Breath, Reconsidered

Psalm 144.3-4
Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
their days are like a fleeting shadow.

John 3.5-8
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Reflection: Breath, Reconsidered
By John Tillman

We rightly think of the psalmist comparing us to breath as humbling. But not everything that humbles humiliates. When humbled we are prepared to be lifted up, by God.

In Aramaic and Greek the word for “Spirit,” “breath,” and “wind” is the same word. This makes Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus one in which we must carefully attune our ears to context. Jesus is purposefully mixing his meanings. As Eugene Peterson rhetorically asks in his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, “What’s being talked about here, breathing, or weather, or God?”

Although the length of a breath may be a humbling downside, perhaps, there is also an upside.

Breath, Reconsidered

Lord, what are we that you care for us?
We are like a breath.

Like a breath, Lord, we pass from the earth.
Like a breath, Lord, insubstantial we seem.
Like a breath, Lord, some deep and some shallow.
Like a breath, Lord, we dissipate in the breeze.

But you gave us breath,
Your mouth on Adam’s lips.
And you redeemed breath
When Christ first drew it in
And you received his breath,
When his Spirit he released
He gave that Spirit to us
When on the disciples he breathed…

We are Adam’s first breath,
His first breath, re-breathed.

We are like a breath, we are a beginning
We are like a breath the first sign of life
We are like a breath, divine inspiration
We are like a breath, a baby’s first cry

We are the breath, of a worker,
drawn to take strength
We are the breath, of a mother,
that can warm frigid hands
We are the breath, of the preacher,
whose voice carries a dream
We are the breath, of a singer,
whose song fills the land

Breath sustains symphonies
Breath extinguishes candles
Breath ignites embers
Breath powers prophets
Breath connects lovers
Breath fills balloons
Breath is life

Breath serenades
Breath enlightens
Breath enlivens
Breath laughs
Breath shouts
Breath prays
Breath fills
Breath comes
Breath goes

Lord, what are we that you care for us?
We are like a breath.

Prayer: The Greeting
The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined from ore and purified seven times in the fire.  — Psalm 12.6

– 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
Amos 1 (Listen – 2:38)
Psalm 144 (Listen – 1:56)

Additional Reading
Read More poetry from Accepting Jesus
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.

Read More about poetry and Walking the Way of Pain
Poetry has a way of putting into language that which we are unable to speak on our own. It communicates poignant, intentional thoughts, feelings, and expressions of all that we hold dear, but, perhaps, have never uttered aloud.

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Rend Your Hearts

Joel 2.12-13
Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments.

From John:
This weekend we read through the short book of Joel. Some books of the Bible are like towns off the beaten path that you only go to if you really want to. One of the benefits of a whole-Bible reading plan is not skipping over these uncommon destinations. Thank you for being a part of walking through God’s Word with our community.

Reflection: Rend Your Hearts
By John Tillman

Joel may be one of the least read books of the Bible, but other biblical authors certainly knew it well. In fact, Joel’s most famous passages are familiar because other biblical authors quote them or allude to them.

Joel is thought to be one of the early books of prophecy chronologically, and many other prophets pick up on Joel’s language, repeating the themes he introduces…
He speaks of The Day of the Lord as a dark day of judgement…
He speaks of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on men and women…
He foretells drought, a consuming fire, and a swarming, undefeatable army pictured as locusts, with God riding at the head of their columns…
He speaks of beating plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears. (A phrase which 100 years later Isaiah and his contemporary, Micah will reverse.)

Historians debate whether Joel’s locusts were allegorical or literal, but there is no doubt that the destruction comes from God in response to sin, and that this same God “relents from sending calamity.”

Joel tells people throughout Jerusalem to mourn and repent in traditional ways, which included to weep and to wail, to rend their garments and wear sackcloth. Then in chapter two he pivots, saying, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”

In ancient times, rending one’s clothing was a public sign of mourning or repentance. This formalized mourning might be due to the death of a family member, a personal crisis, or in response to more widespread events such as a national emergency or natural disaster.

Our modern world has nearly eliminated traditional social norms of mourning. Yet, we still use social media to engage in an approximate modern equivalent of rending one’s clothing. On many platforms our “cover” photos and profile photos are the outer garments that cover us and show the face we choose to the world. Like garments, they conceal and reveal. We can use them to feign happiness or signal our virtuous struggles and suffering.

