Beyond Consent — Readers’ 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, April 14, 2021, based on readings from Leviticus 18.
It was selected by reader, Jason, from Texas
A society that espouses physical intimacy as the highest form of love loses the script when it comes to friendship and sacrifice. Higher loves are subjected to lower ones.

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 18.3-5, 24-28
3 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. 4 You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. 5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. 

24 “ ‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 

Reflection: Beyond Consent — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

In an old stand-up comedy routine that was a favorite of ours in college, a comic (whose name I can’t remember) told a story about a sign in a hospital containing an injunction against having sex in the delivery room of the obstetrics ward. 

When you think about things you might want to ban in a delivery room, that’s not one that jumps immediately to mind. “No smoking” probably. “No foul language” maybe. But no one would make a sign like that for no reason. The comic quipped, “Somebody had to do that.” 

Many of the sexual prohibitions listed in Leviticus and other forbidden practices were also things that no one would ban for no reason. The Egyptians were doing it. The Canaanites were doing it. Even brutal Ammonites were doing it. But God was clear that his people were not to follow along.

These common practices were uncommonly dangerous and damaging. The nations that practiced these things were enslaving women, sacrificing children, destroying their God-given bodies and families, yet they sneered at the prohibitions. Immersed in their culture, they couldn’t see the damage.

Our culture is no different. We think we are so sensitive and self-aware, but we are numb and calloused to the damage of the non-existent sexual ethic of our culture. When the only sexual ethic that exists is “consent” a lot of evil, manipulation, deception, and abuse gets a free pass. 

The very first step of abuse is to groom victims until they consent to abuse. Our culture has groomed many of us to accept the idea that the “freedom” of unlimited sexual experiences is harmless to us and others. We often believe this despite the evidence of rising mental health issues among the most sexually promiscuous members of the population.

Today we view sexuality as the ultimate freedom, the ultimate expression of our identity. Any hint of restriction or restraint, no matter how commonsense, is viewed as unnecessary at best and a form of self-hatred at worst.

Every person, regardless of sexual behavior or sexual feelings, is an image-bearer of God and is called by God to live in purity. This means living in ways that do not damage themselves or others. 

May each of us submit every part of our identities, including our sexuality, to God’s calling in our lives.

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 Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ruth 2 (Listen – 3:56)
Acts 27 (Listen – 6:09)

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.

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Read more about Resisting Cultural Pressure

Culture wants us to think we are primarily identified by our race or sexuality or gender or political party.

Living Leviticus

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 27.34
34 These are the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites.

Reflection: Living Leviticus
By John Tillman

When we read Leviticus, we may ponder, “How can we live like this? Are these commands for us today, or are they only commands for the Israelites gathered at the foot of Sinai?”

The themes of Leviticus are gospel values which we should enact.

Do we value holiness over hypocrisy? Even as it lays out the detailed performance of rituals, Leviticus grounds its purpose not in performative religious acts but in the identity of God and our relationship to him.

So let us take seriously the call to be a distinct and different people who reflect the holiness of God. Let us be not performative or hypocritical but take actions based on who God is and whose we are.

Do we value righteousness and justice? Leviticus levels the ground at the entrance to God’s presence. The rich have no advantage over the poor in seeking God. The wealthy are held responsible for the well-being of the poor and the powerful held responsible for the well-being of the weak. The foreigner and the native-born are commanded by God to be treated one and the same.

So let us, in our individual lives, in our communities, and in our governments, take seriously the call to care for the poor, the weak, and the outsider. Let us uphold the rights of the weak and prevent the powerful from abusing their positions.

Do we honor God with all we have acknowledging that we own nothing? Leviticus demands a willing admission that everything which we might think of as “ours” is truly God’s. 

So let us submit to being tenants and no longer claim to be owners. May we recognize that things we have deeds for, receipts for, titles for…they all belong to God. Let us give them over to God and put them to work to earn profits not for our own blessing but to bless others.

