Waves of Mercy

Scripture Focus: Jonah 1.4-6
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

Matthew 8.24-26
24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

Reflection: Waves of Mercy
By Erin Newton

Jonah is the story of the “scandal of God’s mercy” (William Brown). As a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II, Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance. The Assyrian kingdom was notorious for their warfare and ruthless tactics. Ancient depictions from statues and reliefs show actions that would be considered war crimes today. It is no wonder Jonah wished for their judgment rather than their repentance.

On his path to avoid bringing peace to his enemy, Jonah finds himself aboard a ship tossed about by the chaotic sea. Turbulent waters are referenced on a number of occasions to highlight the presence of unrestrained chaos, threatening uncertainty, and the frailty of humanity. God let loose the waves around Jonah’s boat and the people were terrified. Jonah is fast asleep, oblivious to the threats and pleas of the crew around him. When he is woken up, they beg him to join in praying to any deity who will save them from their peril.

The mercy of God is shown in the calming of the storm once Jonah is thrown into the sea. The prophet, a unique chosen person by God, should have been the blessed recipient of God’s grace. Instead, he is swallowed by a fish entering into days of darkness (perhaps even death). The sailors, on the other hand, experience the immediate relief of chaos.

Another man was found sleeping in a boat during a violent storm at sea. When Jesus’ disciples were filled with terror at the possibility of their boat capsizing and drowning at sea, they made similar pleas as we see in Jonah 1. With a word, the waves are restrained and the waters are stilled. Jesus is not thrown overboard but would soon enter into days of darkness and death. This “sign of Jonah” would bring salvation to the enemies of God.

While the book of Jonah highlights the reluctance of a prophet to bring good news to a people he considered unworthy, the larger message is the scope of God’s mercy. It is a story about how we all wish to see vengeance and justice in our time. Yet, if we read the story with eyes focused only on humanity, we miss the far more important truth about God. He loves those we find repulsive. Those we label “unfit” for mercy are the exact people he calms the sea to save.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. — Psalm 145.19

Today’s Readings
Jonah 1 (Listen – 2:29)
John 13 (Listen – 5:06)

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
Jonah’s emotional path is like a photo negative of Christ’s.

Read more about Prayer for Older Brothers
God, your mercy is a mystery to me.
I see the sins of others and I am scandalized.
How could such a one be accepted?

We Three Kings — Carols of Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Psalm 10.16
The Lord is King forever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.

Matthew 2.1-2, 11
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

From John: We are thrilled to have a “bonus” carol from Jon Polk today, on Epiphany, sometimes called, “Three Kings Day” or the twelfth day of Christmas. Epiphany is the true conclusion of the season of Christmas, called Christmastide, and the true purpose of the incarnation is revealed to us in it. Christ is a gift to all people but today, he receives gifts fit for worship.

Reflection: We Three Kings — Carols of Epiphany
By Jon Polk

Have you ever been to a birthday party where guests received gifts but not the one having the birthday?

January 6 on the Christian calendar is known as Epiphany, the celebration of the gifts and journey of the Magi.

“We Three Kings” was the first widely popular carol written in America. Composed in 1857 by Episcopal minister and church music instructor at General Theological Seminary in New York, John Henry Hopkins, Jr., the song was created for a Nativity pageant at the seminary. 

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

For dramatic purposes, Hopkins assigned a gift and a verse to three Magi, traditionally named Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Note that Matthew’s account mentions three gifts, not three men. In some Christian traditions, they are twelve in number.

Furthermore, there is no indication in Matthew that they were kings. The word magi refers to astrologers, thus their interest in following a star. Not royalty, but most certainly foreigners, these Magi were likely familiar with Hebrew prophecies.

Despite these slight missteps the carol makes, Hopkins does a fine job describing the symbolism of the gifts.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again

Gold is the most frequently mentioned valuable metal in scripture, used as currency but also for making jewelry, ornaments, and utensils for royalty. This gift is fit for a king.

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh

Frankincense, derived from Boswellia tree resin, produces a sweet odor when burned and was part of the incense allowed on the altar. This gift is fit for worship.

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom

Myrrh, sap from a small tree in Arabia, was used as a perfume and to stifle the smell of a dead body before burial. This gift is fit for death.

As astrologers, not royalty, the gifts came at a significant financial cost to the Magi. Traveling from as far away as Persia, a two-year journey, required time and energy. These gifts were sacrificial, intended for worship.

However, what do we do at Christmas time? We give gifts to everyone but the guest of honor himself.

