We Measure Up Because of the Cross

Scripture Focus: Genesis 29.31-32
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”

From John: This is our last of Dena’s series on weary women of the Bible and we thank her so much for sharing her work with our readers and for sharing her experience with our student writers this summer. Dena has more books in the works and we encourage you to check out her social media pages and websites. You’ll also be hearing again from Dena here at some point in the future and we greatly look forward to it! Thank you, Dena!

Reflection: We Measure Up—Because of the Cross
By Dena Dyer

The drama in some of the Old Testament stories—such as Leah and Rachel’s rivalry over Jacob—reminds me of a modern reality show. Can you imagine sisters-by-blood being married to the same man? I’m sure Rachel felt terribly betrayed by Laban’s deception on what was supposed to be her wedding night. After a seven-year betrothal, she was deceived just as Jacob was.

The jealousy between the sisters became even more intense in the latter portion of chapter 29 and into chapter 30 of Genesis, when Leah began bearing children and gave Jacob four sons (Rueben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah). Sadly, after delivering each of the first three boys, Leah voiced her desperate hope that Jacob would simply love her.

Any of us who have been rejected by someone of the opposite sex can empathize with Leah. But however broken-hearted Leah was, God remembered her:  ‘… the Lord saw that Leah was unloved…” (Genesis 29.31) and gave her four sons. 

Did you know it wasn’t just Leah who battled comparison and envy? Even though Rachel stole Jacob’s heart from day one, she was extremely jealous of Leah’s ability to bear children, even demanding Jacob “give me children or I die.” 

Here’s the irony: Leah often compared herself to Rachel and felt that she came up short, because Jacob loved her sister more. But Rachel compared herself to Leah and felt that she was on the losing end of the equation, because Leah was fertile.

The story of Rachel and Leah convicts me. Too often, I’m not content with the gifts God has given me. I feel envious of an acquaintance’s good financial fortune or get jealous of a friend’s achievement. Maybe you struggle in this way, as well. 

The enemy of our souls knows that he can use insecurities and doubts about our worth to tempt us to jealousy, envy—even self-hatred. He plants menacing thoughts in our heads: I’ll never measure up. I’m worthless. God can’t love me. God can’t use me. 

But we measure up because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We’re worthy because of His righteousness. God loves us and He proved it once and for all on the cross. When we succumb to Satan’s schemes, we lose sight of who He has created us to be, and what He has specifically called us to do. 

I believe jealousy and envy are the result of not knowing our true worth in Christ. When we remember all that He has given and planned for us, we can rest secure and cheer others on. We don’t have to feel less-than because of their success.

I pray that the story of Leah and Rachel leads you and me to confess our sins of jealousy and envy and turn our attention back to God. After all, when we live in communion with Him, He makes our lives everything He created them to be—in His perfect timing.

About Dena: Dena Dyer is an author of eleven books, including Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts with Tina Samples. She’s also a speaker, worship leader, Anglophile, and movie lover who lives with her husband, youngest son, and rescue pup near Fort Worth, Texas. In her day job, she serves as Executive Assistant to Jamie Aten, founder of Wheaton’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Find out more about Dena’s books and resources at her website or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4a

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 24 (Listen – 4:48)
Galatians 4 (Listen – 4:13)

Read more about Greed and Envy
It is in Christ that we will find the compassion to overcome our cynicism and the generosity of spirit to overcome our jealousy and greed.

Read more about Resisting Culture’s Mold
Leah and Rachel are set against one another by their culture and family environment. They allow this cultural pressure to press them into a combative mold.

Vengeance, Arrogance, and Partiality — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, February 4th, 2021, based on readings from Genesis 37 and Mark 7.
It was selected by reader, Brian 
“Thanks for this reflection. My desire for vengeance ruled my life until I was in my late-20’s.
I kept a mental note of each person who hurt me and dreamt about what I would do as payback.  Finally God pulled the desire for vengeance out of me. It took years of counseling, prayer, and patience from all who loved me. Whew. I am exhausted writing this.  Thanks again. Thanks be to God for unyielding and unending mercy.”

Scripture Focus: Genesis 37.34-35
34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him. 

Mark 7.20-23
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Reflection: Vengeance, Arrogance, and Partiality — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

There are disagreements among biblical interpreters about Joseph and how he related to his brothers. 

Some see Joseph as innocent. They argue Joseph did nothing wrong. His brothers are simply vengeful and jealous. This view’s popularity comes partly from seeing Joseph as a “type” of Christ in the Old Testament. (Where Moses shows us the conquering Christ, Joseph shows us the suffering servant.) Joseph, however, is no more sinless than Moses or anyone else. This view seems unrealistically idealistic.

Some see Joseph as a spoiled, arrogant braggart. They argue that, although Joseph was a victim, he provoked his brothers to anger and jealousy. This view is more realistic but problematic for blaming the victim.

