Nov4

Every Good Work :: Readers’ Choice

For several years I’ve read from a plan every day and probably go through the Bible about twice a year, yet your encouragement spoke to me. I often ponder that vast human mass you mentioned viewing out your window overlooking NYC, each person at a point on their journey toward wherever their choices take them. We know nothing–really–about each other, and to a great extent even about ourselves. Trusting God to bring the right passages to the forefront right when we need them is our only hope. Immersing ourselves daily in His word is the only way that hope can be fulfilled. — Sam

Readers’ Choice (Originally published November 4, 2015)

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. — Titus 3.1

One of the strengths of an annual Scripture reading plan is that we engage with passages which would normally get overlooked. There are relatively few circumstances in a person’s life which might drive them directly to Titus 3 or 2 Kings 17. (One instructs a Christian leader to remind his followers “to be submissive to rulers.” and the other another tells of the king of Assyria finding “treachery in Hoshea.”)

I’m always struck by the view from the co-working space from which I write on Madison Avenue (pictured above). Gazing at the towering buildings quickly transitions into finding myself lost in the reality that every possible human emotion is present within the limits of my view.

At any given moment on this island there is someone who has just received the promotion or funding of their dreams — while another is watching their career slip through their fingers. People are falling in love, strolling hand in hand by others who are hustling to a meeting with their divorce attorney. Some have found new faith, others have fallen into addiction, and still others wonder how long they can hold on before everything falls apart.

Materialism has taught us that there is a unique product, service, message (even pasta sauce) for each of these people. Therefore, it follows, that if each person were to follow a devotional and scripture reading plan, some days would be “better” than others. But what do we mean by better? Is it just a message’s ability to placate to my immediate need?

I’m regularly challenged by Timothy Keller’s framework for answered and unanswered prayer:

God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows. — Timothy Keller

Titus 3 challenges Christians to be “ready for every good work.” How are you and I to know what that will take? We cannot plan for every good work — there are too many variables. The value proposition of a Scripture reading plan is that it prepares us for every good work.

Reading Scripture daily engages the heart and mind — transcending daily worries and desires — so that we are prepared for every good work.

P.S. Thanks for being one of over 4,000 daily readers on The Park Forum. We’re so thankful to seek after God with you. We pray this devotional series helps cultivate vibrant faith and sharpen your insight into culture so you’re better equipped to love and serve those around you.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 30-31 (Listen – 11:21 )
Mark 16 (Listen – 2:34)

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20160331

A Prayer for the Hurting :: Readers’ Choice

I’ve kept this one handy to read and re-read, each time bringing me to tears—partly because it reminds me of God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm toward His people in tough times and partly because He has allowed me to be one of His people. I never want to stop being amazed at how God takes the very worst and makes it into something so much greater and more beautiful than we could ever imagine. — Sam

Readers’ Choice (Originally published March 31, 2016)

By Severus of Thrace

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. — Colossians 1:24

*Editor’s note: Severus was a priest in third-century Greece. Variations of this prayer are believed to have been used by the priest himself, and many who followed him, in preparation for martyrdom. 

To all who are tossed by the waves, you are the calm of the harbor; you are the hope of the hopeful. You are the health of the sick, you relieve the needy and guide the blind. To those exposed to punishment on every count, you are merciful; to the weary, a wall; in darkness, light.

You created the land, you rule the sea, you set every element in its place; a word from you and the heavens, the stars, and all else was made, and made perfect.

You kept Noah safe and gave wealth to Abraham, let Isaac go free and provided a victim in his stead, wrestled with Jacob, to his sweet confusion, took Lot away from the accursed land of Sodom.

Moses you let see you; to Joshua, son of Nun, you gave prudence.

In your mercy you went with Joseph on his way and brought your people out of the land of Egypt, leading them to the land they had been promised. You protected the three children in the furnace: your dew—Majesty—flowed over them and the flames could not touch them.

You closed the lions’ mouths, gave life, gave food to Daniel.

You did not allow Jonah to perish in the depths of the see and when the cruel sea-beast caught him in its jaws, you let him escape unhurt.

