Repenting of Greatness

Luke 11.2
And Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, holy is your name.”

The crown was the chief symbol of accomplishment and success in Jewish literature. Most crowns were made of solid gold or silver and embellished with precious jewels. A single crown would have been worth more than everything the average person in the ancient Near East owned in a lifetime.

The additional social value of such a prize would have been incalculable, but it was the spiritual value which sealed the crown as the preeminent symbol of success. In prophetic texts, even as late as the composition of the book of Revelation, the crown is the symbol for a life well lived.

The image of the 24 elders receiving their crowns in Revelation was a source of renewed hope for the faithful. The elders had done everything needed to receive the crown — it was their greatest accomplishment. For all of eternity their crowns would signify that they had done well. 

It would seem scandalous that the elders would walk into the presence of God and cast down their crowns (as they do in Revelation 4.10-11). As they throw aside their prize they declare, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.”

The elders do not throw off their crowns out of guilt. The story is about their reward for accomplishment, not rebuke for it. The elders throw them off because they have found the true holiness of God. It’s a worthiness so high we repent not just of our sin, but of our strength, success, and accomplishment. 

The Lord’s Prayer is meant to remind us of his holiness. In prayer we discover purified motivation for success and accomplishment. We also find our hearts less enamored by success along the way, as we place our ultimate hope in the unsurpassable holiness of God.

God reserves crowns for the faithful, but the true prize is the inexpressible beauty and glory of reuniting with our Father in heaven.

Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Joy in God
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 8 (Listen – 5:07)
Luke 11 (Listen – 7:33)

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What The Plagues Really Destroyed

Exodus 7.14
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.”

It is the job of the Holy Spirit to dismantle everything that we trust more than God. Anything less would be unloving, if God is as good as the scriptures reveal him to be. The Egyptian plagues attest to this.

The Nile was Egypt’s most valuable natural resource. The ancients would have trembled when it turned to blood in the first plague. Hapi, the father of Egypt’s gods (and god of the Nile itself), would seem to have lost control. 

Each plague systematically defeated another of ancient Egypt’s gods. The idols’ lack of control was exposed. Their efficacy to restore life was unveiled. 

The gods Heka, Geb, and Khepfi were shamed by the plagues involving insects. Apis, Menvis, and Hathor were defeated by the plague of livestock. Thoth, the god of health, proved powerless while Egypt writhed in the pain of boils. Nut and Isis were revealed as impotent through the plagues of hail and locusts.

The plague of darkness was a fierce warning — Yahweh had overpowered Ra. Arguably at the top of Egypt’s gods, Ra was the god of the sun and a central figure in ancient Egyptian worship. 

Even then, Pharaoh would not concede.

The final plague was an extension of the previous — a darker darkness. Each of Egypt’s firstborn would have been dedicated to Ra, and Pharaoh’s son was considered an incarnation of Ra himself. The death of the firstborn was a brutal and crushing end to the empty gods in whom they had placed their trust.

Idolatry always destroys our greatest joy. Our commitment to our idols cuts away at the people and things which matter most in our lives. Each idol delivers a shadow of the real experience — and their falsehood can be as difficult for us to see now as it was for the Egyptians to see then.

In comparison to Egypt’s gods, our modern idols have names which sound normal — approval, pleasure, comfort, power, control — but they act the same. We draw our identity from them. We arrange our lives around them. And, at our time of greatest need, they abandon us.

Prayer
Spirit of God, dismantle our idols so our joy may be complete in Christ. Reveal in us the things which we trust more than God — the things which will destroy us. Renew us in the gospel and fill us with your peace.

Joy in God
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 7 (Listen – 3:29)
Luke 10 (Listen – 5:40)

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Suffering and Glory

Luke 9.23-24
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

The realities of suffering for faith seem top of mind right now. It’s something Christians focus on as the season of Lent begins during this time of year. Our awareness seems sharper however, with the preceding weeks’ coverage of the martyrdom of nearly two dozen Coptic Christians. Prior to that Kayla Mueller’s letter to her family was released after her murder by the terrorist group ISIS.

Mueller gave herself not just in death, but in life. “This really is my life’s work, to go where there is suffering,” she said before devoting her life and work to Syrian refugees. This is the case with many of the missionaries and aid workers who ISIS has abducted. It was their faith which led them to put aside comfort, money, status, and likely a list of worldly hopes to serve the marginalized and oppressed. 

The martyrs’ final moments of suffering are public. Their long-suffering journey in faith is private. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was later executed in a Nazi concentration camp, says,

“Time is short. Eternity is long. It is the time of decision. Those who are true to the word and confession on earth will find Jesus Christ standing by their side in the hour of judgement. All the world will be called to witness as Jesus pronounces our name before his heavenly Father.”