Joel’s admonition is to go beyond public signals of mourning or confession. It is our heart that we must rend in mourning and confession, because God looks at the heart, not our outward appearance. When we rend our heart in community with others, we invite God’s power to work in us for redemption and restoration. As God speaks through Joel, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…”

God will replace what is lost—including replacing our hearts of stone with the pierced-heart of Jesus.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes. — Psalm 119.145

– 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
Joel 1 (Listen – 2:59)
Psalm 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

This Weekend’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen – 5:26) Psalm 142 (Listen – 1:01)
Joel 3 (Listen – 3:20) Psalm 143 (Listen – 1:34)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
It’s lovely to think of God giving us a new heart and putting a new Spirit within us. But it is terrifying to admit to the diagnoses that would lead to such a radical procedure.

Read More about Where Our Hearts Are
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.

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From Indifference to Love

Psalm 139.23
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

Reflection: From Indifference to Love
By Steven Dilla

To love our neighbor is to become involved in politics. From city councils to foreign policy, we are naturally drawn into the realm of politics as we fulfill Scripture’s mandate to care for and serve those God has placed around us. And yet, to be involved in politics is to become frustrated.

The most natural response, especially in a nation lush with freedom and comfort, is to choose indifference. Why get involved when it just results in frustration and disappointment? “A soul becomes apathetic when sick with self indulgence,” reminds Saint Thalassios. Surely if God were to search the heart of the indifferent he would find nothing less.

“Indifference can be tempting—more than that, seductive,” Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel warns in his 1999 speech, The Perils of Indifference. “Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.”

Indifference, Wiesel observes, “is not only a sin, it is a punishment.”

In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman…. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.

Our lives will become infinitely more complex as we lean-in to politics on behalf of our neighbor. Of course. But the cost of indifference—willful ignorance, purposeful disengagement, or obstructionism—is far greater. To choose to involve ourselves is itself an act of love—and, as C.S. Lewis reminds:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

May not our hearts be silent; may we find our peace in the sovereignty of God.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble. — Psalm 55.24

– 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
Hosea 14 (Listen – 1:39)
Psalm 139 (Listen – 2:26)

Additional Reading
Read More about A Discipline for the Anxious
David and the other psalmists certainly knew what it was like to live under threat, under financial pressure, under the constant weight of political instability and the wavering loyalty of an unpredictable government. Amidst such pressures, they had a safe haven. Their help for the stresses of life was meditation and prayer.

Read More about The Weight of Nations :: A Guided Prayer
Strong feelings of love and affection for our nation are not evil, but how do they compare to our feelings for God’s kingdom? Do we equate loving country with loving God? Do we confuse the one with the other?

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Who is Your King?

Hosea 13.10-11
Where is your king, that he may save you?
Where are your rulers in all your towns,
of whom you said,
‘Give me a king and princes’?
So in my anger I gave you a king,
and in my wrath I took him away.

Psalm 138.7
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.

Reflection: Who is Your King?
By John Tillman

As I write this is it November 2nd. On the day this will post, November 7th, many varied outcomes are predicted. Depending on the news source and depending on how they slice and dice the data (and how questionable the data is in the first place) we may wake up Wednesday to a blue wave, or maybe a red wave. Whatever the outcome, the media will step vigorously into its role of dividing us into losers and winners—the empowered and the powerless.

Whatever kings and princes we wake up to today, one thing Christians can be assured of—they will not save us. The more we grasp at their power, hoping for protection and salvation, the further we lurch away from Christ’s example.

Jesus came demonstrating the power of powerlessness and a theology of weakness. He told the disciples to bring swords solely for the purpose of telling them to put them away, never to be drawn again. He was able to access power to defeat his foes, but chose powerlessness instead.

But, “Does powerlessness mean that we are doomed to be doormats for our power-hungry society?”, asks Henri Nouwen in his essay, Power, Powerlessness, and Power. “As fearful, anxious, insecure, and wounded people we are tempted constantly to grab the little bit of power the world offers us. These threads of power make us puppets jerked up and down until we are dead.”

Christians in any political tribe who lean on the staff of political power, will see it crumble and splinter, damaging our hands and staining our reputations. It is not the power we need.

Nouwen goes on to explain that forsaking the power of the world opens us to be filled with the power of love—not human love, but God’s love.

A theology of weakness claims power—God’s power, the all-transforming power of love…It is this power that engenders leaders for our communities, women and men who dare to take risks and new initiatives. It is this power that enables us to be not only gentle as doves but also as clever as serpents in our dealings with governments and church agencies. It is this divine power that enables us to become saints who can make all things new.

