The Broken Power of Death

Scripture Focus: Hosea 13.14
14 “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; 
I will redeem them from death. 
Where, O death, are your plagues? 
Where, O grave, is your destruction? 

Psalm 146.3-5
3 Do not put your trust in princes, 
in human beings, who cannot save. 
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; 
on that very day their plans come to nothing. 
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, 
whose hope is in the Lord their God. 

Isaiah 25.8
8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. 

1 Corinthians 15.54-56
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 

     55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
         Where, O death, is your sting?” 

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: The Broken Power of Death

By John Tillman

Hosea and Isaiah’s ministries overlapped and their writing echoes each other. Paul paraphrases their promises of resurrection into one of his brightest, most hopeful refrains. This chorus of hope comes most directly from one of the darkest chapters of Hosea.Rather than rely upon God, Israel and Judah had turned to political alliances and the gods those allies worshiped. But these “princes” would soon commit atrocities. These sound eerily familiar to ones committed by today’s powerful countries who bomb maternity wards and civilian evacuation corridors.

Death is not only dispensed at the whim of greedy empires but is carried on the wings of disease and aging. What hope can we have against death? This question is common to the people of Israel and Judah in Isaiah and Hosea’s day, to downtrodden outcasts under Rome’s rule, and to those targeted by empires and dictators today.

The poor and the powerless are overrun by death. They have no defenses and little strength to resist or slow its advance. They are helpless.

Wealth and power do much to extend life. The wealthy can easily flee conflict and the powerful are welcomed to new countries rather than crammed into inhumane camps. Experimental and expensive life-saving and life-extending medical treatments are common among the powerful. Absent these extreme examples, even simple, quality of life differences add years to the lives of the wealthy. However, in the end, the rich, the powerful, and the poor all die. The teacher of Ecclesiastes would call these efforts meaningless or absurd. (Ecclesiastes 3:19)

To the unbelieving world, for whom mortal life is all there is, death is ultimate. It is the worst thing that can happen to a person and there is no remedy.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us and it does not have the final word in our lives but that does not mean we should not grieve it. Lazarus was only four days in the grave, yet Jesus wept. (John 11.35) We weep and mourn death, but not without hope. (1 Thessalonians 4.13)

While we flee or delay death, scripture describes death’s defeat. God promises the grave will not be our final destination. We will only pass through and when we leave, we will be led by Christ himself. For those in Christ, death is a toothless predator, a limbless wrestler, who cannot hold us down for long.

Death which swallows all, will be swallowed up.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Short Verse
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” says the Lord God, “who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” — Revelation 1.8

Today’s Readings
Hosea 13  Listen – 2:26)
Psalm 146-147  (Listen -3:09)

Read more about Too Much to Hold
In Christ, we’re made to be like him
Too much for Death to hold
Grasped by him for a moment
But he cannot hold our souls

Read more about Stealing Death’s Sting
Untie our grave clothes and strip us of the trappings of this world.
Let us walk into the light and follow your loving voice.

Christ the Enemy of Death

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 17.18
18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

Colossians 4.3
3 Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

1 Corinthians 15.26
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

From John: Two years ago, on the day this devotional was posted, I spoke at the funeral of a young man who grew up performing in theatre with me since he was about 10 years old. He had died suddenly one night at 23 of a previously undetected heart condition. This left many asking if this was “God’s plan.” I wrote this partly in response to that question. Scripture does not make a strong argument that God meticulously controls and determines every event. Christians aren’t fatalists. And when it comes to death, God’s clearly stated plan is to destroy death, not collaborate with him. We can be assured that death, though it can be used for good, is not part of his “plan.”

Reflection: Christ the Enemy of Death
By John Tillman

God’s plan may refer to the unchanging will of God that cannot, due to God’s sovereignty and purpose, be overturned. This is true of God’s eternal purpose for humans to live forever in peace with God. Eden was an expression of this plan, and the new earth to come, will be the completion of this unchangeable and inevitable sovereign plan of God. 

God’s plan can also refer to God’s direction for a specific situation. God’s direction to Elijah to stay with the Sidonian widow is an example of this. This granular and finite definition of “God’s plan” is not equivalent to God’s eternal, sovereign purposes.

Elijah assumes, and we often do as well, that God dictates every death as part of his plan. However, God consistently shows through scripture that he is death’s enemy, not death’s co-conspirator. 

God makes it clear—throughout scripture but most directly through the actions of Christ—that death itself is not part of his “plan.” 

