Heaven on Earth

John 1.14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Truth incarnate is grace. Dictators speak from palaces removed from the realities of the masses. They leverage power to insulate themselves from pain and sacrifice. In contrast, 2 Corinthians reminds us of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

“The word became flesh” is the core of Christianity — not morality, comfort, blessing, or anything else we receive from the word. It is Christ himself who is enthroned as Christianity’s highest pursuit and greatest reward.

The heart of grace is truth. The Greeks believed in a logos — a truth on which all things are built. Modern culture questions not just the truth of the word becoming flesh, but all truth.      

“Things can be true even if no one can prove them,” philosophy professor Justin P. McBrayer explains in his New York Times piece, “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts,” which explores the illogic of what is being taught as early as primary school.

“It’s a mistake,” McBrayer continues, “to confuse truth (a feature of the world) with proof (a feature of our mental lives). Furthermore, if proof is required for facts, then facts become person-relative. Something might be a fact for me if I can prove it but not a fact for you if you can’t. In that case, E=MC2 is a fact for a physicist but not for me.”

Grace and truth are the essence of Christ, and thus the pursuit of every Christian. We pursue truth, not for the desire to be right (or prove others wrong), but because the truth of Christ is life’s highest pursuit. We extend grace — to friend and enemy — because such great grace is extended to us. 

In grace and truth we celebrate and participate in the essence of heaven, which has come to earth.

Prayer
God we need your truth to break down the brokenness that destroys us, our neighbors, and our world. We need your grace to renew us and care for us as you rebuke our participation in brokenness. In you we find everything we need and all that we hope for.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 22 (Listen – 4:23)
John 1 (Listen – 6:18)

Hope in the Darkness
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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The Reality of the Resurrection

Luke 24.17-19
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked. 

I worked as a paramedic for five years while going to school for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. One of the idiosyncrasies found in the wake of trauma is the way an injured person’s mind preoccupies itself with inconsequential details. The stress of trauma tricked more than one patient’s brain into looking over a severe injury only to fixate on the loss of a shoelace to my trauma shears

Poor decision making is, of course, not limited to trauma patients.

Leaders make bad decisions, in part, because of “inappropriate self-interest or distorting attachments,” writes Andrew Campbell in the Harvard Business Review. “Our brains can cause us to think we understand [situations] when we don’t.”

The final chapter of Luke shares the story of Jesus walking the road to Emmaus with two of his followers. They are unaware of his resurrection. It takes a seven mile walk and part of a meal for them to recognize to whom they are speaking. 

They show their dismay when Jesus asks, “What things?” in reference to the previous days’ events. The trauma of the crucifixion consumes them (rightly so). Yet their reply to Christ also reveals their own self-interest and distorting attachments. 

“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they lament. For many in Jesus’ day, “redeem Israel” had clear and immediate geo-political ramifications which were unmet. Jesus’ response reorients them.

God’s love did not deny or diminish Jesus’ suffering on earth. Yet Jesus’ words after the resurrection are almost exclusively focused on the meaning of the crucifixion rather than the pain of the event itself.

The reality of the resurrection gave Jesus’ suffering a meaning that could not be taken and a restoration of all that was lost. The reality of the kingdom took what must have felt like a thousand years of pain and eclipsed it with eternal glory.

Prayer
Lord we long for you. Today we hurt and suffer under the weight of a world which is not our home. Come quickly, Lord. Return what has been lost. Restore what has been taken. Heal the brokenhearted. Resurrect the dead. Quench every longing with your presence, Lord Jesus.

Hope in the Darkness
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 21 (Listen – 4:44)
Luke 24 (Listen – 6:16)

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The Hour of Greatest Need

Luke 23.55-56
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

The one on whom they had hung all their hope lay lifeless in a grave cut out of stone on the side of a hill. It was customary to embalm everyone who passed away, how much more for him whose hands brought sight to the blind, health to the ill, and life to sinners.

This was a terrible time to take the day off.

And yet, as the sun fell behind the western wall of the temple, the women stopped and prepared to rest for the sabbath.

Modern research shows taking a day off helps refuel mental resources drained by the pressures of work. No doubt the God who makes both body and sabbath also crafts them to work together. But sabbath also transcends this relationship.

