Cultivation Is Supernatural

Matthew 7.7-8
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Reflection: Cultivation Is Supernatural
By John Tillman

On the Monday of the first full workweek of each year, the new year starts in earnest. The hustle of the holidays is over, and humdrum returns. Out of office replies are turned off and the traffic on roads, trains, and elevators returns to normalcy.

There is no question that observing the turning of the year is a godly and valuable practice for Christians. Only last week, we read of God setting the heavens, like a clock, to help us mark the passing of time. The stars and moon are fulfilling the design of their creator when we use them to find our place in the year, to know when to plant, harvest, and rest.

The beginning of the year, in modern culture, is a time of planting. Rather than planting seeds, we plant habits that we hope to grow to maturity in the new year. Whether it is a new business practice that we hope will bring an increase of dollars, or a new exercise regimen we hope will bring a reduction of pounds—we plant.

But truly abundant harvests aren’t accomplished by merely planting a seed. Harvest implies cultivation, but when it comes to faith, too many of us are hunter-gatherers. We bounce from devotional to podcast to church attendance to online streaming to small group—seeking maturity like berries in bushes or figs on trees. And sometimes the trees are barren.

A stronger faith, and a greater crop yield comes when we invest in cultivation. Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural. We give plants a safer, healthier place to grow than exists naturally, and they give us better food in greater quantities. By this, whole communities are nourished and strengthened.

How will you cultivate faith this year? What are you planting? How are you preparing the soil? How are you clearing the old growth? How are you nourishing the new growth? How are you protecting it from climate, from pests, and from weeds and thorns?

Bear fruit this year. Cultivate your faith.

Cultivation takes community. Ask friends to join you in cultivating your faith with us this year. Send them this link to sign up for our email devotionals.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. — Psalm 19:14

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 7 (Listen – 3:18)
Matthew 7 (Listen – 3:31)

Additional Reading
Read More about Better Things to Do
Amos is clear that if we don’t value worshiping God, the punishment is a famine. Not a famine of profit, or water, or food. A famine of the Word of God.

Read More about Learning to Pray :: Readers’ Choice
“This is a dangerous error,” warns Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “to imagine that it is natural for the heart to pray.” The great theologian, who lost his life in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, was no stranger to unanswered prayer.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”


A Restoring Sabbath

Matthew 4.1-2
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

Reflection: A Restoring Sabbath
By Dena Dyer

I’m sick of the constant “ding” of Facebook messages, tweets, and emails. My shoulders ache from the tension of trying to fit too much into an already-packed schedule. And my head hurts from trying to remember all the people who need something from me.

What about you? Are you tired of 24/7 restaurants, instant messaging, and the strain of trying to pack one more thing into a week full of obligations? If so, you’re not alone…and our numbers are growing.

Peter Smith of the Courier-Journal reports that Dr. Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room physician, is encouraging stressed-out folks to consider an ancient principle: keeping the Sabbath. Sleeth is the founder of the Christian ministry “Blessed Earth” and the author of several books, including the new release, 24/6: The Prescription for a Happier, Healthier Life.

The biblical Sabbath God commanded his children to take in the Ten Commandments included “not just work-free days, but also allowing pastures to rest and not harvesting a field completely, leaving gleanings for the poor and hedgerows as a sanctuary for wildlife,” says Sleeth.

He notes that a day of rest doesn’t necessarily mean “a day of just kicking back. It can involve such deliberate activities as walking and light gardening. What it does mean is powering down the laptop and smartphone. And slowing down enough to listen.”

*This devotional was originally posted as a part of The High Calling devotional series.

From John:
Many key leaders in technology have been public about taking strong measures to reduce technology use by their families and especially their children.

As you begin this year, think and pray about ways in which you can abstain from technology’s addictive elements, while still using its powerful tools to spur your spiritual growth.

Weekly sabbaths teach us that the sabbath doesn’t condemn the week of work, but it blesses it and redeems it. Sabbath is not a punishment to be endured but a blessing. Use a fast or sabbatical this month to reset your ideas about technology and how you will use it in 2019.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34:4

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 4 (Listen – 3:54)
Matthew 4 (Listen – 3:09)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 5 (Listen – 3:18) Matthew 5 (Listen – 6:03)
Genesis 6 (Listen – 2:48) Matthew 6 (Listen – 4:35)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Value of Words
Words and writers are undervalued in the marketplace. But encouraging words? They are remarkably undervalued. Our purpose at The Park Forum is to produce words that are filled with life, not death.

Read More about Supporting Our Work
When you donate to The Park Forum, you are investing in sharing God’s word, primarily. But you are also investing in words of life, words of encouragement, and words to build up our readers across the world in love.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”


Top 3 of 2018

Romans 15.15
I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again…

Top 3 of 2018
By John Tillman

Picking my own “Best Of” was too hard. So, I’m letting Google Analytics pick for me. These are the top three most visited posts not written by a guest author in 2018.

