The Broken Power of Death

Scripture Focus: Hosea 13.14
14 “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; 
I will redeem them from death. 
Where, O death, are your plagues? 
Where, O grave, is your destruction? 

Psalm 146.3-5
3 Do not put your trust in princes, 
in human beings, who cannot save. 
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; 
on that very day their plans come to nothing. 
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, 
whose hope is in the Lord their God. 

Isaiah 25.8
8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. 

1 Corinthians 15.54-56
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 

     55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
         Where, O death, is your sting?” 

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: The Broken Power of Death

By John Tillman

Hosea and Isaiah’s ministries overlapped and their writing echoes each other. Paul paraphrases their promises of resurrection into one of his brightest, most hopeful refrains. This chorus of hope comes most directly from one of the darkest chapters of Hosea.Rather than rely upon God, Israel and Judah had turned to political alliances and the gods those allies worshiped. But these “princes” would soon commit atrocities. These sound eerily familiar to ones committed by today’s powerful countries who bomb maternity wards and civilian evacuation corridors.

Death is not only dispensed at the whim of greedy empires but is carried on the wings of disease and aging. What hope can we have against death? This question is common to the people of Israel and Judah in Isaiah and Hosea’s day, to downtrodden outcasts under Rome’s rule, and to those targeted by empires and dictators today.

The poor and the powerless are overrun by death. They have no defenses and little strength to resist or slow its advance. They are helpless.

Wealth and power do much to extend life. The wealthy can easily flee conflict and the powerful are welcomed to new countries rather than crammed into inhumane camps. Experimental and expensive life-saving and life-extending medical treatments are common among the powerful. Absent these extreme examples, even simple, quality of life differences add years to the lives of the wealthy. However, in the end, the rich, the powerful, and the poor all die. The teacher of Ecclesiastes would call these efforts meaningless or absurd. (Ecclesiastes 3:19)

To the unbelieving world, for whom mortal life is all there is, death is ultimate. It is the worst thing that can happen to a person and there is no remedy.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us and it does not have the final word in our lives but that does not mean we should not grieve it. Lazarus was only four days in the grave, yet Jesus wept. (John 11.35) We weep and mourn death, but not without hope. (1 Thessalonians 4.13)

While we flee or delay death, scripture describes death’s defeat. God promises the grave will not be our final destination. We will only pass through and when we leave, we will be led by Christ himself. For those in Christ, death is a toothless predator, a limbless wrestler, who cannot hold us down for long.

Death which swallows all, will be swallowed up.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Short Verse
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” says the Lord God, “who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” — Revelation 1.8

Today’s Readings
Hosea 13  Listen – 2:26)
Psalm 146-147  (Listen -3:09)

Read more about Too Much to Hold
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

Read more about Stealing Death’s Sting
Untie our grave clothes and strip us of the trappings of this world.
Let us walk into the light and follow your loving voice.

Platforming Idols

Scripture Focus: Psalm 68:19
19 Blessed be the Lord who daily bears our burden. God is our salvation.

Isaiah 46.1-2
1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
    their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
    a burden for the weary.
2 They stoop and bow down together;
    unable to rescue the burden,
    they themselves go off into captivity.

Reflection: Platforming Idols
By Erin Newton

“Important” people are easy to spot. These social influencers are usually surrounded by crowds. Royalty and the political elite are transported in special caravans. The importance of a person is often depicted by how they are presented to the common people. (Even Star Wars’ Boba Fett is mocked for walking instead of being carried as a symbol of status.)

The vision set forth in Psalm 68 is a royal procession. God has cleared away his enemies, he goes before the people who sing songs of the great deeds he has done. Gifts from foreign kings are brought to his temple sitting high upon a mountain. All while the earth trembles at his presence.

God is lifted high to the center of attention, glory, and majesty. Amid this promenade, an interesting statement is made. God daily bears our burdens.

The ancient world had religious ceremonies where idols were carried out among the worshippers. Images gilded in gold and set with precious gems would ride upon platforms for the crowd to revere. However, Isaiah 46.1 reveals the true nature of these gods. “The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary.” These gods, once exalted in festivals, are a millstone around the neck of the people. They go from deities to rubbish, “…unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.”

What a difference between the gods of the earth and the true God of heaven!

The psalmist expressed not only the magnificence of God but the unique nature of his intercession for his people. God is not the burden on our backs. My early life was one filled with extensive legalism. The daily spiritual checklist that I thought defined my worth was burdensome. Legalism did not anchor me in faith, it anchored me into hell.

