Our Least Favorite Commandment

Psalm 137.4-6
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Reflection: Our Least Favorite Commandment
By John Tillman

When violence or injustice harms those close to us, we typically react with admirable compassion toward the victims. “Even sinners do that.”

What is more revealing of a heart shaped by Christ is how we act toward perpetrators. Down in the comment streams below fundraisers and bake sales, you will also find our baser instincts. You will find those vowing violence against the perpetrators. You will find those calling for merciless application of the fullest extent of the law’s punishment. You will find those wishing prison rape on the attackers.

All hearts shaped by our violent culture react this way. Even Christian communities react this way—sometimes when they have only been attacked with harsh words. There is, perhaps, no commandment of Jesus that we flout with more impunity than, “do good to those who hate you.”

Our first instinctive thought regarding injustice is, “someone has to pay.” And we prefer “justice” done by our own hands, in our own way. 

In scripture there are often violent men and calls for violent actions. Psalm 137 has long been struggled over by faithful believers as almost too terrible to exist in the same Bible with Psalm 139 that speaks tenderly of life in the womb. (Yet, even Psalm 139 calls for the death of the wicked.)

Speaking of this most violent of Psalms, Charles Spurgeon recognized that as bitter as the psalmist’s cry is, he still is relinquishing his own anger to be tempered by God into the sword of justice and administered by God at a time of his own choosing. 

“We may rest assured that every unrighteous power is doomed to destruction and that, from the throne of God, justice will be measured out to all whose law is force, whose rule is selfishness, and whose policy is oppression…shall despots crush virtue beneath their iron heel and never be punished? Time will show.” — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Injustice is before us, behind us, beneath us, and above us. Yet we rest assured that Christ who is before us, behind us, beneath us, and above us sees it too. God has given judgment to the Son and he will carry it out. All “whose policy is oppression,” will answer to the judgment of Christ.

The next time we think, “someone has to pay,” may we also hear the voice of Christ speak within us saying, “I will pay. It is finished. Forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. — Psalm 103.8

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

Today’s Readings
Joshua 7 (Listen – 4:58) 
Psalm 137-138 (Listen – 2:13)

This Weekend’s Readings
Joshua 8 (Listen – 4:58), Psalm 139 (Listen – 2:26)
Joshua 9 (Listen – 4:58), Psalm 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Read more about Killing With our Hearts
Some of the most popular sayings of Jesus are here in Matthew’s fifth chapter. So are many of the most ignored sayings of Jesus.

Readers’ Choice Submissions
It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
We cannot continue posting and liking things that are resentful, quarrelsome, and the opposite of gentle, yet expect to represent Christ and the Gospel in the world.

Jericho’s Wall

Joshua 5.13-14
Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” 
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

Reflection: Jericho’s Wall
By John Tillman

If you ask most Christians how the inhabitants of Jericho responded to Israel and their silent marching around the city, most will probably say they taunted them and that the point of the story is that the Israelites demonstrated faith by following God’s strange plan despite being made fun of. This is a complete fabrication. There is no textual evidence to suggest that the Israelites were teased or taunted at all by Jericho.  

Scripture doesn’t shy away from a great taunt. The scriptures are full of them. God himself delivers sharply barbed taunts. Even Jesus gently taunts Nicodemus. But no taunts are recorded here.

Jericho wasn’t in a taunting mood. They were terrified. No matter how funny the French Peas are in a Veggie Tales video, the reality is that scripture tells us multiple times how terrified everyone in Canaan was of Israel, but it never tells us once that they taunted Israel or made any comment about God’s plan of marching around the city.

It’s not difficult to see why Jericho was terrified. This gigantic group of former slaves destroyed the entire army of Egypt—the world-wide superpower of its day. Today, this would be comparable to the United States military being wiped out by an opponent. Then this same group traveled through the desert completely destroying any king or nation that stood up to them. Then, these desert-crossing, dangerous, religious fanatics show up at Jericho’s border, crossing the river without permission and in a miraculous fashion.

One possible reason for our extremely poor handling of scripture, in this case, is that, when teaching children, we are so uncomfortable with the idea of God ordering the Israelites to wipe out an entire city, we need a distraction. “Perseverance amidst taunting” is a kinder-gentler lesson to teach children. 

This erroneous reading of scripture turns the power dynamic upside down allowing us to feel “persecuted” like the Israelites and justified in destroying our enemies.

But God isn’t interested in destroying people we call our enemies. If the commander of the Lord’s army was not on Joshua’s side, we can rest assured that the commander of the Lord’s army is not on “our” side today. Especially if we define our side so narrowly as to exclude those outside of something so meaningless and trivial as a political party.