“The Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of [man’s] work,” observes rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book The Sabbath. Heschel argues for an experience of sabbath that reunites man with God, rather than deepening him in self-centeredness:

“He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life.

Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.” 

The grace of resurrection cannot be wrought by the hands of man. When the women return to the tomb after the sabbath they become the first to experience the invitation to rest because Christ labored on their behalf.

Our hour of greatest need, when we find ourselves most helpless, is the best time to rest.

Prayer
Lord we confess that we forget to see sabbath as a gift and reminder of your work and sacrifice. Thank you for inviting us into the miracle of your resurrection. Thank you for the life we find in your grace.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 20 (Listen – 3:21)
Luke 23 (Listen – 6:39)

Hope in the Darkness
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Kindness is Key

Luke 20.17b
[Jesus said,] “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Psychologist John Gottman “can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples … will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later.” What’s the key? Kindness, he says. 

“There’s a habit of mind that [the together and happy] have, which is this: they are scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. [The broken up, the together and unhappy] are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

In the parable of the tenants, a man leases his vineyard to tenants and then goes abroad. When the harvest arrives, he sends his servants one-by-one to collect fruit from the tenants. But the laborers do not welcome the servants — they beat some and kill others. 

Jesus concludes, “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ 

“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

In the face of their contempt, the landowner is kind. This is kindness — that God bore with great patience the rejection of his people, sending prophet-by-prophet until finally he sent his Son. 

“Could God, would God, overcome his cherishing, admiring, treasuring, white-hot, affectionate bond with his Son and deliver him over to be lied about and betrayed and abandoned and mocked and flogged and beaten and spit on and nailed to a cross and pierced with a sword like an animal being butchered?” John Piper asks. “If he would, then whatever goal he is pursuing could never be stopped.”

Prayer
Lord, your habit of mind is to scan our hearts for Christ. Yet we confess that we often show contempt for your kindness and forbearance, not knowing that your kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. For on the cross we see that we are so sinful that Christ had to die and so loved that he chose to die. Forgive us for presuming on the riches of your kindness, and empower us to be kind to others. Amen.

Images of Faith
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 17 (Listen – 2:30)
Luke 20 (Listen – 5:07)

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Exodus 18 (Listen – 3:54); Luke 21 (Listen – 4:18)
Sunday: Exodus 19 (Listen – 4:04); Luke 22 (Listen – 7:58)

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TBT: A Faith for Others

Luke 19.16-17, 20, 24
[Jesus said,] The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

“Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.” …

Then another servant came and said, “Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 

Then the master said to those standing by, “Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten.”

TBT: A Faith for Others | by H. D. M. Spence, 1909

The Servants
We have, in the first servant, the devoted earnest toiler, whose whole soul was in his Master’s work — great, indeed, was his reward.

Second, we have the servant who acquitted himself fairly respectably, but not nobly, not a hero in the struggle of life. He, too, is recompensed magnificently, far above his most ardent hopes, but still his reward is infinitely below that which the first brave toiler received at his Lord’s hands. 

The third falls altogether into a different catalogue. He is a believer who has not found the state of grace offered by Jesus so brilliant as he hoped. He is a legal Christian, who has not tasted grace, and knows nothing of the gospel but its severe morality. 

The Hearers
At first the smallness of the sum given to each of the servants is striking [a mina is 1/60 of a talent]. The paltriness of the sum given them seems to suggest what a future lay before Christ’s followers. No sharing in what they hoped for — the glories of a Messianic kingdom on earth. No rest in repose under the shadow of the mighty throne of King Messiah.

The “very little” (ver. 17) told them — if they would only listen — that their future as his servants would be a life of comparatively obscure inglorious activity, without rank or power, landless, homeless, nearly friendless.

The Reward
The reimbursement (at the end of the story) of a city for a pound hints at the magnificent possibilities of the heaven-life — it just suggests the splendor of its rewards.

Prayers from the Past
Helper of men who turn to you,
Light of men in the dark,
Creator of all that grows from seed,
Promotor of all spiritual growth,
Have mercy on me, Lord, on me
And make me a temple fit for yourself.

— Unknown author. Likely a private family prayer, found on papyrus, published 1924.

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

Today’s Readings
Exodus 16 (Listen – 5:02)
Luke 19 (Listen – 5:29)

Today’s post is bridged, with updated language, from Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). St Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 136–137). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

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