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!
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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!
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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.

Submit a Readers’ Choice
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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.

Prayer From the Cave :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Mrs. DeKuiper from Franklin, TN
As I read this post, my students and I were preparing to visit Mammoth Cave. In preparation for the cave tour, I began shifting from self-focused fear to cave-minded determination to train my heart and body to move strong through the cave. This devotional directly inspired me to become physically ready for the dark, slippery trek as it spiritually reminded me to keep kingdom-focused in my teaching.  

Scripture Focus: Psalm 142.1-2
I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

Reflection: Prayer From the Cave :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published July 8th, 2019
By John Tillman

Watching a skilled athlete, chef, or performer may be entertainment for the masses but can be a master class for the observant. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

When we read the Psalms, we observe masters at prayer. If we read with more than a passing glance we can see their technique well enough to improve our own. Like someone analyzing the handgrip of a pinch-hitter may improve his own swing, we can analyze how tightly the psalmist grips the hand of God and do likewise. Like someone noticing the way a champion tennis player shifts her feet in the instant before the serve may adjust his own return technique, we can detect the psalmist’s shift from self-focused complaining to kingdom minded proclamation and train our hearts to move in a new way. 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his commentary on Psalm 142 notes the importance of being instructed in prayer in this manner:

“This maschil is written for our instruction. It teaches us principally by example how to order our prayer in times of distress. Such instruction is among the most needful, practical, and effectual parts of our spiritual education. He who has learned how to pray has been taught the most useful of the arts and sciences. The disciples said unto the Son of David, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ and here David gives us a valuable lesson by recording his own experience as to supplication from beneath a cloud.”

We have but to watch and read the Psalms with careful observation and our own prayers may be approached with new energy, new attitudes, and new aptitudes.

Prayer does not come easier in dark times, but we may feel it does since we more quickly and easily turn to it in distress. Spurgeon also notes that caves, such as the one this psalm is written from, make excellent places to pray:

“Caves make good closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of devotion. Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his later days.”

May we pray in our caves.
May we pray in our palaces.
May we pray in our soul cages, and pray for those in physical cages.
May we not allow any earthly light to keep us from seeking an inner, humble cave to pray in.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
As the deer longs for the water-brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God. — Psalm 42.1

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

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

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 9 (Listen – 4:42) Romans 7 (Listen – 4:09)
1 Samuel 10 (Listen – 4:34) Romans 8 (Listen – 6:62)

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.

Submit a Readers’ Choice
Let our community hear how your faith has grown. What post comforted you?

Read more about Prayer from the Belly of the Beast
Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Our Least Favorite Commandment :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, CJS
It is so hard in this world today to not see the injustices around us—every single day.  Some days I don’t even want to read the news feeds or listen to the TV.  Injustice is everywhere. This post helped me bring my own personal struggle with this entire topic into a spiritual zone.  It calmed me and helped me think more clearly about the whole subject. The title is so very appropriate!

The next time we think, “someone has to pay,” may we also hear the voice of Christ speak within us saying, “I will pay. It is finished. Forgive them. They know not what they do.”


Scripture Focus: Psalm 137.4-6
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Reflection: Our Least Favorite Commandment :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published July 5th, 2019
By John Tillman

When violence or injustice harms those close to us, we typically react with admirable compassion toward the victims. “Even sinners do that.”

What is more revealing of a heart shaped by Christ is how we act toward perpetrators. Down in the comment streams below fundraisers and bake sales, you will also find our baser instincts. You will find those vowing violence against the perpetrators. You will find those calling for merciless application of the fullest extent of the law’s punishment. You will find those wishing prison rape on the attackers.

All hearts shaped by our violent culture react this way. Even Christian communities react this way—sometimes when they have only been attacked with harsh words. There is, perhaps, no commandment of Jesus that we flout with more impunity than, “do good to those who hate you.”

Our first instinctive thought regarding injustice is, “someone has to pay.” And we prefer “justice” done by our own hands, in our own way. 

In scripture there are often violent men and calls for violent actions. Psalm 137 has long been struggled over by faithful believers as almost too terrible to exist in the same Bible with Psalm 139 that speaks tenderly of life in the womb. (Yet, even Psalm 139 calls for the death of the wicked.)

Speaking of this most violent of Psalms, Charles Spurgeon recognized that as bitter as the psalmist’s cry is, he still is relinquishing his own anger to be tempered by God into the sword of justice and administered by God at a time of his own choosing. 

“We may rest assured that every unrighteous power is doomed to destruction and that, from the throne of God, justice will be measured out to all whose law is force, whose rule is selfishness, and whose policy is oppression…shall despots crush virtue beneath their iron heel and never be punished? Time will show.” — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Injustice is before us, behind us, beneath us, and above us. Yet we rest assured that Christ who is before us, behind us, beneath us, and above us sees it too. God has given judgment to the Son and he will carry it out. All “whose policy is oppression,” will answer to the judgment of Christ.

The next time we think, “someone has to pay,” may we also hear the voice of Christ speak within us saying, “I will pay. It is finished. Forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will give thanks for what you have done and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly. — Psalm 52.9

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 5-6 (Listen – 6:03) 
Romans 5 (Listen – 3:53)

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.

Submit a Readers’ Choice
Let our community hear how your faith has grown. What post caused you to think?

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
Our verbal hyperbole is being borne out in actions…online opinion, that leads to opposition, that leads to violence or threats of violence.

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