Hope Consuming Darkness

Scripture Focus: Joel 2.30-32
30 I will show wonders in the heavens 
and on the earth, 
blood and fire and billows of smoke. 
31 The sun will be turned to darkness 
and the moon to blood 
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 
32 And everyone who calls 
on the name of the Lord will be saved; 
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem 
there will be deliverance, 
as the Lord has said, 
even among the survivors 
whom the Lord calls.

Acts 2.21
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Romans 10.13
13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Reflection: Hope Consuming Darkness
By John Tillman

An unstoppable army advances like fire, burning and devouring everything in its path. Cultivated land like the Garden of Eden becomes a barren desert waste.

Witnesses describe the sound of locusts feeding on crops and trees as a crackling fire. Joel used the recent trauma of a plague of locusts to warn of future disasters. “Did you see this insect army ravage the land? There are greater ravagers on the way.”

Some faith leaders today refer to Joel, using recent disasters to terrify and manipulate. But Joel also promised salvation, both in the moment and an ultimate future restoration.

The destruction Joel described was caused by sin. Its solution was returning to the Lord in repentance. Sin is not just individual actions, like one bug crawling in our kitchen, but societal swarms that plague the earth—a consuming darkness. We’ve all experienced the ravages of sin in our personal lives, our communities, and the world. We’ve seen Edens become wastelands.

Peter and Paul knew darkness, and both read Joel not as terrifying but as hope in the midst of darkness that is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Peter quoted Joel in his first sermon, ending with, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2.14-21) Paul also picked up on this promise, repeating the ending quote of Peter’s sermon, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10.13)Jesus is our salvation, both in the moment and in an ultimate future restoration. There may be darkness ahead and sin in our past or future. Like Peter or Paul, we may have betrayed or persecuted Christ. (Matthew 26.72-74; Philippians 3.6) We may have resorted to or endorsed violence. (John 18.10; Acts 7.57-58) We may have been ashamed and humbled. (Luke 22.61-62; Acts 9.3-5) But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

What darkness has eaten at you? Blocked out the light? Settled on your fields? Obscured your hope?

We will not be lost in consuming darkness. The consuming darkness will be consumed by hope.

No matter how dark it gets, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. 
No matter how frightening it feels, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. 
No matter if we die, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.24

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

​Today’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen 5:26)
Matthew 19 (Listen 4:04)

Listen to Apotheosis of Politics on the Pause to Read podcast
As traditional religion declines, politics is the newest, fastest-growing religion.

Read more about Unprecedented
In response to unprecedented times, Joel encourages the people to enter into a time of unprecedented prayer and repentance. 

Firefall of the Spirit

Scripture Focus: Acts 2:1-4
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Reflection: Firefall of the Spirit
By Jilian Brown

In the ten days following the ascension, Jesus’ disciples clung to His promise, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24.49) What sort of power? Would it be physical power or characterized by an inner knowing? Surely the disciples could not guess what form their “clothing” would take.Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was the grain festival fifty days after Passover. (Leviticus 23.15) Due to its late spring date, this festival was often the most heavily attended by Jewish foreigners due to favorable weather and travel conditions. This was an optimal time for the message of Christ to go forth to many nations. The tongues of fire which swept through the upper room and landed on each person present were reminiscent of the guiding presence of God in the burning bush with Moses and the pillar of fire for the wandering Israelites. It was unmistakable that these flames were His spirit falling.

In Yosemite National Park, there is a phenomenon called “Firefall.” It only takes place around the second week of February and only if conditions are perfect. If winter snowfall was adequate that year and the temperature is warm enough to melt the snow, the runoff at Horsetail Fall is hit by sunset light to create the miraculous illusion of a fire waterfall. 

