Finding Faith in Doubt

Psalm 16.2-4

I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.

TBT: Finding Faith in Doubt | by C.S. Lewis

Though Christian charity sounds a very cold thing to people whose heads are full of sentimentality, and though it is quite distinct from affection, yet it leads to affection. 

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.

People are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it.”

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. 

Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. 

The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

Prayers from the Past
“I believe; help my unbelief!”

— Father of the boy healed by Jesus in Mark 9.14

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 13 (Listen – 9:34)
Psalms 15-16 (Listen – 2:04)

Finding Faith
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Finding Faith in Busyness and Prosperity

Psalm 14.2

The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.

From the moment we wake up in the morning, almost everything in our lives tells us not to seek God. The message, of course, is not explicit. The Evil One is more subtle and deceiving than that. Instead, he fills up our lives with enough activity and prosperity to keep God out of our minds. 

As Screwtape told Wormwood in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds; in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

In the midst of our busy lives, however, God makes a promise: “Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” 

We do not seek God, however, as though He were hiding. He is omnipresent and, therefore, always near everyone and everything. Moreover, He has made a covenant commitment with His people to stand by us and work for our good always.

If we do not seek God as though He were hiding, then how do we seek him? Most of us know that the full presence of the Lord is not our constant experience. We have seasons when we lack intimacy with Him, giving Him little thought and forgetting His beauty. Therefore, we seek Him by consciously fixing and focusing our attention and our affection on the Lord. 

We make this effort because, in our talkative culture that constantly sends us the message that Jesus is not valuable, we must set our minds to going around things to see His face. He is hidden behind cultural and personal obstacles. We must flee every spiritually dulling activity that blocks our way to Him.

Prayer
Lord, Give us discerning hearts that know what makes us sensitive to your presence in the world. Open our minds to know what dulls our affections and blinds our eyes from seeing you. Let us throw these things away if we must so that we may seek you. We cry out to you because we long for your promise to be true of us – that you will not forsake those who seek you. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 11-12 (Listen – 7:20)
Psalms 13-14 (Listen – 1:43)

Finding Faith
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Finding Faith in Trials

Psalm 11.5
The LORD tests the righteous.

Finding Faith in Trials | by Steven Dilla

Dorothy Parker sold her first poem to Vanity Fair in 1914 and wrote prolifically for the next five decades. Near the height of her success, Parker revealed a sentiment few writers admit, but to which all can relate; “I hate writing, I love having written.”

To be fair, nearly all disciplines require sacrifice and dedication to a difficult process in order to produce beauty. Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, who performed at The Metropolitan Opera in the early 1900’s, had a long and difficult rise from obscurity to fame. “Bisogna soffrire per essere grandi,” he said regularly. “To be great, it is necessary to suffer.”

This process — beauty born of suffering — is found all around us. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone;” Jesus says, “but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We love the fruit, but do not often reflect on the death that bore it.

What often goes unnoticed in the difficulty of the trial is the way it activates a person’s faith. It is possible, for many of us in the comfort of the modern western world, never to actually engage our faith at the deepest levels. It is the pain of crisis that pushes us from the assumptions and pleasantries of religion into the depths of genuine love and trust in God.

What we find, at the depths of God’s presence and love, is the fruit of the resurrection. “Death used to be an executioner,” said the english poet George Herbert, “but the resurrection of Christ makes him nothing but a gardener. When he tries to bury you, he’s really planting you, and you’re going to come up better than before.”

“Having written” worked out well for Parker. In addition to hundreds of poems, Parker published nine books, composed a play, and she was on the founding editorial board for The New Yorker. Her legacy lives through her words she endured to write.

How much greater the reward for those who persevere in faith?

Prayer
God, you are our greatest hope. We cling to you in times of trial. We long for you to refine us — give us strength and endurance in the process. Forgive us for our brokenness and pride. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 10 (Listen – 4:17)
Psalms 11-12 (Listen – 1:59)

Finding Faith in Injustice

Psalm 10.1
Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

I ducked under the police barricade tape a little over an hour after the gas explosion rocked the East Village last month. Since the first-hours of the response to September 11, New York City has called on clergy to care for needs of victims, family members, and sometimes the responders themselves.

