Wake-up Call

Scripture Focus: Matthew 25.44-46
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Jeremiah 11.11-14
11 Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes. 13 You, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.’
14 “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.

Reflection: Wake-up Call
By John Tillman

The three stories of Matthew 25 are connected, presented in series with an intentional theme. Last January we wrote:

Matthew 25 is famous for the sheep and the goats parable. But really, the entire chapter is about people who shirked their responsibilities to themselves, to their master, and to others. The foolish virgins, the wicked servant, and the goats are a trinity of spiritual neglect.

The sin of neglect seems to be one that surprises each of the condemned groups and individuals in these stories. Pray that you may not be surprised.

During seminary days, while traveling on a ministry team on a long drive, someone suggested putting on a Keith Green album. The driver, a good friend, responded, “Oh good. I haven’t doubted my salvation in a while. Put it in.”

We all laughed but I will never forget it. Because, the truth was, and is, that we don’t often listen to music that challenges us. We tune in for encouragement.  We don’t often listen to sermons that challenge us. We tune out words of conviction.

This is bad news for us because when we tune out the voices correcting us for long enough, God lets us tune out. He allows us to develop spiritual cataracts and tunnel vision. He allows us to blow out our eardrums so that we can’t hear him anymore.

We need things in our spiritual lives to jar us out of our complacency and cause us to reevaluate our dedication to Christ. We need a wake-up call.

From the careless virgins buzzes an alarm: Take initiative! Don’t be passive about personal spiritual disciplines!
From the slothful servant rings a reveille trumpet: Be invested! Give your all to what providence invests in you!
From the goats, a clamorous claxon resounds: Serve Others! Serve the poor! Serve the hungry! Serve the outcast!
And from Jeremiah, we see the outcome of ignoring God’s calls—God will block our calls. “…I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.”

Don’t push “snooze” on the alarms sounding in these passages. Their intention is not to terrify us, but to guide us to action. His desire is for no one to perish, so open your eyes, open your ears. Attend to your spiritual responsibilities to yourself, to Christ, our master, and to those around you.

Music: The Sheep and the Goats (Live Performance) — Keith Green

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, right at the gates. In truth I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.”

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 11 (Listen – 4:09) 
Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

Readers Choice is your time to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year. What post did you share with a friend?

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Read more about A Trinity of Neglect
The foolish virgins, the wicked servant, and the goats are a trinity of spiritual neglect.

Cherishing Chaff

Scripture Focus: Matthew 24.1-2
1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Jeremiah 10.19-21
19 Woe to me because of my injury!
    My wound is incurable!
Yet I said to myself,
    “This is my sickness, and I must endure it.”
20 My tent is destroyed;
    all its ropes are snapped.
My children are gone from me and are no more;
    no one is left now to pitch my tent
    or to set up my shelter.
21 The shepherds are senseless
    and do not inquire of the Lord;
so they do not prosper
    and all their flock is scattered.

Reflection: Cherishing Chaff
By John Tillman

Some buildings are great by age and grandeur and some by the gleam and glisten of modern glass and steel. However, no matter how impressive a building is when you walk, ride, or drive by it regularly, it becomes just a part of the scenery. 

How impressive does a building have to be for you to still comment on it as you pass by, years later? Why would the disciples call Jesus’ attention to the impressive buildings of the Temple that both he and they had been worshiping in their entire lives?

The Temple had been standing for 500 years and had been extensively renovated and repaired by Herod during the disciple’s lifetimes. Perhaps the disciples were happy to see some scaffolding come down on an area that had been newly restored. 

But the Temple’s shiny new sheen couldn’t distract Jesus’ eyes from the self-righteous deceit within and the suffering he saw over the horizon. The disciples saw the Temple as grand, renewed, and a symbol of strength and status. Jesus saw its present and future, sinful, destroyed, and humiliated.

