The Victorious Path of Weakness

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country to write in June of 2020 for The Park Forum. Each of them is pursuing a career in ministry and received free coaching on their writing as a part of the program. For more information about the program and a profile of each of our student writers, visit our Student Writers Month page.

Today’s student writer is Erin Newton, a student at B. H. Carroll Theological Institute.

Scripture Focus:  Isaiah 36:20-21
“Who of all the gods of these countries have been able to save their lands from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”  But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”

Reflection: The Victorious Path of Weakness
By Erin Newton

The Assyrians might have succeeded in crushing the weakened morale of the Judeans if it was not for one blatant mistake. 

They made legitimate claims of militaristic superiority and truthfully pointed out that dependence on Egypt was misplaced. However, their mistake was assuming that the God of Israel was the same as the trampled gods of other nations.

But he is not like all other gods. God has no weaknesses. He has not been created by humanity, and he cannot be defeated.

The people responded in silence. There was no pithy rebuttal or fierce argument to defend God’s honor. The coming victory would be his defense.

Silence can be powerful. Jesus responded in silence when on trial before his crucifixion, even though insults against his claims of deity were hurled left and right. The soldiers at Gethsemane considered him powerless and mocked, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 23.37)

God’s power is perfected in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12.9) The Assyrians could not understand how God would be victorious using a weak military that was surrounded by conquered cities, just as Pilate could not fathom how an itinerant Galilean carpenter would be able to conquer death itself.

We tend to place God on the same level as our other idols: money, health, popularity, and pleasure. We are tempted to take the easy road, bargain with the enemy, and satisfy the short-term pleasure instead of trusting in God Almighty.

Who is the God that we trust? If it is not God Almighty, it will be something or someone else.

If we find our trust misplaced, remember to reflect on the question that Paul put to the Galatians, “Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5.7) Somewhere along the line, we fail to remember that our God is not like anyone else. Weakness is not the end of our story; instead, it is often the path God takes to save us. The Jews were forced into exile and Jesus went into a silent tomb for three days. These looked like losses, but they resulted in victories – return for the Jews and resurrection for Jesus. Eternal life for those who trust in Him.

We easily forget that our weakness is the means of Christ’s victory. Let us not be intimidated, for our God is undefeated.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living. — Psalm 116.8

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


Today’s Readings
Isaiah 36 (Listen – 4:00) 
Revelation 6 (Listen – 3:12)

Read more about Cry, Creator, Cry!
“Look how he dies. Cry, Creator, Cry!
This is my day to stand upon the 
breast of God and claim my victory 
over love.”

Read more about The Prince of Peace not Pacification
Many times we, like the Jerusalem crowds, might prefer a Prince of Pacification instead of a Prince of Peace.

Fasting is for All

Scripture Focus: Galatians 6.8
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

From John
: This post from 2018 is worth repeating even when we already feel like we are fasting from everything. Even in our new crisis, when as Andy Crouch quipped on Twitter, we are all giving up a lot more for Lent than we intended, we can turn unchosen isolation and unchosen cancellations into willing sacrifices. As my own pastor, J.R. Vassar has been encouraging our church, may we use well the “margin” cancellations and losses of social obligations bring to us. May we fill our unexpected margin not merely with more streaming entertainment, but with a more serious approach and commitment to prayer.

Reflection: Fasting is for All

By John Tillman

We sometimes treat fasting like a spiritual version of Mixed Martial Arts—only the strongest should attempt it. But fasting can and should be experienced in some way by believers of all maturity levels.

How do we expect young believers (or new believers) to mature at all if we deter them from learning and practicing one of the major disciplines of our faith?

No matter our age or maturity level, we may begin in fasting as we would begin any new practice. With small, achievable steps.

“As with all the Disciplines, a progression should be observed; it is wise to learn to walk well before we try to run.” — Richard Foster

Fasting may be the most important spiritual discipline for the church to focus on in the next decade. In an instant gratification culture, where we often find ourselves angry when a web page doesn’t load instantly or when a streaming video lags for even a few seconds, we need both a reality check and a spirituality check.

We desperately need to pursue spiritual focus amidst notifications and distractions. We desperately need to cultivate longings for God that won’t surface until we strip away the spirit-numbing stimulants of modern life.

“Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them.” — Richard Foster

Fasting from food is only the beginning of what, for many of us, may be a spiritual quest for stillness, mindfulness, and disconnection from the noise and haste of digital faux-life so that we can connect to true life in Christ.

