Peter’s Unfinished Work — Editor’s Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, June 1, 2020, based on readings from Revelation 3 and Isaiah 33.
It was selected by John Tillman
This was posted during the 6th day of protests regarding the murder of George Floyd. 
We (I) do not choose the topics we write about. We look at the scripture of the day and apply it to the culture of the day. That’s it. It says a lot about the content of the scripture and the content of our culture’s character that we so often must address racism and violence. Like Peter, I have often had to readdress racism within my life and ministry. Peter’s work to establish the church was partly dependent on his dealing with racism in his own life and in the lives of others. The same is true for us today. There is no sin we can be silent about, including racism.

Scripture Focus: Revelation 3.1-3
1 I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.

Isaiah 33.14-15
14 Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? 
Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?” 
15 Those who walk righteously 
and speak what is right…

Reflection: Peter’s Unfinished Work — Editor’s Choice
By John Tillman

We have both grieved and celebrated over this past weekend. 

Pentecost Sunday closes the season of Easter. As one season ends, Pentecost marks the beginning of a new one. Pentecost is the end of Jesus powerfully leading his disciples and the beginning of Jesus empowering his church to lead. Pentecost is the end of the season of training and the beginning of the season of work. 

As evidenced by both the murder of George Floyd and some of the broken and tragic responses to it, the church has much work left to do. Surely Christ’s words to the church at Sardis apply to us today, “I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.”

We have written consistently (because God’s Word speaks of it consistently) about the centrality to the gospel of destroying racism. There does not exist a gospel that ignores racism. Any “gospel” that does not confront racism is not the gospel. Pentecost testifies strongly to this as the Holy Spirit moved Peter to preach that what people were witnessing was the promised outpouring of God’s Spirit on “all flesh.” (Acts 2.17; Joel 2.28)

Peter struggled throughout his ministry to overcome the racism that he was raised in. May we take up Peter’s unfinished work. Overcoming racism cannot be done by one sermon, one vision, one visit, one protest, or one condemnation. Opposing both individual and systemic racism is a lifetime of work that the Church cannot give up on. 

Ending racism was a Christian idea from the beginning and we are possessed of the only ideology that can do it—the gospel. When pastors and ministers address racial issues, they are not abandoning the gospel, they are speaking from its heart.

Pray this prayer this week, based on parts of Isaiah 33, asking that we may be the kind of people who work the justice of the Kingdom of God into our lives and communities.

Prayer for Justice
We long to dwell with you, Lord, our consuming fire.
Burn away our sinfulness and selfishness without which racism cannot stand.
Help us to be those who walk righteously 
and speak what is right.
Help us to reject gain from extortion and oppression 
Let us not passively participate in murder.
Let us not shut our eyes to deny evil, but shut our hearts to joining in it.
Let us be instruments of your peace.

*We forgo the Divine Hours prayers today replacing them with the above and focusing our prayers on ones for justice and peace, which must come before reconciliation and revival which we also pray for.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 18 (Listen – 4:30)
Romans 16 (Listen – 3:30)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
Have we heard from you yet? Tell us about posts from the past year (September 2020 – July 2021) that have helped you in your faith.
https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Putting To Death Racial Hostility
Our culture’s concept of human equality is based not in science, but in Christ. The wellspring of the concept of racial equality is the cross of Christ.

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day — Carols of Advent Peace

Scripture Focus: John 14.27
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Matthew 1.20-23
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Isaiah 9.6-7a
6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.

Reflection: I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day — Carols of Advent Peace
By Jon Polk

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was written during the American Civil War by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Longfellow’s wife had died in an accidental fire and his oldest son had been severely wounded in the war, so it is no surprise that when he penned the lyrics on Christmas Day 1863, he included somber words:

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

Fifty years later, a war broke out across the world so terrible that it was called the War to End All Wars.

Germans invaded France and Belgium and some front-line trenches were only fifty yards apart. At the end of 1914, initiatives for peace were rejected, including a request by Pope Benedict for a truce on Christmas Day.

