In the Face of the Impossible

Luke 1.18, 34, 37
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
“…no word from God will ever fail.”

Reflection: In the Face of the Impossible
By John Tillman

Luke plunges into visionary tales of the impossible and people who, to one degree or another, expressed doubts, reservations, and fears, and felt themselves unqualified for the task.

Madeleine L’Engle, in her book, Walking on Water marvels at how often God gave glorious visions and impossible tasks to those who were ill equipped.

“We are all asked to do more than we can do. Every hero and heroine of the Bible does more than he would have thought it possible to do, from Gideon, to Esther, to Mary. Jacob, one of my favorite characters, certainly wasn’t qualified. He was a liar and a cheat; and yet he was given the extraordinary vision of angels and archangels ascending and descending a ladder which reached from earth to heaven.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, Nathanael is given a glimpse of what Jacob saw, or a promise of it, and he wasn’t qualified, either. He was narrow-minded and unimaginative, and when Philip told him that Jesus of Nazareth was the one they sought, his rather cynical response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And yet it was to Nathanael that Jesus promised the vision of angels and archangels ascending and descending upon the son of man.”

God’s chooses to do the impossible with the unqualified, to frustrate the wise with the foolish, and to overthrow the strong with the weak. He subverts the systems we rely on and reminds us that our competence is an illusion and his grace shown through us comprises all that is good in the world.

We face the impossible, like Zechariah, when the world sees us as cursed and broken.
We face the impossible, like Mary, when the world strives to keep us powerless and vulnerable.

In the face of the impossible we are forced to keep our faith where it always should have been—on God. We are not qualified, but, L’Engle concludes, God will be glorified.

“In a very real sense, not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.“

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 47 (Listen – 5:03) 
Luke 1.1-38 (Listen – 9:26)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Ready to do Good
Can we really be expected not to counter-attack those who attack us with falsehoods? We tend to answer Paul by saying, “Sorry. That’s not possible or practical.”

Read more about Accepting Jesus
Her body returned to dust,
Like all who lived and died.
But that part she gave to him,
Is incorruptible! Eternal! Alive!

In the Face of Grief

Mark 16.6-7
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Reflection: In the Face of Grief
By John Tillman

It is ironic that Christ’s resurrection—a event he directly predicted over and over in the scriptures—is the miracle the disciples seemed the most unprepared for. 

They continued with the normal obligations of life. They continued in societal expectations. But inwardly they carried a deep sorrow. And it is in this sorrow that Christ visited them.

Mary’s veil of tears concealed Christ from her, and he parted it by calling her name.

Peter’s experience after the tomb left him doubtful as opposed to convinced. Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to Peter specifically and Peter’s experience on the shore with Jesus after returning to fishing for fish instead of men showed the raw and sensitive reality of his emotional state. Peter’s fear of failing (again) paralyzed him, but Christ re-called him, reinvigorated him, and continued transforming him from Simon to Peter, the Rock.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus were described as downcast. They were headed the wrong direction, too grief-stricken to follow the instruction to travel to Galilee. Jesus enlightened them intellectually and changed their direction and purpose.

Mark’s account gives us the unique detail that the disciples in the upper room were gathered, weeping and mourning before the women reported to them and Christ appeared.

None of Christ’s followers had to leave their sorrow behind for Jesus to come to them.
They didn’t have to defeat their crippling fear before they were worthy of Christ’s presence.
They didn’t have to know the theological answers about why Christ died or where he had been for all this time.
They didn’t have to be in the right place. (Only the encounter after fishing is in Galilee, where Christ, through the women, told the disciples to meet him.)

The resurrected Christ seems to have a special preference for appearing to the grieving. Why then do we seem to assume that this stopped when he ascended?

Every instance of grief in our lives will not be met with the miraculous reversal of a resurrection. But in every instance of grief, we can be assured that Christ will come to us. He will call our name as he did Mary’s. He will seek to transform us he did Peter. He will change our direction and our purpose as he did Cleopas and his companion.

