Calloused Hands and Softened Hearts

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 1.12
That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

Reflection: Calloused Hands and Softened Hearts
By John Tillman

In suffering for the gospel, Paul carried with him a joy and purpose that he worked to pass on to Timothy and to us.

Paul, when writing this second letter to Timothy, knew that his life was coming to an end. Reading between the lines, one can hear the certainty with which Paul feels his death approaching. 

Paul does not encourage Timothy with any false hope of things improving for Christians or for Timothy. In fact, by his prayers and what he writes, he seems certain of problems and crises for Timothy rather than ease and comfort. He invites Timothy to, “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”

Some interpretations of the Christian faith have, from time to time, trended toward pie-in-the-sky, escapist fantasy—as if the great purpose of the gospel was only to leave this world behind. 

Gospel Christianity, fully embraced, realistically addresses the now and spiritually embraces the future. Few religions do both. The Bible shows us a Christ—with dirty, workman’s hands—fixing, healing, and working in the muddy, bloody now of the New Testament. His heart is soft for those far from God and for those hurt and damaged by this world. Following Christ, our hands will grow calloused and our hearts will be softened as we work to meet needs and change the world now.

The Bible also shows us a Christ wielding axe, fire, and wrath. This Christ will end the diseased and broken version of creation we live in and bring about a restoration. This Christ also comes individually to us to end our inner world that is equally diseased and broken, restoring us to our potential.

There is suffering coming to our lives.
There is death coming to our lives.
There is destruction on its way.
We may still be encouraged. This is true not because our suffering will be ended by Christ, but because Christ suffers with us.

There is coming a day on which the world will be no more. But this does not mean that our earthly efforts are wasted. We, like Paul and Timothy, are working alongside Christ. 

We, too, may know in whom we have placed our faith and trust. 

Walking with Christ, we will be:
Shameless in suffering
Personally assured in belief
Convinced of Christ’s ability, not our own
Guarded by Christ Jesus

“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” — 2 Timothy 1:12

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 10 (Listen – 6:30)
2 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:37)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
To burn out of our souls our preoccupation with ourselves we require a different kind of axe and a different kind of fire. Thankfully, Jesus stands ready to supply both.

Read more about Resurrecting Goodness :: Readers’ Choice
It is a uniquely Christian claim that God is invested in our present, not just our future.

The Identical Nature of Greed and Lust

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 6.17-18
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

Reflection: The Identical Nature of Greed and Lust
By John Tillman

As he brings his letter to Timothy to a close, Paul has just lifted heart, mind, and spirit in a glorious and artful prayer, comparing Timothy’s testimony to that of Christ before Pilate and describing God living in unapproachable light. He ends this passage on an uplifting note with a well deserved “Amen.”… But after closing out the letter so beautifully and with a definite note of finality, Paul seems to think of one more thing.

In his commentary, John Wesley notes that verses 17-21 of 1 Timothy seem to be a kind of postscript. It is as if the letter was ready to go and then, perhaps, delayed long enough that Paul had time to think of one more paragraph he found necessary to add. 

So, what was so important that Paul felt the need to add more about it? Wealth and greed.

Paul earlier addressed ministers who think “godliness is a means to financial gain.” This shows us that the prosperity gospel is not a 20th-century invention. It is as old and as dangerous as any other heresy. Paul then turns his attention sharply in verse 17 from ministers to wealthy church members who were at risk of becoming ensnared by greed.

If Paul considers wealth a distraction worthy of a second look and warning, so should we. Paul has already taught that wealth is powerful enough to corrupt those called as ministers of the gospel and instructed Timothy to “flee” from its influence. Paul takes the danger of greed seriously.

Paul uses the word “command” when speaking to the rich about their responsibility to be humble and generous. It is the same level of authoritative language he uses to speak of sexual sins. 

Financial sins of greed and sexual sins of lust are two sides of the same coin. It was no mistake that when the prophet Nathan needed an analogy for lust, he chose a parable about a rich man stealing material goods from the poor. Lust and greed are the exact same sin. One is concerned with material goods and one with flesh.

