Our Merciless Culture

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 1.13-14
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Reflection: Our Merciless Culture
By John Tillman

The mercy and forgiveness offered to Paul is staggering, scandalous, and in our own time, practically impossible.

One of the least Christian things about American culture today is how we feel about forgiveness and mercy. We frown at forgiveness in general, but to forgive someone who harmed you or to forgive someone outside one’s tribe or group, is anathema. If you want to be an outcast, forgive someone outside your political party, your race, or your gender.

Every culture is a bit cynical about mercy and repentance. Reasonable skepticism is justifiable. Even the apostles didn’t accept Paul until Barnabas spoke up for him. The type of mercy extended to Paul and many others in scripture would never be tolerated or allowed today. 

Our culture has become anti-mercy, going past skepticism and walking into the wilderness of hatred and retributive violence. In recent years, when people have offered public forgiveness to individuals that everyone agreed did not deserve it, our world wouldn’t tolerate it. We are opposed to forgiveness. We go beyond refusing to forgive—we label forgiveness and mercy, not just foolish, but evil.

A culture that is invested in and glorifies hatred, retribution, payback, and vengeance cannot allow an act of mercy to stand as a simple act of mercy. It must be critiqued and spun. Media and pundits immediately will attempt to twist it, politicize it, and discount it.

Our world is desperate to explain away Christian forgiveness as something else. It must be enabling evil. It must be the result of racism. It must be a naive and foolish gesture. It must be anything other than Christian, gospel forgiveness. Never that.

Otherwise, we might be forced to set down our weapons of vengeance. Otherwise, we might be forced to question our treasured value of total war against our ideological enemies. Otherwise, we might have to abandon our “ends justify the means” political machinations. Otherwise, we might be forced to admit we need mercy ourselves.

Our world would like to pretend that it hates mercy because it cares for victims. But it requires it’s victims to stay victims, suffering eternally. Healing or restoration doesn’t fuel hatred, only pain does. Our culture’s interest in victims is only as fuel for hatred. Our world hates mercy because it loves hate.

As Christians, we must defeat hate by truly caring for victims and by forgiving in shocking and scandalous ways.

*Forgiveness and mercy does not mean abandoning the pursuit of justice through the law. It also does not mean asking victims to be quiet or to stop sharing their pain and their stories. For a short brush up on the tension between forgiveness and justice, see this Veritas Forum video with Rachael Denhollander.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
…You have showed me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth…
…My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long, for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm. — Psalm 71.20, 24

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 4 (Listen – 6:17)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:37)

Thank You!
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Read more about A True Example of Repentance
As permissive as our supposedly modern culture is, we are remarkably tribal about mercy.

Read more about In Our Least Favorite Commandment
There is, perhaps, no commandment of Jesus that we flout with more impunity than, “do good to those who hate you.”

God, the Wall Breaker :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 4.1
Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:

I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter.

As we discussed yesterday, racism is an idol of our culture that the church has difficulty putting down. May the global church unite in this confession and call for community from Japan. —  John

Reflection: God, the Wall Breaker :: Worldwide Prayer
A Prayer for Global Community from Japan

Father, we adore you and praise your name.
We thank you for the fellowship we share with our brothers and sisters all over the world.

So many of us have committed the dreadful sin of failing to worship you as the only true God,
By failing to say no to acts of idolatry,
Serving the created instead of the Creator,
Causing immeasurable pains and sufferings upon
Brothers and sisters in our neighboring communities and countries.

We confess our sin and ask your forgiveness.
We ask your healing for the pains and wounds of our brothers and sisters, many of whom still suffer because of our insensitivity and sin.

We believe that you alone are the healer
And the Lord of true reconciliation.

Gracious God, help us to break down dividing walls
The walls of ignorance, indifference, prejudice, and discrimination
Which still separate people all over the world.

May we be agents of global peace and reconciliation
In the name of Jesus Christ
Our only true Lord and Savior.

Lord hear our prayer!

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 4 (Listen – 2:18)
1 Timothy 6 (Listen – 3:16)


Decorating the Tombs of the Prophets

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3.16
And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

Matthew 23.29-30
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

We cannot say we want your blessing God, but don’t disturb us too much. — Dr. Russell Moore

Am I buggin’ you? I don’t mean to bug ya. — Bono, speaking about apartheid in the middle of “Silver and Gold” — Rattle and Hum Live Concert Recording

Reflection: Decorating the Tombs of the Prophets
By John Tillman

Two weeks ago in Memphis, the city where 50 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated outside the Lorraine Motel, many brought wreaths to place at the motel, which now houses the National Civil Rights Museum.

Oh, how we love to decorate the tombs of the prophets.

The remarks below are excerpted from Dr. Russell Moore’s opening keynote address to the MLK50 conference, hosted in Memphis by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition.

Jesus says you honor the prophets, and yet what the prophets said to you was from God, and the prophets told the people of God that they could not serve Baal and God…And yet time and time and time again, when told they could not serve both, the people of God tragically often chose to worship Baal but to rename him God.

And time and time again, in the white American Bible Belt, the people of God had to choose between Jesus Christ and Jim Crow. Because, you cannot serve both. And tragically, many often chose to serve Jim Crow and to rename him Jesus Christ.

“Your fathers,” Jesus says, “would not have minded the prophets either, if the prophets were dead. Your fathers would not have minded the prophets either, if the prophets would not speak. And now that there is no need to worry that they will say anything else it is easy to honor them.”

Martin Luther King is relatively non-controversial in American life, because Martin Luther King has not been speaking for 50 years. It is easy to look backward and to say “if I had been here I would have listened to Dr. King,”—even though I do not listen to what is happening around me in my own community, in my own neighborhood, in my own church.

But Jesus Christ is not dead anymore.

