A Small Cup of Light

July13

*This is the final installment of the Summer Reading Series, designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

From the author’s website: In his mid-thirties, Ben Palpant was suddenly reduced to an infant in a matter of a few short weeks–learning again to read and walk and feed himself. With no clear diagnosis, he was left alone with his questions: “Who am I?” and “Why is this happening to me?”

Excerpt from Chapter Three: Calamity Come:

No child in the history of mankind, when asked what he would like to do when he grows up, has ever responded, “I want to suffer.” I, for one, did not.

C.S. Lewis called pain God’s megaphone. John Piper has called pain God’s pedagogy. “God, I am listening. Teach me. Speak into this bewilderment.”

After my meltdown in the office, everyone important to me encouraged me to stay home. My wife, father, mother, boss, and friends seemed to conspire against my ambitions. Soon my head began bobbing involuntarily and tremors gradually took over my torso. And then my arms and even my legs shook. My hands curled in on themselves and my tongue thickened in my mouth. I would sit like that for hours at a time.

My stability dissolved under the strain of suffering. In my suffering, I forgot that pain has a context. It is framed by the Master Storyteller. I am imagined: before I kicked against my mother’s womb, before the nurse pricked my heel and I cried out, before I threw a snowball and squealed with delight, God imagined all of it. 

He imagined the death of grubs and the death of the chicks that ate them. Such pain is part of his story. Thomas Merton suggested that the mystery of God eclipses our suffering. 

Pain is no case against God. No matter the cause. No matter the degree. Suffering does not call into question the existence of a good God; rather, it calls into question our lives.

I am a part of his story. I am the epiphany of God. I am a character whose life events have a purpose for me and for the story. Every event has purpose in the author’s larger design, even the bark of a dog, the death of a baby bird, or a small black coffin for a stillborn child. 

He knows the falling of a sparrow and he knew the collapse of a mind. God does not look at our suffering from afar. It is an intimate event to him. He is the author of every detail, speaking the suffering as it occurs.

Summer Reading Series
A Small Cup of Light
Ben Palpant
benpalpant.com, 2014

Today’s Readings
Joshua 18-19 (Listen – 9:59)
Psalms 149-150 (Listen – 1:56)

Life Together

July8

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Excerpt from Chapter One: Community

The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. So Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. There they find their mission, their work.

It is by God’s grace that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly around God’s word and sacrament in this world. Not all Christians partake of this grace. The imprisoned, the sick, the lonely who live in the diaspora, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible community is grace.

On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. 

Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly. They stand adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the community. They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together. Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure.

When their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking into pieces. So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves. 

Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive.

Summer Reading Series
Life Together
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible
Fortress Press, 2004

Today’s Readings
Joshua 10 (Listen – 7:23)
Psalms 142-143 (Listen – 2:35)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

July7

 

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter Nine: A New Story for Work

The particulars of how the gospel works out in each field are endlessly rich.

What are some of the idols of business, for example? Money and power certainly top the list. But remember that an idol is a good thing that we make into an ultimate thing. 

Corporate profits and influence, stewarded wisely, are a healthy means to a good end: They are vital to creating new products to serve customers, giving an adequate return to investors for the use of their money, and paying employees well for their work. 

Similarly, individual compensation is an appropriate reward for one’s contributions and is necessary to provide for oneself and one’s family. But it is not our identity, our salvation, or even our source of security and comfort. 

The Christian worker or business leader who has experienced God’s grace — ­who knows “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20) ­is free to honor God, love neighbors, and serve the common good through work.

At one level, this should all seem to go without saying. The idea that businesses should advance the social good has been regaining its proper place in the last decade, helped along by the string of business scandals in recent years.

Yet despite this growing consensus, it is probably fair to say that the implicit assumptions in the marketplace are that making money is the main thing in life, that business is fundamentally about accumulating and wielding power, and that maximizing profit within legal limits is an end in itself. 

The reason is that sin runs through the heart of every worker and the culture of every enterprise. The result is polluted rivers, poor service, unjust compensation, entitlement attitudes, dead-­end jobs, dehumanizing bureaucracy, backstabbing, and power grabs. This is why it is so important for us to be intentional in applying the counter-­narrative of the gospel to business.