The lesson of Jericho’s wall is not that God’s plans are weird, and people will make fun of us, but we should follow God anyway. The lesson of Jericho’s wall is that it is God who initiates judgment, not us. The lesson is that we don’t deserve what God has given us and that if we are unfaithful, we too will face God’s wrath and no wall will stand in its way.

*Tomorrow, as the United States marks its independence, may we be reminded of our utter dependence on God and that our true citizenship is in the new Heaven and the New Earth to come. 

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, for in his holy Name we put our trust.
Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in your. — Psalm 33.20-22

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

Today’s Readings
Joshua 5-6.5 (Listen – 2:38) 
Psalm 132-134 (Listen – 2:42)

Tomorrow’s Readings
Joshua 6.6-27 (Listen – 4:47) 
Psalm 135-136 (Listen – 3:53)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Readers’ Choice Submissions

It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Read more about Over Jordan
When we cross over the Jordan with Christ, the land has no enemies to be defeated. It has no cities to march around and no battles to be fought. 

Read more about Prayer for Enemies
How quickly do we celebrate our enemies’ sufferings? Should we, rather, pray for them instead?

Spiritual Markers

Joshua 4.20-22
And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’

Reflection: Spiritual Markers
By John Tillman

Spiritual Markers are important. They mark places and times when we measured some extent of the width or depth of length of what God has done for us. 

The younger generation of Israelites who crossed the Jordan with Joshua likely had no memory of slavery in Egypt or the miraculous plagues or the escape through the Red Sea. They were children who had grown up in the desert. Their lives were literally and figuratively rootless. They had never known cultivation or agriculture. They had never known any other life than that of a migrant.

Even the God they worshiped was a migrant God, wandering the desert with his people. The very mobility of the Tabernacle testified that God was a god like no other—a God not tied to a place but to people.
 
These desert children, claiming the land their parents had failed to enter, had plenty of examples of God’s miraculous provision. They witnessed manna, the provision of bread without cultivation. They witnessed the pillar of cloud and fire, the provision of guidance and protection. They witnessed water from rocks and many examples of God’s miraculous protection from enemies both political and spiritual.

But the rocks taken from the center of the river were different. The altar built from these rocks would be the first act of cultivation in the land. The wandering, desert children who had never planted a seed, planted a marker in the land of faith and trust in God. The rocks from the river were to be a remembrance to a future generation. But the rocks would be meaningless without the testimony of those who carried them.

What markers have you planted to cultivate remembrance of God in your life?
The strongest markers are those which are tied to community, to relationships, and to stories that can be retold.

In later days, God would be forgotten. The altar built near the Jordan would still be standing, but the people would not stand by it. They would forget. 

We, like the Israelites, excel at forgetting God and we are especially good at forgetting him when we are comfortable, wealthy, and prosperous.

May our markers of spiritual remembrance be tied to stories that challenge us to remember that we are poor, blind, and naked. 
May they remind us that we are migrants on this Earth and that no nation is our homeland.
May they remind us that we must be equally reliant on God in the land of plenty as in the desert of barrenness.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
How long shall the wicked, O Lord, how long shall the wicked triumph?…
They murder the widow and the stranger and put the orphans to death. Yet, they say, “The Lord does not see, the God of Jacob takes no notice.”…
He that planted the ear, does he not hear? He that formed the eye, does he not see? He who admonishes the nations, will he not punish? — Psalm 94.3, 6-7, 9-10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.Today’s Readings
Joshua 4 (Listen – 3:31) 
Psalm 129-131 (Listen – 2:03)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Readers’ Choice Submissions
It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Read more about Good News to the Poor
Today we also see poverty as a result of sin. But the God we believe the poor have sinned against is the god of Materialism and the god of Competence. 

Read more about A Different Kind of Exile
The church that is oppressed, attacked, sidelined, and shunned, is shunted back onto the narrow path of obedience to Christ.

Over Jordan

Joshua 3.17
The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

Psalm 126.2-3
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Reflection: Over Jordan
By John Tillman

Crossing the Jordan has been a spiritual metaphor for centuries, but it took special meaning for slaves in the American south. It symbolized an escape from slavery, shelter in place of homelessness, and fruitfulness in place of a barren desert.

In the story of Israel’s failure to enter due to fear, and their return in faith after wandering for 40 years, the Jordan symbolizes a place at which faith and courage are required. 

In the story of the transition from Moses to Joshua, from Elijah to Elisha, and from John the Baptist to Jesus, the Jordan symbolizes a change in leadership.

