A Destroyed Barrier—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on August 3, 2022, based on Acts 21.17-24
It was selected by reader, EN: 
“This was a good word for us when so many Christians attempt to divide and exclude.”

Scripture Focus: Acts 21.17-24
17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 
20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.

Reflection: A Destroyed Barrier—Readers’ Choice
By Karen Yarnell

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, came to Jerusalem, bringing offerings from the Gentiles for the poor, gifts from Gentile to Jew. It was the festival of Pentecost, several years after the Holy Spirit was given following Jesus’ ascension (Acts 2.1-4). The Jews’ most sacred space, the Temple in Jerusalem, was filled with Jews celebrating. 

Seeing Paul in the Temple, some Jews from Asia, the province that contained Ephesus, stirred up the crowd saying that Paul was a threat to “our people, our law, and this place.” They falsely accused him of bringing a Gentile into the courts reserved for Jews. The Roman-enforced law stated that any Gentile passing the barricade into the inner courts would receive the death penalty. Amid this uncontrollable mob, Paul was beaten, troops were brought in, and Paul was arrested. 

Later, from a Roman prison, Paul wrote to the Ephesian church these words: At one time, you were “excluded from citizenship in Israel.” “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2.12-14) A physical barricade existed, but the spiritual barricade had been destroyed! Now, the redeemed people of God were being built into the Temple for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. 

The gospel entrusted to Paul was not a threat to Israel. The inclusion of all nations was God’s intent all along, from the covenant with Abraham to the formation of the Church. As Jesus said, his people were to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8

God desires his followers to worship in the Spirit and truth (John 4.23). Otherwise, we may find ourselves practicing our religion in a way that does not please God and in a place where He cannot be found. We may find ourselves not only missing where God is working but opposing Him. 

In our religious fervor, have we erected or enforced barriers in the Church? The Jews were zealous to keep God’s Law, yet they were missing God’s work. Are there ways in our zeal to keep God’s Word that we misunderstand God’s intent and find ourselves opposing His Holy Spirit?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me… — Psalm 101.6

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 41(Listen 3:36)
2 Corinthians 1 (Listen 1- 3:52)

Read more

Read more about Sewing up the Veil
We don’t have a literal Temple veil, but we each stitch up a veil of our own cultural assumptions…what it takes to approach God.

Readers’ Choice is Here!
Tell us about your favorite post from the last 12 months. We will repost it in September.

Seeing And Believing

Scripture Focus: Acts 28.25-28
25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
26 “ ‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”

Reflection: Seeing And Believing
By Rev. John Paul Davis

In a Special Edition of Scientific American Magazine, Sharon Guynup asks, “Is Seeing Believing?” Her article addresses how sensory illusions shape our reality. 

Acts 28 documents the latter stages of Paul’s ministry. After approximately 28 years of rejection from Jewish leaders and followers, 28 years of debates among false apostles, 28 years of preaching and teaching to Gentile believers, and 28 years of hardships, trials, persecutions, and slanderous accusations, Paul now finds himself under house arrest, in Rome. Yet, he remains committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If seeing is believing, why was it so difficult for many Jews to accept Jesus as the manifestation of the Law and the Prophets after seeing and hearing of Jesus’s resurrection? If seeing is believing, why did many Gentile converts revert back to their previous ways of idolatry after seeing and hearing of Paul’s miraculous healing abilities (Acts 20.7-12)? If seeing is believing, why was it not evident to many that Paul experienced a life-transforming event so dramatic that he changed his name and ceased being a Christian-despising Pharisee to become a humble servant of the Lord Jesus Christ? 

Saul claimed to have had a unique and personal experience with Jesus, which transformed him and thus his life. One could venture to say the truth lies in the fact that it is our personal experiences (what we encounter) and not our senses (what we see or hear) that shape our realities! So then, the question for us to answer is what personal experience have we had with Jesus that points to a transformative experience in our lives today? If there is none, try praying for someone, meditating on a bible verse, or even taking a moment to reflect on the good in your life. It just may be that reading or hearing the Word of God may not be enough to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. We need to show people Jesus.