We must take a second look at our hearts for the twin sins of lust and greed, inviting the Holy Spirit to illuminate every dark corner. Greed or lust may be the downfall of a minister, as Paul warned Timothy, but, as Paul warned, they may also destroy a community.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, watch over us and save us from this generation forever. — Psalm 12.7

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 9 (Listen – 6:32)
1 Timothy 6 (Listen -3:16)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about God Shivering on Concrete
God’s love is evident in the disaster God promises a nation that ignores responsibilities to the poor and to the foreigner. Our God humbles nations addicted to greed—including His own.

Read more about Greed and Envy
The trap for the wealthy is to think that we are not that wealthy, or that the poor are not that worthy.

Christless Forgiveness is the Absence of Justice

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 3.16
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.

Reflection: Christless Forgiveness is the Absence of Justice
By John Tillman

One reason our culture so often rejects forgiveness and mercy is that, without Christ the definition of forgiveness is unappealing and unjust.

Most dictionaries define forgiveness as stopping our feelings of resentment, as stopping our desire for evil to be punished, or as canceling debts without repayment. Those who forgive simply are expected to keep living with damage that will never be restored. With this concept of forgiveness, no wonder our culture rejects forgiveness as unjust.

Forgiveness is unjust, if forgiveness is simply letting evil succeed.
Forgiveness is unjust, if victims are never heard and no one ever answers for their pain.
Forgiveness is unjust, if justice means retributive violence.
Forgiveness is unjust, if what was damaged is never restored.
Christ-less forgiveness is the absence of justice. 

Without Christ, forgiveness is anarchy. What Christ offers, however, is a unique definition of forgiveness and justice entirely dissimilar from ours. He does not cancel our debt; he pays it. He does not stop wanting to punish sin and evil; he takes sin into himself, crushing and destroying evil. He does not force us to change our feelings; he puts a new Spirit within us.

Christ is the miracle of justice and forgiveness in one glorified person. He alone is able to complete the cycle of justice. He convicts the guilty, pays the penalty, restores the victims… Jesus doeth all things well.

Christ alone grants to us this kind of forgiveness, justly providing recompense for the victims of our sinfulness by his suffering on the cross. Yet, there is more. Christ not only grants this forgiveness to us, he expects and empowers us to pour out this type of forgiveness to others. 

This weekend, pray this hymn from Paul’s letter to Timothy. In this first century hymn, Christ is described as “vindicated,” meaning found to be just or righteous. This is celebrating that the forgiveness offered by and through Christ is just and righteous. Christ is the mystery from which godliness springs. He is our source of all godliness, including just forgiveness.

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.”

Christ is the only source of truly just forgiveness. Every other kind of forgiveness is simply winking at evil.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
But you, O Lord my God, Oh, deal with me according to your Name; for your tender mercy’s sake, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me. — Psalm 109.20-21

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 6 (Listen – 5:05)
1 Timothy 3 (Listen -2:10)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 7 (Listen – 3:55), 1 Timothy 4 (Listen -2:05)
2 Kings 8 (Listen – 5:18), 1 Timothy 5 (Listen -3:22)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about God’s Justice
If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.

Read more about Our Merciless Culture
Our world is desperate to explain away Christian forgiveness as something else.

Thoughts and Prayers

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 2.1-2
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Prayer is not a passive, calm, quiet practice. — Tim Keller

Reflection: Thoughts and Prayers
By John Tillman

In our world, there is now pushback against even saying that we will pray over a situation. Thoughts and prayers as a hashtag has become a philosophical battlefield where people of faith and people frustrated by people of faith clash about the efficacy of prayer and the pointlessness of faith without works. (The language is, of course, not that academic.)

This pushback is based on a cultural assumption about prayer and an assumption about those who say they will pray. The first is that prayer is pointless and can’t help any situation. The second is that those who say they will pray, will not actually pray, and worse than that, will not follow through with any actions at all.

The cultural version of this type of empty prayer is engaging in the equally empty gesture of clicktivism—liking or sharing a post about an issue, but doing nothing substantive to address it. In a way, those who are decrying thoughts and prayers are praying unknowingly—they are calling out, they know not to whom, for real, tangible change and action.