The most difficult thing about following a risen and reigning prophet, priest, and king, is that he will not leave us alone. He will keep bugging us. He will keep saying uncomfortable things to us. He will not stop challenging us to break down our idols.

We cannot say we want your blessing God, but don’t disturb us too much; we want your blessing God, but don’t change our order of worship; we want your blessing God, but don’t change our institutions of power; we want your blessing God, but don’t change our systems.

And if we have to change our worship styles, let’s crucify our worship styles. If God’s way upsets our political alliances, let’s crucify our political alliances. To be a gospel people means that we don’t seek a cheap reconciliation, but a cross reconciliation.

On The Park Forum, we have written extensively on the subject of race and racism. Why would we devote so much time and so many words to the attempt to break down the cultural idol of racism?

Because it is the idol that our culture can’t seem to eradicate. Just as there were always idols of Baal to be found around Israel, there always seem to be idols to racism standing in corners of our hearts, our homes, our cities, and even our churches.

May we seek Christ’s mercy and give ourselves to him as instruments of his suffering pursuit of justice, instruments of his reconciling love, and instruments of his restorative redemption.

Jesus say something
I am someone, I am someone
I am someone — Silver and Gold, U2

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, and evil cannot dwell with you. — Psalm 5.4

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 3 (Listen – 3:02)
1 Timothy 5 (Listen – 3:22)

Further Posts on Racism

Racism Wears a Mask
Racism is not just an individual crime or action, it is an unseen burden we are forced to carry by our culture and our history.

Putting To Death Racial Hostility
Christians must take the lead in racial issues because we have the only viable ideology that, if we let it, will counter the ideology of hate. We cannot grow weary. We cannot tire of addressing the issue. We have the only answer.

Further up, Further in

Scripture: 1 Timothy 2.3-6
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

Reflection: Further up, Further in
By John Tillman

The Temple was a meticulous structure designed with concentric exclusion of larger and larger groups of people. God was separated from the world with objects and human mediaries standing at the borders.

But the Temple also was a path for people moving toward God—being called closer and closer by the God from whom they were separated. There was a clear pathway, of physical doors, and doors of action, through which anyone could choose to move toward God. At least as close as they were allowed. As close as they could stand.

When one could not enter further, one worshiped through the priests, the intermediaries. The priests took sacrifices to the altar, and returned to you the cooked meat to eat as part of worship.

Anyone could enter the outer courtyard, even Gentiles. Moving inward, the next courtyard was racially segregated—Jews only. The next division was based on sex—men only could proceed. The disabled or disfigured were also excluded. The next barriers were genealogical—only Levites could offer the sacrifices and only descendants of Aaron could be priests before God.

The veil which enclosed the Holy of Holies, rent from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death was not the only barrier destroyed that day. Every other gate and door was thrown open by Christ, who named himself the gate. The author of Hebrews compares the veil to Christ’s own body, torn apart to give us access to God.

In Christ, there is no priestly barrier—all are priests with him as our high priest. There is no genealogical barrier, for we are made sons and daughters in Christ. In Christ, there is not male or female, but we are one in him. In Christ there is no abled or disabled, for our weaknesses are transformed in his glory. In Christ racial barriers are destroyed and the division of Babel is reversed. In Christ nationalism is meaningless for we serve a King of Kings and have citizenship in a higher kingdom.

The only barrier to cross on our journey to God is the cross. Christ is the opener of all things and beckons us onward to see, to enter, to access.

The grave is open, that we may see He is risen.
The veil is open, that we may follow our High Priest.
Hell is open if we will but make for the exit.
Heaven is open, if we will but enter.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” — C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Hear this, all you peoples; hearken, all you who dwell in the world, you of high degree and low, rich and poor together…We can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life; For the ransom of our life is so great, that we should never have enough to pay it. — Psalm 49.1, 10

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 31 (Listen – 2:50)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen – 1:38)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 1 (Listen – 2:21) 1 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:10)
Ecclesiastes 2 (Listen – 4:03) 1 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:05)

The Importance of Resurrection :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: 1 Timothy 1.16
I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Reflection: The Importance of Resurrection :: Throwback Thursday
By John of Damascus (676-749 C.E.)

For if there is no resurrection, let us eat and drink: let us pursue a life of pleasure and enjoyment. If there is no resurrection, let us hold the wild beasts of the field happy who have a life free from sorrow. If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves.

For observe how the righteous suffer hunger and injustice and receive no help in the present life, while sinners and the unrighteous abound in riches and every delight.

No, the divine Scripture bears witness that there will be a resurrection of the body. The Lord became Himself the first-fruits of the perfect resurrection that is no longer subject to death. For He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And the holy gospel is a trustworthy witness that He spoke of His own body.

But someone will say, How are the dead raised up? Oh, what disbelief! Oh, what folly!

Behold how the seed is buried in the furrows as in tombs. Who is it that gives them roots and stalk and leaves and ears and the most delicate beards? Is it not the maker of the universe? Is it not at the bidding of him who created all things?

Believe, therefore, that the resurrection of the dead will come to pass at the divine will and sign. For he has power that is able to keep pace with his will.

We shall rise again, our souls being once more united with our bodies, now made incorruptible and having put off corruption, and we shall stand beside the awful judgment-seat of Christ.

But those who have done good will shine forth as the sun with the angels into life eternal, with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being in His sight and deriving unceasing joy from Him, praising Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout the limitless ages of ages.

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ: your strength has been my consolation; you have not allowed my soul to perish with the wicked; you have given me your grace, the grace of your name. Now it is time for you to fortify what you have achieved in me and so to confound the adversary’s impudence.
— Euplus, prior to his martyrdom in Sicily c. 304 C.E.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. — Psalm 90.12

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 30 (Listen – 3:51)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:59)

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