A King’s Vanity and a Slap in the Face

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 22:6-8
6 So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”
“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”
7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”
8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”
“The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

Reflection: A King’s Vanity and a Slap in the Face 
By Jon Polk

It’s official. Ahab was the worst king of Israel.

The stinging indictment is made in 1 Kings 16, “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”

Why does Ahab deserve this dubious distinction? Aside from implementing Baal worship and the shocking murder of Naboth, Ahab was notorious for antagonistic relations with God’s prophets.

Ahab tussled with Elijah on several occasions, but 1 Kings 22 records an encounter with the sharp-tongued Micaiah. The scene opens with Ahab attempting to convince king Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him in attacking Aram to reclaim the land of Ramoth Gilead. Jehoshaphat suggests that they seek God’s counsel, so Ahab calls in all 400 of his official prophets.

Led by the overly dramatic Zedekiah, who had crafted iron horns representing victory, the king’s prophets unanimously proclaimed that the Lord would give the land to Ahab in battle.

Jehoshaphat was not convinced and saw through the blatant pandering of those false prophets. He asked if there were still any true prophets around. 

Ahab’s response sums up his desire to be surrounded by “yes” men. “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me.”

That prophet, Micaiah, is asked if they should go to war. He quipped sarcastically, “Sure, go ahead, attack and be victorious,” prompting Ahab to insist that Micaiah actually tell him the truth from God.

So he did: War with Aram will not end well, Israel will be sacked, Ahab will be killed, and by the way, all those other prophets were filled with a deceiving spirit.

Micaiah’s prophecy of doom earned him a slap across the face from the sanctimonious Zedekiah.

Alas, the king decided to make war anyway, and, lo and behold, everything happened exactly as Micaiah said it would.

Are we any better than Ahab, with our echo chambers of social media reinforcing only those opinions and attitudes that we want to believe? Do we find enjoyment in metaphorically slapping the faces of our opponents, real or imagined? Do we surround ourselves with voices that only tell us what we want to hear?

Let us learn from the foolish Ahab that we must not only be able to discern truth from error but we should also not discount the voice of God simply if it comes to us from sources we may find disagreeable. Let the hearer understand.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 22 (Listen – 7:51)
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)

Read more about “Trivial” Sin
Ahab is notorious for promoting the worship of Baal and Asherah…For Ahab, these were “trivial”

Read more about Kingdoms Breaking Bad
As Israel fractures, each dynasty hopes to be the answer. But each one, especially in the northern kingdom, “breaks bad.”

Let’s Take a Walk

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 5.6-7
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

From John: We look back on this post of Jon’s from 2019 today, as we celebrate that he has finally completed his quarantine after returning to Hong Kong from summer in the US. We thank God for his protection of the Polk family as they traveled in the US during this summer of Covid outbreaks and we walk in faith, believing that through the common grace of science, many will continue to be protected from infection. We also pray that those who still catch the virus will experience the additional grace of God’s healing and divine protection. Walking by “faith not fear” should not mean foolishness or recklessness but humility and graciousness before God.

Reflection: Let’s Take a Walk
By Jon Polk

The classic KJV translation of 2 Corinthians 5:7 is frequently quoted, cross-stitched and memorized: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Jews used this word walk as an idiom relating to how you live your life. We utilize a similar idea when we talk about our “Christian walk” or our “walk with God.” Our lives ought to be dependent on our faith, not on what we can see or comprehend.

Contrary to the popular phrase, faith is not about taking a “blind leap” but rather making steps towards God, following the path he lays out before us. Paul refers to confidence twice in this passage, implying that faith is not blind hope but is grounded in our trust in God.

Faith is confident movement towards the path that God has ahead for us. We may not see the path, but we have faith that the path exists. We may not see beyond the first step, but we take the first step in faith. We may not see all the reasons behind what God is calling us to do, but we have faith that he leads us as he does for a purpose.

On his first journey to China, the great British missionary Hudson Taylor traveled aboard a sailing vessel. As the ship neared the coast of New Guinea, the winds died out for a number of weeks. The ship began to drift dangerously towards the shore, at risk of running aground on the coral reefs leaving the crew to the mercy of the natives rumored to be cannibals.

