Gift of Noticing

Scripture Focus: Mark 12.28; 34
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

From John: More than ever, we need the gift of noticing—especially when debating those with whom we disagree.

Reflection: Gift of Noticing
By John Tillman

Among all the debates and arguments with Christ that are recorded in scripture, one has always stood out to me and grown more important as I’ve grown older—the wise teacher of the law.

When I was younger, I was more interested in who this man was. Could it be Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night? Could it be Joseph of Arimathea? As I’ve grown older, I care less about his identity and more about his amazing gift of noticing the good in a perceived enemy.

Our culture is so adversarial, every interaction seems a zero-sum game. A guaranteed, click-driving word for content is “destroys,” as in, destroying your opponent. Sometimes this motivates people to literally attempt to destroy your opponents.

Our culture sees debate not as a learning experience but as a path to the domination of others through destruction. We have little in common with the rabbinical system of religious debate and question-driven teaching that Jesus knew. This process was normal and typically genial and healthy. We see it with Christ’s first visit to the temple as a child and throughout his ministry.

There were times (including in this chapter) Christ’s enemies attempted to get Jesus to say something that they could use to prove criminal intent. But, as the other religious leaders lost their objectivity in their attempts to discredit Jesus, the wise teacher found a better path.

Matthew’s account of this event leaves out the context of Mark—causing the question to seem more adversarial. But in Mark, the interaction plays out as more of a search for knowledge than an attack. The men connect with each other across their differences through the gift of noticing.

The wise teacher is not listening to attack or to destroy. He is not listening to craft a counter-argument. Through opposition and questioning, we see him find in Jesus a kinship and common ground of faith. The teacher notices Jesus; Jesus notices him.

Jesus came to seek and to save not to seek and destroy.

When we face opposition, when we question and argue, when we are confronted in debate, may we receive from the Holy Spirit the gift of noticing. May we notice our opposition, seeking to understand them, seeking to see them as Christ does. When we do, we will find how greatly they are loved by Jesus, who sees them.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Ye, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” — Matthew 11.28

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 26 (Listen – 4:04)
Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
This devotional from 2017 begs to be repeated. The world’s online language has gotten more, instead of less, brutal…more shocking, the language of many Christians and prominent Christian pastors has followed.

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What post helped you forgive?
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Urgent Desire for More

Scripture Focus: Mark 10.17
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Reflection: Urgent Desire for More
By John Tillman

Everything about how the rich man approached Jesus communicated urgency.

The rich man rushed up to Jesus and knelt down in a show of humility and concern. The way he approached was similar to the way Jairus approached when his daughter was dying. It was the way lepers knelt, desperate for healing. It is similar to the way a father approached Jesus when his demon-possessed child could not be healed by the disciples or the way the Syrophoenician woman begged for her child’s life to be delivered from demonic oppression. It was the way the demoniac of Gerasenes approached Jesus. 

Most everyone who approached Jesus in this way had someone’s life on the line but the rich man was concerned with something else. He asked to know how to “inherit eternal life.”

The word translated “inherit” is fairly common in scripture. It consistently refers to receiving something of value that one has not earned. There are many promises of God that we can inherit, but none we deserve or earn. 

We don’t know much else about the rich man but it seems safe to assume that he was familiar with earning and with inheriting. He was immersed in a system of earning and a system of spiritual achievement. He saw eternal life as the cherry on top of the delightful treat his life already was in contrast to those around him. 

Jesus’ answer dashed his anticipation. Urgency melted to apathy. The wealthy young man wasn’t ready to give up earning and he didn’t yet trust what he would stand to inherit. We are so similar to him. Especially in the West, we have more in common with the rich young man than we do with Christ’s disciples who “gave up everything” to follow him. 

Do we trust what we will inherit by giving up our worldly possessions to benefit others?
Are we willing to give up earning our righteousness and counting our trophies of achievement?

Scripture is silent about it but I like to imagine that the rich man eventually came back. After all, Jesus tells the disciples regarding this, “…all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10.27) The rich young ruler is not beyond saving and neither are we.

May we have an urgency about eternity and a dispassionate hold on the temporal. 
May we have an urgent desire for more than we can earn.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Great are the deeds of the Lord! they are studied by all who delight in them. — Psalm 111.2

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 24 (Listen – 1:54)
Mark10 (Listen – 6:42)

Read more about The Miracle of Faith
I long to be filled with faith, but I’m often filled with…pride, like the rich young ruler who claimed to have kept all the commandments.

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What post lifted your spirit?
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Humble, Welcoming Servants—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Mark 9.50
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Reflection: Humble, Welcoming Servants—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

We confess to you, Lord…
When our immaturity demands miracles on our terms
When we struggle to accept the people whom you are calling us to accept
When we take offense
When we are ungrateful for how much you have transformed our lives
That, so many times, it is our own ambitions and selfishness that stand in the way.

Just like the twelve, just like any numbered group, we are concerned about being number one. We argue and attempt to dominate one another.

“He asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” — Mark 9.33-34

“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” — Mark 9.35

Help us to serve all and humbly welcome those whom you place in the center of our gatherings.
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them 

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” — Mark 9.36-37

Help us to support those outside our groups who are willing to work in Christ’s name.

“‘We told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’
‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.’” — Mark 9.38-40

Lord, it is not what we see that causes us to stumble, it is our own eyes. It is not what we touch that causes us to stumble, it is our own hands. It is not what we lust for that causes us to stumble. It is our own heart.

“If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.” — Mark 9.47

Help us to remove from our lives what causes us to stumble.
Help us to humbly work with those who will work with us.
Help us to be servants to all-comers, not contestants against all-comers.
Help us to remember with thanks the transformative work you have done in our lives.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. — Psalm 110.1

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 27 (Listen – 3:52)
Mark 9 (Listen – 6:16)

Read more about Seeking God’s Servant
Blind and hard of hearing as we may be to His ultimate purpose, God leads us and calls us to be His humble servants.

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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.

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From Slavery to Service—Worldwide Prayer

Scripture Focus: Mark 5.18-20
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Reflection: From Slavery to Service—Worldwide Prayer
By John Tillman

Just as Jesus left the Gerasene man, trusting him to spread the gospel to the Decapolis, he would soon leave the disciples, trusting them to spread the gospel to the world. And now, in our own turn, each generation is entrusted to follow in their footsteps.

May we be as miraculously transformed as the Gerasene man, leaving behind our demons, leaving behind our addictions, leaving behind our places of imprisonment. May we leave behind our slavery and enter his service becoming thankful workers for peace.

We, like the demoniac, are enslaved to our sin and have no strength to escape its pull. Yet, Jesus comes to us to set us free. May we be as radically thankful as the demoniac was, running to our cities and communities with loving action and the life-changing gospel.

Thankful Workers for Peace
A prayer of thanksgiving from Thailand

Dear heavenly Father,
We praise you for your love and mercy to all humankind.
We praise you for your Son, our Savior.
We praise you for this wonderful universe,
for the son, the moon and the stars.
You have placed everything in perfect order so that
we may live in peace and harmony with all that
you have created. You have provided sustenance
for your children.
People everywhere face many difficulties,
they suffer,
they cry,
they are starving,
homeless, and helpless.
Help us to attempt to solve the difficulties they face,
to be active in serving the needy.
And may we be workers for peace.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. — Psalm 31.1

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 19 (Listen – 2:58) 
Mark 5 (Listen – 5:21)

Read more about Freedom for Prisoners
The demoniac of the Gerasenes could not be captured or detained. He could break any chains that were put on him, yet remained captive to the evil inside of him.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
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