Better Unborn — Readers’ Choice

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 20:7, 14, 18
7 You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
    you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
    everyone mocks me.
14 Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
18 Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?

Originally published on August 26, 2022, based on readings from Jeremiah 20.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Barbara, Tennessee — Thank you!

Reflection: Better Unborn — Readers’ Choice
By Erin Newton

Thank God for raw emotions in the Bible. Jeremiah has suffered greatly because of the message to his fellow people. He has called out their sin and they have sought his life in return. He curses his own birth.

Jeremiah’s complaints are sprinkled with positive exaltations of God. He calls God a mighty warrior who thwarts the plans of the wicked. He raises the exhortation to praise God and sing to him. But within the next few words, the prophet returns to wishing he had never been born.

Job also declares that people “are of few days and full of trouble” and asks God to look away and leave them alone (Job 14.1-6). Ecclesiastes states that the dead are better off than the living (Ecclesiastes 4.1-3).We often think that being a Christian means we are constantly at peace with how God works in our lives or that we have some sort of impervious happiness. Neither of these things are true.

Psalm 42 provides another insight into the emotional ups and downs in suffering. The psalmist declares that “tears have been my food.” Then he remembers the joy of festivals. But the depressive thoughts continue, “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” The psalmist tries to counsel himself, searching for the cause of the sadness and trying to cheer himself with thoughts of God.

Neither Jeremiah nor the psalmist ends with a convincingly cheerful attitude. The psalmist repeats the searching question of his downcast soul and affirms that he will continue to hope in God. Jeremiah, too, ends with wishing he had never been born yet admits that even if he tried to withhold God’s message, he would not be able to contain it.

We will face times of pain, grief, and sorrow. It is a lie to think that we shouldn’t wrestle with the pain or disappointment of how our lives are going. It is normal to feel ready to give up, regret answering God’s call, and wish we could go where no one can reach us.

However, we see their example of perseverance. They are sad but they continue. The psalmist vows to keep hoping. Jeremiah continues to share God’s message. No one suffers alone. We are called to bear one another’s burdens. We all feel like Jeremiah at one point or another. Reach out to your friends. Help one another remember the Lord and cling to hope.

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

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 4 (Listen 3:56)
2 Timothy 2 (Listen 3:17)

Read more about From the Belly of the Beast
Sooner or later we all experience the belly of the beast—sinking in the darkest hole of our lives…

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Idolatry as Parody — Readers’ Choice

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 10.11-14
11 “Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’ ” 
12 But God made the earth by his power; 
he founded the world by his wisdom 
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. 
13 When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; 
he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. 
He sends lightning with the rain 
and brings out the wind from his storehouses. 
14 Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; 
every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. 
The images he makes are a fraud; 
they have no breath in them.

Originally published on August 16, 2022, based on readings from Jeremiah 10.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Brian, Montana — How true. May the idols be removed from our lives. We are definitely livings in days similar to Jeremiah’s. God is the only cure.

Barbara, Tennessee — I needed to pray through some things – cultural fears as I age especially! Thanks for this challenge to replace the imitation with the Truth!

Reflection: Idolatry as Parody — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Jeremiah encouraged idolaters to look again at God compared to their idols.

God made the world:
God’s spirit hovered over chaotic nothingness and, by his words, the earth came to be. By his power the mountains were lifted. By his wisdom heavenly bodies took their places. By his understanding the hidden realities of DNA strands, quantum particles, and things science has yet to discover were created. God calls us to serve him, but it is actually he who serves us.

Humans make idols:
Our spirits, disconnected from God, sink in chaos and we are desperate to ground ourselves in something tangible. In our weakness we cast about for symbols of strength (that will yield to our whims). In foolishness we mold realities that center on our needs. In ignorance we claim perfect knowledge and understanding, cutting out of our lives anything that contradicts us. We make our idols to serve us, but we end up serving them. 

We become like our idols: fraudulent, shameful, unable to think, and unable to respond. Our hearts harden and our ears tune out and our eyes glaze over.

We think of idol-making as primitive and foolish. The Bible dumps scorn on the practice. It describes how foolish it is to make idols from worldly things when the world and everything in it was made by God. Idolaters worship the derivative rather than the original—the parody rather than the artist.

But are we that different from Jeremiah’s idolatrous audience?

