Facing a Biblical Disaster — 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, October 23, 2020, based on readings from Daniel 8 and Psalm 116.
It was selected by reader, Jerome from Golden
“Thank you for these words and the refreshing breath of the Holy Spirit that they represent. You are spot on; turning our eyes to Jesus instead of on the drama du jour will bring us peace in the storm.”

Scripture Focus: Daniel 8.26-27
26 “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” 
27 I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding. 

Psalm 116.8-11
8 For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, 
my eyes from tears, 
my feet from stumbling, 
9 that I may walk before the LORD 
in the land of the living. 
10 I trusted in the LORD when I said, 
“I am greatly afflicted”; 
11 in my alarm I said, 
  “Everyone is a liar.”

Reflection: Facing a Biblical Disaster — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

For some people the only use of the word “biblical” they are familiar with is as an adjective to describe the proportions of disasters. 2020 has brought multiple disasters described as being of “biblical proportions.”

Along with physical disasters, this year has brought the exhausting mental and emotional disaster of trying to sort out truth from the storm of misinformation and lies. Every problem we face seems to have competing sets of “facts” that conveniently paint one political side or the other as being the problem.

The unnatural disaster of conspiracy theories getting injected into churches by mainstream and fringe news outlets has caused spiritual and emotional trauma for many. How is it people who claim to know the truth that will set us free, have become unable to agree on basic truths? 
Christians have been filling up on bread with the yeast of conspiracy theories rather than the bread of life, and we are belching up harmful and hateful lies as a result. As Ed Stetzer has said, “Gullibility is not a spiritual gift.”

Too many Christians follow political pundits more closely than Jesus Christ. Their spiritual diet depends more on news programs than Bible passages. They are more concerned with the status and power of their political party, than the health and productivity of the body of Christ, God’s Church. Many Christians would rather change churches (or fire their pastors) than face uncomfortable truths from the Bible that conflict with their political worldview. 

This is the true biblical disaster of 2020.

Many ask, “Are we in the end times?” I don’t know. I do think we are seeing what they are like. Visions of the end, as Daniel can attest, are exhausting and terrifying. Daniel tells us, wisely I think, that visions of the end are “beyond understanding.” Even with Gabriel’s explanation, he still couldn’t understand. 

May we mimic Daniel’s faithfulness through confusion and weariness, his caution in not sharing what he didn’t understand, and his focus on prayer and the scriptures.

Rest and trust in Christ. Your exhaustion and confusion is real and justified.

Lay anguish, rage, and sadness from this crisis-filled year at the feet of Jesus, rather than weaponize it against your brothers and sisters.

Go about our king’s business. Love one another well and share the good news (the gospel) that unites us rather than news that conspires to divide us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne; love and truth go before your face. — Psalm 89.14

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 10 (Listen – 4:34)
Romans 8 (Listen – 6:22)

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.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Worship and Politics
I have never heard anyone say that a politically tinged sermon which agreed with their politics was “too political.”

Overgrown by the Gospel — 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 published April 9, 2021, based on readings from Psalm 15.
It was selected by reader, Kim from Vancouver
“May parking lots for our possessions become parks to share with our community.” As a closet hoarder, these words rang through my ears and inspired me to let go of my possessions in exchange for, what I hope to be, the pleasure of seeing gardens flourish around me. Thank you for challenging me!”

Scripture Focus: Psalm 15
1 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? 
Who may live on your holy mountain? 
2 The one whose walk is blameless, 
who does what is righteous, 
who speaks the truth from their heart; 
3 whose tongue utters no slander, 
who does no wrong to a neighbor, 
and casts no slur on others; 
4 who despises a vile person 
but honors those who fear the Lord; 
who keeps an oath even when it hurts, 
and does not change their mind; 
5 who lends money to the poor without interest; 
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. 
Whoever does these things 
will never be shaken. 

From John: The gospel will never stop working its way into our lives to make every part of us holy. The picture used today is one from a hike my wife and I took in the Guadalupe Mountains. A rock had been tumbled to the floor of the wash that we were hiking up, and the marks of the roots of the tree that split the rock were still visible on it. 

May the roots of the Holy Spirit penetrate the hardness of our rock-like hearts and crack us open, leaving his mark upon our lives.

Reflection: Overgrown by the Gospel — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Psalm 15 lays out what David sees as God’s requirements for his holy people.

Reading it, we can deceive ourselves into thinking God is describing us. But if we are humble and honest, we will be struck by how far short we fall, and how rare even one of these qualities is in our world, much less all of them together.

How then, can we ever hope to dwell with God? How can we become his people and live in his kingdom and its city?

This list is not intended to be a list of ways we must prove or earn our way into God’s kingdom. Those who will live with God, as described in the psalm, are those who respond to his call, and to whom he responds by sending the Holy Spirit. Paul describes the Holy Spirit as both a down payment and a renovator of our inner being.

The gospel can be accepted in an instant, but it works in us a transformation that accelerates over time. The qualities of the people of God are cultivated by God. They are the blossoms and blooms of actions that the Holy Spirit will plant in us when we surrender to him.