Father God, I pray that every reader of this devotional will have the opportunity to confess to others your life-changing abilities in having Jesus Christ as Lord over their lives so that others may continue to see and believe through their actions and behaviors that you are the God of all creation and there is no other like you! Amen!

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there is where your heart will be too.” — Luke 12.33-34

Today’s Readings

Jeremiah 4 (Listen -5:23)
Acts 28 (Listen – 4:56)

Read more about The Shema and The Lord’s Prayer
Shema implies not just hearing words but carrying them out. In The Lord’s Prayer, action is also implied.

The Hand of Providence

Scripture Focus: Acts 27.22
22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 

Reflection: The Hand of Providence
By Dennis Nicholson

In Daniel Defoe’s classic work Robinson Crusoe, the eponymous hero finds himself shipwrecked on an uninhabited Caribbean island. Marooned! And just when Crusoe had begun making a living for himself, too. It’s the latest in his lifelong streak of bad luck.

However, in the following days, Crusoe begins to see the gracious hand of Providence at work. Though he’s stranded, he’s alive. Though he’s hungry, he’s surrounded by wildlife to scavenge. And as he reflects on his old life, he begins to hear the call to repent of his sinful ways and turn to God.

Providence saved Crusoe’s life.

Luke tells us of another tempestuous ocean journey in Acts 27—Paul’s journey to Rome. Here, too, we see flashes of Providence. Julius, the centurion assigned to the prisoners, treats Paul favorably. Storms sweep the group away but also usher them towards Malta. The ship runs aground, but everyone reaches land safely.
As the storm rages, Paul’s companions lose hope of salvation. But Paul encourages them: “Not one of you will be lost.” Paul is confident that they will all survive because he sees the gracious hand of Providence at work.

Paul knew that God would protect him because God had plans for him in Rome. No storm could thwart God’s plans then. And no storm can thwart God’s plans now.

Paul’s eyes were open to God’s providence in his life. So often we blind ourselves to God’s work. As the storms of life surround us, as fear and loneliness consume us, we lose hope of salvation. But we can take heart, for “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8.28).

God will protect his church for his good purposes.

Let this hope be our anchor in the midst of the tempestuous seas. Let’s fix our eyes not on the waves, but on the outstretched hand of our Savior (Matthew 14.22-23). Let’s remember that we weather the storms not by our wisdom but by his providential hand. And let’s thank him for the ways he provides for us each and every day.

Thank you, Lord, for the breath of life.
Thank you, Lord, for sunshine and rain and food.
Thank you, Lord, for the strength to work.
Thank you, Lord, for friends who encourage and exhort.
Thank you, Lord, for saving our lives.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me…Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful. — Psalm 86.1-2

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 3 (Listen -4:40)
Acts 27(Listen – 6:09)

Read more about Faith After the Storm
Jesus rebuking the storm rebukes us as well. “Quiet. Be still”…He is no longer someone we can shake awake and push around.

Demonstrating Repentance–and Christianity

Scripture Focus: Acts 26.20
20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

Reflection: Demonstrating Repentance–and Christianity
By Bridget Jack Jeffries

King David. Martin Luther. John Calvin. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These are names that we as modern-day Christians often revere, names of men who fought for the kingdom of God. 

Yet King David is also known for his murder of the righteous Uriah and his taking of Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Martin Luther was a rabid antisemite who called for graphic violence against Jews. John Calvin was complicit in the state execution of Michael Servetus, while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an unequivocal plagiarist and serial adulterer who spent his last night on earth with another woman. 

My point here is not to diminish the enormous accomplishments of these men, nor to cross-examine their Christianity. My point is that actions matter and their own actions (very unfortunately) cast an enormous shadow over their work for the kingdom of God. 

