The Work of Faith—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Kim
This simple introductory sentence opened my eyes to understand what Advent was about! Prior to this I never understood how or why we would wait for something that had already happened (Jesus birth). But now I understand that what we are really waiting for (Jesus’ return) hasn’t happened yet, but the fact that Jesus already came makes his second coming all the more near. Come Jesus, come! 

Originally published, December 10, 2019, based on readings from 2 Chronicles 10 & Revelation 1.

Scripture Focus: Revelation 1.3
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy…because the time is near.

1 Thessalonians 1:3, 5a, 9b-10a
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction…
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven…

Reflection: The Work of Faith—Readers’ Choice
By Jon Polk

Introduction: Advent is the season in which we anticipate and wait for Jesus’ return by remembering his first coming. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian church are filled with references to Christ’s second coming, encouraging the believers to be actively waiting as they fully expected that Jesus would come back in their lifetime.  Paul commends their work of faith, labor of love and endurance of hope.

Faith is the assurance that God has acted for our salvation in Christ, but what is Paul talking about when he refers to the “work of faith”? He is not referring to some action or work that we must do in order to receive faith. No, we know that saving faith is ours by the free gift of God’s grace, instead, he is referring to the transforming work that faith does within us once we receive the gospel message.

Faith is more than just belief, it is a power from God that works in us and changes us from within. Faith makes you turn from wrong to right, from the darkness of a selfish, harmful way of living to a true, generous and healthy way of loving, or as Paul puts it, faith makes you turn away from idols to serve the living and true God. We don’t simply decide to leave all our worldly idols and then stumble around until we find God. Rather, God pursues us and reveals himself to us and when we discover his glory and goodness, we leave behind all the cheap imitations.

Lee Strobel is the author of one of the premier books on Christian apologetics, The Case for Christ. Strobel had a law degree from Yale University and was an award-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune. He was an unlikely candidate to write such a book because he was an atheist and a skeptic. However, in 1979, Lee’s wife Leslie became a Christian and she began to live and model her new faith in such a way that it caused him to undertake a two-year journey of investigative research which eventually led to him also putting his faith in Christ. The transformation brought about by the work of faith in his life was so obvious that it caused their 5-year old daughter Alison to remark to her mother, “Mommy, I want God to do for me what He’s done for Daddy.”

Actively waiting for the return of Jesus begins with the work of faith. This Advent season, are you experiencing the work of faith, being transformed by the work of God within you, and inspiring others to do the same? If not, what are you waiting for?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory.
Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm. — Psalm 50.2-3

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 39 (Listen – 3:11)
Psalms 13-14 (Listen – 1:43)

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you pray more passionately?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Read more about Anticipating His Advent
Let’s wait for Jesus with patience, encouraging one another to expect and anticipate with pleasure his second Advent, when he will set all things right.

Figs Out of Season

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 5.14
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

Mark 11.13-14, 20-21
Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it…In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

Reflection: Figs Out of Season
By John Tillman

The fig tree Jesus cursed was unfruitful because it was out of season. 

The fig tree was a picture of the Temple that Jesus had cleansed the day before. The Temple (whose massive edifice the disciples were enamored of) bustled with activity but produced none of the spiritual fruits of righteousness that it was intended to produce. It produced robbery rather than righteousness and pridefulness rather than humility.

The withering of the fig tree represented what Jesus consistently predicted would happen to the Temple in about 70 years. “They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 13:33-35; Luke 19.40-44

Regardless of the season of the year, in the presence of the Messiah, fruitfulness is possible and expected.

It is not possible to know for certain, but Paul may have had the image of the cursed fig tree in mind when he wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 4.1-2) to produce spiritual fruit “in season and out of season.” 

In this season, Holy Week may feel strange and divorced from our normal spiritual activities. We will not gather as normal. We may not eat as normal. We may not celebrate as normal. It may feel impossible to produce fruit in a time such as this. We may even feel that we are experiencing the chastisement of Christ that the out-of-season fig tree experienced. We may feel withered and diminished. 

