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.

Nineveh’s Regression

Scripture Focus: Nahum 2.13
13 “I am against you,” 
declares the Lord Almighty. 
“I will burn up your chariots in smoke, 
and the sword will devour your young lions. 
I will leave you no prey on the earth. 
The voices of your messengers 
will no longer be heard.”

Mark 4.9
9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” 

Reflection: Nineveh’s Regression
By John Tillman

About 150 years after Jonah’s visit, Nahum writes to Ninevah with exactly the kind of message Jonah wished to carry: “The Lord is against you. You’re going to burn.” The city that once experienced the fires of revival would experience the fires of judgment.

Jonah’s warning to Ninevah had an unexpected, and for Jonah, undesired, effect. Repentance swept the streets. People from the king down to the lowest servants turned to God and mourned their past sins. Jonah condemned their spiritual ignorance, yet God had compassion for people “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.” (Jonah 4.11)

It was a shocking outcome. An empire that grew fat on evil, fasted and mourned. A city considered a lost cause, was saved. People Jonah hoped would taste God’s wrath, tasted his mercy. But eventually, Ninevah regressed.

We don’t know how long the effects of the revival recorded in Jonah endured. Perhaps that generation of Ninevites continued in repentance and it was the next generation that returned to sinfulness. Perhaps they went “back to normal” a week after the disaster was averted. Either way, we can draw a lesson for ourselves. May we not find ourselves in the position of the Ninevites who once tasted mercy, then spat it out to gulp down rebellion instead.

When we repent, let us make sure that it is not just surface repentance to avoid the catastrophe some Jonah-like prophet warns us of. Repentance and humbling ourselves are continual practices in the Christian faith, not one-time events. Let us repent and continue to repent. To reform and continue to reform.

God’s still in the business of forgiving those we would condemn and having mercy on those we would castigate. He’s still redeeming lost causes and lost cities. But he is also running out the clock on the evil and will not leave the wicked unpunished. No matter how far gone someone is, we shouldn’t write them off, because God may be in the process of writing them into his story. However, there does come a time when God allows people to write themselves out.

Unrepentant evil will be crushed, regardless of whether it is found in Ninevah, Jerusalem, or in our modern cities or churches. The Lord is still for us. Let us seek him while he may be found and hear him while our ears can hear and our hearts can respond. (Isaiah 6.9-10, 55.6; Mark 4.9)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path. — Psalm 119.105

Today’s Readings
Nahum 2 (Listen – 2:06)
Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)

Read more about Becoming Light
Help us not be like those who are of the dark.
They are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.

Read more about Rumors or Repentance
The Jordan, where John baptized, is a river of decision. Will you cross over or not?  Will you repent? Will you enter the Kingdom of Heaven or not?

Leaders Sent by God

Scripture Focus: Micah 6.2-4
2 “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; 
listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. 
For the Lord has a case against his people; 
he is lodging a charge against Israel. 
3 “My people, what have I done to you? 
How have I burdened you? Answer me. 
4 I brought you up out of Egypt 
and redeemed you from the land of slavery. 
I sent Moses to lead you, 
also Aaron and Miriam. 

Mark 1.7-8
7 “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

Reflection: Leaders Sent by God
By John Tillman

God points out Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, the human leaders he sent to guide Israel out of slavery to freedom.

The people God uses are never perfect. Moses had a violent temper, both as a young man and near the end of his life. Aaron built the golden calf and then lied about it. Miriam criticized Moses’ interracial marriage and was cursed for it.

It’s good to recognize God uses imperfect people. If we sin and repent, God can still forgive and bless others through us. But how far does that go? Do we give a pass to pastors with frequent outbursts of temper and violent speech? Do we excuse leaders who accept cultural idols of the moment? Do we defend racist comments? “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Romans 6.1-2)

Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were confronted about those sins and repented. No one made excuses. For those leaders who continue in sins, Micah has another example—Balaam. 