Paul also preached that actions matter—that we as Christians “should repent and turn to God and demonstrate [our] repentance by [our] deeds.” This is because Paul understood that few things would undermine incipient Christianity faster than Christians whose lives were indistinguishable from non-Christians–that is, Christians who continued in sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6.18) or greed (1 Timothy 6.10) or neglect of the poor (Galatians 2.10) or the worship of other gods (1 Corinthians 10.14). We see the consequences of neglect of Paul’s teaching in the modern-day church, where many Christians are “deconstructing” and leaving their faith because they see no actual Christianity in the lives of the so-called “Christians” and “Christian leaders” around them.

We believers often have a fraught relationship with works, and it certainly is grace that saves us (Ephesians 2.8-9). Yet Jesus also advised that we could discern true Christians from false ones by their fruits (Matthew 7.16-20), meaning their actions and results. Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah warned that we can be undone by our own actions: “Your wickedness will punish you, your backsliding will rebuke you” (Jeremiah 2.19a). 

Ultimately, being Christian is not supposed to look the same as being non-Christian. We should pursue lives of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5.23-24), lives that showcase the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit within us. By this Spirit, Jesus promised to teach us and lead us into lives of holiness, if we will only surrender to him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

Today’s Readings

Jeremiah 2 (Listen -5:54)
Acts 26 (Listen – 5:17)

Read more about The Ever-Patient Agriculturalist
The purpose in deconstruction is reconstruction…in uprooting is to replant…May we rejoice in being pruned and replanted.

Plod On, Dear Brothers and Sisters

Scripture Focus: Acts 23:11
11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” 

Reflection: Plod On, Dear Brothers and Sisters
By Jane Schaible

Paul was determined to go to Rome, despite the suffering he knew that awaited him (Acts 9.16; 20.23). Paul had told the Ephesians that he had to go to Rome via Jerusalem (Act 19.21), and he was in a great hurry to be there (Acts 20.16; 21.11-15). He didn’t actually make it until chapter 28, but this was the long path of obedience for him, the path he kept plodding along on. 

Paul’s determination to proclaim the gospel in Rome takes up at least nine chapters. Nine chapters of foils, risks, warnings, persecutions. Nine chapters of grieving and hospitable brothers and sisters. Nine chapters of actions and words proclaiming the Lord’s salvation. 

Though continually empowered by God, there are just a few verses where we get to read his words of encouragement to Paul. 

In the quiet safety of the barracks, when the uproar before the Sanhedrin faded, the Lord reassured him. “Take courage!” Jesus reminded Paul that Jerusalem won’t be the end of his story. He will make it to Rome.

At a time when perhaps this journey seemed to be taking forever, when maybe it didn’t seem certain how he’d escape the bloody plots of the people, the Lord “stood near Paul.” He came close, he spoke. He reminded Paul that he wasn’t alone, that his goal was still before him, that he was on the right path. “Keep plodding, Paul.”

There are seasons in our lives where we feel like life is taking forever. We may be trying to evade obstacles. We may be plodding along the path of obedience. Days like these can feel unending. What do we do when we aren’t feeling sure of the call?

Paul plodded on. This is what he’d tell us to do: “Follow my example.” Yet, in the same breath he calls us to follow another. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11.1). We keep plodding because Christ kept plodding. He stayed on the long, slow-going, forever-taking road. He kept walking the path through suffering to glory, so that we might share in his glory (Romans 8.17). 

Plod on, dear brothers and sisters. Your Lord is near you. He has plodded the path before you, and he has promised that he is always with you (Matthew 28.20).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will meditate on your commandments and give attention to your ways. — Psalm 119.15

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 65 (Listen -5:00)
Acts 23 (Listen – 5:15)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 66 (Listen -5:20)Acts 24 (Listen – 4:11)
Jeremiah 1 (Listen -2:01)Acts 25 (Listen – 4:40)

Read more about Peace of Endurance
Believers are called upon to accept the hard paths they are on, even to captivity or death.