From the Belly of the Beast

Scripture Focus: Jonah 2.7-9
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.

From John: In this week focused on thankfulness, many find themselves isolated from loved ones rather than gathered to give thanks for and with each other. When isolated, in the belly of one of the beasts of this world, may we turn to prayer and find it more powerful in the dark than it ever was in the light.

Reflection: From the Belly of the Beast
By John Tillman

Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Origen, writing of prayer, speaks of Jonah’s faith that, even though swallowed, as it were, by death, he could be heard by God:

Jonah, because he did not despair of being heard from the belly of the monster that had swallowed him, was able to quit the monster’s belly and complete his interrupted prophet’s mission to the Ninevites. How many things could each of us recount should he choose to recall with gratitude the benefits conferred upon him and to offer praise to God for them!

Let him, moreover, who has learned by experience what manner of monster that which swallowed Jonah typified, if he should ever come to be in the belly of the monster, pray in penitence.

Analogies to the prophet aside, we may not be in the beast’s belly because of wrongdoing, but because our world is filled with beasts. But regardless of how we came to be there, our prayer may be sharpened, amplified, and have a greater effect on our hearts. Origen continues:

We know that often fugitives from God’s commands who have been swallowed by death, which at the first prevailed against them, have been saved by reason of repentance from so great an evil, because they did not despair of being able to be saved though already overpowered in the belly of death: for death prevailed and swallowed, and again God took away every tear from every face.

If you have not been there yet, sooner or later we all experience the belly of the beast—sinking in the darkest hole of our lives, in deepest, grave-like depression. In the belly of the beast and in the grip of death, we can, as Jonah did, find in prayer what we could not find with our feet on solid ground.

As Origen says, “Souls that have long been barren but have become conscious of their intellects’ sterility and the barrenness of their mind, through persevering prayer have conceived of the Holy Spirit and given birth to thoughts and words of salvation full of contemplated truth.”

May we find God’s love. May we find courage. May we find purpose. May we find God, waiting there for us. Ready to wipe our tears and carry us onward.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” — Psalm 16.1

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

Today’s Readings
Jonah 2 (Listen – 1:20)
Luke 7 (Listen – 7:14)

Read more about Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer
A common note ringing from scripture is praise—most particularly praise from those in the midst of, and not yet rescued from trouble.

Read more about In a World of Trouble, Peace :: A Guided Prayer
There is much in our world for us to mourn, Lord. May we not neglect weeping in prayer.

Confessing the Full Grown Christ

Scripture Focus: Luke 4.41
Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.

From John: As we move closer to the Christmas season, it is helpful to take a look back at this post from 2018. Baby Jesus is culturally acceptable. The full-grown Jesus is considerably more demanding and controversial.

Reflection: Confessing the Full Grown Christ
By John Tillman

Very few individuals, before the resurrection, stated out loud their belief in who Jesus truly was. Most who did, were women.

Simeon, and Anna
are the first but they have it easier than some. It’s easy to accept baby Jesus as the Messiah while he isn’t making any demands other than food and snuggles. This is why Baby Jesus is widely culturally acceptable. It is only once Jesus opens his mouth to speak that people reject him.

It is more difficult to stand before a man who, by inaction, allowed your brother to die and call that man the Messiah, as Martha did.

It is more difficult to admit that the man who confronted you with your sexual sin is the Messiah, as the Samaritan woman did.

It is more difficult to speak what has been revealed to you by God when you don’t fully understand it yet, as Peter did when he confessed, “You are the Messiah.” Peter showed that he didn’t fully understand, only a verse or two later when he rebuked Jesus for talking about his upcoming crucifixion.

Like Peter, we have a tendency to want to tell Jesus what to do instead of doing what he tells us. Jesus corrected Peter for being concerned about the wrong things, and he might say the same to us today.

Peter, and the rest of the disciples, despite being exposed to so much otherworldly power, still thought in terms of earthly kingdoms and power. Even after the resurrection, moments before his ascension, they asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

We must stand and confess, not just the Christ Child and the childish, temporal hopes we may have for this world, but confess Christ the Crucified King. 

We must stand before the man who says, “In this world you will have trouble,” and accept it as he did, “for the joy set before him.” 

We must stand before the man who said, “take up your cross,” and, like him, set our face “like a flint” toward our sacrifice.

When we pray “your kingdom come”, the kingdom must come in our hearts before it can be realized into the world.

