Christian Civility

Psalm 109.28
While they curse, may you bless;
may those who attack me be put to shame,
but may your servant rejoice.

From John:
Two years ago Steven wondered how powerful it would be if the Church took the lead in restoring public civility. We are still wondering what that would look like…

Reflection: Christian Civility
The Park Forum

“In Hebrew the term dabar means both word and deed,” Frederick Buechner observes. “Thus, to say something is to do something.” Buchner explains:

Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endless!

How many ripples have we suffered in this year of political rancor? The collective loss of civility has been mourned as often as it has inflicted wounds across the spectrum. Yet, Hua Hsu writes for the New Yorker, “The problem with civility is the presumption that we were ever civil in the first place.” Hsu continues:

Thanks to the Internet, we have become expert parsers of language, meaning, and authorial intent. We have grown obsessed with subtext. In other words, we live in very discursive times, when language seems to matter more than ever.

“See how a great forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire,” warns the book of James. How powerful would it be if the Church were to lead in the restoration of public civility in American culture?

For such a restoration to take place we would have to begin with confession. For while the nearly-endless coverage of this year’s broken discourse makes it feel different, it is far from abnormal. In a piece promoting the upcoming Civility In The Public Square event, Timothy Keller explains:

It could be argued that America has never really been a genuinely pluralistic, perspective-diverse, free society. We have never been a place where people who deeply differ, whose views offend and outrage one another, nonetheless treat each other with respect and hear each other out.

Those who have held the reins of cultural power—its greatest academic centers, its most powerful corporations, the media—have often excluded unpopular voices and minority views that fell on the wrong side of the public morality of the day.

In the 1980s and ’90s, many white evangelical Christians wanted to occupy those places of power, and showed little concern at the time to create a society that respected communities with sharply differing moral visions.

Civility falters when people live in fear—fear that their views may be wrong; fear that their power is limited; fear that there is no sovereign who cares for their interests. But the rhythms of civility restore what was lost in the fall, as Buechner concludes:

Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I both discover and create who I am. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our converse we create each other.

Reading List
Civility In The Public Square. Timothy Keller for the Redeemer Report.
A Free People’s Suicide. Os Guinness for Q Ideas.
The Civility Wars. Hua Hsu for The New Yorker.
Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Dr. Richard Mouw.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Alas for you when everyone speaks well of you! This is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” — Luke 6.26

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 4 (Listen – 7:27)
Psalm 108-109 (Listen – 4:28)

This Weekend’s Readings
Daniel 5 (Listen – 5:47) Psalm 110-111 (Listen – 1:57)
Daniel 6 (Listen – 5:18) Psalm 112-113 (Listen – 1:49)

Additional Reading
Read more about Killing With our Hearts
We rush to soften Christ’s teaching about violent thoughts and words because we are unwilling to let go of them. We love calling opponents “libtards” or “deplorables” and if we are too classy to use those names, we call them idiots, or stupid, or brainless.

Naming things is Adam’s first specific God-given job. Name calling is intended to be a holy and powerful affirmation. When we use it to dehumanize someone, we are taking humanity’s first ordained task and weaponizing it against our brothers and sisters.

Read More about Praying for Political Leaders
When people are caught in a system dominated by hate there is an opportunity for Christians to participate in redemption. The preponderance of brokenness in our world today, both foreign and domestic, should drive us to prayer with extraordinary vigor.

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Stories of Faith :: A Guided Prayer

Psalm 107.2
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe

“Stories like that make a boy grow bold
Stories like that make a man walk straight”
— Rich Mullins, Boy Like Me, Man Like You

Reflection: Stories of Faith :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

So many times we celebrate the miraculous escapes of the Bible. But we should not forget that even though Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived the furnace, they still died in exile as a part of an empire that murdered hundreds of thousands of their family members.

Likewise, we should not spiritualize the response of Nebuchadnezzar. He was not converted, nor did he set in place a government supportive of faith in the true God. He’s just as violent and murderous on behalf of Yahweh as he was in opposition to him.

The king’s declaration shows that he doesn’t understand. He threatens violence against those who speak against God, as if God’s reputation and name need defending by human means.

Nebuchadnezzar’s response is that of an ego-driven, violent, positional leader projecting his own needs onto God. When we place our hope in human government, this is what we can expect.

The only king we should celebrate is the one who appeared in the fire with those condemned.

