Remembering Relationships

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 1.3-6
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 

Reflection: Remembering Relationships
By John Tillman

One of the best things about Facebook is how it reminds us of our relationships. Cynically, we could grouse about how this is solely an attempt to increase engagement, but that’s not the point…

On birthdays, Facebook often recommends that we share memories in the form of previously tagged photos as part of a birthday greeting. (I expect a few on my birthday.) Most of these photos are not only reminders of the relationship but of happiness and joy.

Much of the first chapter of Paul’s final letter to Timothy contains this kind of reminiscence. Paul calls to Timothy’s mind the key moments of their relationship and the key moments of Timothy’s relationship with Christ. Images flash by: 
The faithful women who taught him the faith, his grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice…
Paul laying hands on Timothy…
The spark of spiritual gifts in young Timothy’s life…

But the memories are not all positive. There is also the image of Timothy’s tears the last time he was with Paul. There are images of Paul’s sufferings: the many beatings, stonings, arrests, and trials. The most concerning image that arises is of Paul alone—abandoned by everyone in a situation in which Timothy was powerless to help.

The life of faith, if lived rightly, is one of great highs and great lows. At times we may feel powerful, as if the very river of life was bursting out to bless those around us. At times we may feel weak and dry, as if we cannot summon enough spit to swallow. In the highs and the lows of the Christian life, it is helpful to share our burdens with others. Paul shared them with Timothy. They both shared them with Christ himself.

We, if we are followers of Christ, can bring to mind images of precious or difficult moments in our life of faith. Let some of those rise to your mind now. When a prayer was answered… When a friend chose faith… When a blessing surprised you… When a mentor or leader set you up for success or gave you the opportunity you needed…

Even when we feel alone, like Paul, Jesus never leaves us. And even then, we can reach out to others in Christ’s name. Reach out today to a friend. Remind yourself, and them, that they are not alone on the journey of faith.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. — Psalm 66.14

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 46 (Listen 4:49)
2 Timothy 1(Listen 2:37)

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Hitting the Mark of Reconciliation

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 4
Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.

Reflection: Hitting the Mark of Reconciliation
By John Tillman

Mark is a key figure in the New Testament who served as Peter’s secretary (1 Peter 5.13) and according to Clement of Alexandria and Origen, wrote the gospel of Mark based on his records of Peter’s preaching and personal accounts. Mark was himself an eyewitness to parts of his gospel account, as the detail of the young man fleeing Gethsemane naked (Mark 14.51-52) fits the typical way authors of the time would mention themselves without using their name. (John referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is another example.)

But Mark and Paul had a spotty history. Mark was a relative of Barnabas, who traveled with Paul and Barnabas on one of their early trips. It did not go well. 

We don’t know exactly what happened but in Acts 13, Luke states that Mark “left them” for Jerusalem. But in Acts 15, it is clear that, at least in Paul’s mind, Mark  “deserted” them in Pamphylia (Acts 13.13; 15.38). 

Whatever the nature of the desertion, Paul refused to take Mark on a future trip. Paul and Barnabas disagreed so strongly that they stopped working together. Not exactly a church split, but more akin to the dissolving of a church planting ministry organization. It is one of those moments that, if the New Testament was fiction, would be edited out.

But woven through the rest of the New Testament, we see God’s work of restoration and reconciliation in the relationship of Paul and Mark. When Paul writes Colossians in the early 60s, we see him give instructions that Mark, if he comes to the church, is to be welcomed. (Colossians 4.10) And here, in the final letter of his ministry, we see the words, “he is helpful to me…” The gospel can move those we would refuse to work with today toward being those who are helpful to us.

Time does no such thing as heal wounds. But the gospel has the power to resurrect dead relationships just as it has the power to resurrect our souls and our physical bodies. When we know Christ as Paul describes we should, the power of the gospel and the forgiveness of our own sins empowers us to pass on to others the forgiveness of Jesus. 

