Breath, Reconsidered :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Steve Bostrom, from Helena, Montana
Typically, we view breath as insubstantial. This post significantly enlarges that thought. We go from ordinary breath to breath needed for a robust life envisioned by our Creator who breathed out not only sighs (Mark 7:34) but also gives his last breath on the cross so he can breathe upon us his invigorating Holy Spirit. Glory!

Scripture Focus: 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 :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published November 12th, 2018 
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.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, I call to you; my Rock, do not be deaf to my cry; lest, if you do not hear me, I become like those who go down to the Pit. — Psalm 28.1

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 15 (Listen – 5:46) 
Romans 13 (Listen – 2:35)

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 16 (Listen – 3:45), Romans 14 (Listen – 3:28)
1 Samuel 17 (Listen – 8:59), Romans 15 (Listen – 4:32)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

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Read more about He Stoops to Raise
He strips himself.
He lays aside
His Heaven
His throne
His clothes
His life

Whole Life Generosity :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, cjs
There is definitely spiritual power in giving—whether it be money, possessions, or our time.  No one can out-give God. I have always felt the intense comfort and a spiritual ‘release’ when I have stretched myself to give more than what seemed necessary. I’ve done this in many formats, and I have never regretted it. Humbly, I must state that I’ve always been the one who has benefited the most!  My thoughts go to—what if EVERYONE did the same? How much better this world would be!  

From John:
We remain in a constant state of humble gratitude to those who make this ministry possible through their donations. We pray that all of our giving would expand in every area, assisting all around us in every way possible. Join our donors by following this link.

Scripture Focus: Acts 4.32
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Reflection: Whole Life Generosity :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published July 17th, 2019
By John Tillman

Christian generosity is not merely passively giving a portion of our income as if we were being taxed by a government. Taxes push off our responsibility for others to an impersonal agency of government. Like Scrooge, we pay our taxes, pretending that it is our sole obligation. 

If we treat Christian generosity in this manner, we rob it of any spiritual power. No wonder we feel powerless. 

Francis Schaeffer rejects this concept, emphasizing that Christian generosity is not giving partially, but is a matter of sharing one’s whole life, irrevocably:

“In the Old Testament, the whole of life and culture was based upon the relationship of the people of God first to God and then to each other. It was not just a religious life, but the whole culture. It was a total cultural relationship, and through the New Testament no longer sees the people of God as a state, nevertheless there is still an emphasis upon the fact that the whole culture and way of life is involved in the vital diversity of love and communication. There is to be no platonic dichotomy between the “spiritual” and other things of life. Indeed, we read in Acts 4:31, 32: 

‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.’

The Bible makes plain here that this is not a communism of law or external pressure. In fact, Peter, speaking to Ananias about his property, stressed: “While it remaineth was it not your own and after it was sold, was it not in thy power?” (Acts 5:4). 

This sharing is not law, but true love and true communication of the whole man to whole man, across the whole spectrum of what humanity is. The same thing happened further abroad. Gentile Christians gave money to Paul to carry to Christian Jews. Why? So that there would be a sharing of material possessions. 

This is ten thousand times removed from the dead, cold giving of most Christians. This is not a cold, impersonal act as a bare duty, but a sharing of the whole man with the whole man. True Christian giving is in love and communication across the whole framework of the interplay between whole men.”

*Excerpt from True Spirituality, by Francis A. Schaeffer.


Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you. — Psalm 88.14

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 14 (Listen – 9:01) 
Romans 12 (Listen – 2:58)

Thank You!
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Let our community hear how your faith has grown. What post helped you forgive?

Read more about God Shivering on Concrete
Wickedness is evident. But God’s love is also evident…in God’s help, but more so in his presence. Our God is with those who suffer.

Steeped in Sin :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Sam J, from Texas and Elisé, from Ohio
Sam: This was a powerful reminder that it is all too easy to slip into patterns of thought and errors in judgment consistent with the Pharisees. Sin is so much more than actions, it is a condition we are all steeped in.

