New Year, New Adam, New Creation

Scripture Focus: Revelation 22.3, 17
No longer will there be any curse….The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Reflection: New Year, New Adam, New Creation
By John Tillman

In recent times, many have cursed outgoing years for their sufferings. 2019 was blamed for much. 2020 was blamed for more. 2021 will get its share of curses and blame.

Traditionally, a new year inspires hope. This doesn’t seem as true anymore. When our traumatized culture looks to the new year, anticipation is often tainted with trepidation. It’s easy to see why. When one has been burned so often, warm feelings about the future are fleeting.

Traditional images of New Year celebrations include the old year, personified by an old man, (Sometimes called “Father Time”) and the new year, by a baby. The baby brings the incoming blessings of the new year and the old man carries the old year’s curses to the grave.

Baby New Year represents hope for the future. However, just like 2020 and 2021 failed to prove much better than 2019, a new generation is unlikely to prove much better than the last. We tend to get stuck in the sins of our forefathers rather than free ourselves from them. Short of a miracle, one year, or one generation can’t reverse the mistakes of the past.

Christians do, however, hope in a miraculous child. Better than a baby new year, Jesus is a new Adam. All creation will be renewed in him. In Jesus, we find a baby who is able to redeem his forefathers, a child who is able to lead reborn children of God, and a king who is able to overturn the wrongs of prior kingdoms.

The old years don’t really deserve cursing but our old selves do. The years weren’t the problem. We were—and are. We have carried out our own curse since Eden, however, God stands ready to reverse it. Neither the year nor those who lived through it are cursed if we are in Christ.

Christ takes our curse in himself and births in us a new self that owes no debt to sin and no death to the grave. The new Adam makes us new creations. Our “old man” is not killed and replaced so much as renewed and reinvigorated with living water that gives life forevermore.

As we enter the new year, rather than curse the past, let us bless the future. Let us drink freely of, and offer to the world “the free gift of the water of life.”

Image: Father Time and Baby New Year from Postcard, 1909 (Public Domain)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me. — Psalm 70.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 36 (Listen – 4:26) 
Revelation 22 (Listen – 3:59)

From John: In this new year, we are tweaking our reading plan. We will still read all of the same books as are typically in our “even year” plan. However, we will read them in a roughly chronological order. We will not jump around from book to book (many books are written in overlapping times) but we will read them in an order that is as close to chronological order without breaking the books up. Readers have expressed interest in this and we are looking forward to seeing scriptures fall at new times of the year and becoming more familiar with how the writers of scripture depended on one another and finding new connections as we read in this manner. We will work on a graphic of the new reading plans over the next couple of months and will provide it when it is available. Thank you for your readership and for your prayer and financial support! Happy New Year!

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 1 (Listen – 3:38) Psalm 1-2 (Listen – 2:05)
Job 2 (Listen – 2:11) Psalm 3-4 (Listen – 1:56)

Read more about Supporting our Work
Your support this year enabled us to bless ministry students with scholarships. One of our student writers, Karen from Saint Louis says, “Getting to know John and some of the guest writers was a great encouragement. The monetary gift was an unexpected cherry on top. Thank you for your support and for your vision to encourage seminary students in our pursuit of God’s calling for our lives.”

Read more about The Curse Reversed
In the curse of Eden, God commits himself to a course of intervention on our behalf. The curse is made to be broken.

Ache for Renewal

Scripture Focus: Revelation 21.5, 6
“I am making everything new!…It is done.”

From John: Little did we know how much we would need renewal from Christ at the end of 2019… This re-edited devotional is a vital reminder that spiritual renewal is powered by Christ and our surrender to him, not our own willpower and work.

Reflection: Ache for Renewal
By John Tillman

We have a constant, longing ache for renewal right down in our souls where we sense Eden’s loss. In Epiphany, we can find the blossoming, the revealing, the renewal that we long for.

This ache is magnified during the days surrounding New Year celebrations. Despite the depth of the ache in our souls, the renewals that we focus on are typically shallow and self-improvement-driven.

We want to change our diets.
We want to change our jobs. (or maybe just our boss…)
We want to lose weight. 
We want to gain knowledge or skills.
We want to stop a bad habit. 
We want to start a good habit.