A miracle took place on Christmas Eve. Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in an unofficial Christmas Truce.

Private Frank Sumter of the London Rifle Brigade journaled,

We heard the Germans singing “Silent night, Holy night”… and we joined in… One German took a chance and jumped up and shouted, “Happy Christmas!” Our boys said, “If he can do it, we can do it,” and we all jumped up. A Sergeant Major shouted, “Get down!” But we said, “Shut up Sergeant, it’s Christmas time!”

Troops from both sides climbed out of their trenches, wished each other “Merry Christmas,” played games, and shared gifts. For a few hours, the peace of Christmas prevailed on the fields of battle.

This is what Christmas does. Jesus radically breaks into our cold, dark, and hostile world. 

The world says, “Get down. Don’t try to make peace. Don’t cross enemy lines. Don’t befriend people whose race, politics, culture or nationality are different from you.”

Jesus says, Shut up world, it’s Christmas time!”

The world says, “In despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said.” 

Jesus says, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does He sleep.”

The world says, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men!” 

Jesus says, “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

History reminds us the War to End All Wars did not do so. Physical wars continue but so do wars of words, ideologies, and cultures. Strife and discord still exist in our world. 

Jesus brings a new kind of peace, not only absence of war, but a new way of living. It is a peace that allows us to take risks by loving both our neighbor and our enemy, by being a voice of hope and the hands and feet of God in the world. 

Each and every year, this peace is available to all who find rest in the Savior, Christ the Lord.

Listen: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Bryan Duncan
Read: Lyrics at Hymnary.org
Bonus View: Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas Advert on the 100th Anniversary of the 1914 Christmas Truces

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.24

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

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 11 (Listen – 2:40)
John 14 (Listen – 4:13)

Christmas Day Readings
Zechariah 12.1-13.1 (Listen – 2:30)
John 15 (Listen – 3:20)

This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 13.2-9 (Listen – 1:40) John 16 (Listen – 4:14)
Zechariah 14 (Listen – 3:52) John 17 (Listen – 3:40)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
We rely on gifts of all sizes, including mustard-seed-sized gifts from many people, that can enable us to move mountains.

Read more about The Peace of Christ :: Peace of Advent
How many Christ-Followers have come to fully understand the divine reality that peace is our inheritance?

Much Demanded—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason Tilley from Texas
A lament for modern times. We are too quick to spread ideas that we have not thought about ourselves. When we do, we are responsible for the consequences. But unlike before, our spreading of false ideas does not die with the few who might have heard them. They live forever. We must own and confess our sins rather than try to re-create ignorance. We are no longer clueless. Let’s stop planting false clues.

Originally published, May 11, 2020, based on readings from Isaiah 9:8-10:4 & James 3.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 9.14-16
14 So the Lord will cut off from Israel both head and tail,
    both palm branch and reed in a single day;
15 the elders and dignitaries are the head,
    the prophets who teach lies are the tail.
16 Those who guide this people mislead them,
    and those who are guided are led astray.

James 3.1
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 

Reflection: Much Demanded—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

There is an often repeated biblical principle—the more you are given, the more will be expected of you. 

We see its implications in Isaiah’s prophecy against the leaders. (Isaiah 9.14-16) James echoes it in his warning to “teachers.” (James 3.1) Christ worded it, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12.48)

Part of God’s righteousness, his justice, is not holding those with little accountable for their poverty. Whether a poverty of finances, of knowledge, of access, or of power, God judges those with little lightly and those with much heavily.

This should be sobering to us who are greatly privileged.

We live in an age of unprecedented availability of knowledge. We are more accountable to God for what we say and teach than ever before. We have an unprecedented ability to access the Bible at any time and on any device imaginable. We are more accountable to God for our ignorance of his scriptures than ever before. We have an unprecedented ability to reach around the world (or across the street) to know and befriend people of all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. We are more accountable to God for holding on to racial prejudice, divisions, and resentments than ever before. We are living in the most prosperous time in history with financial resources available to the majority of people that were unimaginable in prior ages of history. We are more accountable to God for abandoning and abusing those in poverty than ever before.