We can’t perfectly live out Leviticus but Jesus is our living Leviticus. The Levitical law is completed in Christ, not destroyed. He lived it out on our behalf. 

Jesus is the substitute that redeems us. He is the high priest who sanctifies us. His is the blood that makes us holy. It is under his authority that we can turn to others and offer redemption, sanctification, and holiness. Let us do so with love in our hearts and with open, pure hands.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

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

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 27 (Listen – 4:45)
Psalms 34 (Listen – 2:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 1 (Listen – 6:21) Psalms 35 (Listen – 3:21)
Numbers 2 (Listen – 3:47) Psalms 36 (Listen – 1:21)

Read more about Shameless to Blameless
Christ was shamed that we could be called righteous. The glory and righteousness he gained, he gives to the humble and repentant.

Read more about Stop Following Old Laws
These laws also were intended to shape God’s people into something new. All nations and empires were (and are) sinful and unjust. Israel was to be different.

He Is Faithful When We Are Not

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 26.44-45
44 Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. 45 But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord.’ ” 

Reflection: He Is Faithful When We Are Not
By John Tillman

God will be faithful to his purposes even when his people are not.

Like many places in scripture, in Leviticus 26 God lays out stark choices and consequences. He says, in effect, “Will you have promises and blessings or curses and punishments?” 

One of the benefits of rereading the Bible over and over is more easily recognizing patterns and recurring descriptions. The descriptions of consequences for the unfaithful are so accurate to the actual events that occur later in Israel’s history they might as well be read as prophecy. Sadly, every one of the events described will occur as Israel continues to turn away from God in the future.

Warnings, promises, consequences, and blessings all seem like they would be effective motivators. “Do this and die or do this and live,” seems easy enough. But it isn’t.

Despite clarity of the consequences, Israel persevered in sin, rather than faith.
Despite miraculous evidence of God’s faithfulness and power, Israel chose to trust false promises of political powers.
Despite being granted the visitation of the invisible God in a visible form (Leviticus 9.23), Israel chose to trust idols of human creation rather than the God who made the wood and stone from which false idols were carved. (Isaiah 44.16-19)

Haven’t we made similar errors in judgment? Haven’t we suffered through anguish persisting in sin yet abandoned righteousness when it got uncomfortable? Haven’t we shown incredible loyalty to political powers who proved themselves to be the opposite of credible? Haven’t we trusted in idols of technology that shape our psyches rather than the God who desires to shape our souls? Our faithlessness was never in doubt. However, our salvation does not rest upon our faithfulness—it rests upon his. 

Whatever his people choose, God is making a choice, too. God knows Israel will be unfaithful. He’s going to be faithful anyway. God knows Israel’s love for him will run cold. He’s going to love her anyway.

It is not only true that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.8) It is also true that before we had even sinned, God determined he would provide salvation for us. While we did not yet know what depths of sin we would commit, God decided that there was no depth so deep that he would not rescue us.

However deep in sin you sink, lift eyes and hands to him. He is prepared to pull you out.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, and of the derision of the proud. — Psalm 123.3-4

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

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 26 (Listen – 6:22)
Psalms 33 (Listen – 2:08)

Read more about Too Much To Hold
Like Jonah sunk, beneath the earth
A dark and hopeless pit
Into that pit our savior slides
His mission: open it

Read more about The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel
God sets his table for scoundrels, shaking hands with undeserved trust.

Beyond Jubilee

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 25.9-10
9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.

Luke 4.16-19
16 …He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
because he has anointed me 
to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, 
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Reflection: Beyond Jubilee
By John Tillman

Weekly sabbaths bring us freedom and joy in this world. This freedom and joy grows more expansive as we ponder the sabbath of years and Jubilee.