Herod was a ruler of nominal faith at best. (Even that is being extraordinarily generous.) Herod was corrupt, a womanizer, boastful, and lived in a sinful relationship. He “liked to listen” to John the Baptist, but that didn’t stop him from cutting off the prophet’s head. 

Herod’s work on the Temple wasn’t faith-driven. It was a political tactic to boost his status and generate support among the people—and it worked. Even the disciples of Jesus were impressed.

The Temple, and Herod, are just two examples of things unworthy of the esteem and attention the disciples gave them. Many things the disciples prized, Jesus recognized as poison. Many things they cherished Jesus called chaff in the wind. 

What catches our eyes? What chaff do we cherish or poison do we prize? A building? A politician? A charismatic leader? An institution? Point out to Jesus what catches your eye. Seek his opinion on whether you should hold it up for honor or whether it is destined to be thrown down.

Physical idols, whether statues, buildings, institutions, or living humans, are the product of inward sin. We worship them instead of God because inwardly we refuse to trust God or we have denounced God. Allow the revelation of outward idols to lead you to discover inward attitudes that must be torn down.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. — Psalm 84.1

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 10 (Listen – 3:51) 
Matthew 24 (Listen – 5:59)

Readers’ Choice is your time to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.

What post helped you with loss?
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Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
Judah treasured the Temple’s importance but not its inhabitant. They treasured the regalia, not the relationship.

Praying Through Weeping—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 9.17-18
This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come;
send for the most skillful of them.
Let them come quickly
and wail over us
till our eyes overflow with tears
and water streams from our eyelids.

Reflection: Praying Through Weeping—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

If prayer is relationship then when God weeps, we should join. What friend would weep, whom we would not join in weeping? Weeping for our own hurts and harms is one thing. Weeping for what grieves God is a prophetic task and a work of faith.

Weep in prayer with the weeping prophet. Jeremiah’s tears, just like his words, are not his own. They are as much a part of the revelation of God as the words he writes.

Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people. — Jeremiah 9.1

Jeremiah expresses our desire to escape evil—fleeing to the desert to be away from wrongdoers.

Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people. — Jeremiah 9.2

We confess we are part of a culture that seeks out its own version of truth.
We confess that we live in echo-chambers of the lies we prefer rather than the truth. Any lie or obfuscation is acceptable as long as it can be weaponized to help us win.

“They make ready their tongue
like a bow, to shoot lies;
it is not by truth
that they triumph in the land.
They go from one sin to another;
they do not acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord. — Jeremiah 9.3

Weep with Christ prophetically. He weeps that our hypocrisy not only harms us, but blocks the path of redemption for others.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. — Matthew 23.13

“And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.” — Matthew 23.35-36

More specifically, judgment would fall within the next week. And more personally, it would fall on Christ himself.

Christ can weep with us and wipe away our tears because he took the just payment for their cause.

Divine Hours Prayer:
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, but you take not delight in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; and a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51.16-18

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 9 (Listen – 4:38) 
Matthew 23 (Listen – 4:53)

Read more about Undignified Weeping and Dancing
Hannah carried the weight of her grief to God’s presence and broke open her heart with shameless weeping.

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

What post helped you pray more passionately?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Prayer in our Vocation

Scripture Focus: Matthew 20.25-26
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. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Reflection: Prayer in our Vocation
By John Tillman

In his book, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis complains that he finds it ironically unhelpful to turn into a church for midday prayers.

There always seems to be someone practicing the organ or noisily going about cleaning and mopping. “Of course, blessings on her,” Lewis says. “‘Work is prayer,’ and her enacted oratio is probably worth ten times my spoken one.”

We have not held tightly to the concept of work as prayer. We see work as occupation—something that takes time we would spend elsewhere. Christians have the unique opportunity to see work as vocation—choosing to give to others on behalf of Christ.

To some, it might be a surprise that one of the primary definitions of the word “vocation” is a divine calling. One does not have to be a staff member of a church or an employee of a Christian ministry (or even a volunteer, noisily cleaning up the sanctuary and disturbing an Oxford don’s prayers) to turn grudging occupation into prayerful vocation.

