Slavery to Maturity

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 10.3-5
They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Reflection: Slavery to Maturity
By John Tillman

In his 2015 book, Onward, Russell Moore penned a prescient paragraph or two about the political future:

“The church of Jesus Christ ought to be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues. After all, the church bears the Spirit of God, who gifts the Body with discernment and wisdom. But too often we do. We receive celebrities simply because they are ‘conservative,’ without asking what they are conserving. If you are angry with the same people we are, you must be one of us. But it would be a tragedy to get the right president, the right Congress, and the wrong Christ. That’s a very bad trade-off….”

It’s a stunningly accurate picture of today’s political reality that relates to our reading.

Events recorded in scripture are not always for our emulation. Sometimes, like the accounts of the Israelites in the desert, they are cautionary. Paul describes a liberated nation of Israel who gained political freedom, yet were morally and spiritually fragile and prone to deceptions by Balaams and Ba’als and idols of the desert.

Israel’s desert journey can be analogized as our journey of personal or cultural spiritual growth. The spiritual maturity of American Christianity and all Western Christianity has long been called into question. Long years of cultural ease have left us as ignorant of God as the Israelites long years of slavery in Egypt. In Egypt, the Israelites’ were well fed physically but not spiritually. The same could be said of Western and American Christianity. Perhaps the best thing God can do for our spiritual maturity is to lead us through a desert of trials, mistakes, and dangers.

In the desert, there will be false prophets and deceptions. We pressure our leaders to make Golden Idols and they, like Aaron, do so. We suffer. We thirst. We hunger.

To survive we need to become so familiar with the daily “bread from Heaven” that we grow tired of it and long for meat, which God will also provide.

May our feeding on the spiritual food of God’s Word lead to the kind of maturity and discernment we need to stand on the gospel of Christ and not on the shifting sands of human leaders, political promises, or political parties. Like Israel in the desert, we are outcasts from every kingdom of earth. They offer us little other than idolatry and eventual betrayal.

We are sojourning to the kingdom of Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.” — Matthew 5.13

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 29-30 (Listen – 6:33) 
1 Corinthians 10 (Listen – 4:04)

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 Spiritual Markers
We, like the Israelites, excel at forgetting God and we are especially good at forgetting him when we are comfortable, wealthy, and prosperous.

Read more about A Cautionary Tale of Unbelief :: Readers’ Choice
Let the warning of the Holy Spirit be heard by those who are followers of Christ, do not harden your hearts towards God.

Complaint to Commission

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 9.1
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?

Reflection: Complaint to Commission
By John Tillman

In his book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore relates a rebuke he received and took to heart. Moore and several others were discussing a topic that often arises among pastors and even among laypersons—the pitiful state of the church. Moore asked rhetorically if there was any hope for the future of Christian witness.

Many believers may have despondent questions regarding this topic that bring our spirits low.

Isn’t it terrible how leaders with no scruples are staining the church’s reputation?
Isn’t it terrible how church attendance is such a low priority for so-called “believers?”
Isn’t it terrible how many young leaders are apostatizing and publically leaving the faith?

Complaining can turn into unspiritual grumbling but it can also initiate lament in our lives and communities. To spur our thinking in the right direction, we sometimes need a wise answer to our complaining questions.

Theologian, Carl F. Henry was listening to Dr. Moore’s conversation and responded to Moore’s question:

“Why, you speak as though Christianity were genetic. Of course, there is hope for the next generation of the church. But the leaders of the next generation might not be coming from the current Christian subculture. They’re probably still pagans. Who knew that Saul of Tarsus was to be the great apostle to the Gentiles? Who knew that God would raise up a C.S. Lewis, once an agnostic professor, or a Charles Colson, once Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, to lead the twentieth-century church? They were unbelievers who, once saved by the grace of God, were mighty warriors of the faith.” 

It would be difficult to find a New Testament city more akin to our culture than Corinth. Our culture is equally pagan, sinful, and damaging. Paul’s long and passionate letters to the Corinthians show his own struggles, complaints, and problems with the church and its witness there. Paul also shows us how to go beyond complaint to the cure our culture needs—the gospel. 

These believers, who were formerly sinners of every kind, were dear to Paul’s heart. As we work to transform our culture with the gospel, the sinners around us must be dear to our hearts as well. 