Sabbath years built, in an exponential crescendo, to Jubilee. After seven septennial sabbath years, trumpets were to announce liberty throughout the land. Liberty from debt. Liberty from enslavement. Liberty that brought a national reset of property and land ownership. Every 50 years, the “monopoly game” was to be folded up, properties redistributed, and the game started over with all participants on equal footing once more. This was to remind Israel that the land did not belong to them. It belonged to the Lord. 

It is difficult for us to imagine such an economic system. In the dominant economic systems of their world and ours, the game never stops and each generation starts the game with an inherited benefit or handicap. Generational wealth and poverty are features, not bugs, of every world economic system in history. 

Biblical laws are intended to be a check on our tendencies toward greed, violence, and inequity. Jubilee was a systemic reboot, restoring the moral code God desired—equity, justice, righteousness, unity.

Talking about Jubilee upsets some people. Some dogmatically demand implementation of Jubilee in today’s economic terms, even though they would not submit to any other laws from the Old Testament. Others work just as stubbornly to deemphasize or even ignore Jubilee because it conflicts with their economic beliefs. (It is beyond the scope of this devotional to discuss how some of us have greater religious devotion to and faith in sociological, economic, and political ideas than we do in scripture or theological ideas…)

We must remember that many systems and laws in the Bible, like Jubilee, are bandaids on gaping wounds. For example, Jesus challenged laws regarding marriage and the sabbath, saying they did not complete God’s intention or will. (Matthew 19.3-12; Mark 2.23-28; Luke 6.1-10; Luke 13.10-16) We have little evidence of how Israel enacted Jubilee, but to whatever degree they did, it was insufficient. Great inequities persisted. (Deuteronomy 15.7, 11; 1 Samuel 2.8; Isaiah 41.17; Matthew 19.21, 26.11)

Implementing Jubilee would be insufficient. The gospel compels us to go beyond it. As the sacrifice of Christ surpasses the sacrifice of lambs, and our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, our sacrificial generosity should surpass that of Jubilee. (Matthew 5.20)

In Jesus, Jubilee is now and forever. Jubilee is the gospel. (Isaiah 55.1-2; John 7.37; Revelation 22.17

May our voices and actions be jubilant trumpets declaring liberty, freedom, and joy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long. — Psalm 86.3

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


Today’s Readings
Leviticus 25 (Listen – 7:41)
Psalms 32 (Listen – 1:34)

Read more about The Gospel and the Year of Freedom
Equity is the default setting of God’s spiritual economy.
Leaders (princes) must set an example, creating fairness and justice.

Read more about Loving God by Loving Others
When we collect all the profit to ourselves we are stealing by keeping what you instructed us to leave for the poor.

A Taste of Eternity

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 23.3
3 “ ‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord. 

From John: Later this week, we will look at the expanded Sabbath applied to years and how it applies to the concept of Jubilee. Today we look back at Rabbi Heschel’s perspective on the weekly Sabbath.

Reflection: A Taste of Eternity
By Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

It must always be remembered that the Sabbath is not an occasion for diversion or frivolity; not a day to shoot fireworks or to turn somersaults, but an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than to dissipate time.

He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.

Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.

The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. “Last in creation, first in intention,” the Sabbath is “the end of the creation of heaven and earth.”

The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.

Three acts of God denoted the seventh day: He rested, He blessed, and He hallowed the seventh day. To the prohibition of labor is, therefore, added the blessing of delight and the accent of sanctity. Not only the hands of man celebrate the day; the tongue and the soul keep the Sabbath.

Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind, and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline, one must adjure slothfulness. The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence. In its atmosphere, a discipline is a reminder of adjacency to eternity.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me. — Psalm 31.3

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


Today’s Readings
Leviticus 23 (Listen – 6:31)
Psalms 30– (Listen – 1:32)

Read more about Keeping the Sabbath by Action
Keeping the Sabbath holy, maintaining God’s justice, and establishing righteousness are not passive, actionless, states of spiritual attainment.

Read more about A Restoring Sabbath
Weekly sabbaths teach us that the sabbath doesn’t condemn the week of work, but it blesses it and redeems it.


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