We should focus on the beauty of the prize set before us, not the pain of sacrifice, during this season of Lent. 

“The hope of our reunion is the source of my strength,” Mueller wrote to her family and friends. It’s a hope which will go unfulfilled in this world. Yet she is not without greater reward. The glory of resurrection will bring not only the reunion she longed for, but an eternal reunion with her Heavenly Father whose glory vastly outweighs suffering on behalf of his name.

Prayer
Father God, we hold fast to your promise that you will return to vanquish evil, rebuke death, restore the broken, and fulfill every desire. Reorient us to see our sufferings not as crushing burdens but as light and momentary when measured against your eternal Kingdom. Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

(Prayer adapted from Revelation 21.1-5; John 10.10; 2 Corinthians 4.16-18; Revelation 22.20)

Joy in God
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 6 (Listen – 3:56)
Luke 9 (Listen – 8:05)

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When Suffering Lingers

Exodus 3.5
“The angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”

The burning bush appeared at the height of Israel’s suffering. Early rabbinic writings understood the bush to be a symbol of ancient Israel, persevering under the flame of Egypt’s brutality. 

The Greek philosopher Philo expanded the rabbis’ imagery to include all of humanity. “For the burning bramble was a symbol of those who suffered wrong, as the flaming fire of those who did it,“ he explained in his work, On the Life of Moses.

Philo was a contemporary of Christ, although the two never would have met (Philo was an aristocrat in Alexandria). The philosopher spent his life exploring the synergy and tension of Jewish scriptural study and Stoicism. Among other things, his writings revealed through scripture what he could not find in philosophy — like meaning in suffering.

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful,” says Timothy Keller In Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. “There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”

Though we burn, we are not consumed. This is the mere beginning of God’s grace. Endurance is the deposit guaranteeing great reward. God’s promise to those who suffer is not only that the flame will be extinguished, but that all it has burnt will be restored. 

The prophets joyfully proclaim God is the one who will return the wasted years. The New Testament crescendos with no more tears, no more death, no more pain — all of it replaced by new life. 

It is the cross that is the enduring symbol of the Christian faith, not the burning bush. The bush reminds us that God always hears the cry of his people. The cross shows us that God stops at nothing — moving heaven and earth, even sacrificing his beloved — to bring them restoration.

Prayer

Lord, we trust you, even in the face of suffering. Because of you, our suffering will not drive us to despair. You will not forsake us. May we always carry the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our lives.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 3 (Listen – 3:59)
Luke 6 (Listen – 6:46)

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Exodus 4 (Listen – 4:17); Luke 7 (Listen – 7:14)
Sunday: Exodus 5 (Listen – 3:15); Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)

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TBT: A God Who Hears Prayers

Exodus 2.23-24
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

A God Who Hears Prayers | by Jonathan Edwards (January, 1735)

“You who answer prayer, to you all people will come.” Psalm 65.2

With respect to God, prayer is but a sensible acknowledgment of our dependence on him to his glory. As he has made all things for his own glory, so he will be glorified and acknowledged by his creatures. And it is fit that he should require this of those who would be the subjects of his mercy, that we, when we desire to receive any mercy from him, should humbly supplicate the Divine Being. 

For the bestowment of that mercy, is but a suitable acknowledgment of our dependence on the power and mercy of God for that which we need, and but a suitable honor paid to the great Author and Fountain of all good.

With respect to ourselves, God requires prayer of us in order to the bestowment of mercy, because it tends to prepare us for its reception. Fervent prayer many ways tends to prepare the heart. Hereby is excited a sense of our need, and of the value of the mercy which we seek, and at the same times earnest desires for it, whereby the mind is more prepared to prize it, to rejoice in it when bestowed, and to be thankful for it. 

Prayer, with suitable confession, may excite a sense of our unworthiness of the mercy we seek. And the placing of ourselves in the immediate presence of God, may make us sensible of his majesty, and in a sense fit to receive mercy of him. 

Our prayer to God may excite in us a suitable sense and consideration of our dependence on God for the mercy we ask, and a suitable exercise of faith in God’s sufficiency, that so we may be prepared to glorify his name when the mercy is received.

Prayers from the Past
God can do anything. Let us beg him to take pity on us and make us not merely listen to what he tells us but do it as well. May he send the flood of his waters over our souls, destroy in us what he knows is in need of destruction and give life to what he considers should live, through Christ our Lord and his Holy Spirit. To him be the glory, age after age, for all eternity. Amen.

— Origen, c. 250 C.E.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 2 (Listen – 3:18)
Luke 5 (Listen – 5:04)

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