In the face of grief, seek the face of Christ. He is coming to you.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us.  —  Psalm 67.1

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 46 (Listen – 4:47) 
Mark 16 (Listen – 2:34)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more from Remember Jesus Christ
Remembering the good news of the risen Christ provides perspective for our lives. Remembering the resurrection also recalls Christ’s suffering and reminds us that we may experience suffering, too.

Read more about Recalling the Failures
The disciples are slow to believe and understand what has happened, even after seeing Jesus alive. The resurrected Jesus is patient with them…he slowly and lovingly works to overcome their doubts and fears and reissue his call on their lives. And he is lovingly patient with us as well.

In the Face of Mockery and Shame

Mark 15.29-31
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!

Reflection: In the Face of Mockery and Shame
By John Tillman

Most dictionaries define crucifixion with a mention of Jesus. But to some crucifixion is simply extreme punishment and to some it is specifically tied to undeserved or unjust punishment. But crucifixion carries another, important implication—shame. 

The mockery of the passing crowds was not by accident, but part of the punishment’s design. Despite the many artistic depictions of loincloths, victims were hung naked in a public place specifically for the purpose of shaming them.

Crucifixion was common and so was public shaming of the crucified. It would be an unusual day in Jerusalem if there was no one for the crowds around Golgotha to mock.

The same is true today. It is an unusual day when social media does not hoist on a hashtag a victim for our mockery and derision.

Mockery and shame is an industry, and like any industry on the rise, growth is based on demand. The industry of shame might not have replaced the industry of journalism yet, but it has disrupted the market. Journalism, staring down the rise of shame-based tabloids, has blinked, and adjusted their business model.

We, as a culture, demand to shame others. We seem to think it is our right. The mob justice of destruction and vengeance through shame is the only system of justice our culture trusts. 

When preachers (or devotional writers) talk about sin and culture it is natural for Christians to first think of the sins of others. Take captive those thoughts now. Don’t allow yourself to engage in spiritual “whataboutism.” Brush aside thoughts of others’ wrongs. The Holy Spirit comes to help us see our own sins. If you are reminded of others’ sins, you aren’t listening to the right spirit. 

Focus on how Jesus responded to shaming and mockery.
Hebrews says that Christ “scorned the shame” of the cross. This is not a reference to “clapping back” at accusers. Christ did not scorn the shamers.
In the face of all the mockery and pain, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

When we remove mockery and shame as options, many of us will be at a loss for how to communicate in our world. This is why we must ask the Holy Spirit to convict us and respond on our behalf, making us salt and light with words of truth and love.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. — Psalm 90.14

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 45 (Listen – 4:10) 
Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about The Soul of Shame :: Readers’ Choice
Shame is the emotional weapon that evil uses to corrupt our relationships with God and each other and disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity.

Read more about Weaponized ShameChristians have the opportunity live as salt and light in a bland, rotting, and dark digital world. What we click, how we respond—if we we respond at all—shares a testimony to the world.

In the Face of Betrayal

Mark 14.18-19
While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”

Reflection: In the Face of Betrayal
By John Tillman

Jesus was familiar with the entire spectrum of betrayal. 

He was betrayed on a national level.
Jesus was the rightful king. The Messiah. But he was never accepted by those in power. He was the rejected king, the rejected cornerstone. In some ways, he was never truly allowed to return from exile in Egypt, being forced to live his entire life in obscurity. Even at the height of his popularity he stayed in out of the way places to avoid those who wanted to kill him. He only returned to Jerusalem at the end of his ministry for the purpose of being rejected and killed.

He was betrayed on a broad, societal level.
Jesus experienced Twitter-storm levels of betrayal. The religious leaders, just a few days prior, wanted to arrest and kill Jesus but refrained for fear of the great crowd that supported him. In a matter of hours, the crowd that was his protection, became the engine that drove the wheels of government to crush him.

He was betrayed on an intimate and personal level.
Even though Jesus knew betrayal by Judas was coming, the intimacy of it—the sign of the kiss—still shocked him. And Peter’s betrayal, cursing and denying Christ after so boldly claiming that all could fall away and he would still not, is one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the New Testament. The account in Luke contains the cinematic detail of Christ, in the midst of being beaten and accused, hearing the cock crow and turning to catch Peter’s eye just after what Peter had done.