Death is used in God’s plans in the same way God uses many evil and wicked things, diverting evil purposes for righteous purposes. God uses the death of wicked individuals in his working of justice. God uses suffering caused by death to conform us to the image of Christ. God tenderly cares for his people during the suffering of death, as a part of his loving-kindness. In many situations in the Old Testament and the New, God reverses death, resuscitating death’s victims in miraculous ways.

We can be comforted knowing God hates death. He hates the long, slow death of old age. He hates the crippling, painful death of cancer and other wasting diseases. He hates the sudden and tragic deaths of the young. He hates death that rides on the heels of war, conflict, violence, injustice, and abuses of power.  

Death is God’s enemy because it harms and hurts his children. Death is an evil attempt by Satan to violate God’s eternal plans and purposes. God is, from chapter three of Genesis, working his will against death, advancing his purpose to destroy death, and preparing his people to overcome death.  

Part of the mystery of Christ that Paul refers to is he confronts, on our behalf, our greatest enemies—sin and death. He has defeated them both on the cross and the Holy Spirit, our comforter today, is our guarantee that victory over sin and death will ultimately be ours.

Christ is the deadly enemy of death.


Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 17 (Listen – 3:14)
Colossians 4 (Listen – 2:21)

Read more about Make No Peace With Death
The Christian does not make peace with death. Death is the final enemy to be defeated.

Read more about The Gospel is an Uprising
Christ exiting the doors of Hell itself…is often depicted stepping upon Death…The Anastasis—the Uprising—is the great jailbreak of God.

Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 15.19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

From John: We are moving into an extremely emotionally charged weekend during which we will remember those who died in attacks on the United States twenty years ago. Many will try to make political hay from the deaths of the victims. At times like this, it is good to remember the resurrection and its true meaning. We also reflect on what it means that we serve a God who chose to suffer with us and on our behalf. This reflection from 2019 refers specifically to racial terrorism, but all forms of injustices we suffer, whether from foreign threats, lynch mobs, politically-motivated violence, or home-grown terrorists, will ultimately be set right by a God who entered injustice to give us his righteousness. The resurrection will steal the sting of earthly death and suffering. Amen.

Reflection: Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit 
By John Tillman

The hope of the resurrection is not just for some far-off “Day of the Lord.” It is also for the here and now.

The Corinthians struggled with false teachings regarding Heaven and resurrection. Prevailing Greek philosophy taught that bodies were evil and spirit was the ultimate existence. With this belief, bodily resurrection seemed like a punishment, rather than freedom. 

Confusion about the resurrection and about Heaven are nothing new. 

There have been times when those in power misused theology about the resurrection and Heaven. Preachers at times described Heaven as a pie-in-the-sky compensation for starving masses while they themselves sat with the powerful at supper, gorging on pie in the here and now. Some pastors partnered with the powerful, holding Heaven like a carrot in front of the mules, while cruel masters wielded a whip behind. 

This kind of pie-in-the-sky teaching relied on the same un-Christian philosophies about spirit and body that Paul worked to debunk. It told the oppressed that the suffering of their bodies was acceptable, even desirable so that their souls could be saved. This twists Paul’s words in order to theologically defend keeping people in bondage and ignoring cries for justice. 

Christ enters our sufferings with us. But our suffering is not salvific and our hope is not just for after this life.

It is by Christ’s stripes we are healed, not our own. It is by Christ’s lynching, being hung on a tree, that we are saved, not our own. Christ hung on the cross is “strange fruit” from which comes the seed of the gospel

Paul teaches us that the resurrection steals the sting of earthly death and suffering. Amen. All will ultimately be set right. Amen. Righteousness will flow like a mighty stream. Amen. The trees in the kingdom of God will bear fruit that heals the nation, redeeming the “strange fruit” of oppression and hate.

But the existence of ultimate justice does not allow us to ignore calls for justice now. In every community he visited and worked in, Paul encouraged the church to work for the good of their community and to spread the gospel. Nowhere did he counsel them to sit idly to wait on the heavenly city.

The power that raised Christ from the grave is available to us through the Holy Spirit. Seeking his guidance, may we act as representatives of God’s justice, and distribute the crop of healing for the nations.

*Strange Fruit – the story behind “The Song of the Century”, by The Salt Project and WFYI

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 97.9

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 4-5 (Listen – 6:10) 
1 Corinthians 15 (Listen – 8:06)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 6 (Listen – 3:34), 1 Corinthians 16 (Listen – 2:54)
2 Samuel 7 (Listen – 4:26),  2 Corinthians 1 (Listen -3:52)

Read more about Prayers of Woe and Weeping :: Guided Prayer
Weeping for our own hurts and harms is one thing. Weeping for what grieves God is a prophetic task and a work of faith.