The kingdom among us is realized in our work together.
The kingdom among us is realized as we sharpen each other.
The kingdom among us is realized when each part of Christ’s body does its work.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said: “Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “ — Luke 10.22

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


Today’s Readings
Amos 9 (Listen – 3:08)
Luke 4 (Listen – 5:27)

This Weekend’s Readings
Obadiah 1 (Listen – 3:28), Luke 5 (Listen – 5:04)
Jonah 1 (Listen – 2:29), Luke 6 (Listen – 6:46)

Read More about Beyond Admiration
The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe…he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.

Read More about Doing All Things Well :: Readers’ Choice
As we follow Christ, we are meant to take on this mantle of confidence and comfort. This is not a confidence in our ability or a comfort in our own power, but an indwelling, filling, and freeing expression of the Holy Spirit with us.

Better Things to be Doing

Scripture Focus: Amos 8.5-6, 11
When will..the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?
…buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals…
“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.

From John: In this year of many kinds of hardships for service and retail workers, this post from 2018 has a heightened meaning. May we carry the kindness and grace of Jesus when we encounter retail and seasonal workers. If not, we may find ourselves facing a famine, not of profit, or water, or food but of the Word of God.

Reflection: Better Things to be Doing 
By John Tillman

At this time of year a basket of ripe fruit brings connotations of joy and celebration, but as God explained to Amos, the ripeness of the fruit was not the ripeness of joy, but of inward sin.

The people of Israel only seemed religiously observant. Inwardly, they wished that the bothersome business of worshiping God could be over with so they could get back to making money.

In a day when only openly religious businesses dare to be closed on Sunday, we may not comprehend a time when no business in the nation-state of Israel would dare to be open on a religious holiday.

In our culture, extended holiday hours are expected. They are a fact of life and many work additional jobs during the holidays to get by.

Although I’ve never rushed out of church to open a grain market, at times I have needed to get to the mall and open a Santa set. In my own life and the lives of many others, additional holiday employment doesn’t supply luxuries or money for presents, it is needed to get by. The additional work I get around the holidays has at times provided nearly a third of our yearly income. The gig economy is not always pretty.

Amos is right. The poor are indeed bought with silver.

Economic sins are prioritized by the Lord’s prophets. Amos is just one echo of their repeated theme. The wealthy market owner’s uncaring attitude started with a greedy lie that he had better things to do than worship God—namely, to wring out profit from every minute, every worker, and every square foot of land.

As we move into a cultural season in which we will all interact with many seasonal workers—often undertrained and often sleep-deprived—may we at a minimum interact with them with mercy and grace. And, for those who are supervisors and managers, may we work to humanize our treatment of our employees and better their lives encouraging as much rest as is possible in this season of economic frenzy.

And in moments of worship, whether private or corporate, may we remember there is nothing more profitable that we could be doing than worshiping God.

Amos is clear that if we don’t value worshiping God, the punishment is a famine—not a famine of profit, or water, or food, but a famine of the Word of God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand… — Psalm 95.6-7

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertimeby Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Amos 8 (Listen – 2:16)
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

Read more about Facing a Biblical Disaster
Their spiritual diet depends more on news programs than Bible passages.This is the true biblical disaster of 2020.

Read more about Confessing Idolatry—Guided Prayer
God, your prophet tells us Israel built many places for worship, had many “sacred stones,” but their hearts were far from God.

In Amaziah’s Shoes

Scripture Focus: Amos 7.10-17
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
    and Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” 

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the LORD. You say, 

 “‘Do not prophesy against Israel, 
and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’ 

17 “Therefore this is what the LORD says: 

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, 
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. 
Your land will be measured and divided up, 
and you yourself will die in a pagan country. 
And Israel will surely go into exile, 
away from their native land.’ ” 

Reflection: In Amaziah’s Shoes
By John Tillman

When a prophet’s name is in bold print as the title of the book, it is easy to take their side. However, angry prophets in our face, saying things we’d rather not hear, are hard to accept. 

There were many reasons for Amaziah to reject Amos. One reason was religious animosity. Amos was from Judah and Amaziah was the high priest at Bethel in Israel. Israel’s religious leaders lacked the spiritual authority of the Levitical priesthood and did not have the benefits of the grand temple of Jerusalem. They must have always felt a twinge of inferiority.

