Wake-up Call—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Mr. Dennis Makhandia, Kakamega, Kenya
The post came at a time when I was complacent with my faith and it was a stark reminder of what is expected of us as people who have been given the gospel

Originally published, July 15, 2020, based on readings from Jeremiah 11 & Matthew 25.

Scripture Focus: Matthew 25.44-46
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Jeremiah 11.11-14
11 Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes. 13 You, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.’
14 “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.

Reflection: Wake-up Call—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

The three stories of Matthew 25 are connected, presented in series with an intentional theme. Last January we wrote:

Matthew 25 is famous for the sheep and the goats parable. But really, the entire chapter is about people who shirked their responsibilities to themselves, to their master, and to others. The foolish virgins, the wicked servant, and the goats are a trinity of spiritual neglect.

The sin of neglect seems to be one that surprises each of the condemned groups and individuals in these stories. Pray that you may not be surprised.

During seminary days, while traveling on a ministry team on a long drive, someone suggested putting on a Keith Green album. The driver, a good friend, responded, “Oh good. I haven’t doubted my salvation in a while. Put it in.”

We all laughed but I will never forget it. Because, the truth was, and is, that we don’t often listen to music that challenges us. We tune in for encouragement.  We don’t often listen to sermons that challenge us. We tune out words of conviction.

This is bad news for us because when we tune out the voices correcting us for long enough, God lets us tune out. He allows us to develop spiritual cataracts and tunnel vision. He allows us to blow out our eardrums so that we can’t hear him anymore.

We need things in our spiritual lives to jar us out of our complacency and cause us to reevaluate our dedication to Christ. We need a wake-up call.

From the careless virgins buzzes an alarm: Take initiative! Don’t be passive about personal spiritual disciplines!
From the slothful servant rings a reveille trumpet: Be invested! Give your all to what providence invests in you!
From the goats, a clamorous claxon resounds: Serve Others! Serve the poor! Serve the hungry! Serve the outcast!
And from Jeremiah, we see the outcome of ignoring God’s calls—God will block our calls. “…I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.”

Don’t push “snooze” on the alarms sounding in these passages. Their intention is not to terrify us, but to guide us to action. His desire is for no one to perish, so open your eyes, open your ears. Attend to your spiritual responsibilities to yourself, to Christ, our master, and to those around you.

Music: The Sheep and the Goats (Live Performance) — Keith Green

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 Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 42 (Listen – 3:44)
Psalms 18 (Listen – 5:47)

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 43 (Listen – 2:34) Psalms 19 (Listen – 1:52)
Jeremiah 44 (Listen – 6:10) Psalms 20-21 (Listen – 1:37)

Read more about A Trinity of Neglect
Ask the Holy Spirit to show you warning signs if you are following the path of one of these neglectful souls.

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.

Comfortable Prophecies

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 27.16-17
16 Then I said to the priests and all these people, “This is what the Lord says: Do not listen to the prophets who say, ‘Very soon now the articles from the Lord’s house will be brought back from Babylon.’ They are prophesying lies to you. 17 Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon, and you will live. Why should this city become a ruin?

Matthew 13.1-2
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Reflection: Comfortable Prophecies
By John Tillman

People are harder to love than objects.

Objects make more predictable and controllable gods than the true and living One. Perhaps that is why we easily become attached to physical objects, places, and things and sometimes forget the God those things are intended to point us toward. 

The people of Jerusalem were very attached to the physical implements of their worship in the Temple. It was a shock to them when Nebuchadnezzar took away many articles from the Temple along with the previous king, Jehoiachin. Their patterns of worship were disrupted. 

This shock, however, did not cause the people to return to proper worship of God. Instead, it pushed them further into denial and brought forth false prophets who would tell the people exactly what they wanted to hear.

“The articles of the Temple will return!”
“The suffering will be over soon.”
“Normalcy will resume.”

These lies made very comfortable prophecies. Near irresistible. It is difficult to point a judgmental finger at the residents of Jerusalem for falling for these false prophets. The current suffering we are enduring is nothing anywhere near the scale that they were enduring. Even though our suffering is less severe than theirs, don’t we also feel the pull to grasp onto any far-fetched hope of an end and a return to normalcy?