You gave Judith the weapons she needed; Susanna you saved from the unjust judges.

Esther had her triumph from you; you procured the downfall of Haman. You brought us from darkness to eternal light, Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, light yourself unquenchable, you who gave me the sign of the cross, the sign of Christ.

I beg you not to decide, Lord, that I am unworthy of these sufferings that my brethren have been allowed to undergo. Let me share the crown with them; let me be with them in glory, as I have been with them in prison. Let me rest with them, as I have confessed your glorious name with them.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 29 (Listen – 5:44)
Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

Submit a devotional for Readers’ Choice

Contribute your favorite Park Forum devotionals to Readers’ Choice.

Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

Thanks for being part of The Park Forum community. We are so thankful to be part of your devotional rhythm.

20150415

Peace in a Restless World :: Readers’ Choice

I really like the quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel with an analogy comparing hunger for religion with hunger for food. Very insightful to give us a sense of how we were made for God. — Steven

Readers’ Choice (Originally published April 15, 2015)

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. — Psalm 23.1-3

“Depth and strength underlie the simplicity of this psalm,” observes Derek Kidner in his book, Psalms. Often quoted in times of trial and suffering, Psalm 23 offers hope to the faithful.

The reality of the peace that comes from God is far from naive and simplistic. In his book Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, Abraham Joshua Heschel asserts, “It is hard to dismiss the popular concept that religion is a function of human nature, an avenue in the wild estate of civilization. We have been indoctrinated with the idea that religion is man’s own response to a need, the result of craving for immortality, or the attempt to conquer fear.”

Heschel, who walked arm-in-arm with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Al, knew this at a far deeper level than most of us have experienced. “Many people assume,” he continues, “that we feed our body to ease the pangs of hunger, to calm the irritated nerves of the empty stomach. As a matter of fact, we do not eat because we feel hungry but because the intake of food is essential for the maintenance of life, supplying the energy necessary for the various functions of the body. Hunger is the signal for eating, its occasion and regulator, not its true cause.”

“To restrict religion to the realm of human endeavor, or consciousness would imply that a person who refuses to take notice of God could isolate himself from the Omnipresent,” Heschel expounds. “Religion is not a cursory activity. What is going on between God and man is for the duration of life.”

To say, as the Psalmist does, that “I lack nothing” is to acknowledge the full peace of God. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom which points to the holistic peace which is a result of the presence and pleasure of God.

“Peace is not escape; its contentment is not complacency,” Kidner concludes: “There is readiness to face deep darkness and imminent attack, and the climax reveals a love which homes towards no material goal but to the Lord Himself.”

Prayer — Fill us, dear Father, with your peace. Renew our hearts and engage our minds. You are our hope and our future, and we long for your peace to make right all that we suffer in this world.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 28 (Listen – 3:05)
Mark 14 (Listen – 8:37)

Submit a devotional for Readers’ Choice

Contribute your favorite Park Forum devotionals to Readers’ Choice.

Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

Thanks for being part of The Park Forum community. We are so thankful to be part of your devotional rhythm.

20160712

Taxes and Worship :: Readers’ Choice

Given our perpetual engagement with politics at present, your article was an excellent reminder of what we treasure. — Steve

Readers’ Choice (Originally published July 12, 2016)

[Jesus replied,] “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” — Matthew 22.21

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Though the Pharisees’ question was designed to ensnare Jesus, they likely formed it from legitimate concerns in their day. How should a faithful person live under the rule of a pagan government?

The stakes couldn’t be higher during Jesus’ day. Taxes were more than financial support of corrupt systems, they were worship. In Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus Lois Tverberg reimagines Jesus’ interaction with the religious elite:

As the priest’s hand fumbled through the folds of his robe to withdraw a coin, guffaws arose from the crowd. As the shiny disk glinted in the sun, the realization dawned on him that he had just revealed his own hypocrisy. Denarii were strictly forbidden from the Temple, because they bore Caesar’s blasphemous claim to be divine.