The conditions were not only perfect, but pre-ordained that Pentecost day. The harvest of souls was ready and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit upon the disciples sparked the birth of Christ’s church. The three thousand added that day were able to take the saving message of Christ back to their corners of the world where His grace was able to pour forth on the nations just as Joel prophesied. (v.17-21)

The firefall of the Spirit is always perfectly timed and always flows through individuals toward communities. The gifts of the indwelling Holy Spirit are available to all who will “repent and be baptized.” (v.38) Our fire may take the shape of a hand of service or a dollar sign of generosity instead of a tongue of language, but every gift is given for the purpose of building up the church. (Ephesians 4.11-16) What is your firefall? To whom is it flowing? It is meant to be shared.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless God in the congregation; bless the Lord, you that are of the fountain of Israel. — Psalm 68.26

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 44 (Listen – 5:12)
Acts 2 (Listen – 6:35)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 45 (Listen – 4:39)Acts 3 (Listen – 3:33)
Isaiah 46 (Listen – 2:12)Acts 4 (Listen – 5:15)

Read more about Too Much to Hold
“God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Unprecedented Spirit

Scripture Focus: Joel 2.32
And everyone who calls 
on the name of the LORD will be saved; 
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem 
there will be deliverance, 
as the LORD has said, 
even among the survivors 
whom the LORD calls. 

Psalm 142.5
5 I cry to you, LORD; 
I say, “You are my refuge, 
my portion in the land of the living.” 

Acts 2.39
39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Reflection: Unprecedented Spirit
By John Tillman

When joyous prophets pour into the streets, people want to know why. This is especially true if this joy comes at a time of suffering, a time of oppression, and a time of sadness.
This was the situation in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit directed Peter to Joel to describe the experience of being filled with the Spirit of God and explain why men and women, sons and daughters, were prophesying in the streets. (Acts 2.2-21

Peter’s audience would have also been familiar with the locust images in Joel’s description of the Babylonian invasion. The Roman legions Peter’s contemporaries were familiar with would, perhaps be an even better visual match than the Babylonians had been for Joel’s images of locusts marching in perfect rows of chitinous, armored doom.

Joel’s prophecy was multilayered in meaning. It referred to the near future of the Babylonian invasion. It also foresaw the far future in which the Lord’s armies will destroy evil, dispelling and disposing of the armies of the opposing empires of this world. Afterward, God will cause growth and abundance to replace barrenness and want.  

God himself will repay the suffering caused by evil upon the earth. The explanation for the significance of this prophecy’s fulfillment is also a part of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. God’s victory over evil, his repayment for loss, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to all who call upon him are all direct outcomes of the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

The very Spirit promised in Joel and poured out in Acts is a deposit, a guarantee, of the inheritance God has for each of us in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1.22; 5.5; Ephesians 1.13-14)

No matter the disaster that seems to surround us or is on its way, there is time to turn to the Lord. There is a time when he will relent. There is always a time when the Lord will relent.

But relenting only comes after repenting. No matter what we have done in the past, up to and including murdering his only son, we can repent and return to God. And the time for repentance is now. It is always now. 

The pouring out of God’s Spirit comes after repentance. It always comes after repentance.

May that day be soon.

And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved… — Joel 2.32

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.” — John 15.4-5

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

Today’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen – 5:26)
Psalm 142 (Listen – 1:01)

Read more Rend Your Hearts
God will replace what is lost—including replacing our hearts of stone with the pierced-heart of Jesus.

Read more about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
It’s lovely to think of God giving us a new heart and putting a new Spirit within us. But it is terrifying to admit to the diagnoses that would lead to such a radical procedure.

Hearts God Moves :: Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Ezra 1.5
…Everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem

Reflection: Hearts God Moves :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

In our reading plan, Ezra and Acts fill the early days of our even years. These accounts show what it looks like when God starts something new and renews what has been destroyed.

In both books we will see what it looks like when God begins to move in the hearts of people.
In both books we will watch as God’s relationship with his people is restored.
In both books we will see God build a community of worshipers, followed by a place of worship.

