Progression Not Perfection

Scripture Focus: Mark 6.14-16
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” 

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.” 

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” 

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” 

Reflection: Progression Not Perfection
By John Tillman

Jesus began sending out followers to heal and drive out demonic spirits just as he had done. This not only spread the gospel but sparked rumors of a powerful prophet among the people. Some said Elijah had returned and some said other prophets from long ago.

When rumors reached the palace of Herod Antipas, he did not think of prophets long in their graves. He thought of John the Baptizer, whom he had recently beheaded.

If John had produced a podcast, Herod would have been its number-one fan. This was not, however, because John was tickling Herod’s ears. John wasn’t the ear-tickling type. John’s critique is what got him imprisoned by Herod in the first place.

Herod had taken the wife of his brother (Also a Herod…there were a LOT of Herods.). In modern minds, Herod Antipas and Herodias’s story might be seen as a love story. When Herodias was eight years old, she was forced into a marriage to Herod Phillip II. Later, she fell in love with Herod Antipas, who was closer to her age, when he visited Phillip in Rome. If we ignore that both of these men were her uncle, Herod and Herodias might be a more sympathetic couple.

This marriage was considered by many faithful Jewish people to be wildly immoral and disgusting. (Leviticus 18.16) John regularly told Herod his marriage was sinful and against God’s Law. Despite this, Herod protected John because he was a righteous and holy man. Herod liked listening to John even though he didn’t seem to understand (or obey) anything John said.

People can enjoy “listening to” preachers, to the Bible, to Christian music, to theology podcasts, or to online devotionals and never cross the line of belief. One sign of right belief is right action. Everyone who believes does not act perfectly. However, if faith has never changed your actions, you should ponder whether you have truly given your heart to it.

Like Herod, you might start as a fan, but you can become a follower. Jesus’ disciples begin as normal tradesmen. They were prone to sin, violence, threats, anger, bitterness, and fear…but they progressed. We see them become empowered, changed into those who could command demons, heal, and give their lives for the gospel. Do not ask yourself if you are perfect. You aren’t. Ask yourself if you are progressing.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

Today’s Readings
Genesis 28 (Listen 3:17
Mark 6 (Listen 7:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 29 (Listen 4:45Mark 7 (Listen 4:28)
Genesis 30 (Listen 6:10Mark 8 (Listen 4:29)

Read more about Resisting Herods
Today’s Christian leaders must demonstrate the ability to stand before today’s Herods with more of John the Baptist’s moral compass…

Read more about Supporting Our Work
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God, Can You Hear Me?

Scripture Focus: Habakkuk 1.2
2 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?

Mark 6.27
27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison…

Reflection: God, Can You Hear Me?
By Erin Newton

Recently, Beth Moore posted on Twitter, “Aren’t there times when you raise your face to the sky and say, Lord, do you care that you have nearly killed me??” The post gained quick responses of affirmation and personal anecdotes of others in pain. This honest reflection on suffering is how the book of Habakkuk opens.

The prophet looked at the culture around him and saw only violence, destruction, injustice, and strife. The heart of the prophet cried out to God. Was God deaf to his pain? The legal system which was meant to bring wholeness, peace, and justice was perverted and paralyzed. It was a world much like our society today.

The Lord answered the prophet with a forecast of something unpredictable. The future was going to continue to be painful. What dreadful news! The prophet struggled to make sense of it all. Tolerating evil was the antithesis to the character of God.

This perplexing tolerance of injustice can be felt at the individual level. In the gospels, John the Baptist is imprisoned for his criticism of Herod. In prison, he likely doubted if he had risked his life for false hope. He sent his messengers to inquire of Jesus, “Are you the Messiah?” Jesus responds with tales of the miraculous healings that had taken place, fulfillments of the messianic prophecies. Jesus proclaimed his omnipotence. He was the Messiah. But John remained in prison. The Lord, all-powerful and all-knowing, healed the sick but allowed his friend to be bound by an oppressor. His answer was also a future of more pain.