Not only will God use well-intentioned but imperfect leaders in our lives, he will use outright enemies. God can turn enemies’ evil intentions into good outcomes. For leaders inside or outside our churches who are unrepentant, the best we can hope is that like Balaam, God will somehow turn their evil into good.

God continues to use imperfect men and women to lead his people but he has gone even further than that, sending to us his own son, Jesus.

John the Baptizer was one of those imperfect leaders God sent. He said of Jesus, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” We are not worthy either. With what can we come before the Lord? 

Micah asks, “will the Lord be pleased…” with any extravagant offering? No. Even Micah’s simplest definition of God’s requirements is beyond us. (Micah 6.8) Our justice is tainted. Our mercy is rarely given. Our humility gives way to pride. 

Therefore, God has offered his own firstborn for the sin of our souls. (Micah 6.7) Jesus has acted justly on our behalf, has loved mercy enough to die for us, and walks humbly before God appealing to us. He not only saves us but leads us.

What more could God do for us than this? Will we remember or will we turn away?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine our 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

Today’s Readings
Micah 6 (Listen – 2:28)
Mark 1 (Listen – 5:05)

This Weekend’s Readings
Micah 7 (Listen – 3:36)Mark 2 (Listen – 3:55)
Nahum 1 (Listen – 2:24)Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)

Read more about Complaints and Responses
Moses took these personal attacks to heart, growing angry rather than compassionate toward the people’s legitimate needs.

Read more about A Bad Day Fishing
Peter’s first recorded words to Jesus in response to the miracle are “go away.”
Peter seems to believe that his sins disqualify him.

Vengeance, Arrogance, and Partiality — Readers’ 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, February 4th, 2021, based on readings from Genesis 37 and Mark 7.
It was selected by reader, Brian 
“Thanks for this reflection. My desire for vengeance ruled my life until I was in my late-20’s.
I kept a mental note of each person who hurt me and dreamt about what I would do as payback.  Finally God pulled the desire for vengeance out of me. It took years of counseling, prayer, and patience from all who loved me. Whew. I am exhausted writing this.  Thanks again. Thanks be to God for unyielding and unending mercy.”

Scripture Focus: Genesis 37.34-35
34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him. 

Mark 7.20-23
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Reflection: Vengeance, Arrogance, and Partiality — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

There are disagreements among biblical interpreters about Joseph and how he related to his brothers. 

Some see Joseph as innocent. They argue Joseph did nothing wrong. His brothers are simply vengeful and jealous. This view’s popularity comes partly from seeing Joseph as a “type” of Christ in the Old Testament. (Where Moses shows us the conquering Christ, Joseph shows us the suffering servant.) Joseph, however, is no more sinless than Moses or anyone else. This view seems unrealistically idealistic.

Some see Joseph as a spoiled, arrogant braggart. They argue that, although Joseph was a victim, he provoked his brothers to anger and jealousy. This view is more realistic but problematic for blaming the victim.

Some blame Israel’s parenting and favoritism. They argue that Israel’s partiality humiliated his older sons and spoiled his younger. This view only shifts the blame to prior generations, absolving the descendants.

Seeing any biblical character, other than Jesus, as blameless is a bad idea. Rather than one person or group, all involved in this dysfunctional drama are blameworthy in different ways. 
Malefactors are responsible for their actions, regardless of provocation or incitement. Joseph’s brothers have no excuse even if he had been the worst braggart and spoiled brat that ever existed. 

Joseph is also not innocent. The scripture gives us an important clue about this when even Israel rebukes Joseph after being disturbed when Joseph shared his dreams. Joseph’s words and manner of sharing his dreams must have been far out of line for his doting father to take him down a peg about it. 

Finally, Israel reaps the consequences of his partiality when he mourns Joseph. It is the fruit of the seeds of division that he planted and he must sip its sour wine for years.

Were the brothers vengeful and jealous? Yes, and so are we.