Some blame Israel’s parenting and favoritism. They argue that Israel’s partiality humiliated his older sons and spoiled his younger. This view only shifts the blame to prior generations, absolving the descendants.

Seeing any biblical character, other than Jesus, as blameless is a bad idea. Rather than one person or group, all involved in this dysfunctional drama are blameworthy in different ways. 
Malefactors are responsible for their actions, regardless of provocation or incitement. Joseph’s brothers have no excuse even if he had been the worst braggart and spoiled brat that ever existed. 

Joseph is also not innocent. The scripture gives us an important clue about this when even Israel rebukes Joseph after being disturbed when Joseph shared his dreams. Joseph’s words and manner of sharing his dreams must have been far out of line for his doting father to take him down a peg about it. 

Finally, Israel reaps the consequences of his partiality when he mourns Joseph. It is the fruit of the seeds of division that he planted and he must sip its sour wine for years.

Were the brothers vengeful and jealous? Yes, and so are we.

Was Joseph prideful and insensitive to the effect of his privileges? Yes, and so are we.
Was Israel blind to his partiality and the harm it was causing? Yes, and so are we.
The actions of everyone involved grew from their inner sinfulness. What comes out of a person is what defiles them, not what happens to them. What we do and say is an overflow of our hearts.

May our hearts find hope and be changed by our suffering servant Jesus.
May we find in Jesus forgiveness to replace our vengeance, humility to replace our arrogance, and justice to replace our partiality.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 3 (Listen – 3:03)
Romans 3 (Listen – 4:30)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 4 (Listen – 3:56), Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)
1 Samuel 5-6 (Listen – 6:03), Romans 5 (Listen – 3:53)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
Have we heard from you yet? Tell us about posts from the past year (September 2020 – July 2021) that have helped you in your faith.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Humbling Nebuchadnezzar
Humility will save you and your nation. Pride will destroy you and your nation.

Who Needs Anger? — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, January 4, 2021, based on readings from Genesis 4 and Matthew 4.
It was selected by reader, Jennifer K. from Brooklyn, NY
“Why are you angry?” Is a great question I need to remind myself often, especially in this particular season where there is so much anger being spewed in the news and within my personal and professional life. The truth in “Jesus doesn’t need our anger. We need his peace” is powerful because we are powerless in anger. Wow, now I need to repeat that over and over in my daily meditations. This post struck a deep chord in my heart – my broken, sinful, hopeful, yearning for God’s love heart. My heart is only one in a world full of hearts crying out for peace yet are overwhelmed by anger, hurt and pain. Thank you, The Park Forum, for speaking truth to inspire us all to live life in love, peace and truth through our relationship with Jesus. 

Scripture Focus: Genesis 4.6-7

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Matthew 4.8-11

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. 

Reflection: Who Needs Anger? — Readers’ Choice

By John Tillman

Anger is just one of the devil’s tools that he uses as he “crouches at the door,” ready to master us as he did Cain, longing to sift us as he did Peter. (Luke 22.31-32) When Jesus condemned being angry at one’s brother as being comparable to murder, (Matthew 5.21-22) it is likely that he had Cain’s anger, and its result, in mind.

Anger is out of control in our society. Two of the main reasons why are that anger feels good and anger is profitable. 

Anger feels good? Yes. We get a rush of self-righteousness from anger. Anger gives us a false feeling of control. We feel as if by our anger we are doing something about a problem.

Anger is also profitable. How? Because it is a reliable trigger for manipulation. Satan knew this in the garden and used anger to manipulate Cain. Article writers know this. Politicians know this. Advertisers know this. Angry readers click and share without verifying facts. Angry voters vote rashly. Angry consumers are suggestible and susceptible. Angry citizens tolerate and ignore the abuses of leaders who stoke their anger.

The sin of anger hides in other things. Anger hides in misguided love. (Abusive husbands and parents “love” their wives and children. Abusive leaders “love” their country.) Anger hides in our desires for justice. Anger tempts us to seize control. Jesus was tempted to seize the kingdoms of the world in the wilderness. Peter attempted to seize control with a sword in the garden.

In an age of anger, God’s question to Cain is more relevant to us than ever. God asks, “Why are you angry?” 

Are you being manipulated by anger? What is motivating your anger? What is your anger prompting you to do? Will you do it? Who will profit when you do?

How we respond to anger will determine how easily we will be manipulated. The anger that so easily trips us up reveals our need for Jesus. Peter thought Jesus needed him in the garden. Many today think that Jesus needs the angry swings of our social media swords or other dangerous weapons. Jesus doesn’t need our anger. We need his peace. 

Satan may sift us like wheat, but after we have turned back, may we, like Peter, strengthen our brothers with love and not anger. May we lay down our angry swords and take up feeding his lambs and carrying our cross.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them be merry and joyful. — Psalm 68.3

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

Today’s Readings
Judges 19 (Listen – 4:52)
Acts 23 (Listen – 5:15)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about The Focus of Christ’s Anger
In our culture of outrage, we can’t get enough of anger.

