Adding Insult to Injury

Scripture Focus: Job 5.27
“We have examined this, and it is true.
    So hear it and apply it to yourself.”

Reflection: Adding Insult to Injury
By Erin Newton

There’s no nice way to say this, but Job’s friends are jerks. Maybe they mean well or have a serious deficiency of tact. In the midst of suffering in epic proportions, Job endures painful chapters of the worst advice and lack of comfort by the handful of men in his life. It’s like one “bad take” after another. 

Modern forms of communication (texting, messaging, tweeting) have created a form of terseness that does not really benefit the other person. Our words are often formed under the desire to create something memorable, quotable, something that can easily go viral. A pithy statement is formed, we pat ourselves on the back and declare to the world “apply it to yourself.”

Eliphaz seems to view the suffering in Job’s life as a simple equation. After two chapters describing how Job could correct his situation, the final words end with the statement that there is no way he could be wrong and all Job needs to do is apply this golden advice to himself. 

Jesus confronted this same mindset in his disciples, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9.2). There is an innate desire for life to be a simple “if-then” scenario. If you are poor then it must be strictly your fault. If you are infertile, it’s probably a lack of faith. If you are single, you just need to pray more. These if-then statements are absurd and completely wrong. 

If quick judgments do more harm than good, how do we comfort a grieving friend? I learned through hard situations: sitting with a friend after the death of her father, speaking at a funeral for my friend’s infant child, and waiting for hard diagnoses for my own kids. One of the greatest things we can do for those in grief is to sit and listen. As Paul instructed, “mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12.15)

Grief is messy and gray. No black and white solutions. No terse statements will do. Words are empty unless we let them know we are a beating heart, a living soul and a listening ear. The best company during grief are wounded healers, friends who have been down that dark road too. 

Eliphaz should have modeled the character of the Wounded Healer, Jesus. “When Jesus saw her weeping… Jesus wept.” (John 11:33, 35). Be quiet. Listen without judgment. Sadness takes time. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Save me, O God, by your Name; in your might, defend my cause.
Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. — Psalm 54.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Job 5 (Listen – 2:29) 
Psalm 9 (Listen – 2:21)

Read more about When Help Doesn’t Help
Although Eliphaz meant well, his response was insensitive to his friend’s plight.

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Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 34.23-24, 27
She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people… Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord.

Reflection: Resolutions
By Erin Newton

New Year’s is one of my favorite lesser holidays. I love the idea of making new goals. However, some goals will fail miserably within the first month. Other goals I’ll forget I even made. I begin to wonder how I could forget something that once meant so much to me.

Chronicles is a second view of Israel’s history with a slightly different perspective than the books of Kings. We read again about the discovery of the book of the law during the reign of Josiah. The text seems foreign to the king and he needs the expertise and insight from the prophetess Huldah to understand.

We could pause a moment and be encouraged by God’s use of a woman to educate, inform, and interpret God’s word for the king. That is certainly a message for our day. Earlier this year, we reflected on the fact that Josiah responded positively to the rebuke given by the prophetess. (A Responsive Heart) That message continues to be needed as we reflect on our ignorance and reluctance to admit to past sins both private and corporate.

As I look toward the unknown year ahead, I think more about how the word had been forgotten. It was supposed to be read aloud and repeated throughout the year. In time, someone must have forgotten, become lazy, got distracted, was overwhelmed, stopped caring, succumbed to peer pressure, or found any number of reasons to neglect this duty. The few failures spread more and more until the entire community was ignorant.

Diane Langberg, an expert in trauma counseling, once said, “We get there little by little; blind, numb, and not noticing until the horrific seems normal and acceptable” (Suffering and the Heart of God). For the Israelites, they had replaced the worship of God with the worship of other deities and neglected to honor and support their marginalized neighbors. There was widespread injustice and oppression within the community. There was the suppression of true worship in their own hearts.