May we explore fasting beyond fasting from food. May we explore the call of God to withdraw and abstain for a time from anything in our lives that creates false dependency, false assurances of competency, and false feelings of necessity.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading

Then, speaking to all, he said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.” — Luke 9.23

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 7 (Listen -2:21) 
Galatians 6 (Listen -2:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 8 (Listen -3:26), Ephesians 1 (Listen -3:10)
Proverbs 9 (Listen -1:50), Ephesians 2 (Listen -3:04)

Read more from Spending our Way to Asceticism
May our pangs of emptiness lead us to make more room in our hearts and lives for the Holy Spirit and for the community of his Holy Church.

Read more about Calloused Hands and Softened Hearts
There is suffering coming to our lives.
There is death coming to our lives.
There is destruction on its way.
We may still be encouraged.

Choose to Hope in the Cross

Scripture Focus: Galatians 5.5-6
For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope…The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Luke 23.42
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

From John: The very thing the disciples despaired at, became the source of hope amidst any despair—the cross. In this time when many are despairing, our source of hope is still the cross. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear, that hope is hidden in the despair of the cross. 

Reflection: Choose to Hope in the Cross
By Matt Tullos

Hope: When we look toward the constructs of eternity and find our true selves apart from our feeble flesh.

The two thieves represent two choices. One thief demands proof. The other pleads for hope. One looks to escape and the other looks to eternity. These choices stand as constant reminders that the cross of Christ demands a response.

Hope is personal. Very personal. Whether through worship, adversity, desperation or pain, we collide into the reality that our only hope is Jesus.

We can’t hope eternally in friends. Friends will fail us.

We can’t hope in institutions. Institutions over the course of eternity will evaporate like the ephemeral mist of the morning dew.

We can’t hope in hidden treasures. All treasures, short of grace, are water through our fingers.
We can’t hope in flowery platitudes because there will be a day when they will all wilt upon the parched, unforgiving soil of our brokenness.

Our hope is in the One who suffers next to us and says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” This glimpse of the cross reflects the absolute power of grace to snatch anyone from the jaws of destruction.

Was there anything the thief could do? Absolutely nothing. He couldn’t start a small group, feed the poor, go to the synagogue or study the scriptures. He found himself at the end of his life and the only thing he could do was to confess his sin and cry out to Jesus.

“Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man.”
— Victor Hugo


Hope was born on the cross.
Because hope was born we don’t have to be ashamed because he bore our shame.
Because hope was born we don’t have to constantly obsess about whether we could be good enough because He is our righteousness.
Because hope was born we are free.
Because hope was born we have purpose.
Because hope was born we are going to be okay.
And that’s worth celebrating!

Celebrate this scene of the darkest day! Grace rules even when we have no more time. Grace ruled the day then and now.

Have you ever felt like God has forgotten you?
What do you hope God will restore in your family, your heart, your church or your life?
Where is your hope waning?

*From a series Matt Tullos wrote called 39 Words. A few of these posts are available in audio form via Soundcloud. — John

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Come to me speedily, O God. You are my helper and my deliverer, Lord, do not tarry. — Psalm 70.5-6

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 6 (Listen -3:22) 
Galatians 5 (Listen -3:22)

Read more about Crucified, By Nature
Christ crucified is more than a means of salvation. It affects every aspect of the Christian life.

Read more about Peace in Crisis
Whatever cross we find ourselves pinned to, if we turn our heads to look, we will see Christ beside us, and whatever the outcome of our suffering, we will find his arms embracing us.

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/peace-in-crisis/

Peace in Crisis

Scripture Focus: Galatians 4:13-14
As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.

Psalm 91.5-6
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.

2 Corinthians 1.3-6
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.

Reflection: Peace in Crisis
By John Tillman

*Today, before moving on to return to writings devoted to our reading plan tomorrow, we will spend one more day exploring our responsibilities as a faith community during a crisis and the promises that we have in Christ. We don’t typically address current events. For an explanation of why, see the intro to yesterday’s post.

Yesterday we looked at the stark challenge that the Church’s actions during pandemics gives to us and questioned whether we are living up to that challenge. Today, we focus on the comfort and peace that we have from God in disturbing and difficult times. This divine comfort, this inexplicable peace, (Philippians 4.4-7) was the fuel that empowered the Church in its ministry to crisis victims in the past and it can fuel our outreach as well.

We can be assured, brothers and sisters, that our God is a trustworthy and true God. He is working in us and through us, and is with us in suffering, illness, or struggle. (Romans 8.18, 28, 31-38) There is no hardship that we can bear that Christ has not borne before us and will not be with us through. (Romans 5.1-8; 2 Corinthians 1.3-6; Philippians 3:8-11; Colossians 1.24) Christ suffered on the cross with the repentant thief, and that day brought him into paradise. Whatever cross we find ourselves pinned to, if we turn our heads to look, we will see Christ beside us, and whatever the outcome of our suffering, we will find his arms embracing us.