Just as Paul sat in isolation in prison, extending redemption and reconciliation to those who had wronged him, may we, struggling in isolation, discover in the resources of Christ within us, the power to extend forgiveness to someone in our lives.

*As we have said before, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness can be one-sided and does not require restoration of the same relationship, especially in cases of abuse. God can help us forgive anyone of anything regardless of whether they are repentant or not. Reconciliation is beyond that—it requires something of both sides. True accountability, confession, repentance, and demonstration of change may be required before allowing someone back into one’s life. All things are possible with God, but we must also be cautious and wise, especially concerning the protection of ourselves and those for whom we are responsible.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

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

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 8 (Listen – 2:41) 
2 Timothy 4 (Listen -2:48)

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Praying for Repentance :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 4.3-4
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Reflection: Praying for Repentance :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Paul says that the “time will come,” when people will not put up with sound doctrine. He sounds like he is speaking of the future, but it certainly seems as if there were a lot of Paul’s past experiences in Acts that might be described as people not putting up with sound doctrine.

Being stoned, being beaten, being imprisoned, and being run out of town by mobs doesn’t exactly sound like acceptance or tolerance. Doctrinal diligence is needed in every age of the church. Defending correct doctrine is the task Paul is quite seriously commanding Timothy to prepare for. We need to prepare for it too.

But as we think of these people Paul writes of, who will gather teachers to suit their own desires, we need to think about our desires. As we pray for people who turn their ears away from the truth, we need to think about how often we turn away from facts that don’t fit our paradigms. Let us remember that people are not our enemies, only sin.

Let us pray for our culture and ourselves this weekend, a prayer of repentance. Our prayer today is based on yesterday’s readings from chapter 3, verses 2-5 and Paul’s description of sinful, self-interested people who are lovers of themselves. 

A Prayer for Repentance
Lord we remember your prophecy from yesterday’s reading about how sinful people would become. Empower us to confess and repent of these sins, reversing them in our lives to bless others. 

May we pray this passage not as an accusative attack against our culture, but as a lament for the condition of our own hearts and the heart of Christ’s church.

Lord rather then become like the people Paul warned Timothy of, 
May we be found by you and seen by the world as we are:
Showing love to outsiders
Shunning the allure of money and wealth
Praising others not ourselves
Being humble
Healing others in words and deed
Honoring our elders and parents
Living in gratitude
Being made holy by the Holy Spirit
Indwelt by love beyond ourselves
Truth telling and affirming
Tender and caring
Loving the good
Showing loyalty,
Sharing wisdom,
Shunning the spotlight
And sacrificing our pleasure to serve others.

May our repentance bring glory to Christ and not to ourselves and may Jesus’ name be praised.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame and round about him a raging storm. — Psalm 50.3

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 14 (Listen – 5:06)
2 Timothy 4 (Listen -2:48)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 15 (Listen – 6:21), Titus 1 (Listen -2:24)
2 Kings 16 (Listen – 3:46), Titus 2 (Listen -2:01)

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 Confessing, Instead of Weaponizing PropheRather than weaponize Paul’s words to attack our culture with an accusing cry, we should instead cry for forgiveness and mercy as we recognize that these faults are also in us.

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Confessing, Instead of Weaponizing Prophecy

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 3.2-5
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power.

Reflection: Confessing, Instead of Weaponizing Prophecy
By John Tillman

When we read Paul’s word to Timothy about people being “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, etc…,” does it not just sound like another normal Thursday on Twitter?

Some days we might find all of these descriptions in the trending topics alone, much less digging down into the @ replies of avowed trolls.

I suppose that every teacher of the Bible, in every age of the church has looked at these words of Paul and thought it a prophecy of his or her own time. It isn’t hard to imagine Paul, in a prophetic vision glancing over our collective shoulders at our social feeds and shaking his head. Calvin, Trotter, Lewis, and Corrie Ten Boom must have imagined Paul reading their news in like manner.