Read more about Purpose
Lay down your life. Put others first. Don’t manipulate people. Swallow the tendency to whine when you aren’t the center of the universe.

Conflict’s Aftermath

Scripture Focus:  2 Samuel 2:26
Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?”

Reflection: Conflict’s Aftermath
By Erin Newton

Polarized. This word is the constant summary of our life lately. Every area seems to be weighted down in conflict.  When we reflect on the darker parts of our history, we like to think they are moments in time, isolated and spontaneous. There is a failure to see the slow progression of change from good to bad. And the even slower progress back to peace.

If Israel’s monarchy was portrayed on a TV episode, the death of Saul would be followed by a short commercial break and the reign of David would begin triumphantly. David was anointed in Hebron but his reign as the king of Israel was slow and filled with more turmoil. The conflict between Saul and David personally had ended but the ramifications continued. More hate, more blood. The house of David and the house of Saul were eager to carry out vengeance and retribution in the name of the lords they served. David was the rightful king and Saul was no longer a threat. The conflict should have ended.

Often there are rippling effects and continual consequences to mindsets that are hardened through a prolonged conflict. Racial discrimination, political rivalry, gender inequality, denominational intolerances, and the suspicion of public healthcare measures are areas that can fester conflict and hatred deep into a soul. Even when bridges are mended briefly, there are those who will continue to seek the destruction of perceived opponents. This can happen through what we say or what we encourage. It can be through our actions to cause pain or the turning of our eyes from someone in pain.

Still, some conflicts have found no lasting resolution. In these times, believers can look to the moment we shifted our allegiance from this world to Christ. This should alter how we function among those who are constantly at war. When did we forget he is the Prince of Peace? Let us ask God to replace the festering anger in our hearts with love. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked. — Psalm 84.9

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 2 (Listen – 5:07) 
1 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:23)

Read more about Blocking the Way of Wickedness
We don’t always have a choice about working with or living among wicked people, but we can choose how we respond.

Read more about The Best We Can Do
The best we can do—in our strength and wisdom—may not be God’s best for us.

Critique that Builds

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 14.3, 26
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort…What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Reflection: Critique that Builds Up
By John Tillman

As an actor, director, and teacher of theatre, I have a heightened appreciation for many aspects of theatre and a broader palette of theatrical taste than the average entertainment seeker. But in the wrong circumstances, I can turn into a cynical critic of performances, spotting errors that others don’t notice and cringing at choices that seem fine to the audience.

A similar thing can happen to those experienced in leading worship in any capacity. When they are not leading, those who are experienced leaders and designers of worship can be the most passionate participants, but can also be the most bitter of critics.

Dissatisfaction with forms of worship is not new. (Jesus clearing the Temple comes to mind.)
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul seemed especially concerned for Christian worship to develop an ordered, discernable form. He desired a form with functions both of edification of believers and evangelization of non-believers and outsiders. He wanted believers not to simply be emotionally entertained, but intellectually informed. He wanted believers not to display mere intellectual prowess, but to faithfully demonstrate the power of God.

Paul speaks in the manner of a director giving notes, or a stage manager calling the cues:
“Two or three should speak. No more. Don’t pull focus. Don’t improvise things that are over the audience’s head. If they can’t understand it, they won’t come back. Stop talking over other people’s lines!”

One of the most valuable things that a healthy experience in theatre can teach, is to give and take criticism. You learn to “take the note.” This means owning the mistake, as well as the responsibility for correcting it. In theatre, when you get a note, you are being called out for an error. Healthy notes are given in love—love for participants, for the source material, and for the audience.

As critical as Paul is, he never loses his love for what is happening. He doesn’t allow critique to turn bitter and cynical. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church is tumultuous and passionate. In the messiness of this scandal-filled church, we see a mirror held up to our modern institutions of worship.

May we seek the passion of Paul for worship done well, without losing his love for worshipers even when they do everything wrong.

May our critiques be loving and build others up—never cynical call-outs and tear-downs.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you: O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not worship a foreign god.
I am the Lord you God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, “open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” — Psalm 81.8-10

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 3 (Listen – 6:35) 
1 Corinthians 14 (Listen – 5:40)

Read more from Lewis on Liturgiology — Part 1
Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore.

Read more about Rumors or Repentance
When someone critiques you and calls you to repent, what will you do?