The Curse Reversed—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason Tilley
God is perfect justice, perfect mercy, and perfect love. He is never one over the other; rather, they exist in him in harmony. When he is jealous, it is from love, when he rights wrongs, it is from love. To fear God is not to be afraid of God. It is to stand in awe of his perfect love.

Originally published, December 31, 2019, based on readings from 2 Chronicles 36 & Revelation 22.

Scripture Focus: Revelation 22.3, 17
No longer will there be any curse….The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Reflection: The Curse Reversed—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

In Eden, humanity hid from God because of sin and fear and from each other because of shame and blame. This carries on into our interactions today. We both hide from God and hide God from ourselves, pushing him away to make room for gods of our choosing and making. We take the power and dominion God gave as a blessing and curse ourselves with it. 

God spoke the curse of Eden but, in many ways, we wrote it. And Christ reversed it. 

Even as he speaks the curse of Eden, God purposes and promises to break it. Scripture describes a God constantly working to reverse the curse and speaking repetitions of the theme of the final paragraphs of the Bible, “Come.”

In Eden, God says, “Where are you?” 
At Sinai, God says, “Follow me.”
In Galilee, Christ says, “Here I am.”
In the wilderness, Christ says, “Return to me.”
In Samaria, Christ says, “Ask me for water.”
In his teaching, Christ says, “Abide with me.”
At the table, Christ says, “Remember me.”
In the garden, Christ begs, “Be with me.”
At the beginning of John’s vision, Christ says, “Come up here.”
And here, at the end of God’s vision for the world and for us, God says, “Come.”

In the curse of Eden, God commits himself to a course of intervention on our behalf. The curse is made to be broken.

Epiphany is the revealing of Christ to the nations. It is God breaking through all of our concealments, coming out of hiding, breaking the curse of banishment, and openly saying, “Come.” 

The visions of Revelation can be intimidating, but we must remember the character of the God we serve, perfectly revealed to us in Jesus Christ. He is the same in the throne room as he was in the manger, as he was in the upper room washing our feet, as he was on the cross, as he was pressing the fingers of doubters into his hands, and as he is now, tenderly reaching out to all humanity.

As we enter the new year, may we remember, we do not cower before a punitively petulant God who from his pedestal pronounces our doom.

We kneel before a compassionately caring creator, who kneels lower than us, so that he may lift our face to look in his eyes.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
How great is your goodness, O Lord, which you have laid up for those who fear you; which you have done in the sight of all. — Psalm 31.19

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

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 1 (Listen – 4:44)
Psalm 32 (Listen – 1:34)

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The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Read more about His Blessings, Our Curse :: A Guided Prayer
Jesus Christ became a curse for us…died to release the curse’s hold on us, then he rose to bring to us the full blessings of life that overflows with good things.

Complaint to Commission—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jon Polk, Hong Kong
We have sadly become so conditioned to take sides on every issue, attempting to discredit those who disagree with us, that we easily forget that God loves the “other” just as much as us. Paul identifies his audience as “former sinners” because he remembers his own past and the grace of God that saved him. May our faith never make us so smug and self-righteous that we forget how God rescued us out of the pit of mud and mire (Psalm 40). As Christians, we must remember that every human bears the image of God and that no one is beyond the reach of God’s saving grace. 

Originally published, September 4, 2019, based on readings from 1 Samuel 28 & 1 Corinthians 9.

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—Readers’ Choice
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: The Greeting
I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help. — Psalm 13.5

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 50 (Listen – 8:42)
Psalm 28-29 (Listen – 2:41)

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Read more about 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.

The Tomb of the Unknown Savior—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Lucy
It pointed out that Jesus’ enemies knew him better than his disciples. I thought about how well I know/love Him.

Originally published, July 17, 2020, based on readings from Jeremiah 13 & Matthew 27.

Scripture Focus: Matthew 27.63-66

“Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Reflection: The Tomb of the Unknown Savior—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Christ’s mission and calling were a secret hidden in plain sight.

Jesus spoke about everything else in parables and spoke about his death in plain language, so perhaps we can forgive the disciples for not realizing that he meant what he said about his death literally.

Mary of Bethany may have been the only disciple who realized Jesus was about to die a sacrificial death, but it seems only his enemies remembered that Christ also promised to come back to life.

No one else seems prepared for Jesus’ resurrection as extensively as the chief priests and the Pharisees. Their concern is so urgent that they risk being made unclean for the remainder of the Passover week’s celebrations by going to Pilate on the Sabbath, the day after Preparation Day.

They outline the details of what they believe will be a conspiracy to fake a resurrection. (This is a conspiracy they will bribe the soldiers to maintain later.) Pilate grants their request, giving them a selection of the highest paid, best trained, best equipped soldiers in the world to guard a tomb.

Guarding the tomb of a penniless, itinerant prophet, with the equivalent of US Navy Seals might seem like overkill when the sneak attack you are expecting is from untrained tradesmen like the disciples, but the enemies of Christ knew how explosive his message was.

Fear of the political fallout of Christ’s message was one of the main reasons the religious elite had sought his death. For them, a violent, idolatrous, pagan government that allowed them to continue in power was preferable to following Jesus and losing their wealth and influence. In our heart of hearts we can certainly identify with their concerns.

When it came to Christ’s teaching about death and resurrection these corrupt men, who were Christ’s harshest critics, knew him better than his followers.

Jesus was a man even his closest friends didn’t fully know. He lay as a guest in a tomb belonging to a secret disciple. His followers, once considered so dangerous they were an existential threat to the state, scattered, abandoned him, and hid.

