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.

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.

Sewing Up the Veil

Scripture: Luke 23.43, 45
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
…And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

Reflection: Sewing Up the Veil
By John Tillman

One week ago, as Christ was dying on the cross, the scriptures tell us three times—in Matthew, Mark, and Luke—that the veil of the temple was torn in two. Mark and Matthew add the helpful detail that it tore “From top to bottom” implying heavenly agency in its destruction.

According to the Talmud and other sources, the veil was quite large and heavy—requiring 300 priests to move when it needed to be cleaned. It is not hard to imagine them now, a week later, hundreds of them, working to repair it.

It would be easy for us to smugly shake our heads at those priests. Couldn’t they understand the meaning? Couldn’t they let go of their rituals? Why set back up the barrier that God tore through?

But are we so different?

We don’t have a literal Temple veil, but we each stitch up a veil of our own cultural assumptions, religious rituals, and precious objects. These form our ideas about what it takes to approach God.

When we come to God, we must bring nothing but Christ with us. Any ingredients, or any previous qualifications of our own, will poison and corrupt faith. — Thomas Wilcox

Anything that we think we can’t be a Christian without, is a stitch in the veil.

“You can’t be a Christian without supporting _________.”
“You can’t be a Christian without abstaining from __________”
“You can’t be a Christian without __________.”

We’ve all got something in the blanks.

Whenever I’m tempted to put something in those blanks, I try to turn my mind to the thief on the cross. I think of the criminal who watched Jesus die, got his legs broken to hasten his suffocation, and whose body was—more than likely—dumped, naked, in a mass grave.

Anything we put in those blanks should disqualify that thief on the cross. But there is no one, in all of scripture that has a more direct and unambiguous promise of being resurrected to live with Christ in Heaven than this criminal who did nothing—nothing but believe.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about how the Jews carried a veil over their minds that kept them from the truth of the Gospel. We are subject to the same tendency and only in Christ is this veil removed.

May we resist our tendency to repair the veil Christ removed, while looking with grace and compassion on those who labor, stitching up their veils.
May we unveil our faces and turn to Christ—like the thief—with our hands empty and incapable.
May our unveiled faces shine on others, that they can see, not our great works or piety, but God’s grace to us.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
I have said to the Lord, “You are my God; listen, O Lord, to my supplication.” — Psalm 140.6

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 24 (Listen – 3:47)
1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 1:44)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 25 (Listen – 2:56) 1 Thessalonians 4 (Listen – 2:24)
Proverbs 26 (Listen – 2:37) 1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)

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