Don’t we make idols of the things culture tells us are important? Careers? Sexual expression? Perfect spouses? Perfect bodies? Perfect families? Power? Influence? Politics? Don’t we pay and sacrifice, expecting these things to protect us, guide us, lead us, teach us?

Our idols make us senseless. God will give sight and hearing to the blind and the deaf.
Our idols make us ignorant. God will give wisdom to those who seek it.
Our idols shame us. God will lift up the humble.
Our idols defraud us. God will have mercy on us.

We need to, with regularity, search through the temples of our hearts for idols that slip in with our culture. No one is immune. No one has arrived. Bring out your idols and compare them to God. Then let him replace them with himself.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me… Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful. — Psalm 86.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Ruth 1  (Listen 3:33)
Hebrews 9  (Listen 4:40)

Read more about Normalizing Idols
Love is a greater ethic than knowledge or freedom. When knowledge leads us toward pride, let love lead us toward humility.

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Don’t Hope in Humans—Reader’s Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on 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, on August 23, 2022, based on Jeremiah 17:5-6
It was selected by reader, Karen Kallberg, Saint Louis: 
“‘We can find help in another person, but hope remains in Christ alone.’ I had to learn this lesson in a dark hour of my life. Now as a counselor, I am learning to help others discover the freedom in trusting a Savior who may not do as we wish but will never fail us. To this post, I heartily say, ‘Amen.’”

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 17:5-6
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

Reflection: Don’t Hope in Humans—Reader’s Choice
By Erin Newton

As we read the Old Testament, we often scoff at idolatry. Hmph, how primitive, we think. Most of our world sees God as one of many religious, divine beings but considers all such powers as ultimately nonexistent. By default, trust shifts from the divine to the created order. We are a culture that not only trusts in humanity but takes pride in doing so.

Jeremiah lives among a culture that rarely sees any dichotomy between the natural and supernatural yet speaks of this erroneous way of living that we encounter all the time. The prophet chides the people for trusting in humanity as if nothing could be more foolish. As fools today, our world chides at those who trust in God as if it were all a figment of our imaginations.

Trusting in another human being includes not only trusting another person for security, power, value, identity, and love but also drawing strength from ourselves. The prophet rebukes the mantra to pull oneself up by the bootstraps. He rebukes the idea that a mere mortal could be called upon to fix all of one’s problems. The future of those who trust in humanity will be like those who wander the desert always looking to settle but never finding rest.

We hear politicians speak about promises of a brighter and better future if only we will pick them to lead us. We are confronted with the failures of our religious organizations and are told that if we follow “so-and-so” then everything will be made right. Sometimes we hope that if we can be loved by this one person, then our souls will be filled and our identities complete.

It is a lonely, confusing, and hurting world that we live in. We want something to cling to in times like this. Unsurprisingly, people will present themselves as our knights in shining armor. As we look for hope and answers, let us be careful. We can find help in another person, but hope remains in Christ alone. We cannot call another person our savior or speak about someone as a cure-all for our world.

The only person worthy of our trust is Christ. We can draw strength from our Lord who put on flesh but was fully divine. He is our anchor. God may choose to use men and women to bring peace or prosperity, but wholehearted trust can only be in God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Be, Lord, my helper and forsake me not. Do not despise me, O God, my savior.

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 34 (Listen -4:15)
1 Corinthians 10 (Listen – 4:04)

Readers’ Choice is Here!
What post from the last 12 months encouraged or uplifted you? Tell us about it and we’ll reshare it this month.

Read more about No Princes
How many believers veil their trust in men as trust in God? This can cause problems in two ways.

A Lifetime of Waiting

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 25:10-12
 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever.

Reflection: A Lifetime of Waiting
By Erin Newton

We are all affected by time, sometimes wishing the sun would stop still in the sky or that it would rush ahead to better times. Worrisome events can be tolerated if we know our endurance must only last a prescribed amount of time.

As we read the words in Jeremiah, we often do not realize that God promises both judgment and restoration, but they are generations apart. What would it be like to hear that you must suffer the pain of losing your home? Will you have time to rebuild or start over? No. You’ll be there seventy years. Unless you are a small child, you will likely not live to see the end of it. Those born in exile would have no memories of their ancestral home in Israel.

