Trapped by Being Offended

Scripture Focus: Mark 6.4
A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.

Jeremiah 20.1-2
When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks.

Mark 6.27-28
So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter.

From John: This repost from 2018 is even more relevant today. When anyone today challenges us, our first instinct has become offense. Any prophet, preacher, politician, scientist, or fellow believer becomes a threat to us if they present evidence contrary to what is comfortable for us to believe. We marginalize them, attack their reputation, redraw our ideological lines to exclude them, and refuse to listen or to judge what they say.

Reflection: Trapped by Being Offended
By John Tillman

Our readings today bring us a theme of three prophets whose offensive messages caused them to be rejected: Jesus, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist.

Nazareth’s residents “took offense” at Jesus. The Greek word translated as “offense” is skandalizó and it implies the idea of a trap that one falls into or is ensnared by.

There’s no gunshot like conviction,
There’s no conscience bulletproof,
There’s no strength like our own weakness,
There’s no insult like the truth. — Charlie Peacock

Stumbling into the trap of offense leads to a pattern that we can learn from. All three of these prophets experienced this pattern in some way. If we find ourselves in one of these steps, we need to prayerfully evaluate our hearts to see if we are trapped by being offended.

Step one: Minimize the prophet’s message based on his or her family background, age, race, gender, or history.
Focus on the prophet and magnify any flaw. Jeremiah was a young, unpatriotic upstart. Jesus was an out-of-wedlock, scandalous, small-town kid from a flyover state from which nothing good could come. John was an extremist and was politically insensitive.

Step two: Publicly censure the prophet, inviting shame, scorn, and sometimes violence.
Jeremiah was held in stocks in the Temple. The purpose of such a punishment is to shame and humble an enemy; to make him or her powerless, allowing verbal and physical attacks. This practice is common today. We still love shaming and stoning people. We just mostly do it digitally through social media.

Step three: Conspire with the powerful to have the prophet silenced.
John’s attack on Herod’s incestuous marriage brought him into political crosshairs and set in motion an illegal conspiracy to have him killed. Jesus also was the victim of conspiracy, leading to his shaming, humiliating death on the cross. Jeremiah was tortured many times. The Bible doesn’t record his death, but according to traditional sources he was eventually stoned.

With the exception of Herodias, all of the people who tortured and killed the three prophets we read of today thought they were doing God’s work—disposing of troublemakers.

This should shock us into inner evaluation of ourselves and our motives. Why are we offended? Can we turn our offense and the offender over to God? We must always be cautious and prayerful when we take offense at a prophet.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence since I was young. — Psalm 71.5

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 20 (Listen – 3:07) 
Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 21 (Listen – 2:35) Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)
Jeremiah 22 (Listen – 5:07) Mark 8 (Listen – 4:29)

Read more about Avoiding Haman’s Petard
Haman’s path to hatred was hatched based on an action which he interpreted as disrespect.

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

From Slavery to Service—Worldwide Prayer

Scripture Focus: Mark 5.18-20
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Reflection: From Slavery to Service—Worldwide Prayer
By John Tillman

Just as Jesus left the Gerasene man, trusting him to spread the gospel to the Decapolis, he would soon leave the disciples, trusting them to spread the gospel to the world. And now, in our own turn, each generation is entrusted to follow in their footsteps.

May we be as miraculously transformed as the Gerasene man, leaving behind our demons, leaving behind our addictions, leaving behind our places of imprisonment. May we leave behind our slavery and enter his service becoming thankful workers for peace.

We, like the demoniac, are enslaved to our sin and have no strength to escape its pull. Yet, Jesus comes to us to set us free. May we be as radically thankful as the demoniac was, running to our cities and communities with loving action and the life-changing gospel.

Thankful Workers for Peace
A prayer of thanksgiving from Thailand

Dear heavenly Father,
We praise you for your love and mercy to all humankind.
We praise you for your Son, our Savior.
We praise you for this wonderful universe,
for the son, the moon and the stars.
You have placed everything in perfect order so that
we may live in peace and harmony with all that
you have created. You have provided sustenance
for your children.
People everywhere face many difficulties,
they suffer,
they cry,
they are starving,
homeless, and helpless.
Help us to attempt to solve the difficulties they face,
to be active in serving the needy.
And may we be workers for peace.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. — Psalm 31.1

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 19 (Listen – 2:58) 
Mark 5 (Listen – 5:21)

Read more about Freedom for Prisoners
The demoniac of the Gerasenes could not be captured or detained. He could break any chains that were put on him, yet remained captive to the evil inside of him.

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

Hope for Marred Pots

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 18.6
6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.

Reflection: Hope for Marred Pots
By John Tillman

Watching something you love self-destruct is wearying in a unique way. This is true whether what is self-destructing is a person, a nation, or a political group. It is for this reason that reading through the prophets can be an exercise in endurance. 

If we begin to grow tired of accounts of the sins of Israel and Judah and the judgments coming their way,  we are not alone. The other prophets and priests of Judah grew so sick of Jeremiah’s messages that they conspired against him.

Their opposition would grow from verbal attacks and ignoring Jeremiah to more insidious and violent forms. Their opposition would culminate in a plot to take his life.

They are not alone. Jeremiah grew weary of his own message. Jeremiah’s writings are filled with moments of grief and longing for his people to listen, to change, to repent. 

Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet but he is not the only one weeping. Many of Jeremiah’s most mournful passages could be read with God as the one weeping rather than Jeremiah. The most likely interpretation is that it is often both, not one or the other. Jeremiah is a weeping prophet because he serves a weeping God.

