God of the Weak and Doubtful

Scripture Focus: Matthew 28.16-20
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

From John: In a world in which people doubt the evidence in front of their eyes, perhaps it is a little easier for us to understand that the disciples doubted even after seeing Jesus. Certainty is elusive in a world in which many conspiratorial voices are attacking the concept of absolute truth. This repost from 2019 reminds us that honest doubt is the first step to faith just as the discomfort of conviction is the first step to the comfort of Christ’s forgiveness and restoration. Do not despair in doubt. Do not despair in conviction. Turn to him. 

You are weak. 
He is strong. 
You may sink. 
His arm is long.
He will raise you up.

Reflection: God of the Weak and Doubtful
By John Tillman

Some of the details that ring the most truthfully from the scriptures regarding the resurrection of Jesus, is how long it took the disciples to fully believe and understand what had happened. They were incredulous. They did not trust their eyes that saw or their hands that touched. They couldn’t believe it. 

We sometimes skim over the many mentions of the disciples’ doubt looking for examples of strong faith to emulate. We should emulate faith. This is the purpose of the great chapter of faith in Hebrews and the descriptions of faithful moments in the lives of many throughout scripture. But we shouldn’t overlook the importance of the presence of doubters among the disciples. 

If God placed examples of faith in the scripture, he also placed doubt in the scriptures. Stories of faith come from doubt. When God shows us a story of the faithful, he points us to where he is calling us. When God shows us his doubtful children, he comes to where we are, puts his reassuring hand on our shoulder, and claims us as his children as well.

The ones who touched with their hands experienced doubt. The ones who saw with their eyes struggled to believe. Even up to the moment of Christ’s ascension into Heaven before their eyes, doubt was among them.

It was these doubtful few with whom Christ placed the responsibility of his most precious and vital mission. It is to this confused assemblage of rebels and failures, that Christ entrusted the Gospel.

Oh you of little faith…
He accepts and encourages you today. You who doubt his care. You who doubt his provision. You who doubt his presence with you. You who doubt that you are loveable, that you are valuable, that you are called, that you are his precious child… He calls. He loves. He holds out his hand, and trusts the gospel, to all of us doubters.

Christ did not allow Peter to sink in the waves when his faith was too weak. He will extend his loving hand to you as well.
He did not turn away the father who struggled to believe. He will not turn you away.

Thank God, that he is the God of the weak and the doubtful.
In doubt hold out your hands.
In weakness cling to him.

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

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 29 (Listen – 4:45)
Matthew 28 (Listen – 2:39)

Read more about When Liars Meet The Truth
Whatever situation we find ourselves in or however the world views us, we can be assured that God’s presence is near. 

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/when-liars-meet-the-truth

20210127

Read more about How He Loves Us
God declares his love because he knows his people have doubts.

Blessings of the Dispossessed

Scripture Focus: Genesis 26.26-31
26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” 
28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.” 
30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully.

Matthew 25.34-40
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Reflection: Blessings of the Dispossessed
By John Tillman

Despite Abraham’s treaty with Abimelek, (Genesis 21.21-34) Isaac has difficulties with Abimelek’s government and people. 

Isaac is unfairly treated; he is forced by violence to move on; he is even relocated by government order. The closest (but still imperfect) modern parallel is the treatment of indigenous populations. 

Native Americans, and other indigenous communities, uniquely know what Isaac’s experience was like. All across the world, indigenous people faced powerful governments that continually violated treaties and moved native peoples off of the land they had been living on.

Rich Mullins wrote about this in, The Howling, a song of lament and faith.

“Cause I can see a people dispossessed 
Broken and brave in the face of so much fear 
Driven from their homes by the greed of a nation 
Whose treaties were as good as litter 
Along the trail of their tears” 
— Rich Mullins, The Howling 

Non-Western Christians all across the world today also know this type of persecution and suffering. In many places, Christian communities face violence or relocation, either from militia groups or under the authority of their governments. 

Even in his suffering, Isaac blessed the land that he would one day inherit by digging wells that would water the land long after Isaac moved on. Eventually, Abimelek came to Isaac because he recognized God’s blessing on him and Isaac was able to confront Abimelek regarding his mistreatment and gain redress.

Actions of faithfulness and engaging with the difficult work of peacemaking will bring blessings to those around us. Avoiding violence and speaking for the truth will demonstrate that God is with us even if we must suffer for it.

We have been promised by Jesus that we will have trouble in this world. The level and severity of that “trouble” will vary. We may be targeted. We may be slandered. We may be “moved on” from places we feel we belong. Perhaps we will see partial justice in earthly kingdoms. Indeed, we are commanded to work to this end. But we also know that justice will only be completed in the coming Kingdom.