The captain came to Taylor in desperation, asking him to pray for God to send wind. So Taylor and a few other men began to pray for a breeze. As they prayed, he went up on deck and asked the second mate to ready the mainsail. Initially, the mate resisted, not wanting to appear foolish in front of the crew, but Taylor insisted and he finally agreed. In the ensuing moments, a strong wind indeed came upon the ship and sailors scrambled all over the deck as the wind kicked in.

When you raise the sails in your life before you can even see the wind, you’re walking by faith.
So go take a walk. Not a walk based on what we can see in this earthly life but a walk by faith into the adventurous life God has for us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me… — Psalm 101.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 12 (Listen – 5:25)
2 Corinthians 5 (Listen -3:14)

Read more about Don’t Waste the Waiting
During one particularly long waiting season, after running ahead of God in various ways, I confessed my impatience and frustration.

Read more about Trust and Pursue God’s Promises
Fully trusting in God’s promises gives us the hope, strength, and courage to pursue those promises.

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, December 23rd, 2020, based on readings from John 13 and Luke 2.
It was selected by reader, Russell in Saitama, Japan
“I always thought this was a strange Christmas carol, in that it never mentions Jesus or His birth. I’m glad to know that the author was ‘passionately focused on Christ,’ in spite of this omission.”

Scripture Focus: John 13.13-15
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Luke 2.13-14
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Reflection: It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Readers’ Choice 
By Jon Polk

After graduating in 1837 from the Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Edmund Hamilton Sears settled in as pastor in the country town of Wayland. The church was impressed with his character and preaching and Sears, who never had ambitions for a prominent city congregation, was enamored by the quiet beauty of the little parish.

One can sense parochial tranquility in his most famous hymn.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old…
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Sears’ family would quickly grow to four children, compelling him to seek out a larger church which could support them. In 1840, he accepted the pastorate of a church in Lancaster, where he would serve for seven years.

The work in Lancaster was difficult and Sears suffered from illness, depression, and an eventual breakdown. Ultimately, his condition deteriorated to the point where he was unable to project his preaching voice loud enough for the congregation to hear.

To facilitate recovery, he returned to Wayland for a year of rest. When healthy, he was invited to return to the Wayland church part-time, which freed him to use his gifts in writing.

In the aftermath of his personal struggles, he wrote “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” in 1849. At the time, the U.S. was reeling from the Mexican War and struggling with slavery as the Civil War drew near.

His sadness is palpable in the lyrics.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long…
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring…

Sears’ theology was passionately focused on Christ; he preached “The word ‘Jesus’ opens the heart and touches the place of tears.” He maintained that Christ alone had bridged the great divide between God and humanity.

As a result, he believed that we are responsible for implementing God’s peace in the world, consequently he preached for equality of women and men, opposing killing even in war, and against the evils of slavery.

This work towards peace is reflected in the carol’s hopeful ending.

When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Following his life struggles, Sears managed to find his own peace and eventually a new purpose as a full-time writer. In his most read work, The Fourth Gospel: The Heart of Christ, he writes, “My consciousness at one time may give me an inward sense of moral ruin and disorder. I may see a creation rise out of this chaos… a peace more sweet than the tranquility of the morning… It comes not from inward beholdings of the Deity, but of what He does…”

Listen:It Came Upon A Midnight Clear by Over the Rhine
Read: Lyrics at Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
“I will establish your line forever, and preserve your throne for all generations.” — Psalm 89.3-4

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 9 (Listen – 4:42)
Romans 7 (Listen – 4:09)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
Have we heard from you yet? Tell us about posts from the past year (September 2020 – July 2021) that have helped you in your faith.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Ennobled by the Incarnation
Jesus comes not to condemn our humanity but to share in it. The incarnation is an ennobling epiphany

Were You There? — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: John 19:16-18, 28-30
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Reflection: Were You There? — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

The hauntingly beautiful hymn, “Were You There?” poses profound imaginative and reflective questions. 

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Each verse paints a bleak and dismal picture which, upon contemplation, can only cause us to shudder and tremble as we are confronted with these ugly realities.

One of the most recognizable African-American spirituals, “Were You There?” emerged from the slave experience in the U.S. in the mid-1800s. While outwardly the song asks us to imagine ourselves at the scene of the cross, when sung by slaves, it metaphorically connected Jesus’ suffering to their own.

