The Purpose Beyond Growth :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 3.2-4
We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.

Reflection: The Purpose Beyond Growth :: Throwback Thursday
By Isabella Lillias Trotter (1853–1928)

A flower that stops short at its flowering misses its purpose. 

We were created for more than our own spiritual development; reproduction, not mere development, is the goal of matured being—reproduction in other lives. There is a tendency in some characters, running parallel to the high cultivation that spends its whole energy on the production of bloom at the expense of seed. 

The flowers that are bent on perfecting themselves, by becoming double, end in barrenness, and a like barrenness comes to the soul whose interests are all concentrated upon its own spiritual well-being, heedless of the needs around. The true, ideal flower is the one that uses its gifts as means to an end; the brightness and sweetness are not for its own glory; they are but to attract the bees and butterflies that will fertilise and make it fruitful. All may go when the work is done. 

The pebble takes in all the rays of light that fall on it, but the diamond flashes them out again: every little facet is a means, not simply of drinking more in, but of giving more out. The unearthly loveliness of the opal arises from the same process, carried on within the stone: the microscope shows it to be shattered through and through with numberless fissures that catch and refract and radiate every ray that they can seize. 

Yes, there lies before us a beautiful possible life—one that shall have a passion for giving: that shall be poured forth to God—spent out for man: that shall be consecrated “for the hardest work and the darkest sinners.” But how are we to enter in? How are we to escape from the self-life that holds us, even after the sin-life has loosed its grasp? 

Back to the Cross.

Not only from the world of condemnation and from the world of sinning does it free us as we accept it, but from the power of outward things and from the thraldom of self. Not only does it open the door into the world of acquittal, and again into that of holiness, but yet again into the new realm of surrender, and thence into that of sacrifice. 

The essential idea of the Cross is a life lost to be found again in those around.

*From Parables of the Cross, by Isabella Lillias Trotter

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 20 (Listen – 7:03)
1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 1:44)

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 from Isabella Lillias Trotter: The Step After Surrender
There is another stage to be developed in us after the lesson of absolute unquestioning surrender to God has been learnt…

Read more about Joy Through SurrenderJ
esus teaches us courageous surrender. We see Him running headlong into His own demise for the sake of a greater eternal intention and destiny.

A Berean Take on Fake News

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.

Acts 17:11
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Reflection: A Berean Take on Fake News
by John Tillman

Bereans do not have a Pauline epistle in the canon of scripture and the Thessalonians have two. However, the Jews of Berea are described in Acts as being “more noble” than those in Thessalonica. This nobility is characterized by engaging Paul’s teaching with intellectual curiosity and scriptural research.

Paul’s opponents in Thessalonica used tactics that were anti-intellectual and anti-scriptural and we should recognize them from our own Facebook feeds—exaggeration and falsification. Then as now, people ate it up. After they succeeded in running Paul out of town, they followed him to Berea, doxing him as a heretic and a political agitator. Even amongst the “more noble” Bereans, they were still able to cause enough trouble to force Paul to move on.

If you think people today are more sophisticated, more cultured, or more intellectual than those of the ancient world, you have been paying attention neither to ancient history nor to Facebook.
In our day, both progressive-leaning and conservative-leaning publications profit by pot-stirring. While it would be easy to point the finger at the media, we are responsible to choose a “more noble” path as consumers of content. Our sinfulness is the reason that inspiring fervor is much more profitable than dispensing facts and sensationalism is more clickable than sensible reporting.

In our Internet-connected world, cries of “Fake News” reverberate in the insulated echo chambers that we stroll (or scroll) through. These echo chambers are built for us by algorithms whose intent is to keep us scrolling, viewing, and reading and whose strategy is explicitly to not offend us with contradictory data, stories, images, or opinions that we don’t “like.”

Christians shouldn’t rely on algorithms to tell us what is important in the world. That is why we have Scriptures, the Church, and the Holy Spirit. Christians have a responsibility to not get swept up in hysteria, to not spread rumor as fact, and to not react in denial or anger when the facts cast a bad light on us or those we support.

