God In the Dark — Hope of Advent

Scripture Focus: 2 Peter 1.19
19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Genesis 1.2-3
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Reflection: God In the Dark — Hope of Advent
By John Tillman

The darkness is a place of hope. Why? God seems to be attracted to darkness.

The first picture of God that the writers of scripture give to us is not on a lofty throne, set in shining heavens. On the very first page of scripture, two things are “over” the surface of the deep waters: darkness and the Spirit of God. God hovers over dark, chaotic waters. God enters creation’s darkness and sparks light and life.

God is often found in darkness. 

God shows up in slavery (Genesis 37.28), in deserts (Exodus 3.1-4), in winepresses (Judges 6.1-14), in cisterns (Jeremiah 38.6-13), in caves (1 Kings 19.3-9), in hiding (1 Samuel 24), in terrifying dreams (Daniel 4.4-5), in madness (Daniel 4.34), in the belly of a beast (Jonah 2), in the lions’ den (Daniel 6.19-23), in sickness (Matthew 9.27-33), in demonic attack (Luke 8.1-3), on death beds (Acts 9.40-42), in tombs (John 11.38-44), and even in the depths of hell (Psalm 139.7-12).

In the darkness of Ur, God called Abram out to look up at the stars and number the shining lights to know the number of his children. In the darkness of Saul’s fading kingdom, God promised David a son who would establish an eternal kingdom of light. 

In the darkness of Israel’s suffering under Rome, God set a star in the heavens announcing a son of David who would fulfill both the promise to Abraham and to David. But more than that, Jesus was the fulfillment of promises of light made to every human being from Eve to Mary. The birth of Jesus was God’s ultimate entrance into darkness.

When we find ourselves in dark places of the world or facing darkness within ourselves, we can remember that God enters the dark. No matter how dark our times,  our circumstances, or our mood we can trust that God will send his light.

God still raises our eyes to the heavens to ponder the Abrahamic promise.
God still causes light to dawn on lands in deep darkness.
God still says “let there be light” and causes the Morningstar to rise in our hearts.

Beyond the dark horizon
Out where the people are dying
The son of man will be rising
The glory of the lord will be shining

Shatter the dark horizon
Out where the people are crying
A Morningstar will be rising
Rising to show us the way

Music: “Morningstar” by Whiteheart.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path. — Psalm 119.105

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

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 26-27 (Listen – 7:01)
1 Peter 5 (Listen – 5:39)

Read more about Supporting our Work
The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Read more about The Gift of Hope
At the year’s darkest point, humanity waits until the light returns, like a second Easter.

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.