Acting with prudent caution, we can fearlessly engage to aid our cities and communities, loving and serving with abandon. Fear of pestilence or plague is not a quality of God’s people (Psalm 91.3-7) but selflessly serving those who are sick or dying is. 

Are we in danger? Of course. How is that different than any other day? Today, the only difference is that we are aware of our fragile state of mortality. May we learn to better trust God in this knowledge. With the false sense of security stripped away, we can see if our foundation of faith is truly built on Christ or if it is built on the protections of wealth, the conceit of invulnerability, and our trust in power.

We can, without hesitation or questioning, entrust our spirits to God, just as Christ did on the cross. To be absent from our bodies is to be present with our Lord, and to be present in our bodies is to be united in Christ’s body on Earth, the Church. Therefore we are, now and forever, with the Lord, no matter the outcome of any illness or suffering that we may ever face. (2 Corinthians 5.1-10)

So, be confident and live by faith, making it your goal to please Christ and to remain united with him and at peace in suffering, service, and in showing his love to our world.

If you are in Christ, brothers and sisters, we are one in him. He is with you. Be at peace. Serve with love. Fear not. (Matthew 28,20)

*Tomorrow we hear from Matt Tullos about the hope we have in the cross.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence since I was young.
I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you. — Psalm 71.5-6

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 5 (Listen -2:08) 
Galatians 4 (Listen -4:13)

Read more about The Church’s Historical Response to Plague
The historic church has left us a great example and testimony based on sound application of the scriptures. Are we following it?

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/the-churchs-historical-response-to-plague/

Read more about The Purchase Price of Peace
Jesus came out of the tomb carrying the gift we glimpse in the manger—peace. 
“Peace I leave with you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

On Surrender

Scripture Focus: Galatians 2.20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Reflection: On Surrender
By Matt Tullos

Surrender: The releasing of every solution, tool, and self-saving strategy.

Jesus walked to the cross in total surrender.

He explained it this way: “No one is taking it from me; I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This is what my Father has commanded me.” (John 10:18)

There has always been a controversy around who killed Jesus. But Jesus was clear. He gave up His life as an offering. As we remember the brutal account of Jesus’ death, He invites us to see the cross as an embraced undertaking.

We are His prize and He snatched us away from the enemy through the brutality of an unthinkable surrender. He loved us enough to engage himself in a 33 year passage toward an unspeakable end.

In this act we see how real love works and He is inviting us to enter this story, to live, die, and live again. When we live like Jesus, life is ever before us as an opportunity to surrender everything. What does that look like for you? Only Jesus knows and He will reveal it to you soon enough.

“Arise – go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.
Little – be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.
Preach the Gospel with your life – without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you…
Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me.
Love… love… love, never counting the cost
Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast. Pray always, fast.
Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbor’s feet. Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you. Pray always.
I will be your rest.”
— Catherine Doherty’s Little Mandate

The image of the cross is an image of absolute surrender.

When we enter into the story of Christ we see a point in time when we cannot use our hands to control anything. Our will, determination, ambition, and skill are nailed to the holy cross of Christ. While the world’s system teaches us how to control others and change ourselves, the cross has no such purpose. On the cross, our hands are not busy. They are surrendered.

The cross compels us to die to that old foe that the world calls “a self-made man.” Everything that feeds our own power, pride, ego, and self-determination has to go. It simply must. God is not improved by our efforts. He is glorified by our surrender.

When absolute and complete surrender takes hold of you, you will experience the bliss of satisfaction in Him. Whatever you have or don’t have… it wholly means nothing when you have given it all to Him. You live. You breathe. You worship. You give.
This is enough.

Survey the state of your heart. What things inside stand as barriers between you and God’s complete possession of all that you are?

*From a series Matt Tullos wrote called 39 Words. A few of these posts (including today’s) are available in audio form via Soundcloud. — John

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,” says the Lord, “and give them the help they long for.” — Psalm 12.5

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 3 (Listen -3:05) 
Galatians 2 (Listen -3:44)

Read more about The Step After Surrender :: Throwback Thursday
It is not this thing or that thing that must go now: it is blindly, helplessly, recklessly, our very selves.

Read more about More and More and Less and Less :: Guided Prayer
We will be at our happiest, at our most fulfilled, and at our most true self when we continually surrender more and more to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Spur a spiritual rhythm of refreshment right in your inbox
By joining this email list you are giving us permission to send you devotional emails each weekday and to communicate occasionally regarding other aspects of the ministry.
100% Privacy. We don't spam.