Hope on a Limb :: Hope of Advent

It is difficult for posts late in the year to compete with ones from earlier in the year that had time to build traffic and be mentioned multiple times. I’m thrilled that this one, from only a month ago, made the top spot. It’s not only the top post written by myself, but the top most visited page on our entire site for 2018. People are looking for hope…

“We can be assured as we stand on Zacchaeus’s hope-filled Sycamore limb, that the King of Glory we hope for will not pass us by. The colt will carry our King. And in the end, all the broken who enter the courts of His temple, will be healed.

What are you waiting for? Climb up on the limb in hope.”

The Seductive Idolatry of Politics :: Readers’ Choice

Politics is what people who have no faith in God must turn to for earthly salvation. Christians can and must do better. Since writing this post, several other pastors and writers have picked up the thread. May many more do so.  May we abandon all our idols, but most importantly the idol of politics and politicians.

“Politics is the most powerful new religion of this millennium. It continually plays on the kind of imagery we see in Revelation. But outside of Christ there will never be a day when every nation, tribe, people, and language are united. Politics promises this unity and diversity but instead gains its power from fear and division.”

Killing With our Hearts

After writing this post, a reader jokingly commented, “you take the fun out of everything.” She was right. Issuing a stinging rebuke can be fun and Jesus spoke his share of zingers. But so many times we excuse our sinful and petty hatreds by hiding behind Christ’s impassioned language that, we must remember, had a goal of calling people to him, not destroying them.

Too often lately, Christians have participated in, or stood by allowing, hate-filled rhetoric. As Saul, who became Paul, can tell you, you don’t have to throw stones at someone to be guilty of their blood. You just have to hold the coats of those who do.

“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.”

Moving On…

As we move into 2019, we will continue to allow God’s Word to speak to us, to disturb our comfort, to disrupt our thinking mired in selfishness, and to spur us on to love and good deeds.

Share one of these posts (or this one) with someone who you will walk through the scriptures with this year. As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”

Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18:46

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 3 (Listen – 4:14)
Matthew 3 (Listen – 2:21)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Value of Words
Our culture values hard-hitting, biting words. The Internet swarms to support meanness. Crowds applaud words that degrade and attack. The Internet loves to verbally “stone” its victims, and too often Christians participate or give support to those who do, “holding the coats” of those who attack and degrade others.

Read More about Supporting Our Work
We keep our site ad-free and produce over 100,000 words per year of free devotional content that is read across the world by 4,000 daily readers. We are tremendously thankful to God for using our community to bring God’s Word to people in cities around the world!

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”

Top 3 of 2018 :: Guest Writers

1 Peter 5.12
With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.

Reflection: Top 3 of 2018 :: Guest Writers
By John Tillman

Many publications and groups end the year with a look back. Two days ago we discussed how we recall our failures, and Jesus re-calls failures, like us, to himself.

The remainder of this week we will look back at some highlights of the year, and look forward, relying on God to bring us the strength we need to continue in the coming year.

The first place I’d like to look is our wonderful guest writers. Each of these writers has donated their work to our community this year and I, knowing how taxing it is to produce each 400 word chunk of our content each year, am immensely grateful to each of them.

These are the top three most visited posts on our website in 2018, written by a guest writer.

Jada Swanson, Holding Space

This post was not just the most visited post by a guest writer, but the second most visited post of all of 2018. Pray for Jada as she completes her doctoral work and we look forward to hearing her voice more often.

As Christ-followers, we are called to carry one another’s burdens. However, when someone is navigating grief, a traumatic situation, or a horrific loss (relationship, job, etc.), we must resist the need to try and fix the problem, heal the hurt, or repair the damage, and, instead, embrace the tension that exists. Although it can be awkward, during these sacred times, silence is our ally. Instead of expressing empty platitudes or well-meaning, but unhelpful Christianeze expressions, choosing to simply be present with another is the most loving alternative, even if the silence is deafening.

What is most needed in these times is a willingness to simply “hold space” for another.

Matt Tullos, Surrender

Matt’s writing is so tender, and comes from an intimate relationship with God that is unafraid of tough questions and walking through the difficult times of life.

The image of the cross is an image of absolute surrender.

When we enter into the story of Christ we see a point in time when we cannot use our hands to control anything. Our will, determination, ambition, and skill are nailed to the holy cross of Christ. While the world’s system teaches us how to control others and change ourselves, the cross has no such purpose. On the cross, our hands are not busy. They are surrendered.

Jon Polk, Finishing Well

The next most visited guest post in 2018 was actually written and posted in November of 2017. Jon’s two week walk through the book of Hebrews was a highlight of 2017 that is still valuable to look back at today. This post was one of the first chosen by readers for our Readers’ Choice month in August.