One prominent example of prayerful, secular work is Fred Rogers. Despite the lack of overt religious expression on his show, Mister Rogers was an ordained minister whose specific assignment was to serve children and families through mass media. And serve them he did.

Paying tribute to Rogers’ on NBC Nightly News, reporter Bob Faw said, “The real Mister Rogers never preached…he never had to.” Following his spiritual calling in no way interfered with Rogers becoming one of the most successful and respected television professionals of all time.

For every believer, the gospel is our vocation. We learn to express it through our occupations.

Rogers’ spiritual discipline and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit made his show a vehicle for the gospel without explicit language of faith. Many of our readers work in faith-negative environments where faith is unwelcome, but that doesn’t mean each action can’t communicate a gospel-filled love to others.

In our careers, we have a choice between the drudgery of meaningless tasks and the honor of serving others around us in Christ’s name. If we need a picture of what that looks like, it may be helpful to us to turn on an episode of the neighborhood.

May we make our work our prayer.

By every action may we pray for our co-workers, for our customers, for our city, and for our world.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm. — Psalm 50.3

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 6 (Listen – 5:10) 
Matthew 20 (Listen – 4:22)

Read more about Needing Jesus to Pray
It is not just that for which we ourselves want to pray that is important, but that for which God wants us to pray.

Read more about Cultivation Is Supernatural
A stronger faith, and a greater crop yield comes when we invest in cultivation. Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural.

Prayer in Relationship

Scripture Focus: Matthew 19.13-14 
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Reflection:  Prayer in Relationship
By John Tillman

Many have faithfully lived out Christ’s command to let the little children come to him. But perhaps no one in history has lived it out affecting as many children as Fred Rogers.

In her book, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, Amy Hollingsworth gives an up-close look at the foundational Christian faith that made Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood a sacrament carried on secular airwaves.

The show had an intangible quality that captivated children and defied expectations. In the recently released documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, one of the show’s producers, Margy Whitmire, said, “If you take all of the elements that make good television, and do the exact opposite, you have Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

One possible reason for the show’s intangible and unlikely success is the simple spiritual discipline of its founder. According to Amy Hollingsworth:

Everything Fred Rogers did was a prelude to—or an outcome of—prayer….the essence of prayer is relationship, and Fred understood that.

One of the greatest things Mister Rogers may have modeled for children about God, is that he listens to and accepts their concerns, their emotions, and them as their true selves. Hollingsworth relates his answer to a child about not getting what she prayed for.

“Now, you know prayer is asking for something, and sometimes you get a yes answer and sometimes you get a no answer,” he carefully explained. “And just like anything else you might get angry when you get a no answer. But God respects your feelings, and God can take your anger as well as your happiness. So whatever you have to offer God through prayer—it seems to me—is a great gift. Because the thing God wants most of all is a relationship with you, yeah, even as a child—especially as a child. Look how Jesus loved the children who came around Him,” he told her.

Prayer was the purpose of the children coming to Jesus. Jesus didn’t merely greet the children. When the Bible says he “placed his hands on them” it isn’t referring to casual pat on the back, but a purposeful, prayerful blessing. That kind of welcoming and blessing is something we can receive from God, and give to others.

As we pray, about personal problems or about weighty national issues, we would do well to keep in mind the simple teaching of Mister Rogers, that also is the teaching of Jesus—prayer is about relationship.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
You are the Lord; do not withhold your compassion from me; let your love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever. — Psalm 40.12

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 5 (Listen – 5:04) 
Matthew 19 (Listen – 4:04)

Read more about Prayer Beyond Petitions
It is more important that we know God through prayer than petition him. God answers Hezekiah’s unasked prayer through relationship.

Read more about Free to Become Like Children
Jesus has granted us the ability to become like little children and to run freely to him.

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