Dream Like Joseph :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Mario, from Los Angeles, CA
I was impressed with the comparison made between the two Josephs, especially the inspiring insight that Mary’s husband heard direct messages with immediate and practical application. “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.” Thank you for the challenging post.

Originally posted on June 22, 2018 with readings from Isaiah 54 and Matthew 2.

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

Reflection: Dream Like Joseph :: Readers’ Choice
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 Morning Psalm
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings… — Psalm 17.8-8

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 5 (Listen – 2:03)
Psalm 36 (Listen – 1:29)

Additional Reading
Read More about Godly Silence :: Readers’ Choice
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.

Support our Work
Every week The Park Forum sends over 13,000 email devotionals around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

A Cautionary Tale of Unbelief :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Brad Elledge
“To believe is to have faith. To have faith is to trust. To trust results in action.” As Jon points out, action is hindered by fear, by a hardening of the heart toward the thing the Holy Spirit has given us a conviction about. “An unbelieving heart does not trust in God’s ability to provide and lead.” In the current cultural climate, doing the right thing aligned with our Lord and Savior can be risky and costly. Our trust in God’s ability to provide and lead is critical to our ability to take Holy Spirit inspired action.

Originally posted on November 8, 2017 with readings from 2 Kings 21 and Hebrews 3.

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. — Hebrews 3.12

Reflection: A Cautionary Tale of Unbelief :: Readers’ Choice
By Jon Polk

From the ancient history of the Israelite people comes a familiar story, a warning from the Holy Spirit. We recall those whose rebellion against God resulted in forty years of punishment in the wilderness, those whose hearts wandered away from faith, despite what God had done for them.

And it is here we discover that the heart is, in fact, the heart of the matter. In Hebrew thought, the heart was the core of a person’s being. The heart was the locus of emotional, intellectual, and moral activity and the center of physical activity. Thus, the heart controls motivations and produces actions. A clean heart produces faithful living. A corrupt heart leads to the opposite.

The Israelites who had followed Moses out of Egyptian captivity were given the opportunity to return home, back to the Promised Land that God had provided for their ancestors. But the Israelites’ unbelief, their lack of faith, determined their action. They walked away from God’s plan and his desires for them.

The English words belief and faith are both translated from the same Greek root word. We tend to think of belief as a set of propositions to which we give intellectual assent, but it is much more than that. To believe is to have faith. To have faith is to trust. To trust results in action.

An unbelieving heart does not trust in God’s ability to provide and lead and consequently results in decision-making and action that turn away from the good nature and grace of God. And such was the demise of an entire generation of Israelites, who walked away from the Promised Land because of their unbelief and perished after forty years of wandering in the desert. Moses brought God’s salvation to the ancient Israelites, but their hearts of unbelief charted a course of disobedient action.

Let the warning of the Holy Spirit be heard by those who are followers of Christ, do not harden your hearts towards God. May our souls sing with conviction these words from the great hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily.— Psalm 31.23

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 4 (Listen – 3:42)
Psalm 35 (Listen – 3:21)

Additional Reading
Read More about Thoughts and Prayers
According to Paul deeds are prompted by faith, and faith is fueled by prayer life.

Read More about Justified by Works
James and Paul aren’t bickering about faith and works—they are trying to draw our attention to eternity.

Support our Work
Over 4,500 people every week read an email devotional from The Park Forum. Support our work with a monthly or a one time donation.

Godly Silence :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason Tilley
Silence is not something I have to endure. It is a discipline to be embraced. To be quiet, even in my thoughts. I need to resist the temptation to fill the void with my own contribution, and listen to God’s.

Originally posted on March 5, 2018 with readings from Job 34 and 2 Corinthians 4.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. — 2 Corinthians 4.18

Reflection: Godly Silence :: Readers’ Choice
By Matt Tullos

The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. — Blaise Pascal

My wife and kids were away the night a violent thunderstorm hit our town and the electricity went out. At that moment I was watching a football game, scanning twitter, and listening to music.

When darkness arrived in a split second I realized that the battery on my iPhone was almost gone. A brief moment of panic ensued. I realized that in a matter of minutes I would be thrust into the lifestyle millions of people enjoyed in the 1800s!

