Comfortable Prophecies

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 27.16-17
16 Then I said to the priests and all these people, “This is what the Lord says: Do not listen to the prophets who say, ‘Very soon now the articles from the Lord’s house will be brought back from Babylon.’ They are prophesying lies to you. 17 Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon, and you will live. Why should this city become a ruin?

Matthew 13.1-2
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Reflection: Comfortable Prophecies
By John Tillman

People are harder to love than objects.

Objects make more predictable and controllable gods than the true and living One. Perhaps that is why we easily become attached to physical objects, places, and things and sometimes forget the God those things are intended to point us toward. 

The people of Jerusalem were very attached to the physical implements of their worship in the Temple. It was a shock to them when Nebuchadnezzar took away many articles from the Temple along with the previous king, Jehoiachin. Their patterns of worship were disrupted. 

This shock, however, did not cause the people to return to proper worship of God. Instead, it pushed them further into denial and brought forth false prophets who would tell the people exactly what they wanted to hear.

“The articles of the Temple will return!”
“The suffering will be over soon.”
“Normalcy will resume.”

These lies made very comfortable prophecies. Near irresistible. It is difficult to point a judgmental finger at the residents of Jerusalem for falling for these false prophets. The current suffering we are enduring is nothing anywhere near the scale that they were enduring. Even though our suffering is less severe than theirs, don’t we also feel the pull to grasp onto any far-fetched hope of an end and a return to normalcy?

Jeremiah’s prophecies are uncomfortable. People considered them unpatriotic. Jeremiah had a reputation for gloom as if his writings and prophecies contained no messages of hope or offers of forgiveness for the people. Yet, Jeremiah frequently and beautifully describes God’s longing to bless the people and save them from further destruction. But they are unwilling to do what God asks. They are unwilling to submit. They are unwilling to be humbled or to acknowledge the sins that led them to this point. They are unwilling to live under the consequences of their sins.

O God, help us not to worship normalcy, but to seek your presence in this unique time.
May we find our comfort in you rather than in things we demand that you restore to us.
May we not long for the missing “instruments” of worship more than we long for you, the object of our worship.
O God, help us not be misled by false prophets offering comfort instead of truth.
Give us discernment and faith.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
When you are angry, all our days are gone; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone.
Who regards the power of your wrath? Who rightly fears your indignation:
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. — Psalm 90.8-12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 27 (Listen – 3:52)
Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 28 (Listen – 3:05) Mark 14 (Listen – 8:37)
Jeremiah 29 (Listen – 5:44) Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you understand the gospel?

Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
Judah treasured the Temple’s importance but not its inhabitant. They treasured the regalia, not the relationship.

Gift of Noticing

Scripture Focus: Mark 12.28; 34
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

From John: More than ever, we need the gift of noticing—especially when debating those with whom we disagree.

Reflection: Gift of Noticing
By John Tillman

Among all the debates and arguments with Christ that are recorded in scripture, one has always stood out to me and grown more important as I’ve grown older—the wise teacher of the law.

When I was younger, I was more interested in who this man was. Could it be Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night? Could it be Joseph of Arimathea? As I’ve grown older, I care less about his identity and more about his amazing gift of noticing the good in a perceived enemy.

Our culture is so adversarial, every interaction seems a zero-sum game. A guaranteed, click-driving word for content is “destroys,” as in, destroying your opponent. Sometimes this motivates people to literally attempt to destroy your opponents.

Our culture sees debate not as a learning experience but as a path to the domination of others through destruction. We have little in common with the rabbinical system of religious debate and question-driven teaching that Jesus knew. This process was normal and typically genial and healthy. We see it with Christ’s first visit to the temple as a child and throughout his ministry.

There were times (including in this chapter) Christ’s enemies attempted to get Jesus to say something that they could use to prove criminal intent. But, as the other religious leaders lost their objectivity in their attempts to discredit Jesus, the wise teacher found a better path.

Matthew’s account of this event leaves out the context of Mark—causing the question to seem more adversarial. But in Mark, the interaction plays out as more of a search for knowledge than an attack. The men connect with each other across their differences through the gift of noticing.

The wise teacher is not listening to attack or to destroy. He is not listening to craft a counter-argument. Through opposition and questioning, we see him find in Jesus a kinship and common ground of faith. The teacher notices Jesus; Jesus notices him.

Jesus came to seek and to save not to seek and destroy.

When we face opposition, when we question and argue, when we are confronted in debate, may we receive from the Holy Spirit the gift of noticing. May we notice our opposition, seeking to understand them, seeking to see them as Christ does. When we do, we will find how greatly they are loved by Jesus, who sees them.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Ye, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” — Matthew 11.28

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 26 (Listen – 4:04)
Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
This devotional from 2017 begs to be repeated. The world’s online language has gotten more, instead of less, brutal…more shocking, the language of many Christians and prominent Christian pastors has followed.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you forgive?

Unexpected Contents of God’s Cup of Wrath

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 25.27
27 “Then tell them, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk and vomit, and fall to rise no more because of the sword I will send among you.

Reflection: Unexpected Contents of God’s Cup of Wrath
By John Tillman

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the cup of God’s wrath is so shocking that it leads to death threats against him. 

The cup of God’s wrath is a common image that echoes all throughout the scriptures. (Isaiah 51.17; Jeremiah 49.12; Lamentations 4.21; Ezekiel 23.31; Revelation 14.10) Jesus mentions not wanting to drink it if possible. Yet, eventually, he drains it on our behalf. (Matthew 26.39)

We might imagine this cup filled with dreaded poison. We’d be wrong. We might imagine the horrific practice, used by ancient Romans, Spanish Inquisition torturers, and South American tribes, of having molten gold poured down one’s throat. This type of horrific torture is human wrath, not divine wrath. 