Pause right now and film this scene in your own mind. Imagine Christ’s face looking at Peter in that moment.

Imagine his face looking at Judas.
Imagine his face looking at Jerusalem.
Imagine his face looking at the crowds berating him and calling for his death.

The look you imagine on Christ’s face in these moments says a lot about what you believe about who Jesus is and what his character is like.

Imagine his face looking at you.

Our sins are an intimate betrayal. Yet still Jesus looks at us with longing. He weeps for our mistakes and sins, but longs for our repentance and return.

Look full in his wonderful face this week. Do not despair over your betrayal as Judas did. Weep over it as Peter did. And wait. Jesus will lovingly come to you.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me. — Psalm 69.18

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 41 (Listen – 4:38) 
Mark 14 (Listen – 8:37)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Recognizing our True Position
Stone and King Rejected
Rejected stone.
Rejected king.
In our sins, alone,
Exile stings.

Read more about The Abandoned Savior
God, we abandoned you. Eternal unity broken by our sin. Truly we would have been counted among your disciples that night.

Setting a New Standard

Mark 10.15-17
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Reflection: Setting a New Standard
By John Tillman

Many scholars believe that Jesus cleansed the temple of buyers and sellers repeatedly—every time he visited Jerusalem. The slight variance of accounts in scripture imply this. This interpretation also fits with the way that Jesus consistently attacked the cultural religious institutions that were slanted to benefit the powerful, the rich, and the politically connected. This included redefining his society’s concept of marriage.

In yesterday’s reading, Jesus stated views on marriage more strict than the most conservative religious sects of his day. Jesus reset the standard from “Moses allowed” to “God made.” In doing so, he stripped the power from husbands to dissolve their marriages for any reason.

Jesus made a distinction between what Moses allowed and what God desired. He described the law about divorce, which Moses wrote, as a concession to the hard-heartedness of people who were too selfish and unloving to live according to God’s original design. This teaching on marriage was so extreme that his own disciples despaired of marrying due to the harshness of his teaching, saying, “If this is the situation…it is better not to marry.

Jesus both affirms the deep, spiritual purpose of marriage as God’s original design for humanity, while rejecting the culture that had twisted marriage into a power play.

No matter what culture’s moving needle says is moral, what matters to Jesus is God’s design. In this Jesus continues to demand greater righteousness than that can be attained under the law. The gospel is that he also provides that righteousness

We are no less selfish and no more loving today than the people to whom Moses gave the law. We too are stiff-necked and hard-hearted. Sin wreaks havoc in more than just marriages. Our economy is driven by coveting. Our industries profit from lust and market accordingly. The laws of our governments show that concessions must be made for our brokenness, our lusts, our lack of wisdom, our rejection of self-control, our addiction to violence, and our never-ending covetousness.

In our brokenness, we need not despair at Christ’s harshest teachings. Jesus rejected the morally compromised thinking of his culture, while at the same time welcoming into his fellowship those in clear violation of what he taught.

May we humbly welcome all whom Christ calls. Whosoever they are. Whatsoever their sin. . .
May we humbly welcome all that Christ offers: critique and correction, leading ultimately to communion.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
When my mind became embittered, I was sorely wounded in my heart.
I was stupid and had no understanding; I was like a brute beast in your presence.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me by your counsel, and afterwards receive me with glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And having you I desire nothing upon earth. — Psalm 21-25

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 41 (Listen – 7:30) 
Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 42 (Listen – 5:08), Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)
Genesis 43 (Listen – 5:02), Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

Read more about It’s In The Bible
We need to read our culture—not just live in it— seeking guidance to understand what is considered acceptable to the world, but is not acceptable to God.

Read more about In Praise of Christ’s Righteousness
We cannot save ourselves. Praise God.
God specifically tells Ezekiel that not even the greatest, most righteous men he might trust in would be able to save the nation.

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