We are, in a sense, passive sojourners, like Isaac. We make our way the best we can in a land not yet submitted to God’s kingdom that we know is coming.

May we sojourn humbly in faith. May we enact justice and peace. May kings come to us, recognizing a source of God’s blessings.

Music: Rich Mullins, The Howling (Live performance) 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth. — Psalm 67.3-4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 26 (Listen – 4:31)
Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
What we say and how we say it matters because…Sticks and stones start as words and words start in our sinful hearts.

Read more about Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus
Abraham, by God’s command, prayed for Abimelek, blessed him, and lived under Abimelek’s rule, making a treaty with him.

The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel

From John: Headed into this weekend, we look back at this post from 2019. Christ’s banquet and his forgiveness will include those whom none of us would expect. Therefore, we cannot fail to invite any and all to come to drink and eat freely.

Scripture Focus: Matthew 22.8
Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.

Reflection: The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel
By John Tillman

Meals during Christ’s earthly life were an important cultural ritual. They were more than just fraternity, but pedagogy.

When God wished the Israelites to remember forever what he did for them in the Exodus from Israel, he didn’t have them sit for an exam, but for a meal—the first taste of the first covenant. The Passover Meal is the source of the second covenant as well, for Christ’s last meal before the crucifixion was this same instructive dinner.

Today’s parable also provides a unique picture of the gospel. In Matthew and Luke, the king angrily describes his initial guest-list of no-shows as being undeserving of attending the wedding. These unworthies are described as being more concerned about their businesses and fields. Profit takes precedence over a relationship that should be a priority—a royal relationship.

It is hard to imagine turning down an invitation to an earthly royal wedding. It is not so long ago that most of the world stopped to view one. But we do turn down our King. We turn him down. For work. For divertments. For pleasures. For money. For lusts.

But our great king still calls for his banquet hall to be full. He sends out his servants to the far places, the poor places, the places where the sick gather waiting to die. He takes all comers. He takes us all.

God sets his table for scoundrels, shaking hands with undeserved trust. He polishes the silverware for the impoverished, sending spoons and dishes home with the leftovers. He welcomes the wanderers, washing their feet as they enter. He dresses the wounds of the oppressed and broken, staunching their bleeding and soothing their pains.

This is how we, the undeserving, motley, scandalous louts that we are, find ourselves with our feet under Christ’s table. Christ invites all to the banquet. We will surprise someone by being there, and be surprised in return.

None of us deserve to come. Not those first invited, and not those brought in from the highways and hedges. We do not choose who dines at Christ’s banquet. For if we were honest about our own sinful hearts, we would not choose to allow ourselves there.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 23 (Listen – 2:34) 
Matthew 22 (Listen – 4:56)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 24 (Listen – 9:42) Matthew 23 (Listen – 4:53)
Genesis 25 (Listen – 4:18) Matthew 24 (Listen – 5:59)

Read more about Unity and Diversity :: Worldwide Prayer
Unity cannot be achieved by defeating others but by embracing them.

Read more about The Beautiful Feet of Lepers
This is the gospel—that terrorists can be healed and saved and the rejects of society can bring the news of salvation and the testimony of victory unimaginable to their city.

The Ram and the Cornerstone

Scripture Focus: Genesis 22.13-14
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” 

Matthew 21.42-46
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: 

“ ‘The stone the builders rejected 
has become the cornerstone; 
the Lord has done this, 
and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 


43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. 

Reflection: The Ram and the Cornerstone
By John Tillman

Our readings today highlight the symbolic sacrifice of Isaac and the first steps of the actual sacrifice of Jesus.

Jesus takes actions during the final week of his life that are intentionally provocative. His face is set like a flint toward Jerusalem. (Luke 9.51) He had been avoiding Jerusalem because of the existing plots against his life. (Matthew 16.21; 23.37-40; Luke 13.34-35; John 11.7-8) He had been cautioning many to keep silent about his miracles and his ministry. (Mark 1.42-44; 5.41-43; 7.33-36; 8.23-26) But, at the right time, Jesus reversed that low-key strategy. When Jesus showed back up in Jerusalem before Passover, it wasn’t quietly. He kinda kicked in the door a bit. 

When he arrived in the area, Jesus openly performed a dramatic resurrection of Lazarus, right outside the city, in the presence of his enemies. (John 11.43-53) Not long afterward, Jesus rode into Jerusalem receiving for once the true praise that was and is due him as king. (Matthew 21.1–11; Mark 11.1–11; Luke 19.28–44; John 12.12–19) Next, he cleansed the Temple of the animals that would be offered for sacrifices. (Perhaps in part, because he was there to replace them.) Then he told pointed and dramatic parables that embarrassed and exposed his enemies’ hypocrisies and failures.