We must be their apostle. The work of making disciples is not given only to the clergy. It is the calling and command to every believer. The disciples to lead the next generation of the church may be those we have yet to reach.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a tub or under the bed? Surely to be put on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light. Anyone has ears for listening should listen.” — Mark 4.21-23

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 28 (Listen – 4:04) 
1 Corinthians 9 (Listen – 4:04)

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 Blessed is the One :: A Guided Prayer
We are not blameless. We are not righteous.
When we honestly and humbly look in our hearts we find wickedness there.

Read more about We Need Renewal :: Worldwide Prayer
Sometimes when we read in the scriptures that there is no one who does good, we fool ourselves by thinking we are the exception.

The Best We Can Do

Scripture Focus: 1 Samuel 27.1
But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”

Reflection: The Best We Can Do
By John Tillman

We have to always be careful when reading the Bible not to assume that actions described in God’s Word were prescribed by God’s command. 

This is especially difficult with characters such as David. We tend to over-glorify David as a hero archetype who can do no wrong. We misapply the description of David as a “man after God’s own heart” to mean that every decision David made was wholly righteous. This is a terrible way to understand any Bible character, but an especially damaging way to understand David.  

Harold Wilmington, in his commentary on 1 Samuel 27 states that David did not seem to trust Saul, “Nor, apparently did he trust God to protect him.”

This is despite the fact that God has just miraculously assisted David in proving to Saul that David meant him no harm. David suggests that people near Saul must be poisoning him against David, telling David to “go serve other gods.” Saul has confessed that his pursuit of David is sinful, sworn off searching for him, and predicted great things for David.

After this spiritual and political victory, David does exactly what the people poisoning Saul against him suggested. David becomes a servant to king Achish, enemy of Israel, servant of Dagon.

This is a practical political decision (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”) but is not depicted as a spiritual decision. Scripture often tells us that David consulted the Lord or prayed, but here it tells us only his human thought process. (Scripture does not tell us that David prayed or consulted the Lord once while in Philistia, except in crisis when their town of Ziklag had been burned and captured.) David’s words are “The best thing I can do…”. 

Rather than the best thing, this decision may have been the worst thing David could have done. Through this decision, David becomes a liar, a war criminal, a slaughterer of women and children, and feigns madness to carry out his desperate plot. Achish, assuming David’s war crimes are against Israel, notes that David is now trapped and will be his servant forever.

The best we can do—in our strength and wisdom—may not be God’s best for us.

May God deliver us from decisions that are “the best we can do.” 
May we never be enslaved to decisions of political practicality.
May we never compromise our souls to maintain convenient alliances.
May we seek God’s best rather than our human best.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. — Psalm 67,1-2

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 27 (Listen – 1:59) 
1 Corinthians 8 (Listen – 1:54)

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 Christ, the True Hero
We cannot live up to oaths such as Psalm 101. Neither could David. David would eventually bring corruption, rape, murder, and the ravages of civil war to the city which in this Psalm he pledges to protect.

Read more about Prayer From the Cave :: Readers’ Choice
Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his later days.

Contributors’ Choice :: Jon Polk

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 6.14
By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

1 Corinthians 15.56-57
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

From John Tillman: This season of Readers’ Choice has been a joy. I’m pleased to wind it down with three selections from contributing writer, Jon Polk. We will be hearing from Jon in devotions this September as well. Thanks to all for sharing a few steps of your faith journeys with us.

Reflection: Contributors’ Choice :: Jon Polk
Selected by contributing writer, Jon Polk, from Hong Kong

Theology is Like a Watch
Originally posted, January 30th, 2019

Jon: It is easy for us to forget that Jesus likely would not have been considered a “good church member” because he was always ruffling the feathers of the church leadership of his day! When he broke or bent Jewish laws, he did so both to demonstrate that he had come to fulfill the law and that he was Lord above the law. Baxter’s analogy of theology as a watch with intricate pieces reminds us that we should read all of scripture through the “Jesus lens.” 

“‘Theology is a curious, well-composed frame. Just as it is not enough that you have all the parts of your watch or clock, but you must see that every part is in its proper place, or else it will not go, or answer its end; so it is not enough that you know the various parts of theology or law, unless you know them in their true order and priority.’

When Jesus is asked what the two greatest commandments are, his answer tells us how to set our watch by the two guideposts on which hang the entire law—Love God and love others.”

Our Opportunistic Opponent
Originally posted, February 18th, 2019

Jon: This post is an excellent reminder that Satan is neither as powerful as we often like to make him out to be, nor is he uninvolved in the world. Wouldn’t it be much easier to resist temptation if the devil always showed up in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork? 