And of course, the Jordan represents entering the promised land, with Canaan standing in as the eternal land we are destined for in Heaven.

On one side of the river is the desert, the unforgiving land, the land of trials, the land of sin, the land of rebellion, the land of suffering.

On the other side of the river is the land that is promised, the land of blessing, the land of freedom, the land of rest, the land of satisfaction and plenty.

The Jordan also represents the final crossing of death—both a time of judgment and a time of cleansing. For Christians, the waters of the crossing hold no terror. We do not enter them alone. Someone else marches in with us. His nail-pierced feet touch the waters and they pile up, inviting us to cross without muddying our clothes.

We cross the Jordan not with priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, but with Christ, our High Priest. When we cross over the Jordan with Christ, the land has no enemies to be defeated. It has no cities to march around and no battles to be fought. For, there too, Christ has gone before us, preparing a place for us. It is there that we will be fed by the tree that grows in the river that comes from the throne of God. It is there that we will take from that tree healing for the nations.

Our home is over Jordan.” “Deep River” — Marian Anderson

It is over Jordan that our tears will be wiped away.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
On the holy mountain stands the city he has founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you, O City of our God. — Psalm 87.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Joshua 3 (Listen – 2:45) 
Psalm 126-128 (Listen – 1:58)

Readers’ Choice Submissions
It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Read more about Christ: Temple, River, and City
Christ is our river, flowing as the Holy Spirit into our lives, into our cities, into our dead, dry, and poisoned environments.

Read more about The Staggering Dead and the Glory of God
One day, as Lazarus and our dear Christ, himself, our grave clothes will be untied (or “set aside” lyō in Greek). We will leave our grave clothes behind. That is the glory of God.

The Garden of Psalm 119

Psalm 119.174-176
I long for your salvation, Lord,
    and your law gives me delight.
Let me live that I may praise you,
    and may your laws sustain me.
I have strayed like a lost sheep.
    Seek your servant,
    for I have not forgotten your commands.

Reflection: The Garden of Psalm 119
By John Tillman

We finish Psalm 119 today and reflect on it with some words from Charles Spurgeon: 

“Those who have studied this divine hymn, and carefully noted each line of it, are amazed at the variety and profundity of the thought…The more you look into this mirror of a gracious heart the more you will see in it.”

Spurgeon is convinced that David wrote the Psalm and if not he, then some other writer who spent long years in its work and created it not over a short span, but through a lifetime of faithfulness.

“There is evident growth in the subject matter. The earlier verses are of such a character as to lend themselves to the hypothesis that the author was a young man, while many of the later passages could only have suggested themselves to age and wisdom.”

In the end, rather than rising in acclaim or celebration, the aged wisdom of the psalmist leads him to a humble and prostrate stance.

“The psalmist is approaching the end of the Psalm…he seems to break into the inner circle of divine fellowship, and to come even to the feet of the great God whose help he is imploring. This nearness creates the most lowly view of himself, and leads him to close the Psalm upon his face in deepest self-humiliation, begging to be sought out like a lost sheep…It is a very sweet thing to a suppliant when he knows of a surety that his prayer has obtained audience. It is to Jehovah that this prayer is expressed with trembling earnestness…we crave audience of none else, for we have confidence in none beside.”

Meditating on Psalm 119 daily has been a common spiritual practice over the centuries and many have reported its wealth of spiritual benefit.

“This sacred ode is a little Bible, the Scriptures condensed, a mass of Bibline, holy writ rewritten in holy emotions and actions. This Psalm, like the whole Scripture which it praises, is a pearl island, or, better still, a garden of sweet flowers.”

It is our hope in each cycle of our two-year-long tread through the garden of scripture to produce not pride, but humility. Not judgmental attitudes, but merciful gratitude. Not clamoring commands for others, but tender notes of correction in our own hearts.

*Quotations abridged from “A Treasury of David,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper.
He shall have pity on the lowly and the poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight. — Psalm 72.12-14

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

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 33-34 (Listen – 6:35)
Psalm 119:145-176 (Listen – 15:14) 

This Weekend’s Readings
Joshua 1 (Listen – 3:11), Psalm 120-122 (Listen – 2:12) 
Joshua 2 (Listen – 3:49), Psalm 123-125 (Listen – 1:52) 

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Read more about Quotations from the Desert
Connecting to God’s Word and relying on it for our sustenance, for our source of life, is a consistent theme of scripture and the purpose of spiritual disciplines.

Read more about Setting Aside the Scriptures
The reason that we cannot set aside the Scriptures that we don’t like, is that Scripture must be considered holistically. Each part is bound up with the others for a purpose.

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