Jesus entered Jerusalem like Isaac’s ram on the mountain top. He rammed his head into the thorns to ensure there would be no escape. He rammed his teaching into the foundations of the religious leaders’ security and pride, knowing what their violent response would be. The stone the builders rejected would be the cornerstone. Jesus knew he would be rejected. His final actions ensured it.

On the mountain of the Lord, he provides.

But there is a second analogy in Isaac. Jesus is not only symbolic of the ram in the thicket. He is also symbolic of Isaac, the son, willingly laid down for the sacrifice. Many commentators have noted that at Isaac’s age, he would have been strong enough to resist his aged father. If he did, scripture does not record it. We find him quietly bound and laying on the stone altar.

Willing Isaac on the stone and Jesus carrying his cross speak to us about our willingness to lay down our lives and desires for the benefit of others.

May we not reject the stone of suffering, of sacrifice, of self-control, or of truth.
May we reject instead the cushions of comfort, the banquet of indulgence, the flaunting of freedom, and the pleasing talk of false prophets.
May our only foundation stone be that of Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 22 (Listen – 4:01) 
Matthew 21 (Listen – 7:10)

Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
“Who is it you want?” — John 18.4
Jesus, you are the king, the gift, and the truth that the world does not want.

Read more about Naked Humility, Unexpected Salvation
How do we remain faithful without resorting to the weapons of shame or the strongarm tactics of anything-goes politics?

Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus

Scripture Focus: Genesis 21.2-24
22 At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. 23 Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.” 
24 Abraham said, “I swear it.” 

Matthew 20.25-28
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Reflection: Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus
By John Tillman

Abimelek was a pagan king with his own gods and sinful practices. His descendants would be Israel’s enemies. Yet, he is one of a very short list of people to whom God spoke directly in a dream. (Genesis 20.1-6) Abraham, by God’s command, prayed for Abimelek, blessed him, and lived under Abimelek’s rule, making a treaty with him.

Rulers are established by God, (Romans 13.1-10) but establishing does not mean endorsing. Far from it. Rulers, good or evil, are used by God for good purposes, but every ruler will be held accountable by God.

As the “watchman on the wall” is responsible for the lives of those he serves, (Ezekiel 33.1-9) leaders will be held to account for evil, injustice, and violence under their rule. Whether evil is done at their command, committed by their followers, occurs through negligence, or merely remains unpunished, God will judge rulers.

Jesus’ assessment of Roman leadership is true of our leaders today. Indeed, most democracies around the world looked with rose-colored, Western-centric glasses, to the Romans and Greeks for inspiration in founding modern governments. They saw the ideals but not the dirty business and corruption that Jesus knew up close.

The disciples and the crowds that followed Jesus constantly thought Jesus would take over the government. Even right up to the moment of the ascension, they thought, “Now. He’s going to tell us to fight for him now.” (Acts 1.6-9) They were wrong.

Believers today who feel a religious compunction to political violence are serving an idolatrous, man-made religion, not Jesus. 

They are not following the same Jesus who left his disciples politically powerless. They are not following the same Jesus who commanded his followers to wait for spiritual power instead of grasping political power. They are not following the same Jesus who commanded his friends to put down their swords and take up their crosses.

God’s people have lived peaceably under governments of all different kinds. God’s people have been faithful under rulers with vastly differing degrees of personal morality, honor, and respect for God. 

No matter the morality or immorality of our leaders, Christians are responsible to be servants of a different kingdom and to exercise power in the opposite way the world does. 

It is in serving that we will lead.
It is in suffering that we will conquer.
It is in dying that we will live.

From John: Writing this two days away from the inauguration of Joe Biden, tensions are high. Suspicions of violence are in the air. Personal friends and former ministry partners may be among those sympathizing with violence against the United States government. It has been a week of personal mourning and lament. We pray today that all believers would be citizens of peace, submitted to their governments in humility and grace. Only in the proclamation of the gospel do we have leave to obey God rather than men. In all other things, we submit. 

Photo Credit: Tyler Merbler from USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said to us: “In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” — Luke 18.17

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 21 (Listen – 3:59) 
Matthew 20 (Listen – 4:22)

Read more about Misleading the Least
Woe to leaders who mislead…cause others to stumble…manipulate…foment sin…lie and deceive…

Read more about Responding to Political Violence
It seems more and more Christians are willing to whitewash politically motivated violence as necessary self-defense.

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