Yet it is spoken to the people as a word of hope and encouragement.

There is no escape for Jeremiah and his peers. They are going into a period of judgment. The only consolation is that God has promised to make things right in the future. They know they will die in a foreign land trying to convince their children to hold onto hope for a little while longer.

On the eve of suffering, the word of hope is that God will overturn all evil. Eventually. The people settle down in Babylon and Jeremiah sends word encouraging them to be good citizens and live in a way that benefits the entire community.

We need this same encouragement today. We long for God to correct all evils. Heal the sick. Judge the wicked. Raise the lowly and humble the proud. He has promised he will do so! But at a time that we still don’t know.

Waiting is miserable. Contentment is the ability to find joy in spite of circumstances. Patience is the ability to tolerate delay without getting upset. As we struggle against the natural forces of our world, bound up in time, we must settle down in our neighborhoods. We must seek the prosperity of our towns. We must pray for our cities.

As we learn to wait on God, the ultimate aim should be to be peacemakers here. God does not call his people to erect walls to keep their neighbors out.

We must now ask ourselves, “Do I add to the benefit and blessing of my town or am I sowing seeds of discord and misery?”

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a tub or under the bed? Surely to be put on the lamp-stand? For there is nothing hidden, but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light. Anyone who has ears for listening should listen.” — Mark 4.21-23

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 25(Listen -5:07)
1 Corinthians 2(Listen – 2:32)

Read more about Come Out of Captivity
Even the weepiest of weeping prophets knew and proclaimed that light was coming and hope was warranted.

Readers’ Choice is Here!
There’s still room for your favorite post from the last 12 months. Tell us about it and we will repost it in September.

Be Good Figs

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 24:1-3
1 After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the skilled workers and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Lord showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the Lord. 2 One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very bad figs, so bad they could not be eaten.
3 Then the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.”

Reflection: Be Good Figs
By Jon Polk

Figs could certainly use a brand image makeover. I doubt that any other fruit’s favorability polls are as low as the fig’s.

The familiar Fig Newton cookie was invented in 1891 by a Philadelphia baker. Fig Newtons were one of the first mass-produced baked goods by the newly formed Nabisco cookie company.

The cookies were exclusively filled with fig filling until the 1980s when Nabisco started replacing the fig jam with raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, and apple flavors. In 2012, after over a century known as Fig Newtons, “Fig” was dropped, and the cookies became known simply as Newtons.

According to the company
, “It was going to be hard for us to advance the Newtons brand with the baggage of the fig.” Ouch.

Figs are, however, a superfood with incredible nutritional value and the highest fiber and mineral content of the most common fruits and vegetables.

Figs are mentioned throughout the Bible in mostly positive contexts. Figs were one of the fruits mentioned when describing the fertility of the Promised Land. Fig trees symbolize the prosperity of the Jewish nation. Fig cakes were presented as gifts to King David. Hezekiah’s illness was cured by a poultice of figs. A superfood, indeed.

Occasionally in scripture, figs have a negative connotation. Adam and Eve sewed together fig leaves when they realized their nakedness. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Joel used the image of ruined figs as a representation of God’s judgment. And of course, Jesus himself notably cursed a fig tree at Passover.

In Jeremiah 24, we find both good and bad figs. God shows Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs at the temple; one basket had good, ripe figs and the other basket had figs that had turned so bad they couldn’t even be consumed.

The good figs are the Jewish exiles in Babylon. As noted in the previous chapter, God had a plan to protect them, rescue them, and restore God’s relationship with them. God says the good figs will return to God with all their heart.

The bad figs are King Zedekiah and his officials. Also noted in the previous chapter, God had a plan to bring them to ruin for their selfishness and poor shepherding of God’s people.

“Two ways” metaphors are common in scripture: wisdom vs. folly, light vs. darkness, narrow vs. wide gate, etc.

How to interpret Jeremiah’s vision? Simple. Be good figs.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall b pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 24(Listen -1:54)
1 Corinthians 1 (Listen – 4:03)

Read more about Unexpected Contents of God’s Cup of Wrath
May we soften our hearts…so that we, like the “good figs”…will be carried through the judgment rather than destroyed in it.

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
Tell us about meaningful posts from the past 12 months. Let us know about them and we will share them with others.