When the seed of the gospel begins to grow in us, it is like the springing up of a tree from a crack in our hardened, concrete heart. As it grows, the concrete doesn’t stand a chance. The roots swell and crush the rock, cracking it open to expose the earth beneath. Soon the concrete structure is unrecognizable and covered with green growth.

Cultivation begins with destruction. May the gospel make ruins of our pride and selfishness. May we be overgrown by the gospel.

May our concrete hearts be cracked open by the swelling roots of the gospel in our lives. 
May parking lots for our possessions become parks to share with our community. 
May every sealed off vault of sin with reinforced concrete walls be ruined by the invading growth of our new nature. 
May our self-worshiping architecture be overgrown, cracked open, and torn down by the persistent growth of what the Holy Spirit cultivates in us.

May our controlled environments become reclaimed land that is transfigured into the wild beauty of the garden of God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Hear the voice of my prayer when I dry out to you, when I lift up my hands to your holy of holies. — Psalm 28.2

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 7-8 (Listen – 5:34)
Romans 6 (Listen – 3:28)

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.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Cultivation Is Supernatural
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.

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/cultivating-is-supernatural/

After the Whirlwind — 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, November 2nd, 2020, based on readings from Hosea 8 and Psalm 125.
It was selected by reader, Diane from Corinth, TX
“My prayer has been for all to remember that, no matter who is in the White House, God is on His throne and Christ is still King. Our rights and freedoms do not come from the government, but from the Lord himself. And our marching orders remain the same: Love the Lord and serve Him, Glorify His Name.”

Scripture Focus: Hosea 8.2-4, 7
2 Israel cries out to me, 
‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’ 
3 But Israel has rejected what is good; 
an enemy will pursue him. 
4 They set up kings without my consent; 
they choose princes without my approval. 
With their silver and gold 
they make idols for themselves 
to their own destruction. 

7 “They sow the wind 
and reap the whirlwind. 

Psalm 125.3-5
3 The scepter of the wicked will not remain 
over the land allotted to the righteous, 
for then the righteous might use 
their hands to do evil. 
4 LORD, do good to those who are good, 
to those who are upright in heart. 
5 But those who turn to crooked ways 
the LORD will banish with the evildoers. 
Peace be on Israel. 

Reflection: After the Whirlwind — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

I am writing this devotional on Thursday evening October 29th based not on political events (whatever may occur) but on our readings in Hosea. We have been in this section of the Bible for every election week since 2012 when we started following this reading plan.

Not only is this reading plan nothing new, contentiousness in politics is nothing new to the world or to people of faith. The Athenians thought their fellow Greeks in Sparta to be embarrassingly immature in their voting practices. Whereas Athenians (and most Greeks and Romans) voted by show of hands or by secret ballot, the Spartans rejected these. Sparta preferred to vote by which side shouted the loudest. 

Tomorrow’s vote in the United States concludes a Spartan-like election. Shouting is the new norm, even if our actual votes are by secret ballot. 

With the validity of the United States election process being attacked, from within and from without, many fear that careless, vitriolic words from leaders may inspire physical violence that could erupt from either side of our fractured political spectrum. The outcome itself may be delayed longer than impatient partisans will be willing to wait.

To paraphrase Hosea, we have sown the wind with our violent rhetoric and we may reap the whirlwind of violent outcomes.

This week, we will pray for repentance, patience, peace, and faith using the scriptures from our reading plan. We will pray through the closing chapters of Hosea, beginning today in Hosea’s eighth chapter. 

We pray that in every nation, Christians will repent of any political idols we cling to. Our faith in them will only reap the whirlwind. May we place our trust instead in our true and only king.

After the Whirlwind
Oh God, we confess we have sowed the wind
Of idolatry
Of violent words

We fear reaping the whirlwind
Of violence
Of suffering
Of humiliation

Forgive us for rejecting what is good
Forgive us for dehumanizing our brothers and sisters
Forgive us for demanding
Our freedom
Our lusts
Our way

Help us, Lord, to remember
To repent
To soften 
To turn back to you
May we not waste away, crops lost to the storm
May you have mercy on us, redeem us, and replant us
After the whirlwind
Amen

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm. — Psalm 50.3

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 2 (Listen – 6:09)
Romans 2 (Listen – 4:13)

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 The Language of a Good Neighbor
Where machine-gun-like blasts of vitriol cut through the airwaves, it is only a matter of time before actual bullets fly.

Our Hope Amidst Violence — 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, May 17, 2021, based on readings from Psalm 69.
It was selected by reader, EN, from Texas
“The prayer from South Africa was moving. I appreciate the incorporation of hymns and prayers of faith from around the world. In light of our often self-focused western faith, it is refreshing to have words from others who have truly suffered and kept the faith.”

Scripture Focus: Psalm 69.16-21

16 Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; 
in your great mercy turn to me. 
17 Do not hide your face from your servant; 
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. 
18 Come near and rescue me; 
deliver me because of my foes. 
19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; 
all my enemies are before you. 
20 Scorn has broken my heart 
and has left me helpless; 
I looked for sympathy, but there was none, 
for comforters, but I found none. 
21 They put gall in my food 
and gave me vinegar for my thirst. 

