Give Careful Thought

Haggai 2.11-14
11 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The priests answered, “No.”
13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”
14 Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.

Reflection: Give Careful Thought
By Erin Newton

Purity laws in the Old Testament are usually the part of the Bible we skip over quickly. The laws can seem arbitrary or absurd to our modern mindset. It can be a confusing mess as you start to sort out the defiling offenses and cleansing rituals.

The Lord asks Haggai to remind the priests of these laws. There are two parts to the question. First, can you take something holy and transmit the consecration to something else? Answer: No. Second, can you touch something unclean and transmit the defiled status to something else? Answer: Yes.

One of the beauties of the Old Testament law was that it kept people in constant consideration of their purity status. The laws, when properly followed and upheld, regulated where a person could go and if they could be socially and religiously active. There were laws to repair damaged relationships or purify oneself from an unclean status. Impurity was often not sinful but refusing to acknowledge that state and living carelessly of the law could lead someone into sin.

After decades in exile under the punishment of God, the tides were turning. The day of blessing was on the horizon. God wanted to ensure that the people took time to consider what led them into exile and guard against going down that path again.

Our tendency is to live in the moment. Careful consideration is not a habit that would describe most people today. We are no longer under the laws of the Old Testament, but we can learn from the warning by Haggai. The Lord intends to bless us and to give us life abundantly (John 10.10). But our lives must still be marked by careful consideration.

The grace of God gives us many freedoms in Christ. However, some “freedoms” can become a blight in our relationships. It is imperative that we consider how different voices, influences, habits, or decisions will affect us. We present our lives as living sacrifices but are we choosing to be in contact with something impure?

The law we still follow is to love God and love our neighbors. Anything that interrupts our love of God or love of neighbors is something that defiles our consecrated lives: envy, hatred, greed, sexual immorality, pride, apathy. Let us take time today to carefully consider if we are allowing impurity to take root in our daily lives.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “So always treat others as you like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets. — Matthew 7.12

Today’s Readings
Haggai 2 (Listen – 3:49)
Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

Read more about Emulating Christ’s Love
Proverbs 5.1-6 tells us about the adulteress. She wanders aimlessly. She “gives no thought to the way of life.

Read more about Separateness Not Superiority
The Spirit of Christ is within us and we are his body. We have Christ’s power to touch the unclean and make them clean.

Beyond Second Chances

Scripture Focus: Haggai 1.2-3, 13-14
2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ” 
3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” 

13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God

“There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town. There are always second chances…” — Carolyn Arends, “Love is Always There” 

Reflection: Beyond Second Chances
By John Tillman

Haggai spoke to people returning from exile. They are at home, yet homeless, returning to a flattened, burned, destroyed city.

Haggai made an extreme demand. “We are here to rebuild God’s house, the Temple, not your houses. Stop building your houses. Build the Temple first.”  Unlike many other prophetic books, the people Haggai speaks to no longer despise the correction of the prophets. They no longer rebel against the message or call the messengers unpatriotic. They listen and repent. They put off work on their own dwellings and focus on making a place for God to once again dwell with them.

These men and women are the grandchildren of some of those who went into exile. Zerubbabel, mentioned by Haggai, is the grandson of Jehoiachin, one of the last of Judah’s kings. Jehoiachin was taken into exile because of his sin and Jeremiah prophesied that he would have no surviving offspring to sit on David’s throne. Non-canonical Jewish writings imply that Jehoiachin repented before God in captivity. (Jeremiah 22.24-30) God relented on the curse pronounced by Jeremiah. Not only did Jehoiachin have children, but Jehoiachin’s repentance led to the birth of the ultimate “Son of David,” Jesus. It is through Jehoiachin and Zerubbabel’s line that Jesus is born. (Matthew 1.12-17; Luke 3.27-37)

God goes beyond giving second chances.