What if this year you begin a new tradition? What if your new year “resolutions” were not simply ways to better yourself or be more successful, but instead were gifts from you to Jesus?

What present would you give Jesus? More time in prayer or Bible study? Kicking a habit that is holding back your spiritual growth? Focusing attention less on yourself and more on those around you?

If you give Jesus a gift this year, what will it be? Following the example of the Magi, let it be sacrificial and intended for worship.

Listen: We Three Kings by Tenth Avenue North and Britt Nicole
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; his is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 6 (Listen – 2:56) 
Psalm 10 (Listen – 2:13)

Join us! Walk through the Bible with us…
Walk with friends through God’s Word this year… Read, Reflect, Pray… Repeat.
https://mailchi.mp/theparkforum/m-f-daily-email-devotional

Read more about Unwrapping Christ’s Gifts :: Epiphany
May we wear Christ’s gifts prominently, like new…clothing. Through the wearing, may we allow them to transform us into the manifestation of the giver.

Eating With Enemies

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 6.17-18, 20-23
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 
18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. 

20 After they entered the city, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria. 
21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?” 
22 “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” 23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. 

Matthew 26.52-54
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” 

Psalm 23.5
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.

Reflection: Eating With Enemies
By John Tillman

Elisha was, perhaps, never more Christ-like than when he led an army of his political enemies into the citadel of his spiritual enemies and then directed everyone to sit and eat a meal together.

This wasn’t a kumbaya moment where everyone held hands and decided to get along. It was a power play. Elisha demonstrated that God alone was king—not Joram, not the king of Aram, Yahweh. Elisha, through God’s power, prepared a table in the presence of his enemies and made them eat together. (Psalm 23.5)

However, no demonstration of God’s power is sufficient to prevent human rebellion. After a short peace in which Aram avoided Israel’s territory, hostilities resumed. After calling Elisha, “Father,” and being obedient during a crisis, Joram and Israel’s kings returned to their idolatry.

No miracle or display of power can sustain faith. The Bible proves over and over that miraculous signs and wonders will not convince us to abandon our idols for long.

Sin is too ingrained in us to be sanded off, like a minor imperfection. Sin is too bold to be frightened away. It crouches at our door. It seeks to master us. It asks to sift us. It hovers over us like a mighty predator. It surrounds us like an army.

Yet, we are not without hope. Like Elisha’s servant, we need our eyes opened to realize those with us are greater than those with them. He that is within us is greater than he that is in the world. (1 John 4.4) The sin that stalks us, has been defeated by the one who walks with us. (Psalm 23.4) The sin that crouches at our door has been nailed to Christ’s cross. (Genesis 4.7) Sin intends to sift us, but Christ has prayed for us. (Luke 22.32)

Like Peter, we will deny Christ, draw our swords, and sin. But we can turn back and strengthen others. Walking with Christ, we will be led to eat with our enemies rather than destroy them.

When Christ leads us into the heavenly city, we will find ourselves dining and worshipping with people we harmed or who harmed us. Christ’s love will cover all, Christ’s justice will restore our hurts and harms, and we will feast together.

However, we shouldn’t wait for eternity. Let us call on God’s power for peace, not destruction. Let us love our enemies today. Through Christ, enemies can eat together in peace.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.24

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 6 (Listen – 5:05)
1 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:10)

Read more about Christless Forgiveness is the Absence of Justice
Forgiveness is unjust if forgiveness is simply letting evil succeed…if victims are never heard and no one ever answers for their pain.

Read more about The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel
God sets his table for scoundrels, shaking hands with undeserved trust.

Misleading the Least — 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, January 18, 2021, based on readings from Matthew 18.
It was selected by reader, Brian Miller from Florence MT
Thank you for this devotional.  This is very pertinent today.  May our words or actions never hinder someone’s journey with Jesus. Someone is always watching us. May our actions always reflect Christ.

Scripture Focus: Matthew 18:6–9
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Reflection: Misleading the Least — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

The gospels record many times that people asked Jesus about “the greatest.”

There are religious debates about the greatest commandments, and multiple times, in many different settings, the disciples approach Jesus about, or are caught by Jesus arguing about, “the greatest.” (Matthew 18.1-3; 23.11; Luke 9.46; Mark 9.34)

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven…
Can my two sons sit in the greatest seats…
Which of us is the greatest…
We want to know, don’t we?

Jesus definitively stated that the greatest in the kingdom are the least, the lowest, the small, the “little ones.” Jesus used a child in this example, but there is a different Greek word that refers to age. The word Jesus chooses, translated little, implies low status or being unimportant. 