The culture Paul was in prayed a lot. Prayer was everywhere. But in no religion was it so personal and direct as in Christianity. The type of prayer that Paul practiced and taught confronted both modern and ancient cultural assumptions and was attractive, not repulsive, to his culture. How?

One reason we see is that the kind of prayer that Paul engages in is fruitful in creating action—good desires and the deeds that follow. Paul’s prayers were not just words, but will and work. According to Paul deeds are prompted by faith, and faith is fueled by prayer life.

It is our actions, growing directly from the cultivated soil of prayer, that bear fruit that our world will gladly partake of.

When we follow the lead of godly, broken-hearted prayer, we will find ourselves acting in undeniably loving ways (against which there is no law), seeking out the lost, marginalized, and broken with Christ’s love, and suddenly realizing that people are no longer repelled by our thoughts and our prayers.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus was at a feast when: “He said to his host, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends and brothers or your relations or rich neighbors, in case they invite you back and repay you. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; then you will be blessed, for they have no means to repay you and so you will be repaid when the upright rise again.’” — Luke 14.12-14

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 5 (Listen – 5:13)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen -3:17)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Praying as Priests
May we pronounce this blessing not with words alone, but in how we live and walk through our world

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Read more about Artful Prayers
In the psalms, we…enter the lived emotion of the artists who bared their souls to God in prayers that were always intended to be performed.

Our Merciless Culture

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 1.13-14
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Reflection: Our Merciless Culture
By John Tillman

The mercy and forgiveness offered to Paul is staggering, scandalous, and in our own time, practically impossible.

One of the least Christian things about American culture today is how we feel about forgiveness and mercy. We frown at forgiveness in general, but to forgive someone who harmed you or to forgive someone outside one’s tribe or group, is anathema. If you want to be an outcast, forgive someone outside your political party, your race, or your gender.

Every culture is a bit cynical about mercy and repentance. Reasonable skepticism is justifiable. Even the apostles didn’t accept Paul until Barnabas spoke up for him. The type of mercy extended to Paul and many others in scripture would never be tolerated or allowed today. 

Our culture has become anti-mercy, going past skepticism and walking into the wilderness of hatred and retributive violence. In recent years, when people have offered public forgiveness to individuals that everyone agreed did not deserve it, our world wouldn’t tolerate it. We are opposed to forgiveness. We go beyond refusing to forgive—we label forgiveness and mercy, not just foolish, but evil.

A culture that is invested in and glorifies hatred, retribution, payback, and vengeance cannot allow an act of mercy to stand as a simple act of mercy. It must be critiqued and spun. Media and pundits immediately will attempt to twist it, politicize it, and discount it.

Our world is desperate to explain away Christian forgiveness as something else. It must be enabling evil. It must be the result of racism. It must be a naive and foolish gesture. It must be anything other than Christian, gospel forgiveness. Never that.

Otherwise, we might be forced to set down our weapons of vengeance. Otherwise, we might be forced to question our treasured value of total war against our ideological enemies. Otherwise, we might have to abandon our “ends justify the means” political machinations. Otherwise, we might be forced to admit we need mercy ourselves.

Our world would like to pretend that it hates mercy because it cares for victims. But it requires it’s victims to stay victims, suffering eternally. Healing or restoration doesn’t fuel hatred, only pain does. Our culture’s interest in victims is only as fuel for hatred. Our world hates mercy because it loves hate.

As Christians, we must defeat hate by truly caring for victims and by forgiving in shocking and scandalous ways.

*Forgiveness and mercy does not mean abandoning the pursuit of justice through the law. It also does not mean asking victims to be quiet or to stop sharing their pain and their stories. For a short brush up on the tension between forgiveness and justice, see this Veritas Forum video with Rachael Denhollander.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
…You have showed me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth…
…My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long, for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm. — Psalm 71.20, 24

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 4 (Listen – 6:17)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:37)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about A True Example of Repentance
As permissive as our supposedly modern culture is, we are remarkably tribal about mercy.

Read more about In Our Least Favorite Commandment
There is, perhaps, no commandment of Jesus that we flout with more impunity than, “do good to those who hate you.”

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