Scripture is full of second chances, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh chances, and beyond. When Jesus told the disciples that they should forgive those who sinned against them seven times in a day and repented seven times, he wasn’t just speaking hypothetically. He was speaking historically. (Luke 17.3-4) Jesus may have been thinking about his own family history, but he absolutely was telling his followers to model their own forgiveness after God’s.

Haggai’s listeners had been forgiven so much, yet they were again forgetting to put God first. It’s so relatable. Haven’t we all found ourselves blindly pursuing our purposes rather than God’s? Haven’t we all had moments where we realized we were building selfishly?

God’s forgiveness is offered freely and repetitively, so long as there continues to be repentance. It’s not a once-and-done event, but a way of living. Let us remain responsive to calls for repentance from prophets in our day. Let us both offer and receive God-like forgiveness. Let us live in the land, homeless yet at home, forgiving and forgiven. Let us build unselfishly in ways that demonstrate that God dwells with us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. — Psalm 118.28

Today’s Readings

Haggai 1 (Listen – 2:39)
Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)

Read more about Rumors or Repentance
John called religious people and everyone else to repent, including soldiers, tax collectors, and the poor.

Read more about Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity joined with power

Love that Points to the Cross :: Love of Advent

Haggai 2.9
In this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.

John 3.14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

Reflection: Love that Points to the Cross :: Love of Advent
By John Tillman

There are many miraculous births announced in the Bible. Two are uniquely linked. One is announced to a young girl, told she must bear a child when she is a virgin. One is announced to an old man, told he must be reborn. They respond in similar ways, “How can this be?

Both have concerns—an old man’s doubts and a young girl’s fears. Both are answered with a lesson about God’s Spirit and God’s Word.

The young girl answers in faith and humility, and steps into her role as Christ’s mother and in many ways his first disciple and first evangelist.

The old man’s answers are not so obvious. But the rest of Nicodemus’s appearances in scripture show us a man questioning, risking his position, his reputation, and his life. He is in labor, delivering faith.

That faith crystalizes when he sees Christ lifted up, as he predicted, on the cross. That faith moves him out of the shadows to claim the body of Christ from the cross when Christ’s more public followers were hiding.

The cross is not just the demonstration of God’s love, it is the unmistakable destination of God’s love. Advent’s love anticipates the manger, but it creates an unmistakable vector pointing to the cross. All of Advent’s hope, points to the cross, where Advent’s love is demonstrated.

Hope Leads to the Cross
By Matt Tullos

The cross stands as a monument of grace in all its aspects.
The cross remains an icon representing a moment in history when our glorious God stepped into the suffering of humanity. No longer could one see God as a mere spectator of suffering and injustice. We could no longer look upon the face of a mother holding a lifeless child, an innocent convict, or a casualty of war and not remember Christ, because He suffered too.
He was divine and perfect.
He knew evil.
He saw life in all its wonder and atrocity.
He was triangulated in the crosshairs of nefarious conspirators.
He propelled Himself into the arena purposefully and with full cognizance.
No symbol known to man has endured with as much renown as the cross. The length of it, reaches down to the ground where all men live and die and then back up again connecting heaven and earth. The width of it, like arrows, stretches from man to man connecting all races and generations.
The cross outshines my verbosity. It confounds me. I see it in glimpses.
There is no greater irony.
and stuffed with glory.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
He will make your righteousness as clear as the light and your just dealing as the noonday.  — Psalm 37:6

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Haggai 2 (Listen – 3:49)
John 3 (Listen – 4:41)

Additional Reading
Read More The Path of the Cross :: A Guided Prayer
A Christ who brings earthly victory enjoys near universal welcome. Everyone rejected the suffering Christ. Even the closest of his disciples.

Read More about Evil and the Cross
“Theologies of the cross, of atonement, have not in my view grappled sufficiently with the larger problem of evil,” laments N.T. Wright.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation. 

Involving Christ :: Love of Advent

John 1.50
You will see greater things than that.