God, understanding Jeremiah’s grief, sends him to a place he can see that there is hope for marred and broken things—the potter’s house.. 

God tells Jeremiah that it is Israel on the potter’s wheel. Marred, rebellious, stubborn, yet still the artisan keeps the clay in his hands, crushing, spinning, shaping, and reforming the pot.

There is hope for marred and broken things like us. Whether nations, peoples, groups, or individuals, we can be reshaped. We don’t have to remain a useless, malformed pot. If we will stay pliable and stay in the hands of our potter, we can be reshaped. We can become a fitting vessel for the good plans that God has for us.

May we stay humble.
May we stay pliable.
May we stay in the potter’s hands.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Happy are the people whose strength is in you; whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way. — Psalm 84.4

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 18 (Listen – 3:40) 
Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)

Read more about The Two Ariels
“Judicial hardening” refers to the way God acts in response to our rejection of him and his messages.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post reminded you of Christ’s love?

Keeping the Sabbath by Action

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 17.21-23
21 This is what the LORD says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. 22 Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors. 23 Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline.

Mark 3.4-6
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Reflection: Keeping the Sabbath by Action
By John Tillman

There is more than one way to desecrate the Sabbath.

The way of “keeping the Sabbath holy” that we commonly think of is by limiting what we do. We refrain from doing work. We focus on spiritual matters. We prioritize worship. This is the kind of warning that Jeremiah was sent to cry. “Stop the clamour of commerce.” “Stop the wheels of wealth accumulation,” the prophet says. But Jesus defines a second requirement to keep the Sabbath holy. 

To Jesus, keeping the Sabbath holy meant staying in step with God’s Spirit and leaving nothing undone that the Spirit commanded. His stinging question about what is lawful on the Sabbath goes unanswered by the teachers of the law, not because they don’t know the answer, but because they don’t like the answer they would be forced to give.

Jeremiah banned commerce on the Sabbath because the day was intended to be about the worship of God and enriching the community rather than one’s self. Instead, over the centuries, the restrictions of the Sabbath had become excuses for selfish inaction. The experts of the law used their expertise to dodge responsibility rather than shoulder it and to accumulate wealth and power rather than honor God with it.

There’s more than one way to make Jesus angry. 

Inaction in the face of someone who needs help is one way that is very reliable. Jesus burns with anger for their heartlessness, but it’s more than activism—Jesus takes action. When we get angry, we tend to cause harm. When Jesus gets angry, he heals.

Jesus was angry because these teachers were doing what the wealthy of Jerusalem were doing in Jeremiah’s day. They were tying up heavy loads for others to carry, (and on the Sabbath, no less) but would not lift a finger to help them.

Keeping the Sabbath holy, maintaining God’s justice, and establishing righteousness are not passive, actionless, states of spiritual attainment. God’s holiness moves. God’s righteousness rolls like a river. God’s justice falls on the wicked.

May our holiness surpass that of the religious leaders, as Jesus prayed it would. 
May we not live in prayerlessness during the week and expect God to show up on the weekend.
May we fulfill the Sabbath by worshiping in spirit and truth.
May we not desecrate the Sabbath with inaction in the face of need.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
He looks at the earth and it trembles; he touches the mountains and they smoke. — Psalm 104.33

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 17 (Listen – 4:50) 
Mark 3 (Listen – 5:05)

Read more about The Focus of Christ’s Anger
It isn’t too often we see Jesus angry, so it makes sense to pay close attention to when and why it happens.

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

Captivity, Exile, and Exodus

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 16.14-15
14 “However, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ 15 but it will be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.

Reflection: Captivity, Exile, and Exodus
By John Tillman

Jeremiah and other prophets spoke often of how eventually God’s people would return from exile. The return from exile narrative is a mirror-version of the Exodus from Egypt narrative. 

In this mirror version, the corrupt state of Egypt is the corrupt states of Israel and Judah. The false gods of Egypt are the false gods of Israel and Judah. The harsh, desert wilderness experience is the harsh experience of the people in captivity in exile. The entrance to the promised land is the return home of the exiled people of God from all corners of the world.

In the original Exodus narrative, God’s people were enslaved by state power. The people did not abandon God, the state turned against them. In freeing the people from Egypt, God used plagues that were specific attacks on the false gods of the state in order to free his people to worship him, the one true God.

But Jeremiah describes a different kind of enslavement. While living in political freedom, the people of Israel and Judah became spiritually enslaved. They rejected God and set up their own gods and a government filled with oppression and mistreatment of the poor and outcasts. In the desert, they grumbled to go back to Egypt. When they made it to the promised land, they made another Egypt out of it.

The governments God established for his people were intended to be a light to the pagan world, carrying out God’s justice and demonstrating his righteousness. Instead, they became just like the pagan nations. The formerly oppressed, became oppressors. The formerly abused, became abusers. Israel became Egypt. 

How often do we repeat this cycle?
How often do we become our own spiritual oppressors, enslaving ourselves to sins and idolatry? 
What unholy “state” do we build up, abusing the power we have for our benefit?
What gods do we allow to set up shop in the temple of our hearts?
What suffering people have we shut out to make more room for ourselves?

God brought plagues to destroy the false gods. May he destroy ours. 
God moved his people through a place of suffering and purification. May we follow him.
God restored his people and renewed his covenant with them. May we seek his face in repentance and be restored.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick…And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners. — Matthew 9.12-13

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 16 (Listen – 3:52) 
Mark 2 (Listen – 5:05)

Read more about Keeping The Greatest Commandments
Even Christians are easily misled into thinking love is primarily a feeling. Yet, it is so much more.

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

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