The Seductive Idolatry of Politics :: Readers’ Choice

From John:
Last week we explored meditation and its ability to help us navigate our anxiety-causing world. One of the chief drivers of anxiety today is the increasing divisiveness and volatility of political life. Politicians profit from anxiety. It is why we need more than ever before to be people who abide in God’s peace and rest in him, not in political prize-fighters, promises, or parties. They are selfish and unworthy shepherds, and God will deal with them.

From today’s reading: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? — Ezekiel 34.2

Suggested by reader, Heidi, from Virginia
When I read this post, I knew that I needed to forward it to someone I know who has grown disillusioned with the American church because of its prioritization of politics over biblical truth. I appreciate that The Park Forum consistently speaks truth to current events/these times. May we all be convicted of any and all things/people/ideas that have taken precedence in our lives over Christ.

Originally posted June 5, 2018 with readings from Isaiah 37 and Revelation 7.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” — Revelation 7.9-10

Reflection: The Seductive Idolatry of Politics :: Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Politics is the idol we bring with us to church just as the Israelites worshiped Baal alongside Jehovah. Israel continued this practice until eventually, altars to Baal were set up in God’s temple supplanting true worship.

Politics is the most powerful new religion of this millennium. It continually plays on the kind of imagery we see in Revelation. But outside of Christ there will never be a day when every nation, tribe, people, and language are united. Politics promises this unity and diversity but instead gains its power from fear and division.

This religion of politics poses a greater threat to the gospel than any other religion. Politics provides everything that the darkest parts of humanity’s sinful nature want from a religion.

The State is a flawed deity that is unpredictably beneficent or wrathful. Pagan societies prefer their gods to be flawed.

Politicians and the media (which serves them) provide an ecclesiastically complex structure of priests and prophets. Schisms, conspiracies, and scandals aren’t bugs in the system; they are features.

Worshipers make ordinances of their favorite political shows, podcasts, and news sites. They attend these programs with far more regularity and commitment than they do church worship services.

They make sacrifices of time and money and perform public shows of support. They promulgate their ideology and police their relationships, disassociating with any who would blaspheme their viewpoints.

Unfriending the blasphemers is viewed as a holy, cleansing action that makes the worshiper a more pure follower and condemns the one unfriended.

The deification of country and the sanctification of political parties as a nation’s priesthood, is perhaps the most dangerous idolatry the church has ever faced. It is a serious error to conflate the identity of God’s heavenly kingdom with any earthly government. It is so easy for earnest believers to fall into this trap.

This doesn’t mean it’s un-Christian to be “political.” Quite the opposite. But we must make sure we are pursuing actions that please Christ rather than pleasing human political kingdoms.

We serve the same kingdom Christ testified to before Pilate put him to death and the kingdom Stephen saw before being stoned by the Sanhedrin.

The Lamb on the Throne is unconcerned with political expediency. When forced to choose between country, or party, and Christ, we must choose Christ.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; O Lord, judge the nations. — Psalm 7.8

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 34 (Listen – 5:11)
Psalm 83-84 (Listen – 3:10)

Additional Reading
Read More about God’s Kingdom Versus God’s Reign
As Christians today, we are often tempted, as the Israelites were, to put faith in shaping society through the exertion of governmental power.

Read More about Politically Ambiguous Religion
Faith devoted to the way of Christ is rarely politically expedient.

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Learning to Pray :: Readers’ Choice

From John:
We have, this week, dipped our toes in the waters of Christian meditative prayer. This is only, however, one branch of the discipline of prayer. So we take the opportunity to look back at this Readers’ Choice post on learning to pray.

Prayer, like cultivation, is not natural. God created a wild, natural world. But he cultivated a park, a garden, for his relationship with us. May we work to cultivate a varied garden of prayer in which to walk with God daily.

Suggested by reader, Suzanne Coupe
I’m not naturally a “prayer warrior” and this devo brought to mind that there are many things I do that aren’t comfortable or pleasant within my earthly relationships, but I do them because I care about that person. My time in prayer with the LORD is an expression of how important He is to me, and sometimes that means putting aside what I want to do in order to do what He wants me to do…what will be best for the strength of our relationship and the glory of Jesus.

Posted February 21, 2018 with readings from Job 21 and 1 Corinthians 8.

Is my complaint directed to a human being? Why should I not be impatient? — Job 21.4

Reflection: Learning to Pray :: Readers’ Choice
The Park Forum

“This is a dangerous error,” warns Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “to imagine that it is natural for the heart to pray.” The great theologian, who lost his life in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, was no stranger to unanswered prayer. He wrote:

It can become a great torment to want to speak with God and not to be able to do it—having to be speechless before God, sensing that every cry remains enclosed within one’s own self, that heart and mouth speak a perverse language which God does not want to hear.