As we look toward this new year, this is the time to reflect on what you have forgotten in God’s word. The word calls us to pray often, take care of the poor, seek justice, walk humbly, speak truth, and give our lives for others. Let our apathy turn into a renewed covenant. Let the new year be filled with repentant hearts open to the wise counsel of godly women (or men). 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your Name forever and ever. — Psalm 145.1

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 34 (Listen – 6:23) 
Revelation 20 (Listen – 2:49)

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Read more about A Responsive Heart
Josiah was 18 years into his reign when he discovered that what he grew up with as normal was angering to the Lord.

Peace from Despair — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 15:3-4
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
    Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
    and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Reflection: Peace from Despair — Peace of Advent
By Erin Newton

“…And the soul felt its worth.” We close our eyes and let out that long-held breath. He is here. God is here. At last. God is with us. 

The impact of this line from, “O Holy Night,” reveals how often we feel worthless. It resonates with us because we have all felt that deep pang of emptiness. The exhausting weight of all our unanswered questions or unresolved hopes suddenly feels lifted as Jesus enters our world. Israel felt this first at his birth. We experience this ourselves. Our soul feels its worth in salvation. Our soul feels its worth when we remember that he dwells with us and works in our midst every day. 

What is the worth of our souls? Jesus’ birth meant relinquishing the limitless aspect to his divine attributes. It meant putting on flesh and entering a world where pain, persecution, and death were everyday occurrences. It meant things theologians continue to debate. But what it means to us is that we are worth every inconvenience, all suffering, each moment of constrained power. 

The song in Revelation 15 sounds like an amalgamation of various psalms. It is the blending of countless voices repeating to the Savior the wonderful memories of all he has done. It is the recognition that he alone is holy. Perhaps it reveals that other ways of living have been tried. Each age, each culture had its own way of trying to live without him. But all pale in comparison to his greatness and holiness. All other pursuits have left our souls empty and we despair. 

The peace of Advent is the peace from despair. Our peace is anchored to him. When life feels worthless, he brings our soul the restorative feeling of worth. It is the thrill of hope. Our weary world rejoices. 

This Christmas, I hope and pray that your soul has been refreshed as we have walked together to reflect on Advent. If the days have been filled with joy and serenity, I hope these reflections have stirred up praise to our Savior. If your days are still dark and cold, know that if your soul is tethered with our Lord, gold can still be found in moonlight. But if you still struggle with despair, not knowing who this Child is, you can find peace in him. There is no more looking, he is here.

From John: I love that Erin allowed us to spend a little more time reflecting on one of the greatest carols, “O Holy Night.” The version we linked yesterday, by Sara Groves, was chosen for its uniqueness. But since this carol is Jon Polk’s favorite, here we will link to a performance of “O Holy Night” from Saint Andrew’s Church in Hong Kong. Jon serves with this church and sings bass in this ensemble. From all of us at The Park Forum, we wish you the hope, love, joy, and peace of Christmas.

Music: “O Holy Night,” recording, Saint Andrew’s Church, Hong Kong, 2020

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds; they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 29 (Listen – 6:49)
Revelation 15 (Listen – 1:29)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 30 (Listen – 4:56) Revelation 16 (Listen – 3:17)
2 Chronicles 31 (Listen – 4:20) Revelation 17 (Listen – 3:19)

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Read more about I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day — Carols of Advent Peace
Jesus brings a new kind of peace…a peace that allows us to take risks by loving both our neighbor and our enemy…

Peace from Labor — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 14.13
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

Reflection: Peace from Labor — Peace of Advent
By Erin Newton

My kids have been impatiently waiting to open gifts. As a mischievous parent, I wrap small gifts inside large boxes. The kids imagine typically impossible items inside: cars, animals, rockets, etc. Part of the joke is their look of disappointment when they open the box to find a vast amount of empty space inside. In reality, the small gift is always very valuable.

This week has been a focus on how Jesus’ birth as a baby not only changed the course of history, but it upset the Jews’ expectations.

