Not in the Brochure

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 1:21-22, 25
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Reflection: Not in the Brochure
By Jon Polk

Expectations. We all have them. When fulfilled they can be a powerful source of excitement. When dashed, they can lead to tremendous disappointment.

Time for that family holiday to visit the amazing national park which you’ve heard so much about. You’ve studied the brochures, plotted your route and set out with great anticipation. You arrive to discover that the cabins aren’t as clean as they looked in the photos, the mosquitos are large and hungry, and you have to pay extra for firewood! This was not in the brochure!

Jews in Jesus’ day had read the prophets, their brochures describing the coming of the Messiah. Paul writes that “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” Jews expected a victorious Messiah, signs and wonders accompanying a conquering King with power, majesty and glory. The Greeks were sophisticated; they were concerned with the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge for its own sake.

Jesus dashed both their expectations. He did not come as a conqueror to please the Jews, nor as a philosopher to please the Gentiles. Instead, Jesus was a King who demonstrated his power through the sacrifice of his own life and his wisdom by preaching a message of selflessness and humility.

Imagine what even Jesus’ own followers might have felt seeing their beloved master, teacher and friend taken down from the cross and carried off for burial. “What just happened? Wait a minute, Jesus, this is not what we followed you for! This was not in the brochure!”

How would our life brochure read if we wrote it? It probably wouldn’t be much different than the expectations the Jews had for the Messiah. Jesus will solve all your problems. Jesus will make you happy. Jesus will defeat your enemies and those who have done you wrong. Jesus will bring roses and ponies and rainbows.

Now to be fair, Jesus does provide peace, comfort, joy and satisfaction in life, but not always in the way we might expect. Come to Jesus and sacrifice yourself? Follow Jesus and give your life away? That’s not in our brochure.

The Christian life has a way of not turning out the way we expect. We make our plans, we have our ideas about what God should do for us, we have our own self-focused motivations, but the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. We strive to provide for our own security and comfort in this life, but the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 

Thankfully, through that foolishness and weakness, we are saved from our own expectations to discover God’s higher wisdom and humble strength and we learn to live a new life, one that we may not have expected.

*This devotional was written from a devotional Jon gave for the staff at International Christian School in Hong Kong. To see the video version of this devotional, follow this link.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Help me, O Lord my God; same me for your mercy’s sake. — Psalm 109.25

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 13 (Listen -2:27)
1 Corinthians 1 (Listen -4:03)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 14 (Listen -2:23), 1 Corinthians 2 (Listen -2:26)
Job 15 (Listen -3:23), 1 Corinthians 3 (Listen -3:05)

Read more about Crucified, By Nature
It is hard for us to grasp how foolish, offensive and shameful crucifixion was in the ancient world.

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
If Jesus had a website “Can you show us a sign from Heaven?” would be listed in his FAQs.

Undignified Weeping and Dancing

Scripture Focus: 1 Samuel 6.21-22
I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.

“As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance.” — C.S. Lewis

Reflection: Undignified Weeping and Dancing
By John Tillman

There are places in the Bible in which we see people rightly critique the worship practices of others. In our recent readings of 1 Corinthians, Paul critiqued the way the Corinthians exuberance and lack of discipline or order was harming church members rather than helping them.

But there are other, less pure and less nobly intended worship critiques. Two, which bear similarities to each other, are of the weeping of Hannah and the dancing of David.

Whenever we begin to feel our spirit desire to critique a fellow worshiper for their response to the presence of God, we need to pause and investigate our hearts, motives, and prejudices. Otherwise, we may follow in the path of Eli and in the path of Michal.

Hannah carried the weight of her grief to God’s presence and broke open her heart with shameless weeping. She was so physically incapacitated by her grief that Eli falsely accused her of drunkenness.

David was lifted by the wings of gratefulness and joy in God’s presence and broke into shameless, exuberant dancing. He was so physically swept up in celebration that Mical falsely accused him of lustfully showing off to attract the attention of younger women. 

David’s audience was not in the crowd of other worshipers. His joy was given to the Lord in humility.
Hannah was not drowning her sorrows in alcohol, but draining them into the palms of a waiting and loving God who heard her cries.

