Cultivation Starts With Destruction

Matthew 9.36-38
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Reflection: Cultivation Starts With Destruction
By John Tillman

Cultivation is an act of peace, community, and faith. However, cultivation often begins with the smell of fire, the wielding of sharpened metal tools, and the sounds of chainsaws.

Jesus told the parable of the sower to portray the power of the gospel, not to imply that we should disdain cultivation for simply “scattering” the seed. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of cultivated ground to the gospel’s success.

Cultivated ground must be carved out of the wild brush, moor, or forest. Trees must be felled. Brush, thorns, and grasses must be burned. Rocks and other obstacles must be broken up, destroyed, and removed. But natural obstacles to cultivation are not our only concern. We also have an enemy who sows obstacles in our fields.

Immediately after the parable of the sower, Jesus tells the parable of the tares, which relates closely to our situation today. Among the wealth of cultivated, gospel teaching available, cultural ideas and worldly philosophies get scattered in with the good seed and grow up among our people. Our adversary desires to leave us no space in our land for cultivation.

Historians tell us that salting the earth was more ceremonial than functional. Sowing enough salt into farmland to poison crops for an extended time was too expensive for common practice. When this type of warfare was described in the Bible it was intended more as retribution and punishment than military strategy.

Our adversary’s goal is spiritual starvation and humiliation.
He hems us in with thorns.
He salts our fields with sin.
He sows tares amidst our wheat.
When he tears down our walls, he buries the broken stones in our furrows to break our plows.

This is why the first step of cultivating faith is destruction. And we must start in the field of our own heart, not pointing across the fence at someone else.

May the scripture help us to plow up and destroy the cultural idols, trends, teachings, and brands that hinder our growth.
May we invite the Holy Spirit’s fire to burn what we never should have planted.
May we work in our heart to weed out our prejudices and assumptions.
May we practice generosity that our jealousies may be poisoned.

Salting the earth is an act of war. Cultivation is an act of loving resistance.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him! — Psalm 34:8

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 9-10 (Listen – 7:18)
Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:56)

Additional Reading
Read More about Cultivating is Supernatural
Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural. We give plants a safer, healthier place to grow than exists naturally, and they give us better food in greater quantities.

Read More about A Sign of Immaturity
May we, through our spiritual disciplines, develop a mature faith that cultivates signs and miracles of mercy and grace for others, not an immature faith that demands signs of favor and blessing for ourselves.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”


Cultivation Requires Planning

Matthew 8.1
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.

Reflection: Cultivation Requires Planning
By John Tillman

“As the park is to the city, so the Word is to life.”

These words have communicated the vision of The Park Forum since the very beginning of our ministry, drawing inspiration from Central Park in New York City. The park’s natural-seeming environment is an engineering marvel of the 19th century, and nearly every bucolic hill, meadow, treeline, and body of water are the result of artistic, and purposeful design.

Frederick Law Olmsted, and Calvert Vaux’s winning concept prevailed over 32 other submissions. The design represented a microcosm of New York State, with the southern section showcasing more formal features, evoking the city and its suburbs, and the northern parts reflecting the more rural upstate regions.

The park’s website describes in detail the enormous amount of labor that went into achieving those plans, describing it as one of New York’s largest public works projects:

“After blasting out rocky ridges with more gunpowder than was later fired at the Battle of Gettysburg, workers moved nearly 3 million cubic yards of soil and planted more than 270,000 trees and shrubs.”

No park or garden is “natural.” Even the garden of Eden was planted by the Lord after the creation of the plants and animals. God, desiring to walk with humanity in relationship, knelt in the earth and planted a garden. We, in our pursuit of a deepening walk of faith, need to follow his example of supernatural cultivation.

Our faith depends on God. But for a mustard seed faith to grow, it must be cultivated. For a fig tree to bear fruit, it must be cared for. For a branch that is connected to the vine to be “even more fruitful” it must be pruned. What you harvest in your spiritual life, depends not just on what you sow, but how you care for it.

Cultivation may yield a harvest of beautiful sights, such as trees, fields, and flowers. It may yield a harvest of nutritious food, such as grains, vegetables, or fruit. In either case, it begins with planning before planting.

Do you have a plan to cultivate your spiritual growth?