To be a Christian in business, then, means much more than just being honest or not sleeping with your coworkers. It even means more than personal evangelism or holding a Bible study at the office. Rather, it means thinking out the implications of the gospel worldview and God’s purposes for your whole work life —­ and for the whole of the organization under your influence.

Summer Reading Series

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work  to God’s Work
Timothy Keller
Dutton, 2012

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

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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Just Mercy

July3

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Just Mercy | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from the Introduction

When I first went to death row in December 1983, America was in the early stages of a radical transformation that would turn us into an unprecedentedly harsh and punitive nation and result in mass imprisonment that has no historical parallel. Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. 

The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.

We have shot, hanged, gassed, electrocuted, and lethally injected hundreds of people to carry out legally sanctioned executions. Thousands more await their execution on death row.

We’ve created laws that make writing a bad check or committing a petty theft or minor property crime an offense that can result in life imprisonment. We have declared a costly war on people with substance abuse problems. There are more than a half-million people in state or federal prisons for drug offenses today, up from just 41,000 in 1980.

The collateral consequences of mass incarceration have been equally profound. We ban poor women and, inevitably, their children from receiving food stamps and public housing if they have prior drug convictions. 

We have created a new caste system that forces thousands of people into homelessness, bans them from living with their families and in their communities, and renders them virtually unemployable. 

We also make terrible mistakes. Scores of innocent people have been exonerated after being sentenced to death and nearly executed.

Finally, we spend lots of money. Spending on jails and prisons by state and federal governments has risen from $6.9 billion in 1980 to nearly $80 billion today.

My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. 

I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

Summer Reading Series
Just Mercy
Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau, 2015

Today’s Readings
Joshua 5 (Listen – 2:38)
Psalms 132-134 (Listen – 2:42)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

 ___________________________________

This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Joshua 6 (Listen – 4:47); Psalms 135-136 (Listen – 4:23)
Sunday: Joshua 7 (Listen – 4:58); Psalms 137-138 (Listen – 2:13)

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Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership

July2

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership  | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter One: What is Humility and Why Does it Matter?

Humility does not mean humiliation, even though both words are offspring of a single Latin parent (humilitas). Nor does it mean being a doormat for others, having low self-esteem or curbing your strengths and achievements. Jim Collins’ work reminds us it is possible to be humble, iron-willed and successful, and they frequently go together. 

Having strong opinions is no hindrance to humility either. One of the failings of contemporary Western culture is to confuse conviction with arrogance. Humility, rightly understood, is a potential antidote to the hateful political and religious rhetoric we often hear: Left versus Right, Christian versus Muslim and so on.

I want to argue that the solution to ideological discord is not “tolerance” in the post-modern form we frequently find it, the bland affirmation of all viewpoints as equally true and valid but an ability to profoundly disagree with others and deeply honor them at the same time.

Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others.

There are three key thoughts in this definition. First, humility presupposes your dignity. The one being humble acts from a height, so to speak, as the “lowering” etymology makes clear. True humility assumes the dignity or strength of the one possessing the virtue, which is why it should not be confused with having low self-esteem or being a doormat for others. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is impossible to be humble in the real sense without a healthy sense of your own worth and abilities.

Second, humility is willing. It is a choice. Otherwise, it is humiliation. 

Finally, humility is social. It is not a private act of self-deprecation—banishing proud thoughts, refusing to talk about your achievements and so on. I would call this simple “modesty”. But humility is about redirecting your powers, whether physical, intellectual, financial or structural, for the sake of others. 

One of the earliest Greek texts on this topic, written about AD 60 to the Roman colony of Philippi, puts it perfectly: “In a humble frame of mind regard one another as if better than yourselves—each of you taking care not only of your own needs but also of the needs of others.”

Summer Reading Series
Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership
John Dickson
HarperCollins Publishing, 2011

Today’s Readings
Joshua 4 (Listen – 3:31)
Psalms 129-131 (Listen – 2:03)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

___________________

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How can I make a tax-deductible donation? Click here.
How can I get these devotionals in my inbox? Click here.
What is the reading plan this blog is based on? Click here.

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