A Tale of Two Kings—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Michelle Perez, NYC
This devotional hit me (and several of my friends) squarely in the face because we were all guilty of gathering all the day’s negative information and then trying to “fix our own problems” by incessant complaining to each other making us all feel worse than before. We were taking much of God’s to-do list and putting it on our own lists. This devotional directly and lovingly addressed what we are to do in these times: we are to humble ourselves and ask God for help and comfort.  We are to invite Him to take on our burdens and rest in Him. Simply, we are to trust Him. The inclusion of the link “A liturgy for those flooded by too much information” found in the body of the devotional was an added blessing. 

Originally published, June 5, 2020, based on readings from Isaiah 37 & Revelation 7.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 37:14-20
14 Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord:16 “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

18 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands.19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

Reflection: A Tale of Two Kings—Readers’ Choice
By Joshua B. Fikkert

What is the first thing you do when you are in a crisis? 

If you are like me, your first instinct is to seek a solution on your own, and you exhaust yourself thinking through every possible solution, plan, or contingency to fix the problem. This stubborn desire to fix our own problems is rooted in our chief sin of pride, our desire to be like God (Genesis 3:5-6).

The book of Isaiah brilliantly demonstrates the destructive nature of pride and the power of humility in the stories of King Ahaz and of his son, King Hezekiah. Ahaz’s pride created a generational catastrophe, which Hezekiah was forced to deal with. 

When faced with the threat of foreign invasion, Ahaz looked for a tangible solution of his own making. In spite of Isaiah’s insistence that God would save Judah, Ahaz begged for help from Assyria to deliver them. (Isaiah 7:10-12).

The result of Ahaz’s pride was devastating. Instead of helping Ahaz, Assyria defeated Judah’s enemies and then turned on Judah, forcing them into servitude (2 Kings 16:10-18). 

After Ahaz’s death, Hezekiah was left to handle the crisis created by his father’s pride. The Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem, and destruction was certain. But unlike Ahaz, Hezekiah did not seek a solution of his own making. He humbled himself and sought divine aid. He asked for Isaiah to pray on his behalf (Isaiah 37:2), he sought the presence of God in the temple, and he came before the Lord in prayer. 

The humble prayer of Hezekiah proved powerful and effective. God answered his prayer, and Judah was spared by a mighty act of divine grace (Isaiah 37:36-37). 

When we face trials of various kinds, we must resist the temptation to take matters into our own hands. We must resist the allure of pride, which tells us we can fix our problems on our own. 

We know we have a God who answers and who delivers his people from trouble. We have a God who saves. Therefore, our first response, no matter what the crisis is, should be to call on the name of the Lord. Petitioning for God’s help is not our last resort. It is the first one. 

Let us cast “the burdens of this world upon the strong shoulders of the one who alone is able to bear them up” (Douglas McKelvey, “A Liturgy For Those Flooded By Too Much Information”).

*We will forgo the Divine Hours prayer today, replacing it with a quote from the prayer by Douglas McKelvey quoted above.

“…remind us that we are but small
and finite creatures, never designed to carry
the vast abstractions of great burdens,
for our arms are too short and our strength
is too small. Justice and mercy, healing and
redemption, are your great labors.”

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 35 (Listen – 3:43)
Psalms 7-8 (Listen – 2:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 36 (Listen – 5:54) Psalms 9 (Listen – 2:21)
Jeremiah 37 (Listen – 3:25) Psalms 10 (Listen – 2:13)

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
Scripture, especially when it comes to the prophets, passes the microphone to the losers of history.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you pray more frequently?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Brad
I loved how this commentary highlighted afresh the especially current relevance of Jesus’ ministry, his focus on the marginalized, elevating their status and making them central figures in the gospel story.  As Jesus’ followers, we get to continue his example in treating all people with dignity and respect, being God’s image-bearers. 

Originally published, April 13, 2020, based on readings from Proverbs 31 & 1 Timothy 2.

Scripture Focus: Mark 16.9
He appeared first to Mary Magdalene…

Luke 24.22-25
In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

John 20.19
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Reflection: Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

“Firsts” are important in the scriptures. So we cannot imagine that it is a coincidence or a mistake that Jesus appears first to the women. 

One reason Jesus may have done this is that they, along with John, were with him to the end. They were the last faces he saw as he gave up his spirit. It makes sense that he would honor them to be the first to behold his now glorified face, raised by the Spirit’s power.

Jesus did this despite knowing that no one would believe them. A woman’s testimony was considered invalid in court. Today, a woman’s testimony counts according to the technicalities of the law, but still counts for less in the general culture. All these centuries later, we still have problems in our society taking a woman at her word.

If the gospel accounts had been written late, with intentional warping of the facts to make plausible an extraordinary claim, the women’s testimony, which not even Jesus’ closest followers believed, would have been deleted and replaced with that of Nicodemus or someone else with moral standing. (See more on the trustworthiness of the Resurrection accounts here.)

