A Small Cup of Light

July13

*This is the final installment of the Summer Reading Series, designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

From the author’s website: In his mid-thirties, Ben Palpant was suddenly reduced to an infant in a matter of a few short weeks–learning again to read and walk and feed himself. With no clear diagnosis, he was left alone with his questions: “Who am I?” and “Why is this happening to me?”

Excerpt from Chapter Three: Calamity Come:

No child in the history of mankind, when asked what he would like to do when he grows up, has ever responded, “I want to suffer.” I, for one, did not.

C.S. Lewis called pain God’s megaphone. John Piper has called pain God’s pedagogy. “God, I am listening. Teach me. Speak into this bewilderment.”

After my meltdown in the office, everyone important to me encouraged me to stay home. My wife, father, mother, boss, and friends seemed to conspire against my ambitions. Soon my head began bobbing involuntarily and tremors gradually took over my torso. And then my arms and even my legs shook. My hands curled in on themselves and my tongue thickened in my mouth. I would sit like that for hours at a time.

My stability dissolved under the strain of suffering. In my suffering, I forgot that pain has a context. It is framed by the Master Storyteller. I am imagined: before I kicked against my mother’s womb, before the nurse pricked my heel and I cried out, before I threw a snowball and squealed with delight, God imagined all of it. 

He imagined the death of grubs and the death of the chicks that ate them. Such pain is part of his story. Thomas Merton suggested that the mystery of God eclipses our suffering. 

Pain is no case against God. No matter the cause. No matter the degree. Suffering does not call into question the existence of a good God; rather, it calls into question our lives.

I am a part of his story. I am the epiphany of God. I am a character whose life events have a purpose for me and for the story. Every event has purpose in the author’s larger design, even the bark of a dog, the death of a baby bird, or a small black coffin for a stillborn child. 

He knows the falling of a sparrow and he knew the collapse of a mind. God does not look at our suffering from afar. It is an intimate event to him. He is the author of every detail, speaking the suffering as it occurs.

Summer Reading Series
A Small Cup of Light
Ben Palpant
benpalpant.com, 2014

Today’s Readings
Joshua 18-19 (Listen – 9:59)
Psalms 149-150 (Listen – 1:56)

Man’s Search for Meaning

July10

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Excerpt from the Postscript: The Case for a Tragic Optimism

Let us first ask ourselves what should be understood by “a tragic optimism.” In brief it means that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the tragic triad, which consists of those aspects of human existence which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain; (2) guilt; and (3) death. This chapter, in fact, raises the question, How is it possible to say yes to life in spite of all that?

This presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation. 

Optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.

It must be kept in mind, however, that optimism is not anything to be commanded or ordered. One cannot even force oneself to be optimistic indiscriminately, against all odds, against all hope.

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to “be happy.” Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation. 

Once an individual’s search for a meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering.

In view of the possibility of finding meaning in suffering, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, at least potentially. That unconditional meaning, however, is paralleled by the unconditional value of each and every person. It is that which warrants the indelible quality of the dignity of man. 

Just as life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable, so too does the value of each and every person stay with him or her.

Summer Reading Series
Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl
Beacon Press, 2006

Today’s Readings
Joshua 12-13 (Listen – 8:18)
Psalm 145 (Listen – 2:19)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Joshua 14-15 (Listen – 9:20); Psalms 146-147 (Listen – 3:09)
Sunday: Joshua 16-17 (Listen – 5:13); Psalm 148 (Listen – 1:28)

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A Brief History of Thought

July9


*Editor’s note: This book, written by an French secular humanist, does not fall in our normal devotional content. We have included it in the Summer Reading Series to frame the assumptions of contemporary culture and offer context as you converse about faith with friends and coworkers.

Excerpt from Chapter One: What is Philosophy

I am going to tell you the story [of] the history of philosophy. Not all of it, of course, but its five great moments. In each case, I will give you an example of one or two transforming visions of the world or, as we say sometimes, one or two great ‘systems of thought’.

I suggest that we accept a different approach to the question ‘What is philosophy?’ and start from a very simple proposition, one that contains the central question of all philosophy: that the human being, as distinct from God, is mortal.