“Temptations are a time for us to come to terms with our limitations and recognize our sinfulness. In times of tempting, when we feel our limitations, there is comfort knowing that our tempter is also limited. His opportunity to torment us will come to an end. By Christ’s mercy we can resist Satan and he will flee. But just as when Satan left Jesus in the wilderness, he is only waiting for an opportune time to return.”

He Stoops to Raise
Originally posted, June 18th, 2019

Jon: While I acknowledge that the Resurrection is the miracle which provides our hope for salvation, I’ve always felt that the deep miracle of the Incarnation is more profound. God himself, acquiesces to human limitations, being born as a helpless human baby, totally dependent on human parents. God willingly sets aside his divine nature in order to walk among us so that we might know him. What a sacrifice! May it inspire us to do the same, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others.

“He strips himself.
He lays aside
His Heaven
His throne
His clothes
His life

He lowers himself
Steps down, descends
He stoops
He kneels
Head bowed
He bends”

Divine Hours Prayer:  A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Disciple is not superior to teacher, nor slave to master. It is enough for the disciple to grow to be like his teacher, and slave like master…” — Matthew 10.24-25

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 23 (Listen – 4:18) 
1 Corinthians 4 (Listen – 3:15)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 24 (Listen – 3:36), 1 Corinthians 5 (Listen – 1:58)
1 Samuel 25 (Listen – 7:12), 1 Corinthians 6 (Listen – 3:03)
1 Samuel 26 (Listen – 4:30), 1 Corinthians 7 (Listen – 6:09)

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

Read more about Too Much to Hold
Jesus is more than death can hold. It tried. Death can hold worlds, countries, massive unnumbered masses. But Christ could not be contained or held back.

Read more about Supporting our Work
We are in the process of switching over to to serve as our donation management system. If you would like to join our donors, simply follow the link. If you are a current, recurring donor, we have already contacted you about discontinuing your “subscription” through Stripe and switching over to As always, feel free to email us directly with any questions!

Servants in the Age of Showboats :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Lucy, from Texas
As I made a couple of visits to members of our church who are “shut-ins”,  and cannot attend church anymore, I was reminded by my visitation partner that these visits are hopefully a blessing to those we visit. But they are truly a blessing to us. The Servant Leader may not get his name in a headline,  but he will be blessed by being a blessing.

Scripture Focus: Acts 18.26-27
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.

Reflection: Servants in the Age of Showboats :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published July 31st, 2019
By John Tillman

The book of prayers that our Worldwide Prayer series come from was published in 1998. I have read through this book before, but this prayer jumped off the page at me as if it was voiced yesterday.

How deeply damaged is our idea of what a leader is! We cannot seem to cease from grasping at the hems of emperors and kings rather than at the hem of the humble carpenter of Galilee. Whether in politics or in the church, so many of our leaders lead in the opposite way that Jesus described to his disciples, each lording their power over one another.

Truthfully, our emperors have no clothes. They think they are rich, but they are poor, blind, and naked. Our true leader bids us follow him through tears, blows, blood, and shame, carrying our cross. May we set our face toward our Jerusalem and in his power and with his mercy, humble ourselves and follow him into servitude.

Servants in the Age of Showboats
A prayer for servant leadership from the USA
Dear Jesus,

We live in an age where the proud, unethical, immoral showboat leader is honored and glorified. We have seen how this type of leadership has affected our witness to the world. We are praying for leaders whose greatness is evident through their love for you and their service to people. We pray for a revival of servant leadership around the world.

We pray for the relationships of our leaders.

  • That each leader will keep in constant contact with you
  • That they will only seek your approval
  • That they will not waste time judging others
  • That their hearts would be open, listening, and faith-filled

We pray for the actions of our leaders.

  • That they would not avoid difficult decisions to win approval or to be liked
  • That they would be willing to sacrifice and take risks for the building of your kingdom
  • That they would never stray from the mission you have called them to
  • That their “personal experiences” would help them to see their gifts more clearly and rely on you

Lord, give us leaders who will…

  • Know when it is appropriate to shout and cry as long as those tears spill over into appropriate action in your name
  • Be totally passionate and righteously committed to excellence for the glory of God

In the name of Jesus, who taught us how to lead as servants.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 21-22 (Listen – 6:35) 
1 Corinthians 3 (Listen – 3:05)

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 Resisting Herods
The Herods epitomize the kind of people that the Jesus community is so often drawn to in hopes of gaining their approval.

Read more about The Context of The Widow’s Mite
This scripture has more to say about unscrupulous religious leaders than about generous poor people. It tells us that judgment is coming on leaders who take advantage of the poor.