As I stood a few hundred feet from the three buildings engulfed in flames I couldn’t help but think of our great need for God’s intervention in the brokenness of our world. Twenty two people were injured that day, two lost their lives, and dozens lost everything they owned in an instant.

Meanwhile that day, our minds were dealing with what was known about Germanwings flight 9525, ISIS was still the scourge of the Middle East, and a near-endless list of infirmity and injustice billowed around the world.

Little of this has changed to date — and, although the problems are different, the past was full of its share of tyranny and pestilence as well.

David’s frustration at injustice is justified. His boldness in prayer is admirable.

We should aspire to join him in both. As we do, however, we cannot miss the reality of our role in the injustice we long to see God destroy. We are coconspirators in other people’s pain — our passivity, our lies, our sin are all part of the injustice of this world.

“Justice alone will destroy us all,” writes Don Carson in his book How long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. “There is, no doubt, a place for asking God to display his justice in a particular case. But such requests must not presuppose that justice is the only thing we need, or  that we are more just than God, or that we can afford to tell God that he is not just enough.”

We need both the justice and mercy of God. It is Christ’s love on the cross, his promise in resurrection, and the new life found in his grace which end our pain, redeem our lives, and give us hope in the face of injustice.

Prayer
Father, we long for you to come quickly. End the injustice of this world. In wrath, remember mercy. Help us to rest in your grace, to trust in your sovereignty, and to give ourselves to your restorative work in our world today.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 9 (Listen – 3:18)
Psalms 10
 ( – 2:13)

Going To The Place Of Painful, Shameful Execution

Today: Going To The Place Of Painful, Shameful Execution: a Holy Week reflection and prayer guide to prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. Curated by Steven Dilla.

Leviticus 6.24-25
The LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron and his sons: ‘These are the regulations for the sin offering: The sin offering is to be slaughtered before the LORD in the place the burnt offering is slaughtered; it is most holy.”

How Long, O Lord (an excerpt) | by Don Carson

Suffering the opprobrium of the world is bound up with what it means to be a Christian. Perhaps the most famous passage in this connection is Mark 8.34–38: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

“To take up one’s cross” does not mean to put up with some relatively minor irritant, like a crabby in-law or a runny nose. Crucifixion was the form of execution reserved for the most despised and evil of criminals.

After sentence was passed, the victim was scourged with the most severe of the three Roman levels of beating (the verberatio), and then the cross-member was lashed to his arms and shoulders so that he could carry it out to the place of execution. There the cross-member was fastened to the upright member of the cross, already sunk in the ground. Thus, for anyone to “take up their cross” was to go to the place of painful, shameful execution.

To use that expression in a metaphorical sense is not to strip it of its force. Jesus means that his followers must die to self-interest, declare themselves dead to the glories and attractions of this world, and be prepared for suffering, even the most ignominious suffering. And in this, we are doing no more than following Jesus, for that is the way he went—without the advantage of hiding behind metaphorical language.

Second, the alternative is to forfeit one’s soul. It is to gain the approval of the “world” and Jesus’ disapproval. The confrontation between, on the one hand, Jesus and his kingdom, and, on the other, the world he has come to redeem, is so total that one necessarily sides with one or the other. 

The irony is that those who “lose” their lives by this “crucifixion” thereby find their lives. They discover what they had always denied before: they belong to God by creation, and they can never find themselves, never be fulfilled, never realize their potential, unless they abandon self-interest and abandon themselves to God. But as long as that takes place in this rebellious and self-focused world, suffering and opposition are inevitable.

Lenten Evening Prayer: The Daily Examen
1. Opening prayer of invitation: become aware of God’s presence (2 minutes).
2. Review the day with gratitude (3 minutes).
3. Pay attention to your emotions (3 minutes).
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it (5 minutes).
5. Closing prayer: look toward tomorrow (2 minutes).

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 6 (Listen – 4:17)
Psalms 5-6 (Listen – 2:45)

Holy Week Reflections
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Leviticus 7 (Listen – 5:13); Psalms 7-8 (Listen – 2:58)
Sunday: Leviticus 8 (Listen – 5:06); Psalm 9 (Listen – 2:21)

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