The cup of God’s wrath, as described by Jeremiah, is not filled with poison, molten gold, burning sulfur from the lake of fire, or any fanciful substance of perverse punishment or torture. It is filled with wine. 

No special torturous properties are needed. The contents are our own desires. Victims simply drink and drink and drink, until they vomit and die. The picture painted by Jeremiah is a messy nightmare of people dying in pools of their own vomit. It is still horrific, but a far cry from scenes that might garner high ratings on television programs like Game of Thrones.

God’s wrath does not work the way human wrath does. God punishes us, more often than not, by handing us the bottle of our bad choices and letting us drink up. Jeremiah describes how the cup of God’s wrath would be passed from nation to nation as they each in turn were judged by God for their excesses and sin.

Wine, when used as a symbol of God’s wrath, is transfigured from a symbol of joy to a symbol of judgment, from a symbol of happiness to a symbol of horror.

The cup of God’s wrath is also a long time in coming. In this case, Jeremiah has been preaching for twenty-three years before God finally gives up appealing to his people and gives them over to self-destruction.

May we learn to listen to God’s prophets who, like Jeremiah, might not speak in ways we like or appreciate.
May we learn to soften our hearts to God’s appeals so that we, like the “good figs” mentioned in the previous chapter, (Jeremiah 24.4-10) will be carried through the judgment God allows rather than being destroyed in it.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. — Psalm 103.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 25 (Listen – 6:12)
Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

Read more about Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness
When it comes to divine wrath, scripture often portrays it as a liquid.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post challenged or convicted you?

Urgent Desire for More

Scripture Focus: Mark 10.17
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Reflection: Urgent Desire for More
By John Tillman

Everything about how the rich man approached Jesus communicated urgency.

The rich man rushed up to Jesus and knelt down in a show of humility and concern. The way he approached was similar to the way Jairus approached when his daughter was dying. It was the way lepers knelt, desperate for healing. It is similar to the way a father approached Jesus when his demon-possessed child could not be healed by the disciples or the way the Syrophoenician woman begged for her child’s life to be delivered from demonic oppression. It was the way the demoniac of Gerasenes approached Jesus. 

Most everyone who approached Jesus in this way had someone’s life on the line but the rich man was concerned with something else. He asked to know how to “inherit eternal life.”

The word translated “inherit” is fairly common in scripture. It consistently refers to receiving something of value that one has not earned. There are many promises of God that we can inherit, but none we deserve or earn. 

We don’t know much else about the rich man but it seems safe to assume that he was familiar with earning and with inheriting. He was immersed in a system of earning and a system of spiritual achievement. He saw eternal life as the cherry on top of the delightful treat his life already was in contrast to those around him. 

Jesus’ answer dashed his anticipation. Urgency melted to apathy. The wealthy young man wasn’t ready to give up earning and he didn’t yet trust what he would stand to inherit. We are so similar to him. Especially in the West, we have more in common with the rich young man than we do with Christ’s disciples who “gave up everything” to follow him. 

Do we trust what we will inherit by giving up our worldly possessions to benefit others?
Are we willing to give up earning our righteousness and counting our trophies of achievement?

Scripture is silent about it but I like to imagine that the rich man eventually came back. After all, Jesus tells the disciples regarding this, “…all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10.27) The rich young ruler is not beyond saving and neither are we.

May we have an urgency about eternity and a dispassionate hold on the temporal. 
May we have an urgent desire for more than we can earn.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Great are the deeds of the Lord! they are studied by all who delight in them. — Psalm 111.2

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 24 (Listen – 1:54)
Mark10 (Listen – 6:42)

Read more about The Miracle of Faith
I long to be filled with faith, but I’m often filled with…pride, like the rich young ruler who claimed to have kept all the commandments.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post lifted your spirit?

Humble, Welcoming Servants—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Mark 9.50
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Reflection: Humble, Welcoming Servants—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

We confess to you, Lord…
When our immaturity demands miracles on our terms
When we struggle to accept the people whom you are calling us to accept
When we take offense
When we are ungrateful for how much you have transformed our lives
That, so many times, it is our own ambitions and selfishness that stand in the way.

Just like the twelve, just like any numbered group, we are concerned about being number one. We argue and attempt to dominate one another.

“He asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” — Mark 9.33-34

“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” — Mark 9.35

Help us to serve all and humbly welcome those whom you place in the center of our gatherings.
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them 

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” — Mark 9.36-37

Help us to support those outside our groups who are willing to work in Christ’s name.

“‘We told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’
‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.’” — Mark 9.38-40

Lord, it is not what we see that causes us to stumble, it is our own eyes. It is not what we touch that causes us to stumble, it is our own hands. It is not what we lust for that causes us to stumble. It is our own heart.

“If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.” — Mark 9.47

Help us to remove from our lives what causes us to stumble.
Help us to humbly work with those who will work with us.
Help us to be servants to all-comers, not contestants against all-comers.
Help us to remember with thanks the transformative work you have done in our lives.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. — Psalm 110.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 27 (Listen – 3:52)
Mark 9 (Listen – 6:16)

Read more about Seeking God’s Servant
Blind and hard of hearing as we may be to His ultimate purpose, God leads us and calls us to be His humble servants.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you endure suffering?