Elisé: I distinctly remember about seven years ago being convicted that I did not truly understand my sinfulness, and praying to see it so I could appreciate His grace. God taught me the lesson set forth here, that sinfulness is more than just the sum of bad things I do in a day. It permeates my whole life, every action. And when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!

Scripture Focus: John 9.34
“You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!”

Reflection: Steeped in Sin :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published March 19th, 2019
By John Tillman

The Pharisees are partially correct in the above passage; the formerly blind man was steeped in sin at birth. Where the Pharisees were in error was denying that they were also steeped in sin.

There are two ways of thinking about sin. One sees sins as individual actions. In this calculation, we total sins up, like fines in a legal system. We interpret sins as individual, unconnected actions that are less than perfect good.

This is the mode of sin evaluation favored by the Pharisees and many modern Christians. We prefer to think about sin in this manner because it is measurable and allows us to look at ourselves in comparison to others. No matter how bad we are, we can always find someone who makes us look good by comparison.

This thinking also leads us, like the Pharisees, to see those in difficulty or hardship as suffering from their own sin and wrongdoing. This allows us to further exclude and punish them while absolving ourselves from any responsibility to help them. Today, many view the poor through this lens, seeing generational poverty as the fault of the poor, and the community’s responsibility as minimal or non-existent. This view of the poor can’t be found anywhere in scripture—except perhaps in the views of the Pharisees.

Sin is not just some bad things that we sometimes do. Sinful actions are “sins” but sin is more than actions. It is a condition. It isn’t just a condition that we live with. It’s a condition that we live in. Paul tells us that creation groans to be released from sin, and we feel its effects. Sin is pervasive. It seeps into every crack and corner of our souls.

Sin isn’t like a disease, a condition inside our bodies, as much as it is like an environmental condition, an inescapable influence that surrounds and penetrates us.

Sin is gravity. It is our atmosphere. It is our water. We are radioactive with sin. It vibrates out of us in ways that damage and harm us and anyone we come near.

We need Jesus not to help us make better choices and “sin less.” We need Jesus because only his righteousness is the antidote to the radiation poisoning of rebellion.

We can blind ourselves, like the Pharisees, refusing to see our sin. Or we can admit our former blindness and seeing Jesus, we can say as the formerly blind man did, “Lord, I believe.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake. — Psalm 79.9

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 13 (Listen – 3:54) 
Romans 11 (Listen – 5:23)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

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Let our community hear how your faith has grown. What post challenged you?

Read more Suffering and Sin
We feel less responsible for problems in the world when we can believe that only the lazy are poor, only the promiscuous are in danger of sexual assault or disease, only hedonists become addicts, and only nihilists suffer depression or have suicidal thoughts.

What to Expect When Suffering :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Wendy, from Northfield, MA
I have long loved the Psalms, prayed through them, and let them express for me when my heart can’t find the words I need. This post helped me do so again when I needed it. 

Scripture Focus: Psalm 116.11
…in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”

Reflection: What to Expect When Suffering :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published October 23rd, 2018
By John Tillman

When in suffering, we can at times be surprised by the emotions that are stirred. We can encounter deep sadness, anguish, and even rage.

Suffering comes in many forms and many intensities. But our response follows a predictable pattern. Hope, impatience, despair, rage, doubt, rejection, redemption, and praise are all a part of the template of prayer that the psalmists show us. There is comfort in acknowledging the emotional rollercoaster that is the psalmists’ testimony.

Don’t be surprised or ashamed of the emotions that come in times of struggle and pain. With faith in God, we can move through cycles of emotions to the peace that God gives us in his presence.

Today we will follow a guided prayer with portions of Psalm 116 from today’s reading.

What to Expect When Suffering
The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.

