Cultivation Must Be Learned

Scripture Focus: Matthew 14.16
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

From John: For the next couple of days, we will look back at some posts from 2019 about the spiritual work of cultivating a deep spiritual life of growth and discipleship. 

Reflection: Cultivation Must Be Learned
By John Tillman

Cultivation requires intergenerational transfer.

The first training schools for ministers in the church were communities called, in Latin, seminarium, meaning “plant nursery” or “seed plot.” The root word (we just can’t escape agricultural metaphor) also gives us the word semen, the literal “seed” of humanity; seminal, implying an original source of thought or work; and, seminar, a focused time of learning.

Spiritual wisdom and knowledge, like agricultural knowledge, must be passed on, with its seeds, from one generation to the next.

I learned to shell purple-hulled peas (a more flavorful cousin to black-eyed peas) because I sat on a porch with my family and shared in the work before sharing in the meal. Many of us learn agricultural knowledge from a loved one. We learn to tell if a fruit or vegetable is ripe, how and when to prune roses, how to properly root a cutting of a plant, or at what depth to set bulbs in order to have blooms at the proper time.

In individual, cultural, or generational isolation, we lose the ability to transfer or receive knowledge. And in one-way relationships, there is no ability to contextualize knowledge, to discuss it, or to practice together how to live it out. This is why one of the most rewarding parts of The Park Forum is when I hear from readers, and discuss what has challenged or encouraged them. 

There are limits to the level of community that is possible for a geographically distributed ministry like The Park Forum. Distributed communities, like long-distance relationships, require energy and investment to maintain. It is our hope that The Park Forum is a community tool, a seedbed, a source of cuttings that can be planted and rooted in your community.

More of us need to sit around biblical teaching, as my family sat around a bucket of unshelled peas, extracting the value from the harvest together, one pod at a time. When we share in the work of extracting the goodness of the land, we gain more than a harvest of nutritional content or monetary gain. We gain community.

Who is your community? With whom are you processing God’s Word? Who are the believers, older in the faith, from whom you are learning? Who are the believers, younger in the faith, with whom you are sharing what you have learned? 

*If you have not joined our Park Forum Cultivators Facebook Group, please see the description below and follow the link to join us there.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your name. — Psalm 86.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 15 (Listen – 2:53)
Matthew 14 (Listen – 4:14)

Read more about Cultivation Is Supernatural
A stronger faith, and a greater crop yield comes when we invest in cultivation. Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural.

Read more about Milk of the Word, A Precedent to Growth
It’s not that we are still drinking milk when we should have been weaned, but that we’ve never drunk it consistently.

Preparing the Ground—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Matthew 13.37-43
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. 

Reflection: Preparing the Ground—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman 

We need nothing more in this time of national grief and conflict than to refocus on prayer and our commitment to only Jesus Christ, preparing the ground of our hearts for his truth. We will pray, today, a prayer based on Matthew 13.1-43.

Preparing the Ground
Lord, We live in a difficult time for spiritual growth.

We live in a time of confusion when the enemy is trying to snatch the seed of truth from us…

We live in a time of rocky relationships that cannot stand the heat of the sun or the cold of the night. Our roots cannot break up the hardness of our hearts, so we cannot draw up living water for our own, or anyone else’s, thirst.

We live in a time of distraction, with controversies and conspiracies and crises by the dozens screaming for our attention…diluting our strength…sapping our energy and growth. We allow thorny antagonism to flourish, but not the flower or fruit of the gospel.

Lord help us, even in this time and space, to prepare our hearts as ground that is ready to receive your truth.

Help us to banish and scatter the demonic influences that would snatch away the truth and replace it with a comfortable lie. We especially pray against those demonic forces such as Q-Anon, that would snatch the true gospel from our hearts and plant tares in your good field.

Help us to break up the rocks of our hard heads and our hard hearts. Help us to see with eyes that can discern your truth and listen with ears that can hear the cries and needs of our fellow brothers and sisters. Heal our broken and crumbling relationships, making room for the growth of deep roots of love and community.

