Where We Turn in Times of Crisis

June1

Psalm 88.1
O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. 

Halfway through the winter of 2009 construction crews worked to dig a parking garage under a 13 story apartment building in Shanghai. The workers, mostly untrained migrants, had dumped tons of excavated dirt on the bank of a nearby creek. What happened next was was likely a result of unfavorable winds, soft soil from unseasonably high amounts of rain, and the creek bank collapsing under the weight of the dirt.

Photos from the site are arresting. A nearly intact 13 story building lays on its side — as if a toddler had knocked over her dollhouse. Fortunately, because construction was incomplete, there were no tenants in the building and only one person lost their life in the tragedy — a remarkably low number based off the size of the building.

Weak foundations lead to catastrophic events.

Psalm 88 is a desperate cry to God in the midst of catastrophic events. Charles Spurgeon called it “the darkest of psalms.” The psalmist pleads with God, “Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!”

Spurgeon continues, “It is a sorrowful wail, and it comes to a close when you do not expect it to finish. It really has no finish to it, as when men wind up their songs with proper finales; but it is broken off, like a lily snapped at the stalk.”

The psalmist pours his pain and frustration before God in prayer. “Prayer is always best when it rises to pleading,” Spurgeon concludes. “The man who understands the sacred art of prayer becomes a special pleader with God.”

Even in the seconds before the building in Shanghai fell over it would have looked no different from the other two buildings on site. The outside architecture was nearly complete. The paint color naturally complemented existing structures. And the view of the city from the top floors would have been wonderful. 

The foundation was built on shifting sands.

We can attempt to solve life’s disappointments and crises with emotional strength or shear will. But it’s in our relationship with God through Christ’s sacrifice, our prayer and worship, the community of believers, and the scriptures that we find the foundation which can sufficiently support a thriving life.

Prayer
Father though this world will fail us, you have proven your steadfast ever-pursuing love. Help us to invest our lives in you — our great hope, our joy, our freedom and our life.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 5 (Listen – 4:25)
Psalm 88 (Listen – 1:58)

Investing With Your Life
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Why Hell Persists

May29

Psalm 83.1
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah 

In The Problem of Pain C.S. Lewis says he would pay any price to remove the doctrine of hell because of its difficulty — to teach, understand, and grasp as reality. A few pages later he reveals the startling reality about hell that is often overlooked:

“I said glibly a moment ago that I would ‘pay any price’ to remove this doctrine. I lied. I could not pay one-thousandth part of the price that God has already paid to remove the fact. And here is the real problem:

“So much mercy, yet still there is hell.”

Heaven and hell, for Lewis, were destinations for courses set in this lifetime. Good people aren’t simply people who are morally superior, but people who have found their life in Christ. Bad people are those who have rejected their greatest good — the love of God.

“Both processes begin even before death,” Lewis said of heaven and hell in The Great Divorce. “The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness.

“And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”

It’s difficult to embrace the reality that present choices have effects that extend beyond our present world. This is one of the chief reasons we need God’s grace every moment of every day.

The cruciform life — of laying down our selfish desires, self-interest, and pride as we follow in humble obedience — requires extraordinary grace and rigorous discipline.

“If Christianity was something we were making up, of course, we could make it easier. But it is not,” Lewis concludes in Mere Christianity. “We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”

Prayer

Father, we pray for your grace on our lives and the lives of those who reject you. Show us your mercy. Use us as instruments of your love so that those around us experience you in profound, even if simple, ways. 

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 2 (Listen – 5:05)
Psalms 83-84 (Listen – 3:20)

Life and Death Apart from God
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Deuteronomy 3 (Listen – 4:33); Psalm 85 (Listen – 1:25)
Sunday: Deuteronomy 4 (Listen – 7:22); Psalms 86-87 (Listen – 2:16)

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Fearless in Judgment

May28

Psalm 82.1
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 

TBT: Fearless in Judgment | by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

First, let us consider the assurance that there is a moral government. There is a Judge over the race of men: we are not as the locusts, of whom Solomon says that they have no king.

That being announced, we have to go on to say that there will be a day of final account. I need not stop to quote the numerous passages of Scripture which assert that every one of us must give an account of himself before God, for “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

All reasonable persons will conclude that there must be a judgment, if they will only consider the character of God. Being the ruler of the world, he must do justice. We should count any man who was made a king but a miserable counterfeit of a monarch if he never administered justice at all. 

