The Cup

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas 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 Morgan Fikkert, a student at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 51:7-8, 21-23
“Hear me, you who know what is right,
    you people who have taken my instruction to heart:
Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals
    or be terrified by their insults.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
    the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
    my salvation through all generations.”

… Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,
    made drunk, but not with wine.
This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
    your God, who defends his people:
“See, I have taken out of your hand
    the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
    you will never drink again.
I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,
    who said to you,
    ‘Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.’
And you made your back like the ground,
    like a street to be walked on.”

Reflection: The Cup
By Morgan Fikkert

The world often seems hopeless, devoid of the signs of life that God has promised in Jesus. Isaiah reminds us that, despite what we see from a human perspective, God is at work. He will soon lift the fog of evil in the world and restore all things. Christ’s death and resurrection is the assurance and archetype for our own hope: the greatest evil turned for the greatest good. We look forward with hope even in the midst of struggle. 

This poem ties together several biblical images from Isaiah 51 and other passages, three of which I will note here. 

“God-wrestlers” refers to Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel of the Lord when Yahweh renames him “Israel” (Genesis 32.22-32). The idea of gripping a heel refers to two stories: one, the promise of a Savior who will receive a bruised heel as he crushes Satan’s head; and two, the story of Jacob gripping Esau’s heel as they were born (Genesis 3.15; Genesis 25.21-26). Lastly, the recurring image of a cup of wine represents both God’s wrath and Jesus’ blood (Matthew 26.39; Jeremiah 25.15; Revelation 14.9-10; John 19.28-29; Luke 22.20).

The Cup
We are called the God-wrestlers,
Israel,
born through pain into struggle, 
but gripping a promise
as a hand grasps a heel.
We are mocked by shouts of opposition 
in the streets of the nations, of the world — 
even of our own city.
How could the light of the faraway sun
dispel the fog of these angry cries?
How could tiny moth or worm eat up
the oppressive purple robes of royalty?

How could the blood-red wine of wrath — 
which left us staggering, drunk with our own 
regret, pain, confusion, and guilt — 
be filled again for another’s lips?

“I thirst,” he gasps.
He was born through pain into struggle,
gripping a promise by the heel. 
He was assaulted by shouts and thorns and nails
in the streets of the city he formed
with a word.

The darkness deepened,
blood poured out,
injustice triumphed.

But
after 3 days,
when death was irrevocable — 
the faraway sun came near, 
dismissed the fog,
brought low the high,
crushed the head. 
And with bruised heel
and pierced hands,
He rose.

We are called the God-wrestlers.
In the fog of pain and doubt,
gripping the promise,
a loaf of bread and a cup of wine,
we too will rise.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who trust in him! — Psalm 34.8

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 51 (Listen – 4:35) 
Revelation 21 (Listen – 4:34)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 52 (Listen – 2:46) Revelation 22 (Listen – 3:59)
Isaiah 53 (Listen – 2:39) Matthew 1 (Listen – 3:29)

Read more about Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness
God’s liquid wrath flows from his love for the victims of injustice. It is fueled not by simplistic destructive retribution, but redemptive restoration.

Read more about Greater Footstool, Greater God, Greater Redeemer
Christ, who is higher and greater than anyone has imagined, would become less and lower than anyone would imagine, to do for us what no one could imagine.

A Word for the Weary

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas 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 Joshua B. Fikkert, a student at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 50:6-10
6 I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
    from mocking and spitting.
7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
    and I know I will not be put to shame.
8 He who vindicates me is near.
    Who then will bring charges against me?
    Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
    Let him confront me!
9 It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
    Who will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
    the moths will eat them up.
10 Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
    who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on their God.

Reflection: A Word for the Weary
By Joshua B. Fikkert

Christians are in exile in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We long for the new Heaven and the new Earth, and this longing is heightened in this current season. From the frustrations of life in a global pandemic to the pain of racial and systemic injustice, we are confronted on a daily basis with the reality that this fallen world is not what we are made for. 

The exiles from Judah felt this type of pain, and they cried out, wondering if God had abandoned them and if deliverance would come. In Isaiah 50, God responds to this question. He tells them he has not divorced them nor sold them into slavery. God has not forsaken them, and because of his love, he will redeem them.

Then, the great redeemer, the Suffering Servant speaks. He proclaims a word that “will sustain the weary” (Isaiah 50:4). However, the message of the Servant is unexpected. He will not save through conquest but through humility, meekness, and suffering. 