Keep us out of the weeds of needless controversies and pointless arguments. Keep us from being tangled in the thorns of addiction to wealth of money or wealth of fame. Help us to shape our lives to produce a fragrant flower to attract others and a fruit that satisfies the deepest needs of those who seek the gospel.

May we bring in many to the harvest. May we shine like the sun in your kingdom.
May whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. — Psalm 119.10

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 14 (Listen – 4:04)
Matthew 13 (Listen – 7:23)

Read more about Cultivation Leads to Harvest
Cultivation leads to harvest. Harvests, when shared, lead to celebration.

Read more about Judging Our Hearts
Jesus refers to false prophets’ disguise as sheep’s clothing that conceals an inward nature that is a violent and ferocious wolf.

Divide et Impera

Scripture Focus: Matthew 12:25, 36-37
25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand…

36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

Genesis 13.8-9
8 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

Reflection: Divide et Impera
By John Tillman

Speaking of the impossibility of driving out demons by the power of demons, Jesus says “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined.” (Matthew 12.25) The word translated ruined is also used by Jesus in his prophecy of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. (Luke 21.20) It refers to destruction, being deserted, or desolation.

In the wake of the attack on the Capitol, American citizens and the world now have images in their heads of the consequences of a kingdom divided against itself that will be a part of history books for generations to come. A mirrored corollary of Jesus’ statement is the Latin phrase that began to appear often in the writings of the colonial period of the 1600s, Divide et impera (“divide and rule”). We know this maxim today as “divide and conquer.”

There are both earthly and spiritual emperors who wish to divide and rule over us through the use of division and conspiracy. Enemies without are not as useful to emperors as enemies within. They want us to suspect and turn on each other. 

Christians should be especially wary of shadowy, unknown “emperors” sowing division such as the mysterious, unidentified founder of QAnon. We should also be wary of popular leaders spreading this unknown manipulator’s messages. Truth-denying conspiracy theories such as QAnon lead Christians away from the concept of absolute truth and toward division and radicalization.

If nations or the Church allow ourselves to be divided, we will be conquered. Yet, we cannot be unified without the truth. When Christians participate in lies, we stain the gospel with falsity.

Let us pray (based on Matthew 12.31-36) that as we seek unity we will stand for truth.

Lord, you told us that every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 
Help us, Lord, to be made into good trees with good fruit of righteousness.
May our mouths speak good out of the good stored up us
May we speak the truth. May we hesitate to share the uncertain. May we refuse to participate in falsehood.
We know we will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word we have spoken, so fill our words with your truth and your love.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the ram’s horn.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is King of all the earth; sing praises with all your skill.
God reigns over the nations; God sits upon his holy throne. — Psalm 47.5-8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 13 (Listen – 2:16)
Matthew 12 (Listen – 6:41)

Read more about Good and Pleasant Unity?
Change our hearts, Lord. Arouse our compassion. Help us abandon anger.

Read more about Honoring The Truth
Seeking the truth is not only a spiritual quest. It is sometimes a civic one. Or a legal one.

Rumors or Repentance

Scripture Focus: Matthew 11.14-19
15 Whoever has ears, let them hear. 
16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: 
17 “ ‘We played the pipe for you, 
and you did not dance; 
we sang a dirge, 
and you did not mourn.’ 
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” 

Reflection: Rumors or Repentance
By John Tillman

In normal circumstances, John the Baptizer might have grown up to work in Jerusalem’s Temple like his father, Zechariah. He could have been one of the religious elite. Instead, he frustrated them.

Like Moses, living in the desert after rejecting a life of ease in Pharaoh’s house, (Hebrews 11.24-26) John’s life of aestheticism stands in contrast to the luxury many religious leaders enjoyed. (Mark 12.40; Luke 20.47

He could have taught in the gold-covered Temple built by Herod’s criminal hands. Instead, he taught in the mud-covered hillsides of the Judean wilderness. He could have worn priestly garments. Instead, he dressed strangely. He could have dined on fine sacrifices in the Temple. Instead, he ate strange foods in the desert. He could have chanted ancient prayers and psalms. Instead, he was a passionate prophet, raging against sin and hypocrisy. Instead of joining the religious leaders, he condemned them. John called religious people and everyone else to repent, including soldiers, tax collectors, and the poor.