John 2.11
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Reflection: Involving Christ :: Love of Advent
By John Tillman

In Advent, Christ comes to us softly, intimately, getting involved with us, showing us the signs we need to continue in hope, toward love.

Like the cynical Nathanael, Christ gives to us what we need to abandon our sarcasm, cynicism, and despair, and to put our faith in him. He sees us under our fig tree, startling us with his intimate notice. As Nathanael, we may wonder, “How does he know me,” and “If he knows me, how can he love me?”

However much hope we have, however much we love him now, in the moment of today’s revelations, Jesus shocks us by telling us, he’s just getting started. He tells us, as he told Nathanael and the disciples, “You ain’t seen nothing yet. I’m the stairway to Heaven.

Then they attend a wedding right in the middle of the middle-of-nowhere region they were just making classist jokes about. And here, Jesus shows them something simple and powerful. His mother comes to him with a request. And he helps.

With modern ears, it would be easy to hear the recorded words of Mary, “Do whatever he tells you,” as a huffy, pushy, Jewish mother. Scripture only supports one of those three.

It would also be easy to hear the word “woman” from the mouth of Christ as derogatory, or diminishing. It is, of course, neither. But instead, it is a loving term of respect that he will later repeat from the cross.

Jesus who promised “greater things” to his disciples, goes to a small town wedding and helps his mother…“and his disciples believed in him.” Why?

The miracle we miss here is not the wine. It is the answer to the question, “Why do you involve me?” The shocking answer is that Jesus has come so that we may involve him.

We carry the gift of involving Christ. Christ is lovingly interested in helping, lovingly interested in knowing, lovingly interested in being involved in our embarrassments, difficulties, and failures.

What are we waiting for?

Involve him today. Carry the gift of his willing presence to those around you. He’ll walk miraculously into your real life with the laundry on the floor, kicked around the corner so the company won’t see, and your work project that’s hanging by a thread over failure.

Stand ready as Mary was, to lovingly tell ourselves and others, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.  — Matthew 5:6

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Haggai 1 (Listen – 2:39)
John 2 (Listen – 3:02)

Additional Reading
Read More about O Come, O Come, Emmanuel :: Advent’s Hope
In Advent we await the coming of the all-sufficient King; he is the wisdom we yearn for and the power we need. He is God, and his presence brings healing to our world and restoration to our hearts.

Read More about Realizing the Power of Love
As John writes, “In this world, we are like Jesus.” The selflessness of God’s love in us, and the actions that should flourish from it have the power, with the Holy Spirit, to change our world.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation. 

Hark the Herald Angels Sing :: Advent’s Joy

Christmas is a musical outlier—no other modern holiday is set to its own soundtrack. The downside to seasonal music is that nearly everyone has a Christmas song that they can’t stand. Little Drummer Boy, Feliz Navidad, and Santa Baby occur frequently on modern lists of annoying Christmas songs.

For Charles Wesley, the 18th century theologian, the song that bothered him so much that he refused to sing it was Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Now a popular carol, it was originally published by Wesley’s student George Whitefield. Most of the lyrics, however did not belong to Whitefield, they came from the pen of Charles Wesley himself.

When Wesley originally wrote it as a Christmas Day hymn for his church. “Hark! How all the welkin rings, glory to the King of Kings,” he wrote, echoing the angel’s praise in Luke,  “Glory to God in the highest heaven.” Welkin means sky, and while the skies were filled with praise, there is no Biblical record of the angels singing.

Whitefield went further than narrative adaptation, however. And the verses he chose to drop from the hymn demonstrate Wesley’s ability to capture robust theology in verse:

Come, desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man:
O, to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.

Ultimately the song has stood the test of time, in part because of both men’s work. Whitefield shaped what we now celebrate as heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of Christ, but Wesley’s theology still resonates with our longings in Advent as we sing:

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.

ListenHark the Herald Angels Sing by Paisley Abby Choir (2:59)

Today’s Reading
Haggai 2 (Listen – 3:49)
John 3 (Listen – 4:41)