Reflection: Our Hope Amidst Violence — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

In 1995, with Aparthied still close in the rear view mirror, the Rugby World Cup was hosted and won by South Africa. In 2009, the story was turned into a film starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Sports metaphors and movies are inspiring, but the struggle in South Africa was just beginning. 1998 saw bombings in South Africa and attacks scattered over the entire continent. The times were tense, violent, unpredictable. 

From that time and place, comes this prayer. It was written by South African Christians and published in a book of prayers prepared for a worship conference in Berlin in 1998. Like many of the prayers we read in the psalms, this prayer is familiar with violence and suffering. This prayer’s response is inspiring for us today.

These problems still exist in one way or another, popping up in one country, then another. We still see abuse, rape as a weapon of war, and mass killings motivated by tribal conflicts or religious radicalization. Often the chief victims of these events are women. We also still see state-sanctioned terrorist attacks and state-approved assassinations. We still see disproportionate responses to violence both by police forces around the world and by governments.

Today’s psalm, referenced by gospel authors, (Matthew 27.34, 48; Mark 15.23, 36; Luke 23.36; John 19.28-30), reminds us that Jesus entered violence and scorn on our behalf. May the church follow Christ’s footsteps as he moves to help those affected by violence.

His eye is on the sparrows. Is ours?

Join this prayer today for all people across the world experiencing oppression, violence, and exile. Whether people suffer because of their religious beliefs or any other reason, we pray on their behalf.

A Prayer of Hope from South Africa

Oh, God,
You can do anything, anywhere, any time.
All knowing, all seeing God,
There is nothing hidden from you.
You see the women of Africa:
Who are refugees,
Fleeing their war-torn countries
With babies on their backs and luggage on their heads.
Some who are victims of human rights violations, abuse, infected with AIDS.
We put our hope in you, oh God.
For you hear even our unmentioned prayers
You watch not only the sparrow, but you see us too.
And your hands guide us all the way.
Above all, you offer us the gift of eternal life.
We praise your holy name.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Thy Name, L. A. (Tony) Cupit, ed., Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good and those who are true of heart. — Psalm 125.4

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


Today’s Readings
Judges 18 (Listen – 4:39)
Acts 22 (Listen – 4:26)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Blossoming of Joy in Adversity
We find examples of joy under persecution and difficulty in Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, and many others in scripture.

The Consequence of Carelessness

Scripture Focus: Joshua 9:14
14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.

Psalm 140:1-3
1 Rescue me, Lord, from evildoers;
    protect me from the violent,
2 who devise evil plans in their hearts
    and stir up war every day.
3 They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s;
    the poison of vipers is on their lips.

Student Writers Month:
This month, The Park Forum welcomes college and seminary student writers pursuing ministry careers. For more info about our yearly Student Writer program, see our website.

Reflection: The Consequence of Carelessness
By Erin Newton

There are times when the monotony of life creates an apathy toward caution. Each day is much like the last; one activity looks the same as the next. We grow comfortable in our abilities and go about our day with no need of counsel.

Joshua led the Israelite army against city after city. The mistake of Achan’s sin seemed to have been reversed with the defeat of Ai. However, the pattern of error had already taken root. Some of their enemies formed an alliance, but the Gibeonites chose an alternate method: lie and gain Israel’s protection through deception. With much planning, the ruse was set. The Israelite leaders took a cursory glance and trusted the Gibeonites’ claim. Regrettably, they did not seek God’s counsel. They were blind to the false pretense and propaganda before them. This lapse in judgment bound the Israelites with their enemy. Hastiness produced errors.

Psalm 140 presents a plea for protection, asking God for wisdom to discern evil plans and cunning words. The psalmist likens the words of an enemy to the poisonous, sharp tongue of a viper. The craftiness of the serpent in the Garden strikes again in the Promised Land through the Gibeonites.

Why did the leaders fail to inquire of God? Why do we? Is it apathy, busyness, or pride? Our lives are plagued with rash decisions because we operate at high speed. We are convinced of our abilities and fail to lay our lives before God. Are we neglecting God’s counsel because we do not want to deny ourselves certain things?

C. S. Lewis describes the gentle slope toward evil through his fictional story of demonic correspondence in The Screwtape Letters: It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards do the trick.

Israel’s tendency toward neglect would be a festering wound resulting in more errors and consequences. If we do not open every corner of our lives to God, we will likely slip unknowingly into a pact with the enemy. We will be duped by anyone with persuasive words. We must remember to seek God’s counsel and see through deception. 

Joshua honored the covenant Israel made in error. Ultimately, the Gibeonites remained part of the Israelite community for centuries. Even though humanity errs, God redeems. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let those who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

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

Today’s Readings
Joshua 9 (Listen – 3:46)
Psalm 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about The Idol of Control
True peace comes from trusting in the wisdom, plan, and counsel of God…we must ensure that we listen first and foremost to God’s wisdom.