But the other side of the living (or perhaps dying) parable of the fig tree is that union with Jesus makes all things possible. The disciples are encouraged that the command to the fig tree is nothing compared to what is possible for those of us who believe.

In a time of crisis the faithful are empowered by grace to respond with what is needed. Through the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives we are able to produce fruit in supernatural abundance and beyond our natural abilities.

As Paul prayed for the Thessalonican church, so we pray over ourselves. May we not be disruptive or negligent, lazy or self-interested. Instead, may we focus on being encouraging, helpful, and patient. May we be fruitful, carrying out good and beneficial actions in our communities.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let them know that this is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it. — Psalm 109.26

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 26 (Listen 2:37) 
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen -2:37)

Read more from Light Shines in the Darkness
The Temple Solomon built was destroyed by God because it lost sight of holiness. The second Temple Ezra built would be condemned by Christ for losing sight of mercy…

Read more about The Cultivating Life
When we partner with him and cultivate the soil of our hearts, we ensure that Christ’s power will take root in us and bring forth a harvest of the fruit of the spirit.

Extremism as a Discipleship Problem

Scripture Focus: Acts 17.4-5
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. 
But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city.

1 Thessalonians 4.6
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Reflection: Extremism as a Discipleship Problem
By John Tillman

Audiences have long been fascinated with extremism and the process of radicalization. In 2018 a TV series retelling events surrounding the 1993 raid that killed David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, served as a reminder that radicalization is not merely a third-world or a Muslim problem.

Radicalization has been imagined in fiction as psychological manipulation, as brainwashing, and as bribery. It has even been sympathetically redressed as the rational actions of those with legitimate grievances. But the radicalization of persons in any religion or belief system often comes down to an education problem. Christians would call it a discipleship problem.

Islamist terrorists such as, Sayfullo Saipov, who carried out a truck attack in Manhattan in 2017, are often motivated by a faith that in the end is little more than a political and ethnic identity.

After acts of violence from their members, many Imams and Christian pastors can be found saying some version of, “That’s not what we teach.” Whether these statements are true or not, they are a confession of poor discipleship which has far wider-ranging effects than the infinitesimal percentage of Christians (or Muslims) who resort to violent attacks.

Poor discipleship in Western faith is allowing Christianity to become little more than a political distinction and in some cases, a racial one. Our brand of moralism is a hair’s breadth off from the Pharisees of the New Testament. Like the Pharisees, we use moralistic interpretations of scripture to justify denying assistance to the needy. We are not ashamed to make embarrassing political alliances to ensure that we don’t lose our place of cultural influence.

We can find hope, however, in today’s readings in Acts. Though the Bereans are called “more noble” than the Thessalonians, it is the Thessalonian church that is more well known to us through the letters Paul writes to them. First Thessalonians is a joyful celebration of those who were left in a difficult situation, without Paul who introduced them to Christianity. (And without Google.) Yet through diligence, faith, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, persevered and blossomed in faith.

Even in a culture dominated by a brutal empire, those willing to devote themselves to prayer, Bible reading, and connecting to the Holy Spirit, can not only survive our culture but continue the process of transforming it one life at a time.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the great log in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take that splinter out of your eye,’ when you cannot see the great log in your own? Hypocrite! Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter in your brother’s eye.” — Luke 6.41-42

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

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 7 (Listen -6:37)
Acts 17 (Listen -5:28)

This Weekend’s Readings
Nehemiah 8 (Listen -4:07) Acts 18 (Listen -4:06)
Nehemiah 9 (Listen -7:48) Acts 19 (Listen -5:47)

Read more about The Church of Acts
The clue Luke gives us is in the title—Acts. They will know we are Christians by our love. By our actions.

Read more about The Energy of Expectancy
The time of waiting is past. The light is here. The starting pistol has fired. The gate is open. The race has begun.

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.

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