Within the vision of saints’ suffering in Revelation, there comes to us a new beatitude. We are familiar with Jesus’ words that it was blessed to be poor, mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure, peaceful and persecuted. But the grand finale of blessedness is revealed: the blessedness of martyrdom. For those who die for the Lord are at peace from all labor.

If we take a moment to imagine the tension in which the New Testament opens, it is not an atmosphere of positivity. There is no “all-American determination” that they will somehow pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There is certainly no hope that the next leader of Rome is going to provide means to make life more comfortable. The people were often already poor, hungry, and mournful. Jesus is born as one of them.

It is easy to expect Jesus to be something he is not. Or maybe we expect him to act for us in a way that has been answered “no” for now. Even though Jesus calls it blessed, being poor or persecuted or hungry is exhausting. How can we have peace in that? We fight the good fight, finish the race, and rest from all labor.

Jesus changes our world in ways that we sometimes cannot see or understand. We can forfeit peace and strive to change what is happening or we can recognize that even the infant Savior works in ways unseen. The hymn, “What Child is This?” speaks to the unexpected form of our Savior. Good Christians, fear, for sinners here / the silent Word is pleading. His labor of love never ceases, we rest in Him.

The day will come when all our toil and labor will cease. The peace of advent is knowing how blessed it is to toil and labor each day for his glory until he calls us home.

Music: “What Child Is This,” recording, Josh Garrels, 2016

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9.1

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 27-28 (Listen – 7:27)
Revelation 14 (Listen – 3:51)

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Actively waiting for the return of Jesus begins with the work of faith.

Peace of Endurance — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 13:10
…This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.

Reflection: Peace of Endurance — Peace of Advent
By Erin Newton 

The apocalyptic vision in Revelation continues with a picture of the suffering of God’s people.  It is a painful scene of oppression and injustice. Believers are called upon to accept the hard paths they are on, even to captivity or death. It is with endurance, patience, and faithfulness that they are commanded to face their circumstances.

As mentioned earlier this week, the Roman Empire had been through a series of wars in which Israel also suffered the pain and consequences of a dysfunctional society. They are ruled by a psychotic leader who seeks to kill any opposition to his throne even if the threats are toddlers.

The death of Herod was a momentary glimmer of hope for the safety of Jesus. However, as corrupt political systems go, one bad leader was replaced with another. Archelaus must have had a reputation like his father to prompt Joseph to fear returning to Judea. The family settled in another town further from their original home to patiently wait for the unfolding of God’s plan.

Bound to the rules, regulations, and rage-filled killing sprees, the Jews lived in a world that was corrupt and oppressive. Roman regulations sowed division within the Jewish population when some joined Rome, collecting taxes from friends and family. Into a world of corruption, the Savior was born.  His tiny body was bound by the slow progress of time. In time, he would grow into adulthood and begin teaching the crowds or healing the sick.

We, too, live within a corrupt world where God’s people quickly turn on one another for profit or exercise of power.  Our hearts groan as we endure the suffering and hardship. Like the hymns of Advent remind us, we eagerly and longingly await the Savior. We see that he, too, was born within a corrupt system.

The peace of Advent is the peace of endurance.  We long for God to remove oppression but we know that Jesus has walked this way too. There is great comfort in remembering that Jesus laid aside the divine right to be free from pain and suffering. Instead, he chose to be born in a helpless frame in a corrupt system and wait for decades to grow. As the great hymn says, His law is love and his gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break
for the slave is our brother
And in His name
all oppression shall cease.

Music: “O Holy Night,” recording, Sara Groves, 2008

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I cry out to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” — Psalm 142.5

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 26 (Listen – 4:00)
Revelation 13 (Listen – 3:20)

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Read more about Consolation and Patience — Joy of Advent
Like those “under the altar” we are comforted in our waiting and suffering. We seek and receive consolation from God himself.