When we witness undignified worship, we would be wise to train our hearts to see and expect the best possible motives from others rather than the worst. 

Scripture tells us that Mical had no children following her condemnation of David. But it is silent as to the cause.

Scripture does tell us that Eli, after his initial error heard Hannah’s prayer and prayed for her. This made Eli able to take part in the fruit of this blessing as he trained and raised Hannah’s son, Samuel—a redemption for his failed effort to raise his own sons. 

May we not be barren critics of others’ exuberance or sorrow. May we, instead, learn from our prejudices how to pray with others.
May we be so undignified as to worship God, uncaring of what others might think.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked. — Psalm 84.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 6 (Listen – 3:34)
1 Corinthians 16 (Listen – 2:54)

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 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Room For Hannah
At times, we do a better job of accepting the exuberant dancing of King David than the distraught expressions of Hannah.

Read more about Prayers of Woe and Weeping
If prayer is relationship then when God weeps, we should join. What friend would weep, whom we would not join in weeping?

Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 15.19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Reflection: Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit
By John Tillman

The hope of the resurrection is not just for some far off “Day of the Lord.” It is also for the here and now.

The Corinthians struggled with false teachings regarding Heaven and resurrection. Prevailing Greek philosophy taught that bodies were evil and spirit was the ultimate existence. With this belief, bodily resurrection seemed like a punishment, rather than freedom. 

Confusion about the resurrection and about Heaven are nothing new. 

There have been times when those in power misused theology about the resurrection and Heaven. Preachers at times described Heaven as a pie-in-the-sky compensation for starving masses while they themselves sat with the powerful at supper, gorging on pie in the here and now. Some pastors partnered with the powerful, holding Heaven like a carrot in front of the mules, while cruel masters wielded a whip behind. 

This kind of pie-in-the-sky teaching relied on the same un-Christian philosophies about spirit and body that Paul worked to debunk. It told the oppressed that the suffering of their bodies was acceptable, even desirable so that their souls could be saved. This twists Paul’s words in order to theologically defend keeping people in bondage and ignoring cries for justice. 

Christ enters our sufferings with us. But our suffering is not salvific and our hope is not just for after this life.

It is by Christ’s stripes we are healed, not our own. It is by Christ’s lynching, being hung on a tree, that we are saved, not our own. Christ hung on the cross is “strange fruit” from which comes the seed of the gospel

Paul teaches us that the resurrection steals the sting of earthly death and suffering. Amen. All will ultimately be set right. Amen. Righteousness will flow like a mighty stream. Amen. The trees in the kingdom of God will bear fruit that heals the nation, redeeming the “strange fruit” of oppression and hate.

But the existence of ultimate justice does not allow us to ignore calls for justice now. In every community he visited and worked in, Paul encouraged the church to work for the good of their community and to spread the gospel. Nowhere did he counsel them to sit idly to wait on the heavenly city.

The power that raised Christ from the grave is available to us through the Holy Spirit. Seeking his guidance, may we act as representatives of God’s justice, and distribute the crop of healing for the nations.

*Strange Fruit – the story behind “The Song of the Century”, by The Salt Project and WFYI

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For who is God, but the Lord? Who is the Rock, except our God: — Psalm 18.32

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 4-5 (Listen – 6:10)
1 Corinthians 15 (Listen – 8:06)

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 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Chastened Towards Freedom
Christ will give an absolute and perfect restoration of all these things when Jesus comes. But in the present life, there is to be a substantial healing.

Read more about The Importance of Resurrection
If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves.

Critique that Builds Up

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 14.3, 26
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort…What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Reflection: Critique that Builds Up
By John Tillman

As an actor, director, and teacher of theatre, I have a heightened appreciation for many aspects of theatre and a broader palette of theatrical taste than the average entertainment seeker. But in the wrong circumstances I can turn into a cynical critic of performances, spotting errors that others don’t notice and cringing at choices that seem fine to the audience.

A similar thing can happen to those experienced in leading worship in any capacity. When they are not leading, those who are experienced leaders and designers of worship can be the most passionate participants, but can also be the most bitter of critics.