Jeremiah’s prophecies are uncomfortable. People considered them unpatriotic. Jeremiah had a reputation for gloom as if his writings and prophecies contained no messages of hope or offers of forgiveness for the people. Yet, Jeremiah frequently and beautifully describes God’s longing to bless the people and save them from further destruction. But they are unwilling to do what God asks. They are unwilling to submit. They are unwilling to be humbled or to acknowledge the sins that led them to this point. They are unwilling to live under the consequences of their sins.

O God, help us not to worship normalcy, but to seek your presence in this unique time.
May we find our comfort in you rather than in things we demand that you restore to us.
May we not long for the missing “instruments” of worship more than we long for you, the object of our worship.
O God, help us not be misled by false prophets offering comfort instead of truth.
Give us discernment and faith.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
When you are angry, all our days are gone; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone.
Who regards the power of your wrath? Who rightly fears your indignation:
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. — Psalm 90.8-12

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 27 (Listen – 3:52)
Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 28 (Listen – 3:05) Mark 14 (Listen – 8:37)
Jeremiah 29 (Listen – 5:44) Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you understand the gospel?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
Judah treasured the Temple’s importance but not its inhabitant. They treasured the regalia, not the relationship.

Unexpected Contents of God’s Cup of Wrath

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 25.27
27 “Then tell them, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk and vomit, and fall to rise no more because of the sword I will send among you.

Reflection: Unexpected Contents of God’s Cup of Wrath
By John Tillman

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the cup of God’s wrath is so shocking that it leads to death threats against him. 

The cup of God’s wrath is a common image that echoes all throughout the scriptures. (Isaiah 51.17; Jeremiah 49.12; Lamentations 4.21; Ezekiel 23.31; Revelation 14.10) Jesus mentions not wanting to drink it if possible. Yet, eventually, he drains it on our behalf. (Matthew 26.39)

We might imagine this cup filled with dreaded poison. We’d be wrong. We might imagine the horrific practice, used by ancient Romans, Spanish Inquisition torturers, and South American tribes, of having molten gold poured down one’s throat. This type of horrific torture is human wrath, not divine wrath. 

The cup of God’s wrath, as described by Jeremiah, is not filled with poison, molten gold, burning sulfur from the lake of fire, or any fanciful substance of perverse punishment or torture. It is filled with wine. 

No special torturous properties are needed. The contents are our own desires. Victims simply drink and drink and drink, until they vomit and die. The picture painted by Jeremiah is a messy nightmare of people dying in pools of their own vomit. It is still horrific, but a far cry from scenes that might garner high ratings on television programs like Game of Thrones.

God’s wrath does not work the way human wrath does. God punishes us, more often than not, by handing us the bottle of our bad choices and letting us drink up. Jeremiah describes how the cup of God’s wrath would be passed from nation to nation as they each in turn were judged by God for their excesses and sin.

Wine, when used as a symbol of God’s wrath, is transfigured from a symbol of joy to a symbol of judgment, from a symbol of happiness to a symbol of horror.

The cup of God’s wrath is also a long time in coming. In this case, Jeremiah has been preaching for twenty-three years before God finally gives up appealing to his people and gives them over to self-destruction.

May we learn to listen to God’s prophets who, like Jeremiah, might not speak in ways we like or appreciate.
May we learn to soften our hearts to God’s appeals so that we, like the “good figs” mentioned in the previous chapter, (Jeremiah 24.4-10) will be carried through the judgment God allows rather than being destroyed in it.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. — Psalm 103.11

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 25 (Listen – 6:12)
Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

Read more about Liquid Wrath and Liquid Forgiveness
When it comes to divine wrath, scripture often portrays it as a liquid.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post challenged or convicted you?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Trapped by Being Offended

Scripture Focus: Mark 6.4
A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.

Jeremiah 20.1-2
When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks.

Mark 6.27-28
So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter.

From John: This repost from 2018 is even more relevant today. When anyone today challenges us, our first instinct has become offense. Any prophet, preacher, politician, scientist, or fellow believer becomes a threat to us if they present evidence contrary to what is comfortable for us to believe. We marginalize them, attack their reputation, redraw our ideological lines to exclude them, and refuse to listen or to judge what they say.

Reflection: Trapped by Being Offended
By John Tillman

Our readings today bring us a theme of three prophets whose offensive messages caused them to be rejected: Jesus, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist.