The unimportant, Jesus says, are of the greatest importance, but we, like the disciples, don’t quite believe it. We want to be important, big, mature, strong, dominant. We want to win. In pursuit of importance and status, we grasp at power. We grasp at fame. We grasp at wealth. All the grasping we engage in to be the greatest, is meaningless—chasing after wind.

This is challenging enough to our sinful nature, but what comes next is more chilling, Jesus has a stark warning for the leaders of the little. To those leaders and influencers who through actions or words may cause “little ones” to stumble, comes one of the most graphic pictures of punishment to cross the lips of Jesus. If Christ’s metaphor about millstones had been carried out literally through history, there might not be room in the oceans for the millstones and the irresponsible leaders tied to them by the neck.

Woe to leaders who mislead. Woe to influencers who cause others to stumble. Woe when we manipulate rather than educate. Woe when we foment sin rather than form spiritual morality. Woe when we lie and deceive rather than unfailingly cling to the truth.

Have we caused others to stumble? If so, how?

By being an example of greed or any other sin? By spreading a lie? By keeping silent in the face of injustice? By sharing an inflammatory post? By provoking others? By being purposely insensitive? By manipulating people?

May we repent of any of our actions or words that may have caused others to stumble. It is better for us to cut those actions out of our lives than to cause harm to others.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined from ore and purified seven times in fire. — Psalm 12.6

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 1 (Listen – 4:13)
Romans 1 (Listen – 5:02)

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

Who Needs Anger? — 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, January 4, 2021, based on readings from Genesis 4 and Matthew 4.
It was selected by reader, Jennifer K. from Brooklyn, NY
“Why are you angry?” Is a great question I need to remind myself often, especially in this particular season where there is so much anger being spewed in the news and within my personal and professional life. The truth in “Jesus doesn’t need our anger. We need his peace” is powerful because we are powerless in anger. Wow, now I need to repeat that over and over in my daily meditations. This post struck a deep chord in my heart – my broken, sinful, hopeful, yearning for God’s love heart. My heart is only one in a world full of hearts crying out for peace yet are overwhelmed by anger, hurt and pain. Thank you, The Park Forum, for speaking truth to inspire us all to live life in love, peace and truth through our relationship with Jesus. 

Scripture Focus: Genesis 4.6-7

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Matthew 4.8-11

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. 

Reflection: Who Needs Anger? — Readers’ Choice

By John Tillman

Anger is just one of the devil’s tools that he uses as he “crouches at the door,” ready to master us as he did Cain, longing to sift us as he did Peter. (Luke 22.31-32) When Jesus condemned being angry at one’s brother as being comparable to murder, (Matthew 5.21-22) it is likely that he had Cain’s anger, and its result, in mind.

Anger is out of control in our society. Two of the main reasons why are that anger feels good and anger is profitable. 

Anger feels good? Yes. We get a rush of self-righteousness from anger. Anger gives us a false feeling of control. We feel as if by our anger we are doing something about a problem.

Anger is also profitable. How? Because it is a reliable trigger for manipulation. Satan knew this in the garden and used anger to manipulate Cain. Article writers know this. Politicians know this. Advertisers know this. Angry readers click and share without verifying facts. Angry voters vote rashly. Angry consumers are suggestible and susceptible. Angry citizens tolerate and ignore the abuses of leaders who stoke their anger.

The sin of anger hides in other things. Anger hides in misguided love. (Abusive husbands and parents “love” their wives and children. Abusive leaders “love” their country.) Anger hides in our desires for justice. Anger tempts us to seize control. Jesus was tempted to seize the kingdoms of the world in the wilderness. Peter attempted to seize control with a sword in the garden.

In an age of anger, God’s question to Cain is more relevant to us than ever. God asks, “Why are you angry?” 

Are you being manipulated by anger? What is motivating your anger? What is your anger prompting you to do? Will you do it? Who will profit when you do?

How we respond to anger will determine how easily we will be manipulated. The anger that so easily trips us up reveals our need for Jesus. Peter thought Jesus needed him in the garden. Many today think that Jesus needs the angry swings of our social media swords or other dangerous weapons. Jesus doesn’t need our anger. We need his peace. 

Satan may sift us like wheat, but after we have turned back, may we, like Peter, strengthen our brothers with love and not anger. May we lay down our angry swords and take up feeding his lambs and carrying our cross.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them be merry and joyful. — Psalm 68.3

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

Today’s Readings
Judges 19 (Listen – 4:52)
Acts 23 (Listen – 5:15)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about The Focus of Christ’s Anger
In our culture of outrage, we can’t get enough of anger.