This may have contributed to the reason Bonhoeffer did not believe it was possible to pray without the power of God:

We confuse wishing, hoping, sighing, lamenting, rejoicing—all of which the heart can certainly do on its own—with praying. But in doing so we confuse earth and heaven, human beings and God. Praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather, finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty. No one can do that on one’s own. For that one needs Jesus Christ.

Not wanting “needs Jesus Christ” to devolve into mere platitude, Bonhoeffer explains how to pray the words of God—Scripture—through the power of God—Spirit:

Jesus Christ has brought before God every need, every joy, every thanksgiving, and every hope of humankind. In Jesus’ mouth the human word becomes God’s Word. When we pray along with the prayer of Christ, God’s Word becomes again a human word.

If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible, and especially the Psalms, we must not, therefore, first ask what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and only then can we pray them with Jesus Christ. Thus it does not matter whether the Psalms express exactly what we feel in our heart at the moment we pray.

Perhaps it is precisely the case that we must pray against our own heart in order to pray rightly. It is not just that for which we ourselves want to pray that is important, but that for which God wants us to pray. If we were dependent on ourselves alone, we would probably often pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But God wants it otherwise. Not the poverty of our heart, but the richness of God’s word, ought to determine our prayer.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 31 (Listen – 3:31)
Psalm 79 (Listen – 1:50)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 32 (Listen – 5:30) Psalm 80 (Listen – 1:58)
Ezekiel 33 (Listen – 6:03) Psalm 81-82 (Listen – 2:36)

Additional Reading
Read More about Persistence in Prayer
When Paul says, “I’ll pray for you,” he actually follows through. May we share that same sense of commitment the next time we utter those simple words, “I’ll pray for you.”

Read More about Uniqueness of Prayer
Our prayer is unique. But this does not mean that it can be merely whimsical, without definite patterns and commitment.

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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.

The Practice of Meditation :: Tea

Psalm 78.70-71
He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheep pens;
From tending the sheep he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel his inheritance.

Reflection: The Practice of Meditation :: Tea
By John Tillman

All analogies are limited, so it is helpful to consider many of them.

Yesterday we explored meditating on scripture through a visualization of running around a track. As users get used to this visualization, they can adapt the practice to visualize running through a park or leave visualizing behind and actually walk or run. Today we will explore a different contemplative visualization.

This helpful analogy of biblical meditation comes from Donald Whitney, in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. He describes the benefits of meditating on God’s word using the image of a tea bag in hot water.

The tea analogy is helpful to explain the contrast between Christian meditation and other meditative practices. In other meditative traditions the practitioner seeks to suppress conscious thought, seeking blankness or emptiness. The image of other meditative practices might be the water becoming more and more pure, empty, and blank. In Christianity, we seek to be filled and transformed.

Christian meditation does not seek emptiness, but fullness. We do not seek unconscious, impersonal revelation, but personal revelation from a conscious and communicative God.

Hearing the word, or reading it, or listening to a sermon is dipping the tea bag and removing it. There is some change, some transfer of the tea to the water, but not much. Meditation, however, is allowing the tea bag to soak in the water so that the flavor and power of the tea is transferred to and integrated throughout the water. The water becomes tea.

For the tea analogy, imagine yourself as the water, the scripture as the tea bag, and God’s spirit as the tea itself. Allow the scripture to soak in your mind, repetitively dip it in your thoughts as you would a tea bag into warm water. Listen in faith, believing that God will speak to you through his word. Allow the spirit and nature of God to steep in your spirit, entering your heart and mind through his word.

In meditation, the goal cannot be gaining a new insight for a sermon or Bible study group. It cannot be for a stunning exegetical analysis. It cannot be for a shiny trophy of biblical knowledge.

Let your goal be simply to sit, to steep, in God’s presence in his word.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 30 (Listen – 4:07)
Psalm 78.40-72 (Listen – 7:12)

Additional Reading
Read More about Fear in the Boat :: Readers’ Choice :: TBT
No one has to go through so much anxiety and fear as do Christians. But this does not surprise us, since Christ is the Crucified One, and there is no way to life for a Christian without being crucified.

This devotion spoke to me in a moment where I almost forgot where I was. The words reminded me of the faithfulness of Jesus. I pictured myself in that ‘boat’, and Christ showing me who he is, I was on the Rock. — Reader, Azikiwe Calhoun

Read More about Praying Through the Stress of Work
The beauty of the psalms is they are not simply inspiration and instruction, but example. In hearing and praying through the psalms we find spiritual vitality in a world austere to the divine.

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.

The Practice of Meditation :: Running

Psalm 78.1-3
My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.

Reflection: The Practice of Meditation :: Running
By John Tillman

If the elevator is out and you have to climb fifteen flights of stairs, going outside and running a mile first won’t help much. But if you have been running a mile every day for two months, when you need to climb the stairs, the increased lung capacity and strength you have gained will be there to support you.