The Park Forum is a tool that can help you, and those you share it with, follow a plan to plant and cultivate God’s Word in the midst of daily life. Invite someone to walk through God’s Word with you, experiencing spiritual rhythms that will bring a harvest of faith.

Prayer: The Greeting
Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. — Psalm 50:2

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

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

Additional Reading
Read More about Light for the Next Step
Walking daily in this Word, meditating on it, breathing it in and out, making it a part of our thoughts and our prayers, charges an inner light of the Holy Spirit that we can trust to give us the next step.

Read More about Meditation in Spiritual Rhythm :: Throwback Thursday
Begin with reading or hearing. Go on with meditation; end in prayer…Reading without meditation is unfruitful; meditation without reading is hurtful; to meditate and to read without prayer upon both, is without blessing.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”


Cultivation Is Supernatural

Matthew 7.7-8
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Reflection: Cultivation Is Supernatural
By John Tillman

On the Monday of the first full workweek of each year, the new year starts in earnest. The hustle of the holidays is over, and humdrum returns. Out of office replies are turned off and the traffic on roads, trains, and elevators returns to normalcy.

There is no question that observing the turning of the year is a godly and valuable practice for Christians. Only last week, we read of God setting the heavens, like a clock, to help us mark the passing of time. The stars and moon are fulfilling the design of their creator when we use them to find our place in the year, to know when to plant, harvest, and rest.

The beginning of the year, in modern culture, is a time of planting. Rather than planting seeds, we plant habits that we hope to grow to maturity in the new year. Whether it is a new business practice that we hope will bring an increase of dollars, or a new exercise regimen we hope will bring a reduction of pounds—we plant.

But truly abundant harvests aren’t accomplished by merely planting a seed. Harvest implies cultivation, but when it comes to faith, too many of us are hunter-gatherers. We bounce from devotional to podcast to church attendance to online streaming to small group—seeking maturity like berries in bushes or figs on trees. And sometimes the trees are barren.

A stronger faith, and a greater crop yield comes when we invest in cultivation. Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural. We give plants a safer, healthier place to grow than exists naturally, and they give us better food in greater quantities. By this, whole communities are nourished and strengthened.

How will you cultivate faith this year? What are you planting? How are you preparing the soil? How are you clearing the old growth? How are you nourishing the new growth? How are you protecting it from climate, from pests, and from weeds and thorns?

Bear fruit this year. Cultivate your faith.

Cultivation takes community. Ask friends to join you in cultivating your faith with us this year. Send them this link to sign up for our email devotionals.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. — Psalm 19:14

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 7 (Listen – 3:18)
Matthew 7 (Listen – 3:31)

Additional Reading
Read More about Better Things to Do
Amos is clear that if we don’t value worshiping God, the punishment is a famine. Not a famine of profit, or water, or food. A famine of the Word of God.

Read More about Learning to Pray :: Readers’ Choice
“This is a dangerous error,” warns Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “to imagine that it is natural for the heart to pray.” The great theologian, who lost his life in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, was no stranger to unanswered prayer.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”


A Restoring Sabbath

Matthew 4.1-2
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

Reflection: A Restoring Sabbath
By Dena Dyer

I’m sick of the constant “ding” of Facebook messages, tweets, and emails. My shoulders ache from the tension of trying to fit too much into an already-packed schedule. And my head hurts from trying to remember all the people who need something from me.

What about you? Are you tired of 24/7 restaurants, instant messaging, and the strain of trying to pack one more thing into a week full of obligations? If so, you’re not alone…and our numbers are growing.

Peter Smith of the Courier-Journal reports that Dr. Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room physician, is encouraging stressed-out folks to consider an ancient principle: keeping the Sabbath. Sleeth is the founder of the Christian ministry “Blessed Earth” and the author of several books, including the new release, 24/6: The Prescription for a Happier, Healthier Life.

The biblical Sabbath God commanded his children to take in the Ten Commandments included “not just work-free days, but also allowing pastures to rest and not harvesting a field completely, leaving gleanings for the poor and hedgerows as a sanctuary for wildlife,” says Sleeth.

He notes that a day of rest doesn’t necessarily mean “a day of just kicking back. It can involve such deliberate activities as walking and light gardening. What it does mean is powering down the laptop and smartphone. And slowing down enough to listen.”