Oh God, in times of stress, despair, and struggle
We are overcome and need your comfort.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”

But the world frustrates us, teaching us that any degree of suffering is waste.

in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”

You are the only trustworthy one, Lord,
But in our alarm, amidst fear and emotion
We sometimes call the wrong things lies

May we not reject community, simple kindness, praise, and loving words from those around us.
May we not reject being reminded that we are loved.

Instead, we call the world a liar.
When they say a good life is pain-free
When they say pain proves God is not with us

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;

Rarely are our current sufferings deadly.
But, Oh God, even when they are…
You are with us now and in the hour of our death
We are precious to you at all times and in every outcome

And if the worst the world can imagine should happen to us
In our death, we simply enter your precious presence in “the courts of the house of the Lord.

May we not wait until death to experience the peace of walking in your courts.
Help us to live, bringing the reality of your courts, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth whom the world can never accept since it neither sees nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you,” — John 14.16-17

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 12 (Listen – 4:19) 
Romans 10 (Listen – 3:21)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

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Let our community hear how your faith has grown. What post helped you refresh your faith?

Read more The Crucible of Suffering
In the midst of suffering—when we don’t sense any positive change in our circumstances—we can start to question God’s goodness and his love.

Joy Despite Everything :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Michelle Bartlett from Littleton, Colorado
We tend to think of the story of Martha and Mary as either/or because of the “better part“ part. Perhaps Mary did choose the better part. But it was Martha, like the father of the prodigal son, who stood in faith, scanning the horizon. She may not have sat at Jesus’s feet, but she was certainly eavesdropping from the kitchen and “stored up all these things in her heart.”

Scripture Focus: John 11.27
I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.

Reflection: Joy Despite Everything :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published December 21st, 2018
By John Tillman

When we wait in Advent we know the date on the calendar when Christmas comes. We know the day we will blow out the candles the final time. We know the number of shopping days left. We know how long until we will take the decorations down.

But in our lives, many times we wait in faith without a date on the calendar. There are many times we wait in hospital rooms. Wait on a phone call. Wait to see if our miracle will arrive.

And many times we stand over a casket instead of sitting around a table. We make an unemployment claim instead of a promotion. We box up our things and move in with our parents when our miracle passes us by.

Advent grows darker as the year wanes. And Martha greets us at the darkest point of her life. When faith has failed. When her wick smolders. When the smell of death wafts, unwanted through her mind.

Martha shows us how to wait. Martha shows us how to have faith, and then when your faith is crushed into pieces, how to hold out your shattered faith to Jesus. Not demanding. Not asking. Just saying, “My faith is broken. But I’m not letting go. I still believe. In spite of everything.”

Martha, Martha.
She was concerned about many things.
But she came to be concerned only with one thing.

Martha who believed in faith that her brother would be healed.
Martha who sent word to Jesus.
Martha who received back the messenger and wondered why Jesus wasn’t with him.

Martha who waited…

Martha who tended her brother in his sickness.
Martha who occasionally gazed down the road.
Martha who watched him suffer…and die.
Martha who remained strong
Who made arrangements.
Who cared for her sister.
Who buried her brother—the brother she had believed Jesus would save.
Martha who watched her sister melt down in emotion.
Martha who saw Jesus coming.
Martha who was prepared to meet him.
Martha who lost her miracle and still blessed the tardy miracle-maker
Martha who stood before a man who failed her and proclaimed him to be the Son of God.
Martha who dared announce the Messiah in the suburbs of Jerusalem, in the shadow of Christ’s most powerful religious enemies.

Martha, Martha…
Teach us to wait in faith.
Teach us to believe.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying: “…In all truth I tell you, I am the gate of the sheepfold. All who have come before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep took no notice of them. I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe: such a one will go in oud out and will find pasture.” — John 10.7-9

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 11 (Listen – 2:43) 
Romans 9 (Listen – 5:15)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

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Let our community hear how your faith has grown. What post made you want to share?

Read more about One Thing Needed
We often preach on Martha’s scolding of Jesus about her sister and too rarely preach about Martha’s open declaration that Jesus was the Messiah.

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