Today, we close with a guided prayer using part of our reading from Psalm 107. As we tell our stories of faith, we celebrate every moment—the struggles, the losses, and the miraculous moments of victory.

Stories of Faith

Oh, Lord, remind us of your great deeds in our lives and in the lives of others.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe

It is important for us—the redeemed—to tell our stories.
We tell them, Lord to celebrate the miraculous.
To laud the Lord of our salvation.
To praise the Prince who enters our struggles with us.

We do not celebrate these stories demanding similar outcomes.
We know and accept that in this world we will have trouble.

We celebrate victories because they show the world
a picture of the ultimate outcome of our lives,
despite the brokenness or current situation of our lives.

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.

No matter our sins, you call us to redemption.
No matter our wounds, you regenerate and strengthen us.
No matter our trials, you mercifully spare us.
No matter our losses, you grant us your victory.
No matter the manner of our death, we are assured of resurrection by the power of the slain Lamb of God.

He sent out his word and healed them;
he rescued them from the grave.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

Heal us, oh God. And allow us to tell your story.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel. — Psalm 69.7

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 3 (Listen – 5:56)
Psalm 107 (Listen – 4:12)

Additional Reading
Read More Face Like Flint :: A Guided Prayer
In what ways are we willing to accept victory with Christ but not suffering?
Where do we reach for our swords, when Christ calls out, “No more of this!”…and heals the one we would attack? Are we willing to heal our enemies?

Read More Seeing the Lord :: Readers’ Choice
In the year of disappointment, loneliness, fear
in the year of confusion, desperation and chaos
I saw the Lord.

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Resisting in Faith

Daniel 2.14
When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact.

Reflection: Resisting in Faith
By John Tillman

The early chapters of Daniel are popular teaching chapters because they show concrete examples of the successes that are possible when resisting an evil culture and an evil government.

But Daniel’s strategy is not one many today would embrace. Daniel embraces civility and service to his enemies. In today’s conflicts, the last thing our society wants is civility and no one wants to be caught associating with, much less serving or working with, the opposition.

Civility is considered by some as a tool only to be employed when one is in power. Those found guilty of politeness in today’s discourse are often accused of complicity and “numbered among the transgressors” when it comes to ideological loyalty.

Daniel embraced civility even when he was under the direct threat of death.

The Bible gives few details on Daniel’s confrontation with Arioch. But it is safe to say speaking to a man sent to kill you would be a tense moment. It was a tension that Daniel chose to diffuse with “wisdom and tact.”

In the midst of one of the most powerful and evil governments in history, Daniel understood and accepted that the exiles were and would remain at the mercy of the government’s actions. Their calling was to speak to power, not to strike at it.

Daniel doesn’t succeed by doing what all the other strategists and forecasters did. He doesn’t resist by deception, by violence, by falsehoods.

Daniel resists by doing something only a person of faith can do. He resists by demonstrating the power of his God through his actions. He resists by serving unconditionally. He resists by helping. He resists by taking action to save the lives of men who will eventually turn against him and conspire to throw him in a pit of lions.

Daniel lived undefiled, resisted the whims of an evil government, and influenced the course of an empire through simple faith and regular practice of spiritual disciplines.

Whatever we would resist, and whatever we would wish to change in our culture, we cannot do it using the worldly strategies that surround us.

We must, as Daniel did, turn to prayer, community, and faith as our source. Civility and service is the path that can differentiate us from our culture. What we say and what we do, if it is to be effective, must be guided by the wisdom gained through our spiritual disciplines.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. — Psalm 46.11

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 2 (Listen – 8:45)
Psalm 106 (Listen – 4:52)

Additional Reading
Read More about Redeeming Speech
Lips should never be red with the blood of honest men’s reputes, nor salved with malicious falsehoods. The faculty of speech becomes a curse when it is degraded into a mean weapon for smiting men behind their backs. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Read More about Abandoning Human Vengeance
As Christians, we have an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from culture every time vitriol spews. We must be the first to break the chain of retaliatory and violent rhetoric. We must abandon human vengeance before we can see divine justice.

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Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Undefiled at Heart

Daniel 1.8
…he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

Reflection: Undefiled at Heart
By John Tillman

Pastors and teachers regularly turn to Daniel as an example of how to live undefiled in a culture that is radically opposed to faith.