It is bad practice to only trust news from organizations we feel share our values. No news organization shares your values. They value your “shares.” As Ed Stetzer has said, “Facts are our friends.” We need to seek the facts in more places than those that pander to us.

Christians need to develop a more Berean attitude about not only the scripture we read, but the news we share. It’s hard to share the incredible news of the Gospel when the rest of what we share is in-credible

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to be heard; 
Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip. — Psalm 66:7-8

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 19 (Listen – 3:53)
1 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:53)

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

Read more about A Berean Palate
May we develop a discerning, Berean palate that we not only apply to scripture but to our reading of our culture.

Resisting or Assisting a Corrupt Regime?

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 18.3-4
Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.

Reflection: Resisting or Assisting a Corrupt Regime?
By John Tillman

Obadiah was a government minister who was faithful to God, despite serving under a corrupt, anti-God, and explicitly evil pair of rulers. Modern readers may have difficulty deciding to either attack him for assisting or applaud him for resisting the government, depending on their point of view.

Ahab and Jezebel are legendarily evil. Jezebel’s name became a byword for an evil woman and a trope in fiction throughout history.  Even Shakespeare, who used or referenced scripture often, seems to have had an eye on Jezebel when he created the character of Lady Macbeth.

However, it is Ahab who fits the mold of the autocrats of today’s politics. He is petty, pouting, vindictive, blustering, and evil. He feigns faith in God, yet his true allegiance seems to be only to his own selfish desires and enrichment. Ahab isn’t concerned with finding food for his subjects amidst the famine, but for his animals. This is where Obadiah, who risked his life to feed people faithful to God, is found by Elijah, helping Ahab search for water to save the evil king’s animals.

It would be easy to point to Obadiah and politicize him as representing someone serving today in a modern democratic government. However, comparing the actions of those in scripture, living under tyranny, to people today, living under the many freedoms of democracy, is not a truly fair comparison.

Even in poorly functioning democracies, citizens are granted freedom of movement, freedom of choice in career and among employers, freedom of speech in supporting political parties or individuals. No person in scripture, including Obadiah, ever possessed any of these freedoms.

People of faith today have far more nuanced choices that can be made. Obadiah’s covert bravery is admirable and often necessary, even in today’s world. But in a culture where we have more freedom to do so, the world needs to see Christians more directly confronting evil, following the model of Elijah.

We must remember that Obadiah and Elijah are not enemies. They are on the same side.

No matter whether we follow Obadiah’s model of illegal, covert resistance from within, or Elijah’s more confrontive and vocal model of resistance, we must remember that no matter how tyrannical our leaders or our government, we are citizens and ambassadors from a greater kingdom and no human government, party, or leader is owed our loyalty or faithfulness.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 18 (Listen – 7:08)
1 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:27)

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 No Princes :: Readers’ Choice
How many believers veil their trust in men as trust in God?

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
Not one of those glowingly positive, king-praising prophets’ writings are in our Bible. Instead we have the writings of the losers. The cries of the oppressed.

Christ the Enemy of Death

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 17.18
She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

Colossians 4.3
Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

1 Corinthians 15.26
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Reflection: Christ the Enemy of Death
By John Tillman

God’s plan may refer to the unchanging will of God that cannot, due to God’s sovereignty and purpose, be overturned. This is true of God’s eternal purpose for humanity to live eternally in peace with God. Eden was an expression of this plan, and the new earth to come, will be the completion of this unchangeable and inevitable sovereign plan of God. 

God’s plan can also refer to God’s direction for a specific situation. God’s direction to Elijah to stay with the Sidonian widow is an example of this. This granular and finite definition of “God’s plan” is not equivalent to God’s eternal, sovereign purposes.

Elijah assumes, and we often do as well, that God dictates every death as part of his plan. However, God consistently shows through scripture that he is death’s enemy, not death’s co-conspirator. 