Instead of merely answering the doubts and questions of the exiles from afar, he shows up and identifies as an exile, as one of us. The incarnate Son of God felt every part of what it’s like to be human. He felt what it’s like to be sick, to be ignored, and to be a victim of state-sanctioned brutality. On the cross, he could not breathe. 

However, the good news of the Suffering Servant is not just that he suffers with us but also that he is vindicated for us (1 Timothy 3:16). The injustice and the suffering he experienced bodily is reversed by his resurrection. No harm can touch him, no charge can be leveled against him, no opposition can stand before him (1 Corinthians 15:25). The good news is that Jesus reigns.

A day is coming, and we pray soon, when the righteous, the innocent, and the oppressed will receive their vindication. No harm will touch them. No pain will befall them. For those who walk in a sleepless night of terror and darkness, the nightmare will end. “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me. Let none who look to you be put to shame. — Psalm 25.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 50 (Listen – 2:09) 
Revelation 20 (Listen – 2:49)

Read more about Transcendent Peace and Rest
There is security unattainable even by those with stockpiles of resources. Christians can rest in God.

Read more about This Present Age
There was never an age of this earth in which evil did not wreak havoc, governments did not mishandle justice, and in which the church, in one capacity or another did not fail to fully live out the gospel.

Beyond Self-Centered Religion

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas 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 Morgan Fikkert, a student at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 49:5-6
And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—

he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Reflection: Beyond Self-Centered Religion
By Morgan Fikkert

Israel’s religion was fake, shallow, self-centered. They wanted God for what he could do for them, and God was deeply grieved. He wanted them to turn to him, but time and again they turned towards empty idol worship. 

But despite Israel’s insincerity, The Servant—Jesus himself—shows up and announces hope.

But who does he announce it to? To none other than the “islands” and the “distant nations”— not just Israel (Isaiah 49.1). Yahweh’s response to Israel’s sin is that he will extend salvation not just to Israel but to everyone. 

God’s whole-earth, every-nation, plan for all-time is unfolding before us! We are humbled and amazed that we are caught up in it. But how often do we, just like Israel, make the entire story about us as if God is only around to make us happy?

G.C. Berkouwer’s sobering term for this is “soteriological self-centeredness” (The Return of Christ). Satan has convinced us, like Israel, to believe the lie that God is our servant who fulfills our desires, makes us feel better, and enables self-actualization. The Christian life is not only about our personal relationship with Jesus.

God does absolutely care about every one of us—our needs and desires and hopes and dreams. But we, like Israel, have been invited into something much larger than our own, often selfish, worries and desires. We actually participate in this cosmic plan! 

Jesus didn’t save our souls and leave us waiting for heaven. He’s given us a mission now as his people, as members of his Body here. We, like The Servant, are a light for the nations. We proclaim His salvation to the ends of the earth. (Matthew 5.14; John 9.5)

This changes how we read the Bible. How we pray. How we treat that crazy person on Facebook. We are so small in God’s cosmic plan. And yet he calls us to action.

God is, even now, spreading his light throughout all the world. You are a first-hand witness to the incredible work he is doing. You have a part to play in a story much larger than your own. It is too small a thing to wait around for God to accomplish our purposes. Let’s choose instead to participate in his cosmic work of renewal in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our work.

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

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 49 (Listen – 4:55) 
Revelation 19 (Listen – 3:47)

Read more about Ennobled by the Incarnation
Jesus did real things in the real world and calls us to be real human beings who act to benefit our world in real, tangible ways.

Read more about Light Shines in the Darkness
It should be light which dispels darkness, not the other way around.

Hope for Hypocrites

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas 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 Joshua B. Fikkert, a student at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 48:1-2
1 “Listen to this, you descendants of Jacob,
    you who are called by the name of Israel
    and come from the line of Judah,
you who take oaths in the name of the Lord
    and invoke the God of Israel—
    but not in truth or righteousness—
2 you who call yourselves citizens of the holy city
    and claim to rely on the God of Israel—
    the Lord Almighty is his name:

Reflection: Hope for Hypocrites
By Joshua B. Fikkert

Hypocrites. Pharisees. Frauds. We all know one or two. The judgmental church lady in the front row. The theological expert who can always find something wrong with the sermon. The teacher’s pet who always sidles up to church leaders. Regardless of their form, we can easily identify them.

But seldom do we ever consider that we might actually be one. 

If we take Scripture seriously, we ought to examine ourselves, turning the mirror on our own hearts (Romans 12:3). The ease with which we can point out hypocrites should make us wonder if our hearts are any different from theirs. 

Isaiah 48 gives us a chilling reminder that it’s easy to be a hypocrite and a religious pretender. The people of Judah have all of the right credentials. They are God’s chosen people. They have a glorious heritage as descendants of Jacob. 