We can humorously rail on Twitter (and other social media and technology) as if it is the source of evil, but the joke is not merely on us, it is us. Evil is in us. Twitter is just a megaphone, amplifying the words of our hearts have always been spouting. Or to think of it another way, Twitter is a microscope allowing us to see deep into the heart of humanity and be shocked at the diseased and horrid condition of our souls.

It is helpful to remember also that Paul was not speaking to Timothy of dangers from outside the church. He was not speaking of governmental, or political, or cultural oppression and sin. He was speaking of sins and false teachings within the church.

We have written before that the best way to read Old Testament prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the noble, righteous prophet or the helpless faithful the prophet stands with, but as the target of the prophet’s message and the ones in need of repentance. New Testament prophecy is no different. Rather than weaponize Paul’s words to attack our culture with an accusing cry, we should instead cry for forgiveness and mercy as we recognize that these faults are also in us.

May we take a priestly stance, confessing the sins of our age. Through the power of the Holy Spirit may we repent each of the items in this prophecy, turning our lives into the antithesis of Paul’s vision and affecting our churches and communities around us with the overflow of God’s Holy Spirit.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call the Prayer
The Lord is King; let the people tremble; he is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake. — Psalm 99.1

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 13 (Listen – 4:33)
2 Timothy 3 (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.

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Choosing Gentleness Over Violence

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 2.24-25
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

From John:

Sadly this devotional from 2017 begs to be repeated. The world’s online language has gotten more, instead of less, brutal in two years. But worse and more shocking, the language of many Christians and prominent Christian pastors has followed, growing combative, disrespectful, and even violent, disqualifying themselves, according to Paul from being “the Lord’s servant…” May we repent and call our leaders to follow suit.

Reflection: Choosing Gentleness Over Violence

By John Tillman

When we discuss differences online, the overheated rhetoric of partisan headlines can become a part of our own speech as we share articles or videos that describe our opponents—not their arguments or political positions—as being destroyed, ripped, blasted, shredded. The more violent and dehumanizing the verb, the better.

This isn’t just verbal hyperbole. It is being borne out in actions as more and more people are physically assaulted following online interactions that lead to violence or threats of violence. These types of actions can be extreme and political, such as the attempted assassinations of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 or of Republican Congressional members in 2017. They can also be smaller in spectacle, and fly below the news radar.

was the name given to attacks on women critiquing the portrayal of female characters in video games. Though it started years ago, many of these attacks—threats, vandalism, hacking, and doxxing attacks—are still going on today. Women are also often attacked using these methods after reporting sexual abuse by powerful men.

We should resist the urge to shrug off these events with denial. Christians believe that God’s Word became flesh, yet somehow we are reluctant to admit the power of our own words to become physicalized into actions. What we say and how we say it matters because, as Jesus taught, the words of our mouths come from our hearts and reveal our inward sinfulness. Sticks and stones start as words and words start in our sinful hearts. This is true not only of the words we speak or type ourselves but the words we lend our digital voices to. By posting, liking, and retweeting articles about our ideological rivals being “destroyed” we are revealing not our ideological righteousness, but our theological sinfulness.

In Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, he encourages faithfulness to the Gospel, and fidelity to right teaching, but Paul specifically instructs Timothy not to be resentful or quarrelsome and to instruct opponents with gentleness. This was no low-stakes conflict that Paul was advising Timothy in. The very heart of what it meant to be a Christian and the definition of salvation through Christ was at stake. It was much, much more important than who misinterpreted whose tweet this week. Yet, still Paul’s charge was to teach gently.

We cannot continue posting and liking things that are resentful, quarrelsome, and the opposite of gentle, yet expect to represent Christ and the Gospel in the world. If we refuse to choose one or the other, we risk showing the world a resentful, quarrelsome, violent Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer

Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 11-12 (Listen – 7:38)
2 Timothy 2 (Listen -3:17)

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.

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