The silence and lack of media connection was unnerving at first. It was then that I sensed the presence of God speaking to me about my addiction to noise. After 15 minutes I had rediscovered the beauty of silence.

These days, silence is something we must fight to achieve, but it is definitely worth the fight. The National Center of Biotechnology stated in a study that two minutes of silence is more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.

However, this is not new knowledge for people of the Book. The Bible urges us to experience silence as a spiritual discipline.

Every day we are faced with the choice of constant communication, noise and blather or intentional, Jesus-focused silence.

Don’t wait for a power outage in order to spend time in silence. God might be trying to tell you something but all the ambient noise and entertainment leaves you deaf to His voice.

I believe we would be astounded by all God wants to say to us and yet He never gets a chance because of our preoccupation with news, messages, conversations and entertainment. Silence isn’t just golden, it is godly.

Ask yourself, “How am I seeking silence in my day?” and “Why is constant communication and auditory stimulation so addictive?”

Take time to spend 15 minutes in silence today. Allow to God speak into your soul.

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

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
But I will call upon God, and the Lord will deliver me. — Psalm 55.17

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 1 (Listen – 4:44)
Psalm 32 (Listen – 1:34)

This Weekend’s Readings
Lamentations 2 (Listen – 4:55) Psalm 33 (Listen – 2:08)
Lamentations 3 (Listen – 5:10) Psalm 34 (Listen – 2:14)

Additional Reading
Read More about Restorative Silence
Once a spiritual discipline, silence is now more likely to be viewed as the uncomfortable penalty for those who do not have enough to do.

Read More about Hearing in Silence
It is not that God is not speaking or communicating to us. Rather, we have allowed ourselves to get back into such a hole that all we hear is the noise around us.

Readers’ Choice
We have a couple spots left for your favorite posts of the year. Submit a Readers Choice post. Tell us about a post and what it meant to you.

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Over 4,000 people every week read an email devotional from The Park Forum. Support our work with a monthly or a one time donation.

Finding Joy :: Readers’ Choice

This was a direct hit—it cut through all the noise and helped me to better understand what Joy in Christ actually is. I’ve forwarded this devotional a dozen times, to believers and those that are searching. — Glenn

Readers’ Choice (Originally published April 29, 2016)

“A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track, ” observes Zadie Smith. The author confesses, “That has not been my experience.”

Joy, in many Christian circles, has been wrongly placed in contrast to happiness. The result of this false dichotomy, Randy Alcorn points out, is a distorted view that removes joy from the emotional spectrum and secularizes happiness. “Our message shouldn’t be ‘Don’t seek happiness,’” Alcorn remarks, “but ‘You’ll find in Jesus the happiness and joy you’ve always longed for.’”

As a fruit of the Spirit, joy is given from God, simultaneously with self discipline and patience. In other words, delaying gratification doesn’t diminish the joy of God. True joy requires sacrifice. It reaches beyond pleasure and taps into something much deeper. The most talented storytellers in our culture have recognized this—noting how different joy is from the reckless pursuit of pleasure that marks our material world. Filmmaker George Lucas explains:

Joy is the thing that doesn’t go as high as pleasure—in terms of your emotional reaction—but, it stays with you. Joy is something you can recall, pleasure you can’t. The secret is, that even though it’s not as intense as pleasure, the joy will last you a lot longer.

If you’re trying to sustain that level of peak pleasure, you’re doomed. It’s a very American idea. Joy lasts forever, pleasure is purely self-centered. It’s all about your pleasure—it’s about you. It’s a selfish, self-centered emotion. It’s created by a self-centered motive of greed.

Joy is compassion. Joy is giving yourself to somebody else, or something else. It’s a kind of thing that, in its subtlety and lowness, much more powerful than pleasure. If you get hung up on pleasure you’re doomed. If you pursue joy, you’ll find everlasting happiness.

When we think of the fruit of the Spirit as the transferable attributes of God—those divine characteristics which shape our lives as we live in sync with the Spirit—it becomes clear human beings were created for joy. Scripture reveals that anything we are created to receive from God we will attempt to counterfeit—to become our own god as we provide for ourselves.

