Where Our Hearts Are

Scripture: Matthew 6.19-21
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 Reflection: Where Our Hearts Are
By John Tillman

If our hearts are where our treasure is, our hearts may well be in our devices.

The cost of technology is high when measured simply in the money paid for devices and the data-services required for them to function. But the costs are even higher when measured by the amount of time we spend on them.

From 2015 to 2017 that time increased by 20% to five hours a day. But the cost is even more staggering when you add the opportunity cost of what a person could have accomplished in that time.

Despite so-called time-saving technology, we aren’t being relationally or spiritually productive with our time. In an article for The Atlantic on distracted parenting, Erika Christakis notes, today’s parents have more time with their children than any parents in history, but their physical presence does not achieve greater emotional connection, partly due to the distraction of devices.

According to Christakis, “Our society may be reaching peak criticism of digital devices.” But despite developing awareness of damage, demand for devices continues to rise and prices soar. We claim to hate our phones, yet are certainly willing to spend more and more money on them.

If parents have more opportunities to connect with their children and are missing them, is it any wonder that we have more opportunity than ever to seek God’s heart through the scripture, but our hearts restlessly seek appeasement elsewhere.

If we are too distracted to pay attention to relationships with people we can see and touch, how much more at risk must be our relationship with God who must be worshiped in spirit?

Our devices can be tools to lead us to God’s heart, not away from it. This ministry’s mission believes in that. But there is danger.

The companies that make our devices are invested in our distraction. One of the most valuable resources on the planet is eyeballs on screens, and ever-increasing click-thru rates. The most profitable, most powerful companies in the world maximize their profits by more effectively diverting our time into their ecosystem of products.

No matter how distracted we become, and no matter how often we misplace our hearts—serving gods of mammon, fashion, and culture—God won’t forget us. He stands ready for us to return to him.

We must prayerfully, and carefully navigate the tension of distractions that our devices can bring. May God’s Spirit help us to do so.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I hate those who have a divided heart, but your law do I love. — Psalm 119.113

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 58 (Listen – 3:09)
Matthew 6 (Listen – 4:35)

Additional Reading
Read More about sustaining ourselves in God’s Word: Take and Eat
It is through daily meditation that we carry the word of God with us—breaking down the whole into discrete parts which can be processed into our thinking and habits.

Read More about Sacred Presence
Perpetual technological engagement necessarily moves people away from community.

Killing With our Hearts

Scripture: Matthew 5.21-22
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Reflection: Killing With our Hearts
By John Tillman

Some of the most popular sayings of Jesus are here in Matthew’s fifth chapter. So are many of the most ignored sayings of Jesus.

Christ’s words about how murder begins with inner violence, adultery begins with inner lust, and divorce is not only adultery, but a victimization of the vulnerable party are as shockingly harsh to modern ears as they would have been to the original audience.

When Christ goes into further detail about marriage in Matthew 19, his teaching about the unbreakable nature of the physical and spiritual bond of a man and woman in marriage was so extreme that his disciples despaired, saying to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Even then, males seemed to fear commitment.

As much as we might be amused by a zinger at the expense of commitment-phobic men, all Christians are commitment-phobic about Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

“Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?” — Søren Kierkegaard

With Kierkegaard’s words in mind, let’s just focus on Christ’s first topic—murder. But more specifically murdering someone in your heart and with your words.

“I do not kill with my gun…I kill with my heart.” — The Gunslinger’s Creed, Stephen King, The Dark Tower Series.

Stephen King’s fictional Gunslingers understand Christ’s teaching about murder in a deeper way than some Christians.

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. And even if we don’t use these terms, we too often like them, share them, or comment with support.

According to Jesus, this places us in danger of the fire of Hell.

“It’s just name calling. Is it that important?” I think so.

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.

May we commit to no more name calling. And may God have mercy on us when we fail.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. Do not cast me off in my old age; forsake me not when my strength fails. — Psalm 71.8-9

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 57 (Listen – 3:37)
Matthew 5 (Listen – 6:03)

Additional Reading
Read More about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
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.

Read More about Awe and Devotion
Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

Dream Like Joseph

Scripture: Matthew 2.13
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.

Reflection: Dream Like Joseph
By John Tillman

When we think of Joseph and dreams, we aren’t usually thinking about the New Testament. To further confuse the issue, both of the Bible’s dreaming Josephs are sons of Jacob and lived for a time in Egypt.

But even though Joseph of the Old Testament had more famous and fabulous dreams, Joseph the husband of Mary had dreams eminently more practical, more spiritual, and not requiring interpretation.

From the perspective of Jews at that time, God seemed to be missing from the world. His prophets had gone silent. His mighty actions and prophecies had become words in a book that some did not believe. Those who studied his commands most diligently, interpreted them to their own advantage and used scripture to oppress rather than free others.

Some of this situation certainly sounds familiar to us today. The loudest voices claiming to speak for God seem cruel and self-serving, and God himself seems indifferent. Until we focus on one small, poor, and powerless family.

One of the remarkable things about Mary’s Joseph is his connection to God. In a world that had seen no word from God in generations, Joseph’s dreams come with regularity and with specific, actionable intelligence and guidance. His son would become a mighty prophet, speaking and embodying God’s words to the multitudes, but Christ’s quiet father, who never speaks a word in the scripture had an active and real connection to God that guided him.

Into this tension and silence of the time they lived in, God spoke. Mary, and Joseph after her, answered, “yes.” They accepted the danger. They accepted the unknown. They accepted the inevitable suffering of being called by God. They accepted the world-flipping power shift that would start with Mary and be concluded by her first-born son.

What started as an invasion became an incarnation. What started as a world shaking disruption became the only firm foundation.