Instead, Jesus not only appeared to women first but gave his most personal resurrection greeting to a woman shamed by her culture for having been demon-possessed. Mary Magdalene is also (probably falsely) accused by history of having been a prostitute. 

Jesus was intentionally exalting the humbled, by placing the women, and scorned outcasts, at the center of the narrative in an irreplaceable and immovable way.

He also was intentionally confronting the disciples with their cultural blindness and propensity to doubt. This was not to pile shame on them but to build faith in them. He was weaning them off of faith by sight, knowing that soon they too must believe in him without seeing him.

Faith by sight is faith limping along on a crutch. Faith by sight dies in the dark. Faith by sight is blind to the Spirit, for it never looks beyond the physical. But the worst thing about faith by sight is that even it still fails.

What is extraordinary about humanity is not that we are capable of believing without seeing. It is that we are capable of seeing, and still refusing to believe.

Like the women, we will be doubted. But let us still run and tell, “I have seen the Lord!”
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. — Psalm 98.1– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 34 (Listen – 4:15)
Psalms 5-6 (Listen – 2:45)

Read more about Easter—The Happy Beginning
Easter is a season in the church calendar, not a day. But in our lives, it can be an evergreen season that blooms throughout the year.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you better understand scripture?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Wisdom in Houses of Mourning—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Barbara
The April 20th, post on the subject of suffering during this time and during life in general was particularly helpful not only because as seniors we suddenly became isolated even from family but because we were also in the process of grief over a grandchild who died before Christmas. 2 Timothy 3:12 declares that all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer. We have felt “persecution“ through some ordinary circumstances or more dramatic ones throughout. We can do all things as unto the Lord.

Originally published, April 20, 2020, based on readings from Ecclesiastes 7 & 2 Timothy 3.

Scripture Focus: Ecclesiastes 7.2-4
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Proverbs 4.7
Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Hebrews 12.1-2
…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…

Reflection: Wisdom in Houses of Mourning—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

What happens when a society addicted to activity, distraction, and consumption has every activity canceled, normal distractions displaced, and consumption disrupted? We mourn.

Solomon tells us that there is more wisdom to be gained in a house of mourning than one of celebrating. In some ways, the homes in which we are sheltering have become houses of mourning. We are certainly mourning the frenetic fantasy of fruitfulness that our former schedules gave us. Our economies, both global and personal, were accelerated and everything else was trimmed out so that we could push harder for greater gain. But were we really gaining in the ways that are important? Did we trim out the wrong things? What can we learn from this unexpected experience of mourning? 

Paul writes that we should throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us to run after Jesus, fixing our eyes on him. But in our previous life, pre-COVID-19, did we ever throw off anything to get closer to Jesus? Did we ever lay aside even one entanglement to grow deeper in faith? Did we fix our eyes more intently on Jesus than on our devices, work tasks, and investment portfolios? Did we strip even one thing out of our lives because it interfered with reading the Bible? Did we cancel even one activity in order to make more time to pray?

For the majority of us, the answers to these questions are probably “no.” Many of us may need to confess that what we tossed aside was Jesus, and the entanglement we escaped was the cords of loving-kindness that God sought to guide us by. We limited Jesus, the Bible, and prayer, to “when we have time” as if time was the issue and not our heart.

What if we learned from what we have lost how valuable what we still have is?
What if we, relieved of the burden of physically running from activity to activity, learned to run after Jesus spiritually?
What if we learned to make time with the most important things the most important time in our day?

I think personally we would be blown away by the tangible presence and power of God in our lives.
I think it would be a revelation.
And I think culturally the world would be blown away by the shockingly beautiful things God would call the church to do in the world.
I think it would be a revolution. 

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
“And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the laborers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers to his harvest.’” — Matthew 9.36-37– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 33 (Listen – 4:46)
Psalms 3-4 (Listen – 1:56)

Read more about Convicted by Job’s Righteousness :: A Guided Prayer 
We pray for your forgiveness, Lord, but more than that, we pray that you would change the hearts of the oppressors, and may you begin in our hearts.

What post helped you understand prayer?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

If You Can’t Say Anything Good— Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason Tilley from Texas
Words matter. As small as it is, your tongue is a powerful tool to build up or tear down another person. It gets that power from a much greater source; your mind. Thinking before you speak (or tweet) is quickly becoming a lost art.

Originally published, November 21, 2019, based on readings from 1 Chronicles 16 & James 3.

Scripture Focus: James 3.9-11
With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

Reflection: If You Can’t Say Anything Good— Readers’ Choice
By Jon Polk

Reading through James’ letter, one might get the impression that he has a pretty pessimistic view of our ability to control our speech with one another.

Without a tight rein on our tongue, our religion is worthless. (1.26)
No one is faultless in what they say. (3.2)
The tongue is a fire, a world of evil in the body. (3.6)
The tongue corrupts the whole person, set on fire by hell itself. (3.6)
The tongue is an untamable, restless evil, full of deadly poison. (3.8)
With our speech we curse one another. (3.9)
We slander and judge one another by our speech. (4.11)
We selfishly brag and boast. (4.16)
We grumble and complain against each other. (5.9)

Ouch.