There will come a day in which he will judge the acts of men, because his character is not such that he could or would trifle with evil. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man sow, that shall he shall also reap.” He will “render to every man according to his deeds.”

And O, my brothers and sisters, you all know how quickening this doctrine is to Christians. We do not fear the day of judgment; we do not dread the thought of standing before our Lord Jesus, because we have a plea which we know will answer every purpose. 

Our plea is this: we have been tried, condemned, and punished already. Behold, in your hands the nail-prints which are the witnesses that you bore our sins in your own body on the tree. Behold, at your side you wear the ruby gem which tells how thine own heart made expiation for the guilt of all that trust in thee. 

We are not afraid, for there is no judgment for him who is judged already, no punishment for him who is punished already in a Substitute whom God has accepted. Yet this expectation of judgment quickens us to holy duty; we feel that since the Master comes we would be as men that look for their Lord, and stand with our loins girded, doing service, expecting to hear his footstep at any moment.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 1 (Listen – 6:27)
Psalms 81-82 (Listen – 1:42)

Life and Death Apart from God
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Rushing to Hell

Psalm 80.19
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved! 

Hell is distance from God; heaven is intimacy with him. It is a mistake to talk about hell as if it were a problem in need of a solution — as if each of us has been left alone to earn our own way out of such desolation and hopelessness. The reality, as unsettling as it may be, is that humanity finds itself rejecting the solution to hell which has already been provided — Christ himself.

“The doors of Hell are locked on the inside,” C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain. “I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of Hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man ‘wishes’ to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.”

In his work Seeing Hell through the Reason and Imagination of C. S. Lewis Douglas Beyer summarizes, “The saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all. To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter Hell, is to be banished from humanity.”

Yet because of our pride and brokenness we reject not only the place prepared, but the One who prepared it. Beyer sees this theme pervasively in Lewis’ work. He summarizes, “Lewis depicts the damned as rushing insistently into their hells, despite the efforts of God to persuade them not to.”

Christ is God’s magnificent effort — not only to persuade, but to sufficiently meet every need, answer every longing, and fulfill every hope. It is in Christ that we find not merely the solution to our greatest problem, but also everything we need to thrive in life and flourish for eternity.

“The blessed,” Lewis concludes, “forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.” 

Prayer
Lord our hearts are rebellious. You pursue us though we rush away. We see your love for us; you have given yourself while we are yet sinners. Thank you for the freedom of your love. Help us to embrace you as our only hope.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 36 (Listen – 2:15)
Psalm 80 (Listen – 1:58)

Life and Death Apart from God
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Hell as a Termination Point

May26

Psalm 79.2
They have left the dead bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the sky, the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.

For the authors of scripture, heaven’s location is a secondary reality to the goodness, mercy, and grace of God. Hell’s location is secondary to the reality that God has been rejected.

“Damnation is the state of the human soul when it is cut off from God, and salvation is the state of the human soul when it is united with God,” explains Douglas Beyer. “It isn’t imposed on us by God from the outside, but arises from the nature of what God is.” (Beyer composed a wonderful summary of C.S. Lewis’ understanding of hell, from which many of Lewis’ quotes this week were drawn.)

Hell is the termination point for those who cut themselves off from God and are finally left with no other options. We see this supremely in the personification of evil — for whom hell was designed. “Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament,” C.S. Lewis writes in his Preface to Paradise Lost. “Certainly, he has no choice. He has chosen to have no choice. He has wished to ‘be himself,’ and to be in himself and for himself, and his wish has been granted.”

We underestimate how rejection of God builds until it consumes. In The Great Divorce Lewis wrote, “It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no ‘you’ left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”

Prayer
Lord, thank you that what saves us from these choices isn’t brute strength to make better choices but the overwhelming glory of your mercy and grace as given to us by your son. Like the psalmist we see evil all around us. Help us also to see the reality of evil in our own hearts and the way it sets us on a path to destruction. Father, set our sights on Jesus, our hope of glory. Overwhelm us with your grace.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 35 (Listen – 4:41)
Psalm 79 (Listen – 1:50)

Life and Death Apart from God
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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