God makes it clear—throughout scripture but most directly through the actions of Christ—that death itself is not part of his “plan.” 

Death is used in God’s plans in the same way God uses many evil and wicked things, diverting evil purposes for righteous purposes. God uses the death of wicked individuals in his working of justice. God uses suffering caused by death to conform us to the image of Christ. God tenderly cares for his people during the suffering of death, as a part of his loving-kindness. In many situations in the Old Testament and the New, God reverses death, resuscitating death’s victims in miraculous ways.

We can be comforted knowing God hates death. He hates the long, slow death of old age. He hates the crippling, painful death of cancer and other wasting diseases. He hates the sudden and tragic deaths of the young. He hates death that rides on the heels of war, conflict, violence, injustice, and abuses of power.  

Death is God’s enemy because it harms and hurts his children. Death is an evil attempt by Satan to violate God’s eternal plans and purposes. God is, from chapter three of Genesis, working his will against death, advancing his purpose to destroy death, and preparing his people to overcome death.  

Part of the mystery of Christ that Paul refers to is he confronts, on our behalf, our greatest enemies—sin and death. He has defeated them both on the cross and the Holy Spirit, our comforter today, is our guarantee that victory over sin and death will ultimately be ours.

Christ is the deadly enemy of death.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave. — Psalm 30.3

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 17 (Listen – 3:14)
Colossians 4 (Listen – 2:21)

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 The Gospel is an Uprising
The Anastasis—the Uprising—is…a visualization of Christ’s resurrection gleaned less from gospel accounts than from multiple sources throughout scripture.

Read more about He Stoops to Raise
He goes from the highest place, to the lowest place. And then, he ascends.

Christ’s Supremacy :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Colossians 1.18
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Reflection: Christ’s Supremacy :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

What I often call “preacher stories” are stories, illustrations, and parables about modern faith that have been passed on and told in many versions by many preachers in many sermons.

One of my favorite “preacher stories” is about a new preacher at a church who keeps preaching the same sermon every Sunday. Eventually a church leader questions the pastor about it and requests a new topic for the following Sunday. The preacher responds, “When you start acting like you remember the first one, I can stop repeating it”

We all need repetition in our spiritual lives to reinforce the greatest truths of our faith. One of those truths is the supremacy of Christ. The supremacy of Christ may seem unassailable. How could we forget it? We all nod our heads and “amen” in agreement…

Yet in our actions and in our lives, we find many ways to place things before Christ. People, issues, politics, career—these things all push to the front of our minds and demand our supreme attention and commitment.

Pray this prayer over the weekend, and repeat as needed to proclaim in faith the supremacy of Christ over all in your life and subjugate everything else to him.

Christ’s Supremacy
We pray to Christ and proclaim his supremacy…

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation…For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…

Nothing we create can displace Christ.
No government can cast him out, for they exist within his creation.
No discovery can reveal anything that Christ did not create.
No achievement or success can accomplish more than Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf.

He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased…through him to reconcile to himself all things…making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

We confess to you our pride, our naked greed, our self-deception, our poverty of principles and possessions.

In humility, Christ, we accept from you…
Peace we are incapable of procuring,
Redemption beyond our means to purchase,
Rescue from darkness of our own making.

Help us to let go of anything which strives to take your place.
Make of us a body that serves, be our head which gives us purpose.
May we continue in faith…

…established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will confess you among the peoples, O Lord; I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. — Psalm 108.3-4

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 14 (Listen – 5:22)
Colossians 1 (Listen – 4:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 15 (Listen – 5:30), Colossians 2 (Listen – 3:27)
1 Kings 16 (Listen – 5:31), Colossians 3 (Listen – 3:09)

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 Solus Christus
There has never been and will never be a clearer portrait of God than the person of Jesus himself.

Read more about Downgrading Grace
When we downgrade grace through faith, we chip away the cross of Christ, making it an additive to our life rather than the sole source of our life.

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