Was Joseph prideful and insensitive to the effect of his privileges? Yes, and so are we.
Was Israel blind to his partiality and the harm it was causing? Yes, and so are we.
The actions of everyone involved grew from their inner sinfulness. What comes out of a person is what defiles them, not what happens to them. What we do and say is an overflow of our hearts.

May our hearts find hope and be changed by our suffering servant Jesus.
May we find in Jesus forgiveness to replace our vengeance, humility to replace our arrogance, and justice to replace our partiality.

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 Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 3 (Listen – 3:03)
Romans 3 (Listen – 4:30)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 4 (Listen – 3:56), Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)
1 Samuel 5-6 (Listen – 6:03), Romans 5 (Listen – 3:53)

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 Humbling Nebuchadnezzar
Humility will save you and your nation. Pride will destroy you and your nation.

In the Face of Mockery and Shame

Scripture Focus: Mark 15.29-31
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way, the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!

From John: Coming up this month is a strange anniversary in popular culture. The anniversary of Britney Spears’ public breakdown was the dominant story and source of humor for both “news” and late-night comedians in February 2007. I was reminded this week that Craig Ferguson was a significant exception to that rule. When he showed up to work that evening, he threw out the raft of Britney jokes written by his staff and instead did a truthful monologue discussing his misgivings about how his industry mocks vulnerable people and his own struggles with addiction in the past.

If an agnostic comedian can see the dangers of weaponizing and monetizing shame and mockery, certainly those who follow Christ can as well. This post from 2019 helps us see how Christ dealt with shame and mockery.

Reflection: In the Face of Mockery and Shame
By John Tillman

Most dictionaries define crucifixion with a mention of Jesus. But to some crucifixion is simply extreme punishment and to some, it is specifically tied to undeserved or unjust punishment. But crucifixion carries another, important implication—shame. 

The mockery of the passing crowds was not by accident, but part of the punishment’s design. Despite the many artistic depictions of loincloths, victims were hung naked in a public place specifically for the purpose of shaming them.

Crucifixion was common and so was public shaming of the crucified. It would be an unusual day in Jerusalem if there was no one for the crowds around Golgotha to mock.

The same is true today. It is an unusual day when social media does not hoist on a hashtag a victim for our mockery and derision.

Mockery and shame is an industry, and like any industry on the rise, growth is based on demand. The industry of shame might not have replaced the industry of journalism yet, but it has disrupted the market. Journalism, staring down the rise of shame-based tabloids, has blinked, and adjusted its business model.

We, as a culture, demand to shame others. We seem to think it is our right. The mob justice of destruction and vengeance through shame is the only system of justice our culture trusts. 

When preachers (or devotional writers) talk about sin and culture it is natural for Christians to first think of the sins of others. Take captive those thoughts now. Don’t allow yourself to engage in spiritual “whataboutism.” Brush aside thoughts of others’ wrongs. The Holy Spirit comes to help us see our own sins. If you are reminded of others’ sins, you aren’t listening to the right spirit. 

Focus on how Jesus responded to shaming and mockery.

Hebrews says that Christ “scorned the shame” of the cross. This is not a reference to “clapping back” at accusers. Christ did not scorn the shamers.

In the face of all the mockery and pain, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

With mockery and shame removed as options, some may be at a loss for how to communicate in our world. This is why we must ask the Holy Spirit to convict us and respond on our behalf, making us salt and light with words of truth and love.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me. — Psalm 40.1-4

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

Today’s Readings
Genesis 45 (Listen – 4:10) 
Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 46 (Listen – 4:10) Mark 16 (Listen – 5:16)
Genesis 47 (Listen – 4:10) Luke 1.1-38 (Listen – 5:16)

Read more about He Rejoices Over Us
Savior! Sanctifier of our Souls…remove our guilt, our shame, and our injuries to ourselves and others…

Read more about Repurposed Weapons
May we no longer be swords and shields but basins and towels.
No longer aggressors but comforters.