In her book, Gold by Moonlight, Amy Carmichael reflects on the question John the Baptist sent to Jesus and Jesus’ answer in return. “That is the word for you. The Father trusts His broken child to trust.” It is a hard word to hear. We want God to answer with pleasant words. We call out to the Good Shepherd hoping that he will let us rest beside still waters. We despair and cry out, “Are you really God?”

It can feel like God is slow to respond. We confuse the patience of God as the endorsement of evil. Habakkuk struggled with God’s answer because it didn’t seem to fit his character. In the end, he will praise God and trust that God is still good.

When we are broken, may our faith sustain us as we trust in his timing.

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

Today’s Readings
Habakkuk (Listen – 2:39)
Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

Read more about Ordinary Measure of Faithfulness
The Shunammite woman is a tale of the slow, quiet, and ordinary walk of faithfulness.

Read more about Occupation of Meditation
Meditation and occupation with God’s Word can bring us peace in our frustrations, and give us power to oppose evil and help the suffering in this world.

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?

Faith After the Storm

Mark 4.39-40
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Reflection: Faith After the Storm
By John Tillman

How tired Christ must have been to be asleep during the storm. 

Mark gives us the beautiful eyewitness detail that Christ’s head was on a pillow. Jesus had healed and preached all day long. Then he had preached it all again to his disciples who had heard the stories but, just like the crowd, had a hard time understanding.

Jesus was beaten down by the demands of his work so much so that the wildly rocking boat, the crashing waves, and even the boat filling up with water didn’t wake him. In the midst of this terrible storm, Jesus slept on until his shaken disciples shook him awake.

The disciples don’t seem to wake Jesus because he can save them from the storm. They merely wake him to complain about his treatment of them. “Don’t you care that we are going to drown?” The drowning seems a foregone conclusion. There is no direct request, merely bitterness and accusation. 

How many times do we go to Jesus in prayer, without faith but with bucket-fulls of complaints and accusations.

Don’t you care, Jesus?
Why don’t you answer?
What’s wrong with you?

When Jesus calms the storm, the disciples’ fears should be as calm as the sea, but instead they are heightened. The disciples are more terrified than before. 

Jesus asleep on the pillow is a punching bag for our emotions. Asleep, he cannot hear or dispute our complaints, our fears, our version of events. But Jesus standing and rebuking the storm rebukes us as well. “Quiet. Be still.”

Jesus standing and commanding the storm is intimidating and disturbing. He is no longer someone we can shake awake and push around. He is no longer the servile employee behind the desk of God’s complaint department. Instead he holds power that cannot be debated with. He is someone who demands our service, commands our compliance. We may be as terrified by a Jesus who calms storms as we are by the storms themselves.

As we examine our hearts this weekend, spend some time contemplating the fearful question of the disciples, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Though we still have no faith after the storm, he is willing to do great things through our lives. If the winds and waves listen to his rebukes…we can too.

Be stilled and calmed by Christ this weekend.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

– 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
Genesis 33 (Listen – 2:59) 
Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 34 (Listen – 4:18), Mark 5 (Listen – 5:21)
Genesis 35-36 (Listen – 9:33), Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

Join Our New Facebook Group:
This weekend, in our new Facebook group for email subscribers, we will continue a series of short live videos discussing some simple, practical tools of spiritual practice using modern technology. Join the group to discuss them with us.

Follow this link to find the group. When you request to join, you will be prompted to answer questions about the email that you have used to subscribe to The Park Forum. Once we check that you are a subscriber, we will approve you to join the group.

Read more about Thanksgiving Stirs God’s Heart
When Simon (not yet called Peter) saw what Christ had done for him and his partners, he skipped right over being thankful to being fearful. “Go away from me! I’m not worthy. I don’t understand! You don’t know how sinful I am!”

Read more about Prayer from the Belly of the Beast
We may not be in the beast’s belly because of wrongdoing, but because our world is filled with beasts. But regardless of how we came to be there, our prayer may be sharpened, amplified, and have greater effect on our hearts.