Are there things you have trusted that were more burdensome than you imagined? Sometimes, not always, the burden in our lives is the false god we’ve decided to carry. It is time to remember that God is the one bearing our burdens. Abide in him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart. — Psalm 32.12

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 6 (Listen – 3:22)
Psalm 68 (Listen – 4:26)

Read more about Gods of Ruin and Ridicule
We must decide every day whom we will serve. The gods of this world bring ruin and ridicule.

Read more about Lamenting Materialism
Today, Ba’al wouldn’t be a rain god, he’d be Gordon Gekko. Or Bernie Madoff. Or Jordan Belafort…Materialism is one of the chief idols of our age.

Peter’s Unfinished Work — Editor’s 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, June 1, 2020, based on readings from Revelation 3 and Isaiah 33.
It was selected by John Tillman
This was posted during the 6th day of protests regarding the murder of George Floyd. 
We (I) do not choose the topics we write about. We look at the scripture of the day and apply it to the culture of the day. That’s it. It says a lot about the content of the scripture and the content of our culture’s character that we so often must address racism and violence. Like Peter, I have often had to readdress racism within my life and ministry. Peter’s work to establish the church was partly dependent on his dealing with racism in his own life and in the lives of others. The same is true for us today. There is no sin we can be silent about, including racism.

Scripture Focus: Revelation 3.1-3
1 I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.

Isaiah 33.14-15
14 Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? 
Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?” 
15 Those who walk righteously 
and speak what is right…

Reflection: Peter’s Unfinished Work — Editor’s Choice
By John Tillman

We have both grieved and celebrated over this past weekend. 

Pentecost Sunday closes the season of Easter. As one season ends, Pentecost marks the beginning of a new one. Pentecost is the end of Jesus powerfully leading his disciples and the beginning of Jesus empowering his church to lead. Pentecost is the end of the season of training and the beginning of the season of work. 

As evidenced by both the murder of George Floyd and some of the broken and tragic responses to it, the church has much work left to do. Surely Christ’s words to the church at Sardis apply to us today, “I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.”

We have written consistently (because God’s Word speaks of it consistently) about the centrality to the gospel of destroying racism. There does not exist a gospel that ignores racism. Any “gospel” that does not confront racism is not the gospel. Pentecost testifies strongly to this as the Holy Spirit moved Peter to preach that what people were witnessing was the promised outpouring of God’s Spirit on “all flesh.” (Acts 2.17; Joel 2.28)

Peter struggled throughout his ministry to overcome the racism that he was raised in. May we take up Peter’s unfinished work. Overcoming racism cannot be done by one sermon, one vision, one visit, one protest, or one condemnation. Opposing both individual and systemic racism is a lifetime of work that the Church cannot give up on. 

Ending racism was a Christian idea from the beginning and we are possessed of the only ideology that can do it—the gospel. When pastors and ministers address racial issues, they are not abandoning the gospel, they are speaking from its heart.

Pray this prayer this week, based on parts of Isaiah 33, asking that we may be the kind of people who work the justice of the Kingdom of God into our lives and communities.

Prayer for Justice
We long to dwell with you, Lord, our consuming fire.
Burn away our sinfulness and selfishness without which racism cannot stand.
Help us to be those who walk righteously 
and speak what is right.
Help us to reject gain from extortion and oppression 
Let us not passively participate in murder.
Let us not shut our eyes to deny evil, but shut our hearts to joining in it.
Let us be instruments of your peace.

*We forgo the Divine Hours prayers today replacing them with the above and focusing our prayers on ones for justice and peace, which must come before reconciliation and revival which we also pray for.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 18 (Listen – 4:30)
Romans 16 (Listen – 3:30)

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 Putting To Death Racial Hostility
Our culture’s concept of human equality is based not in science, but in Christ. The wellspring of the concept of racial equality is the cross of Christ.

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day — Carols of Advent Peace

Scripture Focus: John 14.27
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Matthew 1.20-23
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Isaiah 9.6-7a
6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.

Reflection: I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day — Carols of Advent Peace
By Jon Polk

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was written during the American Civil War by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Longfellow’s wife had died in an accidental fire and his oldest son had been severely wounded in the war, so it is no surprise that when he penned the lyrics on Christmas Day 1863, he included somber words:

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

Fifty years later, a war broke out across the world so terrible that it was called the War to End All Wars.

Germans invaded France and Belgium and some front-line trenches were only fifty yards apart. At the end of 1914, initiatives for peace were rejected, including a request by Pope Benedict for a truce on Christmas Day.

A miracle took place on Christmas Eve. Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in an unofficial Christmas Truce.