Honestly, though, it sounds as if James could have been writing these words in 2019 rather than in the first century AD. And when he refers to our speech, we should certainly include our tweets, posts, and texts.

Before we start pointing our fingers at the world around us though, let us be reminded that James was writing not to unbelievers, but to an audience of those claiming to follow the way of Christ. Unfortunately, we know all too well based on our experiences (not the least of which is the unflattering stereotype of the church business meeting) that Christians can be the worst about using our words to wound rather than to speak grace and love.

We know this so well, in fact, that the Christian band Third Day turned James 3 into an unlikely #1 rock hit with the song, “Nothing At All”, from their debut album in 1996.

“Well, on and on and on and on and on it goes
Now look who’s the one playin’ the fool
Criticizing, telling lies, putting down
Ain’t you got nothin’ better to do?
But if you can’t say nothin’ good, don’t say nothin’ at all”

But wait! There is hope! James also says that with our mouths we can speak on behalf of God (5.10), pray for ourselves (5.13) and each other (5.16), sing songs of praise (5.13) and confess our sins (5.16). 

When we learn to control our tongues, we can bring great teaching, healing and joy to many.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s rule for the students of his seminary classes was that no one should speak about another student in their absence. Many of his former students admitted they frequently broke this rule, but they learned a great deal from their mistakes about the power of our words to damage the body of Christ.

Oh, how would our speech be different today if we tried to follow Bonhoeffer’s rule?

*Song, “Nothing at All” by Third Day

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. — Psalm 119.14

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 32 (Listen – 7:34)
Psalms 1-2 (Listen – 2:05)

Read more about The Language of a Good Neighbor
The words we speak plant seeds that come from our hearts. When those seeds are violent winds, we reap the whirlwind of violent actions.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post did you share with a friend?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

This Present Age—Readers’ Choice

Selected by readers, cjs, and Michele Bartlett
cjs: “There are specific words that I have used in my private prayer life, and I’ve shared with others:
Live for Him today!
May we be unfailingly kind…
May we be models of integrity…
Make us ready, Lord, for the challenges we will face…
Come, Lord Jesus
—These are true today, tomorrow, and every day!”

Michele Bartlett: Even more so now than April when this was published, it seems like there is so much evil and havoc. But I am not called to put my focus there, but instead, to decide what to do with the time I have left, at 66. But I also love the context of the paragraph in with the LOTR quote is embedded…  

Frodo goes on to say that he wishes the Ring had never come to him. How often do we wish certain things had never come to us? Gandolf says, “Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you [Frodo] were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”  As we are deciding what to do with the time that is given us, may we remember that nothing that is happening to us is outside the ultimate will of our good God. And that is an encouraging thought.

Originally published, April 23, 2020, based on readings from Ecclesiastes 10 & Titus 2.

Scripture Focus: Titus 2.11-14
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Reflection: This Present Age—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times; but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.

We often wish we were some “when” and perhaps some “where” else, but God calls us instead, to live for him today, “In this present age.” (Titus 2.13) 

There was never an age of this earth in which evil did not wreak havoc, governments did not mishandle justice, and in which the church, in one capacity or another did not fail to fully live out the gospel. Our faith must not be in those things. We join in a prayer today based on what Paul declared the Holy Spirit would teach. 

Teach Us, Holy Spirit
Teach us, Holy Spirit, that in this age and in this space, you have placed us and called us.
May we be made eager to do good for the sake of the gospel.
May we all, men and women, live as examples: temperate, worthy of respect, and self-controlled.
May we be sound in our faith and in our love for others, and carry out the work of the gospel.
May we live reverently and truthfully, quenching any spark of slander and never sharing or spreading anything that is not factual.
May we be unfailingly kind and submissive to one another.
May no one be able to malign the word of God because of us.
Teach us by your Holy Spirit to show integrity and seriousness, taking care that no one can mistake or condemn what we say.
May even those who oppose us have nothing bad to say about us.
May we be models of integrity to our employers and fellow-laborers, trustworthy, and immune to corruption.
Teach us to say “no” to desires that are of this world, even ones that seem “good” to human wisdom. Teach us to say “yes” to desires that lead us closer to you, even when they seem “foolish” to human wisdom.
It is no more difficult to live in this age you have placed us in, Lord, than any other age of the church, and probably it is easier. You have placed us here and called us now, to live for you in this place, in this culture, in this time.
Make us ready, Lord, for the challenges that we will face as we await the blessed hope of Jesus Christ, who will redeem us from all wickedness and set right all that is wrong.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let the name of the Lord be blessed, from this time forth forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its going down let the Name of the Lord be praised. — Psalm 113.2-3

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 30-31 (Listen – 11:21)
Mark 16 (Listen – 2:34)

Read more about The Necessity of The Spirit
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and told the disciples that it is to our benefit that he leave and the Spirit come.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you endure suffering?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

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