It is to our shame with such wealth that there are starving children.
It is to our shame with such connectedness that we cause divisiveness.
It is to our shame with such availability of the Bible that we do not avail ourselves of reading it.
It is to our shame with such access to expert knowledge that we scrape the basements of the Internet to find conspiracies that we like better than the facts. (Isaiah 8.12-13)

May we confess and repent, before God comes to settle accounts with us.
Much has been given to us. May we praise God in thankfulness for it.
Much has been given to us. May we serve our neighbor in humbleness with it.
Much has been given to us. May we challenge every form of oppression with it.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 38 (Listen – 5:18)
Psalms 11-12 (Listen – 1:59)

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post reminded you of Christ’s love?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Read more about Confession as a Crucible
The crucible of COVID-19 is revealing in our society and ourselves the ugliest most sinful parts of our nature.

A Tale of Two Kings—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Michelle Perez, NYC
This devotional hit me (and several of my friends) squarely in the face because we were all guilty of gathering all the day’s negative information and then trying to “fix our own problems” by incessant complaining to each other making us all feel worse than before. We were taking much of God’s to-do list and putting it on our own lists. This devotional directly and lovingly addressed what we are to do in these times: we are to humble ourselves and ask God for help and comfort.  We are to invite Him to take on our burdens and rest in Him. Simply, we are to trust Him. The inclusion of the link “A liturgy for those flooded by too much information” found in the body of the devotional was an added blessing. 

Originally published, June 5, 2020, based on readings from Isaiah 37 & Revelation 7.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 37:14-20
14 Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord:16 “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

18 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands.19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

Reflection: A Tale of Two Kings—Readers’ Choice
By Joshua B. Fikkert

What is the first thing you do when you are in a crisis? 

If you are like me, your first instinct is to seek a solution on your own, and you exhaust yourself thinking through every possible solution, plan, or contingency to fix the problem. This stubborn desire to fix our own problems is rooted in our chief sin of pride, our desire to be like God (Genesis 3:5-6).

The book of Isaiah brilliantly demonstrates the destructive nature of pride and the power of humility in the stories of King Ahaz and of his son, King Hezekiah. Ahaz’s pride created a generational catastrophe, which Hezekiah was forced to deal with. 

When faced with the threat of foreign invasion, Ahaz looked for a tangible solution of his own making. In spite of Isaiah’s insistence that God would save Judah, Ahaz begged for help from Assyria to deliver them. (Isaiah 7:10-12).

The result of Ahaz’s pride was devastating. Instead of helping Ahaz, Assyria defeated Judah’s enemies and then turned on Judah, forcing them into servitude (2 Kings 16:10-18). 

After Ahaz’s death, Hezekiah was left to handle the crisis created by his father’s pride. The Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem, and destruction was certain. But unlike Ahaz, Hezekiah did not seek a solution of his own making. He humbled himself and sought divine aid. He asked for Isaiah to pray on his behalf (Isaiah 37:2), he sought the presence of God in the temple, and he came before the Lord in prayer. 

The humble prayer of Hezekiah proved powerful and effective. God answered his prayer, and Judah was spared by a mighty act of divine grace (Isaiah 37:36-37). 

When we face trials of various kinds, we must resist the temptation to take matters into our own hands. We must resist the allure of pride, which tells us we can fix our problems on our own. 

We know we have a God who answers and who delivers his people from trouble. We have a God who saves. Therefore, our first response, no matter what the crisis is, should be to call on the name of the Lord. Petitioning for God’s help is not our last resort. It is the first one. 

Let us cast “the burdens of this world upon the strong shoulders of the one who alone is able to bear them up” (Douglas McKelvey, “A Liturgy For Those Flooded By Too Much Information”).

*We will forgo the Divine Hours prayer today, replacing it with a quote from the prayer by Douglas McKelvey quoted above.