Some purists, like the Essenes, refused to touch or even look at this particular coin. But the cleric had no qualms about carrying these pagan money pieces in his pocket. The man’s face reddened as he saw how easily the Galilean rabbi exposed his insincerity.

Now it was Jesus’ disciples turn to smirk. With a look of feigned innocence, Jesus inquired, “Whose image, whose likeness is on this coin?” Caesar’s, of course. It was precisely that image that made the coin forbidden in the Temple. No graven images were permitted, especially not the likeness of an emperor who insisted that he be worshiped as deity. Caesar’s taxes were not just about financial support, but about religious veneration. You were honoring the “god” Caesar by paying tribute to him.

In his reply we see the length at which Jesus believed the words the Spirit would inspire Paul to write: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

More importantly we see that Christ’s concern was far greater than our worldly battles. Tverberg concludes:

Caesar’s face is stamped on the coin because the coins are Caesar’s. They belong to him, they bear his image. Jesus was pointing out that because God had stamped his image on us, God’s reign was far beyond anything Caesar could imagine—it is over all of humanity. Humans are God’s coins, meant to be spent on his world, proclaiming God’s kingdom wherever we circulate.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 24 (Listen – 1:54)
Mark 10 (Listen – 6:42)

Submit a devotional for Readers’ Choice

Contribute your favorite Park Forum devotionals to Readers’ Choice.

Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

Thanks for being part of The Park Forum community. We are so thankful to be part of your devotional rhythm.

20160525

The Angry Watchmaker :: Readers’ Choice

Pardon the pun, but I LOVEd your 1 Corinthians 13 remix. Because of it, I’m starting to look for ways to make sometimes-too-familiar Scripture passages part of my heart-song and not just one more bit of knowledge in my head. — Sam

Readers’ Choice (Originally published May 25, 2016)

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. — 1 John 4.8

In the mid 18th century William Paley formulated what is known as the ‘Watchmaker Argument.’ Though Paley’s analogy was meant to provide a God-centered explanation of scientific creation, “There cannot be design without a designer,” it greatly impacted the trajectory of theology in the western world.

The Watchmaker Analogy described creation as an intricate and complex pocket watch. God crafted the heavens and the earth, humans and culture, beauty and brilliance—he set everything in motion—and now sits, detached from his creation, in heaven. Paley explained:

The watch must have had a maker: there must have existed, at some time and at some place or another, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it: who comprehended its construction and designed its use.

The equivalence of the divine with a master craftsman—as fastidious as he is devoid of personal interaction with his creation after it is set in motion—guided many of America’s founding fathers, and continues to shape our culture’s de facto understanding of God.

Later American theology, perhaps in an overcorrection, depicts God as intimately involved—but only because his intense anger demands he wage war against humankind. Entire branches of modern theology start and end with God’s anger. Heaven, in this way of thinking, is the place where God fumes, standing ready to lash out on his categorically unruly creation.

Sin, and God’s anger toward it, are essential parts of Christian theology—how can God be good if he doesn’t bring justice? But God’s anger toward evil is neither the foundation of the Christian story, nor the culmination of it.

Heaven is not a distant place where God sits aloof and fuming; Heaven is where God’s character is in full affect. Scripture confesses that God is love—not just that he has love or shows love, but that his very nature is love. In this sense, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us who God is. The famous passage on love could be paraphrased:

God is patient. God is kind. God does not envy or boast. God is not arrogant. God is not rude. God does not insist on his own way. God is not irritable. God is not resentful. God does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. God bears all things for his children. God believes all things about his children. God hopes all things for his children. God endures all things for his children.

God’s love never ends.

Today’s Reading
Jeremiah 23 (Listen – 7:13)
Mark 9 (Listen – 6:16)

Submit a devotional for Readers’ Choice

Contribute your favorite Park Forum devotionals to Readers’ Choice.

Email me the title or link. If you don’t mind adding a sentence or two as to why each post was significant to you, I would love to include your voice as well.

Thanks for being part of The Park Forum community. We are so thankful to be part of your devotional rhythm.