Nazareth’s residents “took offense” at Jesus. The Greek word translated as “offense” is skandalizó and it implies the idea of a trap that one falls into or is ensnared by.

There’s no gunshot like conviction,
There’s no conscience bulletproof,
There’s no strength like our own weakness,
There’s no insult like the truth. — Charlie Peacock

Stumbling into the trap of offense leads to a pattern that we can learn from. All three of these prophets experienced this pattern in some way. If we find ourselves in one of these steps, we need to prayerfully evaluate our hearts to see if we are trapped by being offended.

Step one: Minimize the prophet’s message based on his or her family background, age, race, gender, or history.
Focus on the prophet and magnify any flaw. Jeremiah was a young, unpatriotic upstart. Jesus was an out-of-wedlock, scandalous, small-town kid from a flyover state from which nothing good could come. John was an extremist and was politically insensitive.

Step two: Publicly censure the prophet, inviting shame, scorn, and sometimes violence.
Jeremiah was held in stocks in the Temple. The purpose of such a punishment is to shame and humble an enemy; to make him or her powerless, allowing verbal and physical attacks. This practice is common today. We still love shaming and stoning people. We just mostly do it digitally through social media.

Step three: Conspire with the powerful to have the prophet silenced.
John’s attack on Herod’s incestuous marriage brought him into political crosshairs and set in motion an illegal conspiracy to have him killed. Jesus also was the victim of conspiracy, leading to his shaming, humiliating death on the cross. Jeremiah was tortured many times. The Bible doesn’t record his death, but according to traditional sources he was eventually stoned.

With the exception of Herodias, all of the people who tortured and killed the three prophets we read of today thought they were doing God’s work—disposing of troublemakers.

This should shock us into inner evaluation of ourselves and our motives. Why are we offended? Can we turn our offense and the offender over to God? We must always be cautious and prayerful when we take offense at a prophet.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence since I was young. — Psalm 71.5

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 20 (Listen – 3:07) 
Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 21 (Listen – 2:35) Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)
Jeremiah 22 (Listen – 5:07) Mark 8 (Listen – 4:29)

Read more about Avoiding Haman’s Petard
Haman’s path to hatred was hatched based on an action which he interpreted as disrespect.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year. What post helped you pray more frequently?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Hope for Marred Pots

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 18.6
6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.

Reflection: Hope for Marred Pots
By John Tillman

Watching something you love self-destruct is wearying in a unique way. This is true whether what is self-destructing is a person, a nation, or a political group. It is for this reason that reading through the prophets can be an exercise in endurance. 

If we begin to grow tired of accounts of the sins of Israel and Judah and the judgments coming their way,  we are not alone. The other prophets and priests of Judah grew so sick of Jeremiah’s messages that they conspired against him.

Their opposition would grow from verbal attacks and ignoring Jeremiah to more insidious and violent forms. Their opposition would culminate in a plot to take his life.

They are not alone. Jeremiah grew weary of his own message. Jeremiah’s writings are filled with moments of grief and longing for his people to listen, to change, to repent. 

Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet but he is not the only one weeping. Many of Jeremiah’s most mournful passages could be read with God as the one weeping rather than Jeremiah. The most likely interpretation is that it is often both, not one or the other. Jeremiah is a weeping prophet because he serves a weeping God.

God, understanding Jeremiah’s grief, sends him to a place he can see that there is hope for marred and broken things—the potter’s house.. 

God tells Jeremiah that it is Israel on the potter’s wheel. Marred, rebellious, stubborn, yet still the artisan keeps the clay in his hands, crushing, spinning, shaping, and reforming the pot.

There is hope for marred and broken things like us. Whether nations, peoples, groups, or individuals, we can be reshaped. We don’t have to remain a useless, malformed pot. If we will stay pliable and stay in the hands of our potter, we can be reshaped. We can become a fitting vessel for the good plans that God has for us.

May we stay humble.
May we stay pliable.
May we stay in the potter’s hands.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Happy are the people whose strength is in you; whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way. — Psalm 84.4

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 18 (Listen – 3:40) 
Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)

Read more about The Two Ariels
“Judicial hardening” refers to the way God acts in response to our rejection of him and his messages.

#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