When God sets out to destroy, he often uses kings and governments. He used Nebuchadnezzar. He used Pharaoh. He used Darius. He used Constantine.

When God sets out to make things new, he eschews governments. He starts a family. He lifts up the outcast. He frees the slave. He gathers a community.

The privilege of God’s people is not to be used, but to be loved, to love each other, and serve others with, and lead others to, that love.

The government we sit under has little to no bearing on the way we should live our lives in love toward the community around us.

Allowing any party of government to claim us as “theirs” dissociates us from the gospel and from Christ. Who is our king? May we answer with confidence, “We have no king but Christ, and him crucified.”

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
I will sing of mercy and justice; to you, O Lord, will I sing praises. I will strive to follow a blameless course; oh, when will you come to me: I will walk with sincerity of heart within my house. I will set not worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the doers of evil deeds; they shall not remain with me. A crooked heart shall be far from me; I will not know emil. Those who in secret slander their neighbors I will destroy; those who have a haughty look and a proud heart I cannot abide.— Psalm 101.1-5

– 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
Hosea 13 (Listen – 2:26)
Psalm 137-138 (Listen – 2:13)

Additional Reading
Read More about God’s Kingdom Versus God’s Reign
Christ repeatedly asserted that God’s kingdom was paradoxically “in your midst” and “not of this world.” Yet that somehow doesn’t keep us from attempting to redeem the earth through worldly means, baptizing political activism and equating it with spiritual warfare.

Read More about Celebrating Earthly Kingdoms :: Readers’ Choice
This should call all of us to our knees before Christ to pledge that no earthly authority will be allowed to usurp His primacy.

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Augustine on Political Leaders

Hosea 12.6
But you must return to your God;
maintain love and justice,
and wait for your God always.

From John:
We look back today at the words of Augustine. That human kingdoms are established by God, should make us neither apathetic or comfortable. We make an error if we assume the person to win an election is “God’s man.” We make a similar error if we assume that we cannot live as believers under authority either apostate or anti-Christ. What is required of us does not change with the rising or falling of political tides.

Reflection: Augustine on Political Leaders
By Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.)

We do not attribute the power of kingdoms and empires to anyone except the true God. It is He who gives happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven to the righteous. And it is He who gives kingly power on earth, both to the righteous and the unrighteous, as it pleases Him. His good pleasure is always just.

He is the one true God who never leaves the human race without justice and help. He gave a kingdom to the Romans, as He also did to the Assyrians—and even the Persians, who, as their own books testify, only worshipped two gods—to say nothing of the Hebrew people, who, as long as they were a kingdom, worshipped none save the true God.

The same One who gave to the Persians harvests gave power to Augustus and also to Nero. To avoid the necessity of going over all of those to whom He has enthroned: He who gave power to the Christian Constantine also gave it to the apostate Julian—whose gifted mind was deceived by a sacrilegious and detestable curiosity, stimulated by the love of power.

Are not all things ruled and governed by the one God as He pleases—and if His motives are hidden, are they therefore unjust?

For if you are awaiting an opportunity, not for liberty to speak the truth, but for license to revile, may you remember Cicero, who says concerning some, “Oh, wretched are those at liberty to sin!” Whoever deems himself happy because of license to revile, he would be far happier if that were not allowed at all.

The cause of the greatness of the Roman empire is neither fortuitous nor fatal. (Some call things fortuitous which have either no causes or causes which do not proceed from some intelligible order; others call that which happens independently of the will of God and man fatal.) In a word, human kingdoms are established by divine providence.

Now, against the sacrilegious and impious darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it.

God is supreme and true—He can never be believed to have left the kingdoms of men, their dominations and servitudes, outside of the laws of His providence.

*Abridged and adapted from The City of God.

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

– 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
Hosea 12 (Listen – 1:51)
Psalm 135-136 (Listen – 4:13)

Additional Reading
Read More from Kuyper on God’s Sovereignty in Politics
In any successful attack on freedom the state can only be an accomplice. The chief culprit is the citizen who forgets his duty, wastes away his strength in the sleep of sin and sensual pleasure, and so loses the power of his own initiative.

Read More about The Seductive Idolatry of Politics :: Readers’ Choice
We must make sure we are pursuing actions that please Christ rather than pleasing human political kingdoms. We serve the same kingdom Christ testified to before Pilate put him to death and the kingdom Stephen saw before being stoned by the Sanhedrin.

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Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

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