So what do powerful figures do when a prophet is making them look bad? They lie about him. 

Rather than deal with the truth that John brought to light, the religious leaders accused him of being demon-possessed. Make no mistake, they knew what demonic possession was like. They had exorcists of their own. (Matthew 12.26-28) They weren’t making this accusation in error. They were spreading a false rumor intended to mislead. They created a conspiracy to slander him.

Jesus addresses this directly. He mocks the conspiracy and replaces it with the truth saying that John is the greatest man to have ever lived. But those who enter the Kingdom of God through repentance will be even greater.

The Jordan, where John baptized, is a river of decision. Will you cross over or not?  Will you repent? Will you enter the Kingdom of Heaven or not? 

How should you repent? Many asked John, “What should we do?” In his Q&A session (Luke 3.10-14) all of John’s examples have to do with money. He must have felt that the crowd that day had problems with greed. A few verses later, he condemns sexual sins by Herod.

When someone critiques you and calls you to repent, what will you do? Will you dismiss them with a rumor like the Pharisees, with violence like Herod, or will you listen to the Holy Spirit and repent.

May we open our ears and reject rumors and conspiracies. 

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And at once, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you.” — Mark 1.9-11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 11-12 (Listen – 6:38)
Matthew 11 (Listen – 4:06)

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
John the Baptist describes a Christ who stands ready with both axe and fire. May we ask him regularly to cut down our idols.

Read more about The Sword Versus The Cross
Jesus Saves. But there will be those who refuse to be saved by Jesus. They…want to be saved by other, less demanding things.

The Sword Versus The Cross

Scripture Focus: Genesis 8.11
11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.

Matthew 8.11-12
11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Reflection: The Sword Versus The Cross
By John Tillman

I am writing this devotional after the horror of watching the storming of the United States Capitol building during a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 presidential election results. At this moment, lawmakers have returned to work, but much is uncertain, both for the politicians involved, the future of the nation, and for Christianity.

Some of the violent invaders waved the Confederate battle flag and some carried flags proclaiming “Jesus Saves.” Clearly, their true belief is that violence, rather than Jesus, saves. Unfortunately, rather than save, the violence cost four people their lives in the confrontation with police.

We don’t do “hot takes” at The Park Forum. Besides, by Friday, when this post will run, who knows what might have happened or been revealed… But we find comfort in today’s scriptures. Regardless of the events of any day or week or year, it is to the scriptures that we turn.

We find that violence will be cleansed from the earth. In saving Noah and his family, God was saving us. In eliminating the violent line of Cain, God was justly punishing horrendous evil and violence. Those who cling to violence are choosing to line up and follow in Cain’s footsteps.

It is true that “Jesus Saves.” But there will be those who refuse to be saved by Jesus. They might wave a “Jesus” flag, but they want to be saved by other, less demanding things. Many want to be saved by the sword. But those who live by the sword will die by it. (Matthew 26.52) We, however, who choose to die by the cross are made alive by it. (Galatians 2.20; 5.24; 6.14)

We enter the feast of the Kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Matthew 8.11) Though these men’s names are revered as patriarchs, it should comfort us to know that they are each spectacular sinners as well.

All who come via the cross, come through Noah’s flood as well and are cleansed from violence and all other sin. When we hold out our hand to the creator, upon it will light the dove of the Holy Spirit, with an olive twig of peace. 

Some have been like brash, foolish Peter, swinging away with a sword of vengeance—we must put it away. We have been sifted, tricked, by Satan. The only way back is to repent and take up the cross instead of the sword.

May we reaffirm our commitment to living as God’s people of peace.
May we reject the call of joining in violence.
May our words reflect that.
May our actions reflect that.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 8 (Listen – 3:06) 
Matthew 8 (Listen – 4:09)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 9 (Listen – 3:50) Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:56)
Genesis 10 (Listen – 3:29) Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)

Read more about Of Pride and The Sword
God does not rejoice in the death of any person, much less any nation, but he rejoices to see justice done to oppressors and the proud humbled.

Read more about Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners
Physical salvation is always top of mind for the persecuted and God’s wrath only sounds harsh to those who have rarely suffered.

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