I will show how religions have attempted to take charge of the questions [the need for salvation] raises. Because the simplest way of starting to define philosophy is always by putting it in relation to religion.

Faced with the supreme threat to existence – death – how does religion work? Essentially, through faith. By insisting that it is faith, and faith alone, which can direct the grace of God towards us. If you believe in Him, God will save you. 

The religions demand humility, above and beyond all other virtues, since humility is in their eyes the opposite – as the greatest Christian thinkers, from Saint Augustine to Pascal, never stop telling us – of the arrogance and the vanity of philosophy. 

Philosophy also claims to save us – if not from death itself, then from the anxiety it causes, and to do so by the exercise of our own resources and our innate faculty of reason. Which, from a religious perspective, sums up philosophical pride: the effrontery evident already in the earliest philosophers, from Greek antiquity, several centuries before Christ.

Unable to bring himself to believe in a God who offers salvation, the philosopher is above all one who believes that by understanding the world, by understanding ourselves and others as far our intelligence permits, we shall succeed in overcoming fear, through clear-sightedness rather than blind faith.

In other words, if religions can be defined as ‘doctrines of salvation’, the great philosophies can also be defined as doctrines of salvation (but without the help of a God). Philosophy wants us to get ourselves out of trouble by utilizing our own resources, by means of reason alone, with boldness and assurance. The quest for a salvation without God is at the heart of every great philosophical system.

Summer Reading Series
A Brief History of Thought
Luc Ferry
Harper Perennial, 2011

Today’s Readings
Joshua 11 (Listen – 3:52)
Psalm 144 (Listen – 1:56)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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Life Together

July8

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Excerpt from Chapter One: Community

The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. So Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. There they find their mission, their work.

It is by God’s grace that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly around God’s word and sacrament in this world. Not all Christians partake of this grace. The imprisoned, the sick, the lonely who live in the diaspora, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible community is grace.

On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. 

Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly. They stand adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the community. They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together. Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure.

When their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking into pieces. So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves. 

Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive.

Summer Reading Series
Life Together
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible
Fortress Press, 2004

Today’s Readings
Joshua 10 (Listen – 7:23)
Psalms 142-143 (Listen – 2:35)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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What is the reading plan this blog is based on? Click here.

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Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter Nine: A New Story for Work

The particulars of how the gospel works out in each field are endlessly rich.

What are some of the idols of business, for example? Money and power certainly top the list. But remember that an idol is a good thing that we make into an ultimate thing. 

Corporate profits and influence, stewarded wisely, are a healthy means to a good end: They are vital to creating new products to serve customers, giving an adequate return to investors for the use of their money, and paying employees well for their work. 

Similarly, individual compensation is an appropriate reward for one’s contributions and is necessary to provide for oneself and one’s family. But it is not our identity, our salvation, or even our source of security and comfort. 

The Christian worker or business leader who has experienced God’s grace — ­who knows “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20) ­is free to honor God, love neighbors, and serve the common good through work.

At one level, this should all seem to go without saying. The idea that businesses should advance the social good has been regaining its proper place in the last decade, helped along by the string of business scandals in recent years.

Yet despite this growing consensus, it is probably fair to say that the implicit assumptions in the marketplace are that making money is the main thing in life, that business is fundamentally about accumulating and wielding power, and that maximizing profit within legal limits is an end in itself. 

The reason is that sin runs through the heart of every worker and the culture of every enterprise. The result is polluted rivers, poor service, unjust compensation, entitlement attitudes, dead-­end jobs, dehumanizing bureaucracy, backstabbing, and power grabs. This is why it is so important for us to be intentional in applying the counter-­narrative of the gospel to business.

To be a Christian in business, then, means much more than just being honest or not sleeping with your coworkers. It even means more than personal evangelism or holding a Bible study at the office. Rather, it means thinking out the implications of the gospel worldview and God’s purposes for your whole work life —­ and for the whole of the organization under your influence.

Summer Reading Series

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work  to God’s Work
Timothy Keller
Dutton, 2012

Today’s Readings
Joshua 9 (Listen – 3:46)
Psalms 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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FAQs

How can I make a tax-deductible donation? Click here.
How can I get these devotionals in my inbox? Click here.
What is the reading plan this blog is based on? Click here.

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