*This devotional was originally posted as a part of The High Calling devotional series.

From John:
Many key leaders in technology have been public about taking strong measures to reduce technology use by their families and especially their children.

As you begin this year, think and pray about ways in which you can abstain from technology’s addictive elements, while still using its powerful tools to spur your spiritual growth.

Weekly sabbaths teach us that the sabbath doesn’t condemn the week of work, but it blesses it and redeems it. Sabbath is not a punishment to be endured but a blessing. Use a fast or sabbatical this month to reset your ideas about technology and how you will use it in 2019.

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

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 4 (Listen – 3:54)
Matthew 4 (Listen – 3:09)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 5 (Listen – 3:18) Matthew 5 (Listen – 6:03)
Genesis 6 (Listen – 2:48) Matthew 6 (Listen – 4:35)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Value of Words
Words and writers are undervalued in the marketplace. But encouraging words? They are remarkably undervalued. Our purpose at The Park Forum is to produce words that are filled with life, not death.

Read More about Supporting Our Work
When you donate to The Park Forum, you are investing in sharing God’s word, primarily. But you are also investing in words of life, words of encouragement, and words to build up our readers across the world in love.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”


Top 3 of 2018

Romans 15.15
I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again…

Top 3 of 2018
By John Tillman

Picking my own “Best Of” was too hard. So, I’m letting Google Analytics pick for me. These are the top three most visited posts not written by a guest author in 2018.

Hope on a Limb :: Hope of Advent

It is difficult for posts late in the year to compete with ones from earlier in the year that had time to build traffic and be mentioned multiple times. I’m thrilled that this one, from only a month ago, made the top spot. It’s not only the top post written by myself, but the top most visited page on our entire site for 2018. People are looking for hope…

“We can be assured as we stand on Zacchaeus’s hope-filled Sycamore limb, that the King of Glory we hope for will not pass us by. The colt will carry our King. And in the end, all the broken who enter the courts of His temple, will be healed.

What are you waiting for? Climb up on the limb in hope.”

The Seductive Idolatry of Politics :: Readers’ Choice

Politics is what people who have no faith in God must turn to for earthly salvation. Christians can and must do better. Since writing this post, several other pastors and writers have picked up the thread. May many more do so.  May we abandon all our idols, but most importantly the idol of politics and politicians.

“Politics is the most powerful new religion of this millennium. It continually plays on the kind of imagery we see in Revelation. But outside of Christ there will never be a day when every nation, tribe, people, and language are united. Politics promises this unity and diversity but instead gains its power from fear and division.”

Killing With our Hearts

After writing this post, a reader jokingly commented, “you take the fun out of everything.” She was right. Issuing a stinging rebuke can be fun and Jesus spoke his share of zingers. But so many times we excuse our sinful and petty hatreds by hiding behind Christ’s impassioned language that, we must remember, had a goal of calling people to him, not destroying them.

Too often lately, Christians have participated in, or stood by allowing, hate-filled rhetoric. As Saul, who became Paul, can tell you, you don’t have to throw stones at someone to be guilty of their blood. You just have to hold the coats of those who do.

“Christ’s words about how murder begins with inner violence, adultery begins with inner lust, and divorce is not only adultery, but a victimization of the vulnerable party are as shockingly harsh to modern ears as they would have been to the original audience.”

Moving On…

As we move into 2019, we will continue to allow God’s Word to speak to us, to disturb our comfort, to disrupt our thinking mired in selfishness, and to spur us on to love and good deeds.

Share one of these posts (or this one) with someone who you will walk through the scriptures with this year. As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”

Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18:46

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 3 (Listen – 4:14)
Matthew 3 (Listen – 2:21)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Value of Words
Our culture values hard-hitting, biting words. The Internet swarms to support meanness. Crowds applaud words that degrade and attack. The Internet loves to verbally “stone” its victims, and too often Christians participate or give support to those who do, “holding the coats” of those who attack and degrade others.

Read More about Supporting Our Work
We keep our site ad-free and produce over 100,000 words per year of free devotional content that is read across the world by 4,000 daily readers. We are tremendously thankful to God for using our community to bring God’s Word to people in cities around the world!

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”

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