Jesus in the grave is the unknown savior. What happens next will change the world forever.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Blessed be the Lord day by day, the God of our salvation, who bears our burdens.
He is our God, the God of our salvation; God is the Lord, by whom we escape death. — Psalm 68.19-20

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 49 (Listen – 7:15)
Psalm 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)

Read more about The Importance of Resurrection :: Throwback Thursday
If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along for themselves.

The Importance of Resurrection :: Throwback Thursday

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The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Living Is Harder—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Azikiwe, New York
This devotional is one of the most impactful this year because of its simplicity. Self-reflection on our daily interactions and tasks causes you to be intentional, with how your time is spent; is it on yourself or through living out the gospel. This means even when I don’t want to, instead allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me. Surrendering to God’s will over my life, moment by moment.

Originally published, July 16, 2020, based on readings from Jeremiah 12 & Matthew 26.

Scripture Focus: Matthew 26.35
“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Reflection: Living Is Harder—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

“Dying to self” and “carrying our cross” are biblical metaphors for self-sacrificial living, but sometimes they become a literal, lived reality.

Many sermons (mostly to youth groups) challenge believers with the stories of modern Christians who were killed while doing ministry or who refused to denounce Christ to save their own lives. These sermons ask, “Would you be willing to do the same?” 

These well-meaning sermons are intended to be inspirational. (And they are.) They don’t truly intend for us to follow these human martyrs, but to follow Jesus in the same, self-sacrificial manner they did. However, an unintentional lesson in these sermons is that the hardest or greatest thing we could do for Christ is to die in some violent way. We can unintentionally denigrate living for Christ by glorifying dying for him. 

The truth is that living for Christ in the mundane and ordinary is far more difficult than dying for him. Dying is momentary. Living stretches on. Paul recognized this, stating that he would rather die and be with the Lord, but it was better for all if he continued struggling and living for Christ. (Philippians 1.20-24) Living for Christ in the world often makes a larger difference in the world than dramatic sacrifices. 

Peter gets a lot of flack for being the first, loudest, and proudest to declare that he would die for Jesus without following through later that night. But all the disciples did the same. May we have the passion of Peter and the disciples, yet retain the humility and wisdom of knowing that despite our best intentions we may fail.

Just like Peter, don’t many of us feel that we would give our lives for Jesus? Why then do we resist giving of our time for him in service, in study, or in prayer? 

It matters less what we might say about Christ when someone puts a gun in our face than what we do say about him to a friend who is hurting. It matters less how willing we are to give up our lives while sharing the gospel in a dangerous place than how willing we are to give up our rights, or give up our money, or give up our time when we are living in comfort.

In the end, it is what we do in life that makes the biggest difference for the gospel, not what we do in death.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne; love and truth go before your face. — Psalm 89.14

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 48 (Listen – 7:31)
Psalm 25 (Listen – 2:18)

Read more about Where Martyrdom Begins Part 1
It is in the so-called small, everyday sacrifices that we give our lives for each other.

Where Martyrdom Begins Part 1

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

God is Faithful, not Indebted—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Sam, Texas
Too often I find myself feeling like Job’s friends, believing God owes good to the righteous and suffering to the wicked. Thankfully, as this devotional explores, God is not indebted to us, but faithful in His endless and sacrificial love.

Originally published, February 20, 2020, based on readings from Job 20 & 1 Corinthians 7.

Scripture Focus: Job 20.2-3
      My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer 
         because I am greatly disturbed. 
      I hear a rebuke that dishonors me, 
         and my understanding inspires me to reply. 

Job 21.4-6
      “Is my complaint directed to a human being? 
         Why should I not be impatient? 

Reflection: God is Faithful, not Indebted—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Chapter 20 begins with Zophar speaking up because he is offended: “I hear a rebuke that dishonors me…” Then as now, when making arguments, people get emotional, tend toward exaggeration and aggression, and take personal offense at the other person’s comments. It is notable that in chapter 19, Job was not responding to Zophar, but to Bildad. The last we heard from Zophar was in chapter 11. 

How often have we (have I) taken offense at an argument or comment not directed at me on Facebook and lashed out? Probably more often than it is comfortable to admit.

Zophar spends this speech defending the idea that the wicked succeed only momentarily before being destroyed. Something Job easily demonstrates as false in the next chapter. Most of Zophar’s speech is gleeful descriptions of what he believes will happen to the wicked. It reads a bit like revenge fantasy.

Zophar and the rest of Job’s friends have a deep, fear-based need to show that Job’s sin caused his suffering. If they can convince Job and themselves that Job messed up and brought this on himself, then they are safe because God owes them protection.

Prior to these events, Job and his friends believed in an indebted God who owed good to the righteous, owed suffering to the wicked, and never made late payments. 

The God Job begs audience with, whom he desires to stand before, is a different God.
He is an un-indebted God. It is we who are the debtors. 
If God does owe us anything, it is wrath—wrath which he is forestalling payment of, holding that debt in arrears until such time as Christ would pay it.

God proves more faithful than Job’s friends, and as he came to Job, he also comes to us. God comes to sit in the dust with us when we suffer. God does not attempt to make himself look good in comparison to us, as Job’s friends did, instead he comes to trade places with us, taking our suffering, experiencing it as his own.

Rather than an indebted God, we serve a faithful God. He does not treat us as we deserve. He has laid on Christ the iniquity and punishment owed to us. He has imputed to us the righteousness won and proved by Christ. By his poverty we are enriched. By his stripes, we are healed.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, I call to you; come to me quickly; hear my voice when I cry to you.
Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense. — Psalm 141.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 47 (Listen – 1:21)
Psalm 23-24 (Listen – 2:03)

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Read more about Christ, Our Undeserved Friend :: A Guided Prayer
That I might swap with him my place,
That I might be changed by his grace,
That I might be healed through his wounds,
That I might live, he be entombed.

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