Dissatisfaction with forms of worship is not new. (Jesus clearing the Temple comes to mind.)

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul seemed especially concerned that Christian worship develop an ordered and discernable form. He desired that the form would have functions both of edification of believers and evangelization of non-believers and outsiders. He wanted believers not to simply be emotionally entertained, but intellectually informed. He wanted believers not to display mere intellectual prowess, but to faithfully demonstrate the power of God.

Paul speaks in the manner of a director giving notes, or a stage manager calling the cues:

“Two or three should speak. No more. Don’t pull focus. Don’t improvise things that are over the audience’s head. If they can’t understand it, they won’t come back. Stop talking over other people’s lines!”

One of the most valuable things that a healthy experience in theatre can teach is how to give and take criticism. You learn to “take the note.” This means to own the mistake, as well as the responsibility for correcting it. When you get a note, you are being called out for an error. But healthy notes are given in love—love for the participant, for the source material, and for the audience.

As critical as Paul is, he never loses the love for what is happening. He doesn’t allow critique to turn bitter and cynical. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church is tumultuous and passionate. In the messiness of this scandal-filled church, we see a mirror held up to our modern institutions of worship.

May we seek the passion of Paul for worship done well, without losing his love for worshipers even when they do everything wrong.
May our critiques be loving and build others up—never cynical call-outs and tear downs.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless God in the congregation, bless the Lord, you that are of the fountain of Israel. — Psalm 68.26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 3 (Listen – 6:35)
1 Corinthians 14 (Listen – 5:40)

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 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more from Lewis on Liturgiology — Part 1
Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore.

Read more from Lewis on Liturgiology — Part 2
The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

Chastened Towards Freedom

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 11.31-32
But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

Reflection: Chastened Towards Freedom
By John Tillman

Does Paul teach perfectionism? Must we attain holiness by our self-will? In his book, True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer addresses this confusion:

“If I lay hold upon the blood of Christ in faith, reality rests here: not in trying to live as though the Bible teaches perfectionism. That is no basis for reality; that is only a basis either for subterfuge or despair. But there is a reality here: the reality of sins forgiven…This is the reality of restored relationship.”

Schaeffer uses the word “chastening” in his writing, taking it from the New King James translation from which he taught:

“The chastening of a child of God does not have a penal aspect. That was finished on the cross. There is no double jeopardy when the holy God is the Judge. Our guilt is gone, once and forever. Therefore if we judge ourselves, we are not chastened.”

There are multiple words here. The way we are to “judge” ourselves is diakrinō, meaning to separate, to make a distinction, or to discern. The “judgment” (krinō) which believers may avoid is that which means to be sentenced or punished. Instead, we are “chastened” (paidĕuō), which means trained, educated, or disciplined.

We are not taught perfectionism in Paul, but rather confession and submission to the Holy Spirit:

“This is what Paul was urging upon us. It is overwhelmingly better not to sin. But is it not wonderful that when we do sin, we can hurry to the place of restoration?”

Sin does more than separate us from God. We are isolated, marooned and abandoned by our selfishness.

“Man is first of all separated from God, then from himself, and finally from his fellow men and from nature. The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ will give an absolute and perfect restoration of all these things when Jesus comes. But in the present life, there is to be a substantial healing, including the results of the separation between a man and himself. This is the first step towards freedom in the present life from the results of the bonds of sin.”

May we “judge” ourselves with sober judgment, knowing our Judge is Christ, and yearning to yield to any chastening of his Spirit that may come.
May the Spirit chasten us towards freedom.

*Quotations from, True Spirituality by Francis A. Schaeffer.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick…And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners. — Matthew 9.12-13

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 31 (Listen – 2:03) 
1 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:20)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 1 (Listen – 3:54), 1 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 4:25)
2 Samuel 2 (Listen – 5:07), 1 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:23)

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 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Prayer for Older Brothers
One son was humiliated by his own scandalous behavior.
One son was humiliated by his father’s scandalous grace.

Read more about We Confess
The gospel is better served by time spent confessing our own sins than time spent accusing the world of theirs.

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