Henry Proctor, minister at the First Congregational Church in Atlanta, referenced the hymn in The Southern Workman journal in 1907. Proctor, whose parents were both former slaves, described the work of Christ as found in slave spirituals,

They bore testimony to [Christ’s] divinity by their belief in his supernatural power, resurrection, royalty, regnancy, and atoning work. But to them he was also human. He was “a man of sorrows.” He could sympathize with those “acquainted with grief.” How solemnly and sweetly they sang of his crucifixion, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Modern American theologian, James Cone, notes in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, that the same is still true in African-American churches today,

During my childhood, I heard a lot about the cross at Macedonia A.M.E. Church, where faith in Jesus was defined and celebrated. We sang… and asked, “Were you there?” There were more songs, sermons, prayers, and testimonies about the cross than any other theme. The cross was the foundation on which their faith was built.

The season of Lent culminates in Passion Week, which does not allow us to arrive at the joy of the resurrection without passing through the pain and tragedy of the crucifixion. Lent gives us an opportunity to consider our response to the cross and, likewise, to injustices in our world.

“Were you there?” is a question that asks us to reconcile our present with the past. It calls us to measure what impact the events of the past have had on our lives in the present. It forces us to deal with the ugly realities of our personal and communal pasts.

Remembering the cross should be painful. Remembering the past may also be painful. Both encourage us to cling to the future hope we have in what Christ has accomplished for us through the cross.

Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Music:Were You There?” by Mahalia Jackson
Lyrics:Were You There?” lyrics from Hymnary.com

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For who is God, but the Lord? Who is the Rock, except our God? — Psalm 18.32

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

Today’s Readings
Exodus 40 (Listen – 4:07) 
John 19 (Listen – 6:23)

Read more about Beneath the Cross of Jesus — Lenten Hymns
Not only do we find rest in the cruel cross of Jesus, but his sacrifice compels us to give our own lives away for others.

Read more about King on the Mountain, King on the Cross
The king on the mountain demanded righteousness. The king on the cross provided it.

What Wondrous Love Is This? — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: John 12.12-13
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

Reflection: What Wondrous Love Is This? — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

While the anonymous author of the hymn text “What Wondrous Love is This” may be lost to history, its lyrical beauty and simplicity are timeless.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

The hymn originates from the Appalachian region of the United States in the early 1800s. While hymnals were not commonplace at the time, the lyrics were first published in two different camp meeting songbooks in 1811, one in Lynchburg, Virginia, and the other in Lexington, Kentucky.

Because hymn books were rare, authors would often write lyrics that were simple and repetitive to aid congregations in learning the songs. This was not indicative of a poor writer, rather the repetition served to increase retention of the words and message.

The tune of the hymn was similar to a 1701 English song, “The Ballad of Captain Kidd,” which recounted the exploits of a sailor who had been executed for piracy. Many other popular songs had also been set to the same melody. In this way, the tune was memorable and easy to learn, much like singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of The Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” or the old Gilligan’s Island TV show theme.

Furthermore, the song was discovered by composer William Walker during his travels in Appalachia and published in 1835 in his collection of shape note hymns, The Southern Harmony. Shape note singing was a popular form of musical notation using shapes to denote different pitches. Since most people in that day could not read music, shape notes made it possible for everyone to sing.

The season of Lent provides an opportunity for us as Christians to consider what messages we repeat over and over with our voices, actions, and attitudes. Do we present the simple message, “When I was sinking down, Christ laid aside His crown,” clearly and accessibly to those who have ears to hear?

Does the world hear a Church that repeats a message of its own selfish needs and demands, or do they hear us proclaim, “To God and to the Lamb, I will sing”?

Ultimately, what is the deep song in our hearts that we will repeat, not only in this life but through all eternity?

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

Listen: What Wondrous Love is This? by Fernando Ortega
Lyrics: What Wondrous Love is This?, anonymous  — Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding, and hearken to the voice of his word.
Bless the Lord, all you, his hosts, you ministers of his who do his will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion… — Psalm 103.20-22

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

Today’s Readings
Exodus 33 (Listen – 3:49) 
John 12 (Listen – 6:26)

Read more about Bearing Reproach
By these things, we are the Lord’s messengers, preparing the way, carrying the gospel to all around us.

Read more about Justice to Wormwood
It will not do for us to sing about justice without bringing it to pass.

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