Despite this, Isaiah calls them frauds. They call on God’s name falsely. They think they know the Scriptures and that they know God, but Isaiah insists they don’t. 

Many of us subtly believe the same things Judah did. We think we have the right credentials. We’ve read the right books, and we attend church regularly. We think we’ve got the whole Christianity thing figured out. 

Have we done these things in truth and righteousness or have we done them in pretense and pride? 

When I examine my own heart, I am confronted with the reality that my motivations are often wrong. I am resting on my credentials, my own efforts, and my “self-imposed” religiosity (Colossians 2:23). However, God doesn’t want our credentials. He wants humble worshipers with “broken and contrite hearts” (Psalm 51:17). 

For hypocrites like you and me, Isaiah extends good news. Our hypocrisy will not have the last word. God will have the final say. The Lord, Yahweh, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, will not abandon Judah or you or me (Exodus 34:6-7).

God promises to refine Judah, and he promises the same thing to us who believe. Pharisees like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Paul show us that Jesus can redeem even the worst hypocrites (John 19:38-42; Philippians 3:4-11). We, like them, must cling to the Suffering Servant, Jesus, whose voice we can hear whisper in verse 16. Jesus beckons us to humbly follow him as servants, putting aside pretense and falsehood and living in light, truth, and fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-10).

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
To the Jews who believed in him, Jesus said: “If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will come to know the truth and the truth will set you free.” — John 8.31-32

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 48 (Listen – 3:39) 
Revelation 18 (Listen – 4:48)

Read more about Philemon’s Speck and Our Log
Our food is prepared for us, our coffee is customized for us, our packages are delivered for us, by servants.

Read more about The Worst Churches in the Bible
Down with the hypocrites. Down with the failures. Let rise the greater and wiser leaders of a more humble and sacrificial church. But this is just new idolatry to replace the old.

The Idol of Control

We are happy to welcome ministry-focused college and seminary students from around the country and overseas 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 47:13, 15b
All the counsel you have received has only worn you out!
Let your astrologers come forward, 
those stargazers who make predictions month by month,
let them save you from what is coming upon you…
All of them go on in their error;  there is not one that can save you.

Reflection: The Idol of Control
By Erin Newton

Science instructs us that the orbit of planets will not give us control over our present troubles. Yet, we often wait outside in order to place our hope on a falling star.

In the Ancient Near East, one method of predicting the future depended on looking at stars. Rulers attempted to hold the reigns of an uncontrollable world through the advice of astrologers, magicians, or sorcerers. Isaiah condemns the Babylonians who sought the counsel of professional stargazers in order to avoid disaster. God assured them that the pursuit was in vain; their methods were worthless.

Today, we find ourselves immersed in a sea of advice, tips, and information. When crises threaten our lives, we turn to the internet and search for security. We look for ways to prevent illness, raise perfect children, ensure a high paying job, and avoid any personal discomfort possible. The cacophony of voices try to tell us what to do, think, or feel. The abundant and conflicting counsel from the world is a burden with no promise of peace.

While ancient astrologers and sorcerers hoped to read the divine plan in the sky, the prophets spoke of a greater divine work—God would write upon the hearts of humanity. Those searching for the will of God no longer need to aimlessly look for cosmic signs. The Spirit will guide believers in truth and teach them all things. (John 16.13)

Is the onslaught of voices in the world burdensome? Is the attempt to control circumstances causing us to struggle with a lack of peace? Jesus calls us to abide in him. We can lay our weary head upon his shoulders. Rest in his unfaltering plan. True peace comes from trusting in the wisdom, plan, and counsel of God. It is good to gain advice among God’s people but we must ensure that we listen first and foremost to God’s wisdom.

In our pride, we attempt to use the wisdom of the world to create a sense of control over our uncontrollable futures. Our love of control manifests through our anger, anxiety, or willful avoidance when life becomes uncomfortable. Our idols are revealed in our responses. In this, we are no better than the Babylonians. We struggle against the crises in life when we refuse to rest in the wisdom of God. Let us release our grip upon the future and abide in Him. 

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, at once he starts to reap because the harvest has come.” — Mark 4.26-29

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 47 (Listen – 2:52) 
Revelation 17 (Listen – 3:19)

Read more about A Sin We Are Proud Of
Pride and selfishness don’t seem that bad or dangerous. Storing up for ourselves is prudence. Seeking our own peace and prosperity is honorable. God thinks otherwise.

Read more about A Discipline for the Anxious
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.

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