“…remind us that we are but small
and finite creatures, never designed to carry
the vast abstractions of great burdens,
for our arms are too short and our strength
is too small. Justice and mercy, healing and
redemption, are your great labors.”

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 35 (Listen – 3:43)
Psalms 7-8 (Listen – 2:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 36 (Listen – 5:54) Psalms 9 (Listen – 2:21)
Jeremiah 37 (Listen – 3:25) Psalms 10 (Listen – 2:13)

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
Scripture, especially when it comes to the prophets, passes the microphone to the losers of history.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you pray more frequently?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

When Celebrating Earthly Kingdoms

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 65.1-2
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
All day long I have held out my hands
to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
pursuing their own imaginations.

From John: I love celebrating July 4th. It has always been an important celebration in our family and a frequent occasion for unofficial family reunions and gatherings. (Including one this year that will be marked by social distancing and mask-wearing in addition to typical activities.)

I learned from my family a deep sense of patriotism and love for country. Yet, patriotism can become an idol that displaces the Kingdom of God in our hearts. Patriotism is a sin when it raises our love for our earthly kingdom above that of Christ’s kingdom, when we begin to confuse the two as being the same thing, or when we dismiss biblical cries for justice and reform as being “unpatriotic.”

This re-post from 2018, is vitally important for us to regularly grapple with. When we celebrate earthly kingdoms, each of us has the opportunity to check our hearts and evaluate which kingdom we love more—ours or Christ’s.

Reflection: When Celebrating Earthly Kingdoms
By John Tillman

Celebrating the country in which one lives is not unbiblical but it can be a dangerous, idolatrous trap. In American churches, this weekend of July 4th, many worshipers will sing patriotic anthems with questionable theology or, in some cases, completely absent theology.

Hymnody has a long history of politically motivated and theologically dubious lyrics, usually expressing God’s divine blessing on the nation of the hymn writer. In 1778, New England hymn writer, William Billings, published this hymn as a declaration that the colonies were winning the war due to divine intervention. It’s a view that still survives in some quarters.

Let tyrants shake their iron rods
And slavery clank her galling chains
We see them not; we trust in God
New England’s God forever reigns.

Patriotism based on national pride is an easy idol to fall victim to. So is anti-patriotism. This is true whether anti-patriotism is based on national cynicism or idolatry of party instead of nation. Christians must avoid all of these.

In 1932 Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer struggled in a Memorial Day sermon with how patriotic days should be celebrated in his Berlin church.

When the church observes Memorial Day, it must have something special to say. It cannot be one voice in the chorus of others who loudly raise the cry of mourning for the lost sons of the nation across the land, and by such cries of mourning call us to new deeds and great courage.

It cannot, like the ancient singers of great heroic deeds, wander about and sing the song of praise of battle and the death of the heroes to the listening ears of enthralled young people.

Memorial Day in the church! What does that mean? It means holding up the one great hope from which we all live, the preaching of the kingdom of God.

No matter our country or party, by echoing jingoistic patriotic divisiveness we risk diluting the gospel of Christ. We must not be too enamored of any earthly kingdom. As Jesus said, our “kingdom is from another place.”

Wherever we live, we are in exile.
When we pray for our city, we are praying for the city of our exile.
When we pray for our country, we are praying for the country in which we are aliens, not citizens.
May we never settle for earthly kingdoms. May we yearn and long instead for Christ’s kingdom to come.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. — Psalm 103.8

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 65 (Listen – 5:00)
Matthew 13 (Listen – 7:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 66 (Listen – 5:20) Matthew 14 (Listen – 4:14)
Jeremiah 1 (Listen – 3:00) Matthew 15 (Listen – 4:23)

Read more about Jeremiah, the Unpatriotic Prophet
Christians who see deeply into the problems of their country will often feel pressured not to speak about it for fear of being “unpatriotic” or “disrespectful.”

Read more about Be Yoked to Christ, Not Politics
It is increasingly difficult to defend being yoked to either the Republican or Democratic party while also being yoked with Christ. What fellowship can light have with darkness?

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