Private Frank Sumter of the London Rifle Brigade journaled,

We heard the Germans singing “Silent night, Holy night”… and we joined in… One German took a chance and jumped up and shouted, “Happy Christmas!” Our boys said, “If he can do it, we can do it,” and we all jumped up. A Sergeant Major shouted, “Get down!” But we said, “Shut up Sergeant, it’s Christmas time!”

Troops from both sides climbed out of their trenches, wished each other “Merry Christmas,” played games, and shared gifts. For a few hours, the peace of Christmas prevailed on the fields of battle.

This is what Christmas does. Jesus radically breaks into our cold, dark, and hostile world. 

The world says, “Get down. Don’t try to make peace. Don’t cross enemy lines. Don’t befriend people whose race, politics, culture or nationality are different from you.”

Jesus says, Shut up world, it’s Christmas time!”

The world says, “In despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said.” 

Jesus says, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does He sleep.”

The world says, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men!” 

Jesus says, “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

History reminds us the War to End All Wars did not do so. Physical wars continue but so do wars of words, ideologies, and cultures. Strife and discord still exist in our world. 

Jesus brings a new kind of peace, not only absence of war, but a new way of living. It is a peace that allows us to take risks by loving both our neighbor and our enemy, by being a voice of hope and the hands and feet of God in the world. 

Each and every year, this peace is available to all who find rest in the Savior, Christ the Lord.

Listen: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Bryan Duncan
Read: Lyrics at Hymnary.org
Bonus View: Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas Advert on the 100th Anniversary of the 1914 Christmas Truces

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

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

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 11 (Listen – 2:40)
John 14 (Listen – 4:13)

Christmas Day Readings
Zechariah 12.1-13.1 (Listen – 2:30)
John 15 (Listen – 3:20)

This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 13.2-9 (Listen – 1:40) John 16 (Listen – 4:14)
Zechariah 14 (Listen – 3:52) John 17 (Listen – 3:40)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
We rely on gifts of all sizes, including mustard-seed-sized gifts from many people, that can enable us to move mountains.

Read more about The Peace of Christ :: Peace of Advent
How many Christ-Followers have come to fully understand the divine reality that peace is our inheritance?

Much Demanded—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason Tilley from Texas
A lament for modern times. We are too quick to spread ideas that we have not thought about ourselves. When we do, we are responsible for the consequences. But unlike before, our spreading of false ideas does not die with the few who might have heard them. They live forever. We must own and confess our sins rather than try to re-create ignorance. We are no longer clueless. Let’s stop planting false clues.

Originally published, May 11, 2020, based on readings from Isaiah 9:8-10:4 & James 3.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 9.14-16
14 So the Lord will cut off from Israel both head and tail,
    both palm branch and reed in a single day;
15 the elders and dignitaries are the head,
    the prophets who teach lies are the tail.
16 Those who guide this people mislead them,
    and those who are guided are led astray.

James 3.1
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 

Reflection: Much Demanded—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

There is an often repeated biblical principle—the more you are given, the more will be expected of you. 

We see its implications in Isaiah’s prophecy against the leaders. (Isaiah 9.14-16) James echoes it in his warning to “teachers.” (James 3.1) Christ worded it, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12.48)

Part of God’s righteousness, his justice, is not holding those with little accountable for their poverty. Whether a poverty of finances, of knowledge, of access, or of power, God judges those with little lightly and those with much heavily.

This should be sobering to us who are greatly privileged.

We live in an age of unprecedented availability of knowledge. We are more accountable to God for what we say and teach than ever before. We have an unprecedented ability to access the Bible at any time and on any device imaginable. We are more accountable to God for our ignorance of his scriptures than ever before. We have an unprecedented ability to reach around the world (or across the street) to know and befriend people of all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. We are more accountable to God for holding on to racial prejudice, divisions, and resentments than ever before. We are living in the most prosperous time in history with financial resources available to the majority of people that were unimaginable in prior ages of history. We are more accountable to God for abandoning and abusing those in poverty than ever before.

It is to our shame with such wealth that there are starving children.
It is to our shame with such connectedness that we cause divisiveness.
It is to our shame with such availability of the Bible that we do not avail ourselves of reading it.
It is to our shame with such access to expert knowledge that we scrape the basements of the Internet to find conspiracies that we like better than the facts. (Isaiah 8.12-13)

May we confess and repent, before God comes to settle accounts with us.
Much has been given to us. May we praise God in thankfulness for it.
Much has been given to us. May we serve our neighbor in humbleness with it.
Much has been given to us. May we challenge every form of oppression with it.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 38 (Listen – 5:18)
Psalms 11-12 (Listen – 1:59)

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post reminded you of Christ’s love?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Read more about Confession as a Crucible
The crucible of COVID-19 is revealing in our society and ourselves the ugliest most sinful parts of our nature.