One way of thinking of meditative prayer is exercise to expand your spiritual lung capacity, allowing you to breathe in God’s spirit more naturally at any time—including during a crisis.

Today we will explore an imaginative guide for meditation on the scripture. We will use the visual image of walking or running to aid us in an analogy of exploring scripture. You can practice this exercise using your imagination while sitting still. Later, if you wish, you can repeat the experience while actually walking around a track or a park or even your apartment or office.

Meditative prayer, especially for beginners, is best begun with scripture. Memorized scripture is helpful, but not necessary. Reading the passage repetitively can be equally helpful. Choose a short passage of scripture. A couple lines from today’s psalms passage would work well. Perhaps Psalm 78.1-3 or Psalm 78.38-39.

Read the passage several times, while simultaneously asking God, through prayer to meet with you and speak to your through this passage.

Now imagine running or walking on an extremely short running track—no more than a tenth of a mile. The repetitive action of circling the track over and over will mirror the repetitive action of reading the scripture in meditation.

Imagine the scripture written on the pathway of the track. Imagine treading each word as you read it. Another option would be to imagine making one circuit of the track each time you read the scripture. Remember your goal isn’t “distance,” to read the passage many times, but depth, to hear God’s spirit speak to you through his word.

Don’t feel pressured to have some surpassingly great breakthrough. To stick with the running analogy, you aren’t going to hit a four-minute mile your first time out. Be humble. Be persistent. Be steady.

It is not God’s ability to speak that must grow, it is our ability to listen.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him… — Psalm 85.8

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 29 (Listen – 3:43)
Psalm 78.1-39 (Listen – 7:12)

Additional Reading
Read More about Finding Words to Pray
The remedy for spiritual dryness is prayer saturated with scripture. When we pray the words of scripture they enliven our prayers by allowing God’s word to blossom inside our heart, mind, and soul.

Read More about Praying Through the Stress of Work
The beauty of the psalms is they are not simply inspiration and instruction, but example. In hearing and praying through the psalms we find spiritual vitality in a world austere to the divine.

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.

A Discipline for the Anxious

Psalm 77.2-3
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.

Reflection: A Discipline for the Anxious
By John Tillman

We live in distressing times. If there are corners of our world not touched by division, aggression, worry, and angst, you probably can’t get email there.

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are on the rise—especially among younger adults. National Survey of Children’s Health researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety among children ages 6 to 17, between 2007 and 2012. The American College Health Association found that anxiety, rather than depression, is the most common reason college students seek counseling services and that in 2016, 62 percent of undergraduates reported “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. (An increase from 50 percent in 2011.)

Studying this, science is discovering things that are not exactly new under the sun. A recent Harvard study found that church attendance paired with spiritual disciplines such as meditation and prayer have a beneficial effect on mental health. In a Forbes article, study author Ying Chen noted that being raised religiously, “can powerfully affect [children’s] health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”

The psalmists would not express surprise at these findings. Though we think of our society as facing pressures unknown to humanity until now, we would be mistaken to think of ancient times as idyllic and calm.

David and the other psalmists certainly knew what it was like to live under threat, under financial pressure, under the constant weight of political instability and the wavering loyalty of an unpredictable government.

Amidst such pressures, they had a safe haven. Their help for the stresses of life was meditation and prayer.*

The psalmist writes of being “too troubled to speak,” yet he cries to God. He writes of insomnia, yet he rests in God. He writes of doubts and of feeling that God has rejected him, that his love has vanished, that he had forgotten to be merciful. Yet in the midst of doubts and fears, he remembers God’s faithfulness in the past. He meditates on these memories in the heated moment of stress.

Although the benefits of meditation can help in a crisis, meditation is not a quick fix. It is not a fast-acting antidote for the world’s venom, but an inoculation to be taken ahead of time.

When beginning (or returning to) meditative prayer, start small and short. Use the prayer provided at the end of this devotional (Psalm 119.147) as a start. Spend two to five minutes simply re-reading the prayer with an expectant heart, asking God to be with you.

This week we will explore a bit more about this practice.

*We are in no way implying that meditation should be pursued in lieu of proper medical treatment. If you are in need of counseling and professional services, please consider the following resources:

Mental Health Grace Alliance
Not A Day Promised Resource Page
Life Recovered (Resources for Ministers)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 28 (Listen – 4:32)
Psalm 77 (Listen – 2:12)

Additional Reading
Read More about Treatment of Mercy
May we seek to treat those suffering from mental illness medically, spiritually, and relationally, as we support them within our communities as treasured ones, loved by Christ.

Read More about When Help Isn’t Help :: Readers’ Choice
May we understand that times of trial and hardship will come into our lives. May we listen to understand, and when we do respond, may it be with sincerity and sensitivity.

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.

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