Ezra’s account concerns the Temple of Jerusalem. The Temple was the place that the Lord loved, in the city that the Lord chose to bear his name. The Temple was the place that God said would never be without his presence and where he would always hear the prayers of anyone who sought him. It was defiled, abused, and ultimately destroyed by human sin and human actions. It was robbed, reviled, and ripped apart stone by stone. 

In Ezra we will see God’s work to, stone by stone, reconstruct the Temple of Jerusalem to bear his name.  

Luke’s account in Acts concerns the church—called by Paul the body of Christ and by Peter a Temple of living stones. Jesus was God’s beloved Son, upon whom the Spirit was given without limit. In perfect unity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, he demonstrated God’s love for his people. Innocent and righteous, Christ became for us human sin and was killed by human actions. He was betrayed, reviled, and crucified having his bones pulled apart joint by joint. 

In Acts we will see, God’s Holy Spirit coming to dwell not in a Temple built by human hands, but in individual human hearts. We will see these people become the living stones of a new Temple, God’s Church, the members of the Body of Christ. Stone by stone, part by part, we will see God construct a place from which his Spirit will never depart and to which all people are called to worship Jesus Christ.

During Epiphany, we celebrate the light of Christ being revealed to the nations. One of the gifts of Christ is that we become a part of Epiphany—Christ’s manifestation—as we fulfill our role in the body of Christ and take our place as living stones in his Temple.

May God move in our hearts, as in the hearts of the returning exiles, making his dwelling place with us and shining brightly through us in the coming year.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

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

Today’s Readings
Ezra 2 (Listen -5:25) 
Acts 2 (Listen -6:35)

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Read more about Sight for the Blind :: Epiphany
To appreciate the Epiphany of Christ—literally the manifestation or appearing—we must be healed of our blindness.

Read more about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
May our hearts be made sensitive enough to feel his breath, hear his voice, and move as he directs.

Too Much to Hold

Acts 2.24
But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

Reflection: Too Much to Hold
By John Tillman

Jesus is more than death can hold. It tried. Death can hold worlds, countries, and unnumbered masses. But Christ could not be contained or held back. It was his purpose to defeat death, the last enemy, and to bring forth in freedom death’s hostages, and restore back to us what the great monster has taken.

Death for the Christian is similar to death for Christ. It is painful. It is the worst of suffering imaginable. It is unjust. It is to be mourned. It is to be wept for.

But it is not permanent.

Even a “good death,” the kind we wish for because we would prefer not to face death’s reality, is an event of great sorrow and injustice. Death is not truly softened by its circumstances. He is still a thief, our enemy. But for the Christian, there is one who comes to reclaim and restore what is stolen. 

Too Much To Hold
In Adam, we are sold and chained
To sin and death were given
Our bodies made to walk with God
Betray us short of Heaven

More than victims of this crime
But perpetrators too
The sin of Adam in our line
We aptly join his queue

Sin is the sting of death’s attack
The poison in his bite
It paralyzes. Terrorized,
We sink beyond the light

Like Jonah sunk, beneath the earth
A dark and hopeless pit
Into that pit our savior slides
His mission: open it

Death’s jaws, snake-like, that swallow worlds
Cannot contain their maker
Christ is too sweet to see decay
The monster gets no supper

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

Defeated flesh will be restored
It will not stay enslaved
Transformed and made eternal
Not abandoned in the grave

Adam sold his kin to death
Creation gave over to sin
New Adam brings the children back
Eve’s seed, crushing death, freedom wins

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light. — Psalm 36.9

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

Today’s Readings
Joshua 22 (Listen – 6:16)
Acts 2 (Listen – 6:35

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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 Stealing Death’s Sting
God is glorified through Christ’s sacrifice. Sin is defeated by his death, and death is defeated in his resurrection. Christ conquers sin, stealing death’s sting and the grave’s victory.

Read more about He Stoops to Raise
He sinks, He digs, He slides, Prostrates. Below our sin…Below Hell’s gates
And then he lifts…