Read more about Sight for the Blind
It is not until we recognize that we are blind and experience Christ’s healing touch, that we can see.

Read more about Servants in the Age of Showboats
Truthfully, our emperors have no clothes. They think they are rich, but they are poor, blind, and naked.

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