May we pray and dream as Joseph did. For only with a spiritual connection can we do what we must as a part of our calling.

May we accept the incarnation of Christ into our lives…
Despite the suffering it will bring to us…
Despite the exile we will experience…
Despite the governments from which we will have to flee…
Or the cultural shunning that we will experience…
Let us manifest Christ.

Prayer: The Greeting
O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you. — Psalm 88.14

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 54 (Listen – 3:14)
Matthew 2 (Listen – 3:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 55 (Listen – 2:11) Matthew 3 (Listen – 2:17)
Isaiah 56 (Listen – 2:11) Matthew 4 (Listen – 2:17)

Additional Reading
Read More about Godly Silence
The Bible urges us to experience silence as a spiritual discipline. I believe we would be astounded by all God wants to say to us and yet He never gets a chance. Silence isn’t just golden, it is godly.

Read More about How to Grow in Prayer
Mastering the art of prayer, like anything else, takes time. The time we give it will be a true measure of its importance to us.

Accepting Jesus

Scripture: Matthew 1.20
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.

Reflection: Accepting Jesus
By John Tillman

Matthew’s wording is interesting. Mary is reported to literally “have in the womb” the Holy Spirit. We don’t know how this report reached Joseph. It could have come directly from Mary. But just as likely it did not.

Joseph had every natural inclination to think of the unnamed baby, Jesus, as an invader. His plans for an honorable and simple workman’s life were derailed and disrupted by his young wife’s impossible pregnancy.

But even before knowing that her unbelievable story was true, he elects to be kind—granting her mercy not common in that culture. This tells us as much about his character as any of the more grand and dangerous things he later does, under angelic direction, to protect the child.

Joseph, the man who needed no angelic intervention to be kind to an alleged adulteress, was the perfect earthly father for God’s son.

Beyond simple human jealousy or suspicion of adultery, Joseph overcame a spiritual reality that would have been difficult to accept culturally. God spoke to a woman.

In the Garden, the serpent spoke first to Eve and God spoke with finality to Adam. But now—God speaks to the woman first. Mary, standing in for her ancient parent, reverses the curse. And the mystery of the incarnation begins.

She takes within her body
The cure for the sickness of sin
She gives the maker of the Garden
Tiny feet to walk earth again.

From woman, formed of man
And formed of earth
God takes on flesh.
Though prophets are dumb
Profound cries of God
Are heard within the creche.

Her body returned to dust,
Like all who lived and died.
But that part she gave to him,
Is incorruptible! Eternal! Alive!

Adam and Eve were the first to reject God in the Garden. In the gospels, we see another couple, Mary and Joseph, being the first to accept God back into the world.

The Gospel starts with dreams and visions. God will walk with a couple again. And will join their family.

May we dream with God.
May we listen for his cries.
May we, poor family that we are, join the holy family in redemptively reversing the curse.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. — John 15.4

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 53 (Listen – 2:39)
Matthew 1 (Listen – 3:29)

Additional Reading
Read More about how Christmas is Upside Down
The Spirit that overshadowed Mary and grew Christ within her body, longs to birth Christ to the world through our actions. May we be the Lord’s servant as she was. May we manifest Christ.

Read More about Good News to the Poor
Christ’s incarnation is about granting access. For homeless shepherds. For despised Samaritans. For foreign immigrants and those of other faiths. The Annunciation, the Magnificat, and Christ’s Nazareth sermon all prominently focus on granting access to the poor and the outcast.

Invitation

Scripture: Revelation 22.17
“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

Reflection: Invitation
The Park Forum

What is the purpose of Christian living? We know what it looks like when it’s done wrong. Moralism breeds guilt for failure, intolerance toward others, and pride in perceived successes. Rejection of morality and discipline erodes the transformative power of sacramental living. To understand the purpose we have to look toward the goal.

Like a masterfully arranged symphony, the final note of Scripture rings with wonder and beauty: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Grace—and not just grace, but an invitation for others to come into grace. Gregory the Great observed:

Hear how John is admonished by the angelic voice, “let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’” He into whose heart the internal voice has found its way may, by crying aloud, draw others into where he himself is carried.

There are predictable ways a religious text could end: rules, admonition, veiled threats—yet the Christian Scriptures end with open arms. Charles Spurgeon believed that invitation, “come,” is the motto of the gospel:

The cry of the Christian religion is the simple word, “Come.” The Jewish law said, “Go, pay attention to your steps—to the path in which you walk. Go, and if break the commandments, and you shall perish; Go, and if keep them, and you shall live.”

The law was a dispensation of the whip, which drove men before it; the gospel is just of the opposite kind. It is the Shepherd’s dispensation.

The Shepherd goes before his sheep, and bids them follow, saying, “Come.” The law repels; the gospel attracts. The law shows the distance between God and man; the gospel bridges that distance and brings the sinner across the great fixed gulf which Moses could never bridge.

Evangelism is not an action, but the culmination of Christian living. As we cultivate Christian practices—personal devotion, service to the marginalized, and commitment to community—our lives, workplaces, and cities flourish.

In this way Christian living is sacramental. Devotion cultivates peace, peace flows—like living water—into a dry and thirsty world. Gregory the Great concludes:

For the Church dwells in the gardens, in that she keeps the cultivated nurseries of virtues in a state of inward greenness.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 52 (Listen – 2:46)
Revelation 22 (Listen – 3:59)

Additional Reading
Read More about Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness
We exchange the cup of God’s wrath that we deserve for the cup of living water that Christ freely offers to us.

Read More about the Meaning of the Ascension
He has not taken his heart from us, nor his care from us, nor his interest from us: he is bound up heart and soul with his people.

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