Life in the Blood

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 17.10-12
10 “ ‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. g 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.” 

Genesis 4.10-12

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 

Genesis 9.4-5

4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. 

Reflection: Life in the Blood

By John Tillman

It is often the case that a biological fact reveals spiritual truth. Our life really is in our blood. 

We measure life based on brain activity more than any other system of the body. For example, the rapper, DMX, recently died after life support was removed following a coma/vegetative state. However, many of the brain’s commands are carried out by the hormones, proteins, and other chemical signals that travel through the blood.

Everything that makes us alive is circulating in our blood. Life “moves” within us even when we are at rest. When blood stops moving, or is spilled out, life ends. 

The most important and revealing reason for the prohibitions regarding blood was spiritual not physical. Blood is life given for atonement. Since the blood of the first animal, killed by God in the garden to clothe Adam and Eve, animals have given their lives for human sin and creation has groaned for the blood spilled. (Genesis 3.21; Genesis 4.10-12; Romans 8.20-23)

All spilled blood, God says, is precious and holy, not only on its own, but because it points to the blood of Jesus. Christ’s blood is the most precious blood in history, but every drop of blood shed draws precious meaning from his. 

The blood is still life and it should matter to us when blood is spilled. It is the life of our brothers and sisters of every race. It is the life of the unborn. It is the life of those dying of Covid. It is the life of both Christians and non-Christians murdered for their faith. It is the life of those killed in every kind of violence whether in war or on public streets, whether in mass shootings or lone suicides.

So both the life of a police officer given stopping a mass shooting in Colorado and the life of a Black citizen, crushed out of him by a police officer’s knee are united in that their lives point to and plea for Christ’s blood. One is lost in self-sacrifice and one cries out from the ground in a plea for justice.

May we revive a holy respect for blood, no matter where, how, or by whom it is shed. May we not casually “eat” blood by profiting from violence, supporting bloodshed, or indifferently shrugging off bloodshed that doesn’t affect us.

God will require an account. (Genesis 9.5; Isaiah 5.7) When he does, we must plead the blood of Jesus to cover all of our bloodshed. Only in his blood will we find true life. (John 6.53-57)

Divine Hours 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

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

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 17 (Listen – 2:39)
Psalms20-21 (Listen – 2:37)

Read more about  Two Lamechs, One Jesus
There are those who multiply and escalate violence, trusting in and glorying in their strength.

Read more about Peter’s Unfinished Work
Ending racism was a Christian idea from the beginning and we are possessed of the only ideology that can do it—the gospel.

Resisting Cultural Pressure

Scripture Focus: Genesis 50.24-26
24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” 

26 So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Reflection: Resisting Cultural Pressure
By John Tilman

Joseph assimilated a great degree into Egyptian culture.

It was impossible for Joseph to prevent or resist some assimilation to the culture he was unwillingly trapped in. Rising out of slavery did not make this easier. Greater levels of privilege create greater pressure to assimilate.

Joseph married into a powerful, prominent family. His father-in-law, Potiphera, was high priest of the Egyptian sun god, Re in the city of On, better known by its Greek name Heliopolis, meaning “City of the Sun.”

Joseph adopted Egyptian dress and cultural practices, including Egyptian burial practices for his beloved father and himself. (Genesis 50.2, 26)

However, Joseph maintained faithfulness to God and adapted to maintain his identity in many ways. He affirmed God as the source of his sexual ethic and his skills of interpretation. He named his children referencing his faith. He secured his family a separate area in which to live.

Regardless of his level of cultural assimilation or his comfort and privilege, Joseph recognized that Egypt was not his home, nor that of his descendants, nor that of the descendants of his brothers. Assuring his brothers that God would “come to your aid” (Genesis 50.25) meant assuming that they would need God’s aid.

Did “that dreamer” (Genesis 37.19-20) have another prophetic dream from God? If so, scripture does not report it. However, with or without divine revelation, Joseph saw trouble coming for his family in Egypt.

We also face these cultural pressures. Trouble is coming. Our culture does its best to get inside us and usurp our identity. Culture tells us that we are Americans first (or Indians or Europeans or Australians or South Africans…). Culture wants us to think we are primarily identified by our race or sexuality or gender or political party. (Galatians 3.28) But no cultural identity is our primary identity.

We are children of Abraham’s promise and carriers of his blessing to the world. That is our gospel identity. Anything else must submit to that or be swept away before it. We must adapt or avoid cultural mandates that conflict with our God-given identity.

Just as Israel claimed Joseph’s children as his, God lays his claim on us. We are not at home in this world or in our “home” culture. Let us not expect comfort but struggle, knowing that God will come to our aid and take us home.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

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

Today’s Readings
Genesis 50 (Listen – 4:07) 
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
Ancient idols of silver and gold seem so simple, pagan, and foolish. How could people have fallen for them?

Read more about Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest
Those who wish to regulate protests often say to protesters, “Not here. Not now. Not like this.”

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