It is good for us to work better, live better, grow in knowledge, grow in health, take a new career direction, or upgrade the food we eat. Even these surface-level changes typically improve not just ourselves, but the world around us.

We may smile more. We may feel better. We may be better able to live as loving revelations of Christ. But there is also a danger of merely enacting a secular (and selfish) ritual of self-improvement. 

In Christ’s description of exorcism, the ousted demon finds the person he just left clean and empty with plenty of room for even worse spiritual corruption. If we do not deal with the demons at the root of our discontent, then we will only sweep out of our homes last years’ messes, to make room for new and worse in the coming year. The last state of our souls is worse than the first. (Matthew 12.43-45; Luke 11.24-26)

Christ declared to John, “I am making all things new,” then later, “It is done.” It is Christ, who is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12.2). Christ declared his suffering finished on the cross (John 19.30), and he will eventually declare his renewal of the Earth finished. 

The end of the Earth will be, rather than complete destruction, complete reconstruction. The world and everything in it, including us, will be renewed.

So rather than attempt to sweep our own house clean and empty, may we invite Jesus into our mess (Revelation 3.20), and let him do renewing, revealing work within and through us. He has work of renewal for us to join him in now. And he who begins a good work in us will see it through to completion (Philippians 1.6). When he is finished, we will have revealed Him to the world.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me…
Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful. — Psalm 86.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 35 (Listen – 5:25) 
Revelation 21 (Listen – 4:34)

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Our readers need your support. A reader from Waco says, “Thank you so much to all of you who support the ministry of the Park Forum…Thank you for blessing the ministry as it blesses people like me.”

Read more about We Need Renewal :: Worldwide Prayer
Visit the world again and again with awakenings by your Spirit that will sweep humanity into your Kingdom and bring greater justice and mercy into our homes, communities, and nations.

Come Out of Babylon

Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 32.31
31 But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart. 

Revelation 18.4-7
4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say: 
         “ ‘Come out of her, my people,’
         so that you will not share in her sins, 
         so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 
      5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, 
         and God has remembered her crimes. 
      6 Give back to her as she has given; 
         pay her back double for what she has done. 
         Pour her a double portion from her own cup. 
      7 Give her as much torment and grief 
         as the glory and luxury she gave herself. 

Reflection: Come Out of Babylon
By John Tillman

During Christmastide, leading up to Epiphany, we consider the revelation of Jesus to the Gentile nations as the light of the world.

Part of the Revelation of Christ’s Kingdom is the revelation of the sinful darkness of the kingdoms we live in. Part of why Christ comes is to rescue. Wickedness will be stripped and torn down. But whoever is willing to be saved, can be pulled out, picked up, raptured from the clutching darkness of the world. 

Babylon thought itself to be a light to the world and today’s empires think the same. Do we, as Christians from around the world, think of our own nations in this way? 

Many of us seem to. Many Christians are more enthusiastic evangelists for political or economic systems than the gospel. For some Christians, political parties have become our true religion. Some think of our nation as “The Kingdom of God” instead of God’s worldwide church. This is what Babylon does. It replaces the worship of God with the worship of nation, tribe, and self.  

Over and over, Babylon shows up as a test. God’s people fail and they fail and they fail. If we think we might fare differently, we are already too prideful.

Hezekiah was one of the greatest kings of Judah. His downfall began by pridefully entertaining powerful visitors from Babylon, even showing them the Temple and its decorations. All that he showed them, including his own children, would soon be stolen, destroyed, or enslaved by Babylon.

In Revelation, John records a call from Heaven for God’s people to “come out” of Babylon. This mirrors the call to Lot’s family to come out of Sodom. Even knowing that destruction was coming, Lot’s family clung with longing to the city they were a part of. They had to be taken, grasped, pulled by the hand to leave. Lot’s daughters had to leave behind their promised husbands, who laughed off Lot’s invitation to salvation. (Genesis 19.14-16)

“Come out of her,” Christ cries. “Don’t look back longingly,” warns the angel of the Lord…

Babylon is a test of the heart. We can become entangled in Babylon and engaged to Sodom. How wedded to Sodom and Babylon are we?