A second reason was political animosity. Like the United States, Israel and Judah had a bitter civil war. But, in their case, the union failed and 10 of the 12 tribes seceded, becoming Israel. Only the tribe of Benjamin stayed loyal to Judah. Occasionally, the two kingdoms were at peace and even went to war on the same side, but there was often political tension, especially over religious matters.

There was also class animosity. To Amaziah, and probably to us had we been standing there, Amos didn’t look like he belonged. His hands would have been workman’s hands, not those of a scholar. His fingers may even have been stained from the juice of the fruit he picked and sold. He probably smelled of sheep and manure. He was uneducated and uncultured. His tone showed no deference to Amaziah’s position. 

Let’s put ourselves in Amaziah’s shoes. We are a powerful, well educated, and well respected religious leader, with an inside track to the king. Then a smelly, loud, rude, immigrant prophet shows up. He is “uppity,” showing no deference or respect. He’s badmouthing the king who supports us. He won’t shut up. He’s pointing his fig-stained fingers at us as sinful. To us, he seems to obviously be here on some errand from our political enemies. He’s a fraud and maybe part of a political conspiracy!

The purpose of this exercise is not to absolve Amaziah, but to consider ourselves with sober judgment. We must remove any excuses we may have for dismissing a message from God because of the messenger God chose.

Messages from God may come from outside our theological circle or from a political enemy. They may be respectful and well-spoken or angry and rude. Woe to us, if we dismiss a prophet because of his “tone.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
And yet my people did not hear my voice, and Israel would not obey me. — Psalm 84.11

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


Today’s Readings
Amos 7 (Listen – 2:45)
Luke 2 (Listen – 6:11)

Read more about Decorating the Tombs of the Prophets
“Your fathers,” Jesus says, “would not have minded the prophets either, if the prophets were dead. #RussellMoore

Read more about The Naked Emotion of God
Many prophets engaged in actions that today would be considered questionable stunts…including publicly insulting kings and officials.

Woken by Woe

Scripture Focus: Amos 6.6
6 Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, 
and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, 
you notable men of the foremost nation, 
to whom the people of Israel come! 

Reflection: Woken by Woe
By John Tillman

We have lost the meaning of “woe.”

The Hebrew cry “hoy” or “ho” has been translated “woe,” “ah,” or “alas.” All of these are archaic to a modern audience. Most only know “woe” in preexisting clichés: “woe is me” or “tale of woe.” Familiarity with these phrases comes, mostly, from humorous contexts, not from true moments of distress or mourning.

“Woe,” is a wordless cry from ancient Hebrew, first appearing in Job. (Job 10.15) Ancient Hebrew mourning was normalized and formalized, with specific customs letting the community know there was one among them who mourned. The rending of clothing, the shaving of one’s head, and the cutting off of the beard spoke to the shame of loss. The singing of sad songs and wailing were orchestrated communal acts that joined the people together. 

Cries of “woe” were part of this formalized mourning. The repeated, ringing cries, like a bell or a siren, rang through communities, letting the living know that one who had walked among them was dead. 

Mourning in this context is both a protest against death and an acknowledgment of mortality.

We mourn death because deep down we know we are intended for eternity. Eternity is set in our hearts. This reminds us that our return to dust is the result of a tragic mistake and a rebellion that we remain complicit in. It also reminds us to seek truth, to repent and ask for forgiveness, and to enter into a new rebellion against the forces of death that now hold us captive.

The tone of “woe” is more ominous than mere sadness. It announces death and its inevitability, not just suffering or “having a bad day.” Amos, Jesus, and other prophets employ the ominous tone of, “woe” to get the attention of their audiences.

When Amos says, “woe,” to the complacent, he is announcing a funeral for their normal life. He is demanding their attention to a community tragedy. He is putting under their noses the foul stench of death to wake them from their complacent complicity in oppression and evil.

Woe can wake us. Woe can be a first humble step to repentance. Woe can mean that our past sins have died and we can now be cut free to walk in mercy. Woe can be the mourning of sin that leads to a resurrection of righteousness. 

If only we will listen…
Woe.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

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


Today’s Readings
Amos 6 (Listen – 2:13)
Luke 1:39-80 (Listen – 9:26)

Read more about Weighed and Found Wanting
We, like Belshazzar, “know all this,” but do we learn from the sins of our fathers before us? Do we continue in them or deny them?

Read more about Humbling Nebuchadnezzar
We pray unrepentant emperors of our day would avoid the humbling discipline of God by humbling themselves before him.


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