Athletic imagery is a common New Testament analogy for the Christian life. For a faith focused on the ideals of selflessness and sacrifice, it seems odd that biblical writers draw parallels with sports events focused on individual winners. A closer look at a few of these passages, however, reveals that there is more at stake in our spiritual life than winning.

Dena Dyer, Under His Covering and Anticipating His Advent

Dena Dyer also provided some wonderful devotionals that we were excited to share with you, and we look forward to more of her work, this week.

As we look back, we anticipate the great work God will do in our lives and in the lives of our community through the new year.

Prayer: The Greeting
I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the Name of the Lord. — Psalm 116:15

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 2 (Listen – 3:42)
Matthew 2 (Listen – 3:18)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Value of Words
What is a word worth? What’s more, what is an encouraging word worth? The value of words for Christians is vastly different than others, for our Savior is known as The Word made flesh. Our purpose at The Park Forum is to produce words that are filled with life.

Read More about Supporting Our Work
End of year giving is over, but one-time gifts and monthly donations are vitally important to maintaining our ministry. Join our monthly donors for 2019 or give a one time gift today.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”

Support our Work
End of Year giving and monthly giving each play a large part in keeping The Park Forum ad-free and helping us to be able to continue producing fresh content.
Support the spiritual development of thousands of readers, feeding Christ’s sheep across the world, by making a donation today or joining our monthly donors.

Recalling the Failures

John 21.17-19
He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep….Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Reflection: Recalling the Failures
By John Tillman

There are many meanings of the word recall.

Industries recall products that are flawed, defective, or dangerous. Employees and representatives can be recalled from their positions when they have an embarrassing failure.

At this reflective time of year we, individually and collectively, recall both good memories and bad. We tend to focus on the bad.

Christ sees more failure in us than even we know, yet he re-calls us—he calls us to himself again, and again, and again. Christ re-calls the failures.

It is not just Peter who is reinstated in the last chapter of John’s gospel and our last reading of this year. Other disciples who failed famously are there—Thomas who doubted, Nathanael the cynical elitist, the power hungry sons of Zebedee. These confused and doubtful disciples are going back to the familiar when they are met by a familiar face on the shore.

Once in a parable, Jesus said, “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead,” and he meant it. One thing that rings so true about the gospel accounts is that the disciples are slow to believe and understand what has happened, even after seeing Jesus alive.

The resurrected Jesus is patient with them, staying around, appearing to the disciples over and over. He slowly and lovingly works to overcome their doubts and fears and reissue his call on their lives. And he is lovingly patient with us as well.

Christ’s message of reinstatement is for all of us. He doesn’t see our failures as the world sees them.

The world calls us a bad debt. Jesus redemptively reinvests in us.
The world sees us as the sum of our shortcomings. Jesus adds himself to our equation and calls us to our eternal future.
The world wants to put us back in our place after failure. Jesus comes to us with a second (third, fourth, fifth…) calling.
The world wants us to compare our calling to others. Jesus rejects comparisons and personally invites us to a unique path.

The failures of the past year, or any year, are not our end, but our beginning. Jesus brings hope to our aftermath. Hope amidst our confusion. Jesus speaks calm and welcoming words to the anger prone. He feeds the weary and hungry. He comforts the hurting and troubled. He washes away the doubts of the disbelieving.

Jesus has a following—a following of failures. Join us, won’t you?

*When looking back at your year, do so with insight into your failures from the Holy Spirit, but also with his redemptive grace and love. The Prayer of Examen is a wonderful tool of reflective prayer. We recommend it daily or weekly. But the practice can be adapted to review this year in the light of God’s grace. For more information about the prayer, follow this link. Take your time in an examen prayer, especially when reviewing a long period. Set aside time this evening or tomorrow to spend in this practice.

Prayer: The Greeting
Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there! They will be satisfied by the beauty of your house, by the holiness of your temple. — Psalm 65:4

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Malachi 4 (Listen – 1:06)
John 21 (Listen – 3:58)

Tomorrow’s Readings (Happy New Year!)
Genesis 1 (Listen – 4:55)
Matthew 1 (Listen – 3:29)

Additional Reading
Read More about Prayer for Busy People
Central to the practice of healthy, gospel-centered prayer is the awareness of God’s presence in and around our lives. The Prayer of Examen, was designed to be prayed even when the necessities of life made other forms of prayer impossible.

Read More about The Beautiful Feet of Lepers
This is the gospel—that terrorists can be healed and saved and the rejects of society can bring the news of salvation and the testimony of victory unimaginable to their city.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restart our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”

Support our Work
End of Year giving and monthly giving each play a large part in keeping The Park Forum ad-free and helping us to be able to continue producing fresh content.
Support the spiritual development of thousands of readers, feeding Christ’s sheep across the world, by making a donation today or joining our monthly donors.

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