Defilement, however, was a way of life for exiles. It was defiling to be a slave as every exile was. It was defiling to live among foreigners as every exile was forced to do. It was defiling to eat with foreigners as Daniel and his friends did. It was defiling to sleep with or marry foreigners as Esther did.

Consider that the story in today’s reading, about Daniel’s struggle to eat a diet of vegetables and water instead of the “rich food” from the king’s table, happens in the same country where Ezekiel begs God not to force him to defile himself by eating food cooked over human feces.

For Daniel and his friends, God gifts them with strength, health, and intelligence far beyond the other candidates, and this event is the beginning of their rise to prominence and power. For Ezekiel, God relents and allows him to cook his food over animal feces instead. It’s no wonder we teach about Daniel’s story more often.

I’ve never heard of a church doing an “Ezekiel fast” but “Daniel fasts” have enjoyed massive popularity. Some even suggest that this is how Christians should eat year round. It is clear that we’d all prefer Daniel’s kind of struggle to Ezekiel’s.

In a way, being personally defiled through their experience was a part of the exiles’ punishment from God and a path to their repentance and healing.

Our outer circumstances may not be in our control as exiles. We may be in service to an evil government as Daniel and his friends are. We may be sexually exploited as Esther was. We may be forced to swallow unclean things as Ezekiel was.

In all circumstances, we must seek God’s guidance as we attempt to live in way that is pleasing to him. And at times, like Daniel, we must beg for permission from governments and employers to follow our consciences. That the government may not relent, and we may be forced to eat what is given is a part of being an exile.

As we live as exiles we must seek God to determine, as Daniel did, where the lines may be drawn for us and how we can best adapt to keep our hearts pure, even when everything we touch or interact with in our culture is defiled.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Mark those who are honest; observe the upright; for there is a future for the peaceable…The Lord will help them and rescue them; h will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them, because they seek refuge in him. — Psalm 37.37, 40

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 1 (Listen – 3:22)
Psalm 105 (Listen – 4:02)

Additional Reading
Read More about In Denial about Greed and Power
If there is anything that can still be shocking in today’s world, it is that we still don’t fully admit or understand the destructive nature of the sins of greed and power.

Read More about The Idol of Immorality, Impurity, and Greed
Paul reveals to us that what is truly at the root of sexual immorality, is exactly the same thing that is at the root of greed—selfishness.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Return to God’s Embrace :: Throwback Thursday

By Zachary Crofton (1626-1672)

Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. — Psalm 119.54

Repentance is the great work of the word and loud call of the gospel. Sit with care, constancy, and conscience under the word of truth and gospel of grace. Study the nature of God. God must be the object of repentance: we must sorrow toward God and return to God.

The devil labors to keep all light out of man’s soul—so that he might sleep in sin and be locked up in impenitency. When God brings to repentance, he breaks these bars of ignorance, he pulls off these scales of blindness and begins with the understanding.

Sit close to the work of self-examination. No man sits so fast in impiety as the stranger at home. True grace begins always at “the renewing of the mind”—the transforming of the mind to know “the good and acceptable will of God.” And the knowledge of God, being the principle of it, is put for repentance: “They shall know God.”

Thus David professed, “I examined my ways, and turned my feet into thy testimonies.” And when the Prodigal’s wits returned and he considered his wickedness, he would run home to be a servant, where he had been and might have been a son.

You have heard before, that conviction must go before conversion. Man’s conscience is a register which will bring to remembrance, and a judge that will clearly determine of man’s ways. The worst of men, by a short conference with their own soul, would soon see a necessity of repentance. Censure others less and yourselves more: inquire not into other men’s condition so much as your own conversation. Let no day return without accounts. Be serious in self-examination.

Sit loose to the world—the world is the great pull-back to heaven, and hinderance of repentance. You may observe, that the reason of the rebellion and impenitency of Ezekiel’s hearers was, “Their hearts went after their covetousness;” otherwise they took delight to hear.

Seriously apprehend the positive certainty of pardon. The price of man’s sin is paid—the justice of God is satisfied—the pardon is sealed in and by the blood of Christ and proclaimed in the gospel. It is yours with certainty. Nothing needs to deter: God is reconciled—therefore return unto him.

*Abridged and language updated from Zachary Crofton’s “Repentance Not To Be Repented, Plainly Asserted, And Practically Explained.” 

Today’s Reading
Daniel 12 (Listen – 2:40)
Psalms 119.49-72 (Listen – 15:14)

 

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