Marijuana, alcohol, adventure sports, sex, and so many other little things bring us right to the outside edges of joy. We taste, if only for a moment, the glory of creation. And because pleasure is so short lived and so soon forgotten we want more. We need more. In trying to pin down a definition of joy for her piece in The New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith looks back to her drug use in the London club scene:

Was that joy? Probably not. But it mimicked joy’s conditions pretty well…. The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it.

We can’t counterfeit true joy. Commenting on Smith’s experience, Alex Bayer observes, “static pleasure precludes the chance of achieving joy.” What we see—in Christ’s life, sacrifice, death, and resurrection—is that joy is found not in the flickers of earthly pleasure, but the eternal glory of God. One of Jesus’ shortest parables, then, is a story about joy—and how we find it in the happy forfeiture of this life’s meaningless pleasures:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Joy is not contrast to happiness, but to grief. We know this, deep down—if nothing else from the depth of these two emotions. We know this from the low-level grief we carry with us in a broken world. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit because it only comes as God re-enters the world from which sin kicked him out. He came and wept with us so that we might rejoice for all of eternity with him.

Grief today is but a sign of the glory to come. Likewise, the joy we find relinquishing our pursuit of daily pleasure for a greater joy is a testimony of what lies ahead. Smith concludes:

The writer Julian Barnes, considering mourning, once said, “It hurts just as much as it is worth.” The end of a pleasure brings no great harm to anyone, after all, and can always be replaced with another of more or less equal worth.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Lamentations 3 (Listen – 5:10)
Psalm 34 (Listen – 2:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Lamentations 4 (Listen – 3:42) Psalm 35 (Listen – 3:21)
Lamentations 5 (Listen – 2:03) Psalm 36 (Listen – 1:29)

Thank You, Readers!

A special thanks to all those who contributed their favorite Park Forum devotionals to our August Readers’ Choice series.

Thanks for being part of The Park Forum community. We are so thankful to be part of your devotional rhythm.

Strength in Weakness :: Readers’ Choice

Bonhoeffer’s Lenten Prayer brought to mind a poem in a favorite book, A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. The poem was written by a Catholic priest named Dom. Julian Stead, who was at the time dying of cancer:

If everything is lost, thanks be to God
If I must see it go, watch it go,
Watch it fade away, die
Thanks be to God that He is all I have
And if I have Him not, I have nothing at all
Nothing at all, only a farewell to the wind
Farewell to the grey sky
Goodbye, God be with you evening October sky.
If all is lost, thanks be to God,
For He is He, and I, I am only I.

— Greg

Readers’ Choice (Originally published February 24, 2016)

“Christ’s time of passion begins not with Holy Week but with the first day of his preaching,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “His renunciation of the empire as a kingdom of this world takes place not at Golgotha but at the very beginning.”

In this season of reflection we reorient our understanding of Christ’s life—his ongoing sacrifice, pouring himself out from the moment of birth. Bonhoeffer continues:

Jesus could have been Lord of this world. As the Messiah the Jews had dreamed of, he could have freed Israel and led it to fame and honor. He is a remarkable man, who is offered dominion over the world even before the beginning of his ministry. And it is even more remarkable that he turns down this offer. He knows that for this dominion he would have to pay a price that is too high for him. It would come at the cost of obedience to God’s will.

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Luke 4:8). Jesus knows what that means. It means lowliness, abuse, persecution. It means remaining misunderstood. It means hate, death, the cross. And he chooses this way from the beginning. It is the way of obedience and the way of freedom, for it is the way of God. And therefore it is also the way of love for human beings.
It is only through the power of God’s Spirit that we are able to embrace the radically sacrificial lifestyle of Christ. Remarkably, no Christian is better than another at doing this—we all fail. We all must cry out for God’s strength. Bonhoeffer is a giant of faith, but he was not exempt from this cry; something we see in his Lenten Prayer:
I Cannot Do This Alone
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me….
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before men.
Lord whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.
Amen

Today’s Reading
Lamentations 2 (Listen – 4:55)
Psalm 33 (Listen – 2:08)

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