No nation should have a grip on our heart greater than the gracious kingdom of our Christ.
Come quickly, O Christ. Grasp our hands, Lord, and lead us out.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; O Lord, judge the nations. — Psalm 7.8

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 32 (Listen – 5:58) 
Revelation 18 (Listen – 4:48)

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Read more about Ready to Exit the Desert
May we leave sin and doubt in the desert, crossing the Jordan toward God’s calling to be his city on a hill.

Peace from Despair — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 15:3-4
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
    Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
    and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Reflection: Peace from Despair — Peace of Advent
By Erin Newton

“…And the soul felt its worth.” We close our eyes and let out that long-held breath. He is here. God is here. At last. God is with us. 

The impact of this line from, “O Holy Night,” reveals how often we feel worthless. It resonates with us because we have all felt that deep pang of emptiness. The exhausting weight of all our unanswered questions or unresolved hopes suddenly feels lifted as Jesus enters our world. Israel felt this first at his birth. We experience this ourselves. Our soul feels its worth in salvation. Our soul feels its worth when we remember that he dwells with us and works in our midst every day. 

What is the worth of our souls? Jesus’ birth meant relinquishing the limitless aspect to his divine attributes. It meant putting on flesh and entering a world where pain, persecution, and death were everyday occurrences. It meant things theologians continue to debate. But what it means to us is that we are worth every inconvenience, all suffering, each moment of constrained power. 

The song in Revelation 15 sounds like an amalgamation of various psalms. It is the blending of countless voices repeating to the Savior the wonderful memories of all he has done. It is the recognition that he alone is holy. Perhaps it reveals that other ways of living have been tried. Each age, each culture had its own way of trying to live without him. But all pale in comparison to his greatness and holiness. All other pursuits have left our souls empty and we despair. 

The peace of Advent is the peace from despair. Our peace is anchored to him. When life feels worthless, he brings our soul the restorative feeling of worth. It is the thrill of hope. Our weary world rejoices. 

This Christmas, I hope and pray that your soul has been refreshed as we have walked together to reflect on Advent. If the days have been filled with joy and serenity, I hope these reflections have stirred up praise to our Savior. If your days are still dark and cold, know that if your soul is tethered with our Lord, gold can still be found in moonlight. But if you still struggle with despair, not knowing who this Child is, you can find peace in him. There is no more looking, he is here.

From John: I love that Erin allowed us to spend a little more time reflecting on one of the greatest carols, “O Holy Night.” The version we linked yesterday, by Sara Groves, was chosen for its uniqueness. But since this carol is Jon Polk’s favorite, here we will link to a performance of “O Holy Night” from Saint Andrew’s Church in Hong Kong. Jon serves with this church and sings bass in this ensemble. From all of us at The Park Forum, we wish you the hope, love, joy, and peace of Christmas.

Music: “O Holy Night,” recording, Saint Andrew’s Church, Hong Kong, 2020

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds; they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 29 (Listen – 6:49)
Revelation 15 (Listen – 1:29)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 30 (Listen – 4:56) Revelation 16 (Listen – 3:17)
2 Chronicles 31 (Listen – 4:20) Revelation 17 (Listen – 3:19)

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We produce over 100,000 words a year to encourage believers to engage the culture with the love of God.

Read more about I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day — Carols of Advent Peace
Jesus brings a new kind of peace…a peace that allows us to take risks by loving both our neighbor and our enemy…

Peace from Labor — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 14.13
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

Reflection: Peace from Labor — Peace of Advent
By Erin Newton

My kids have been impatiently waiting to open gifts. As a mischievous parent, I wrap small gifts inside large boxes. The kids imagine typically impossible items inside: cars, animals, rockets, etc. Part of the joke is their look of disappointment when they open the box to find a vast amount of empty space inside. In reality, the small gift is always very valuable.

This week has been a focus on how Jesus’ birth as a baby not only changed the course of history, but it upset the Jews’ expectations.

Within the vision of saints’ suffering in Revelation, there comes to us a new beatitude. We are familiar with Jesus’ words that it was blessed to be poor, mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure, peaceful and persecuted. But the grand finale of blessedness is revealed: the blessedness of martyrdom. For those who die for the Lord are at peace from all labor.

If we take a moment to imagine the tension in which the New Testament opens, it is not an atmosphere of positivity. There is no “all-American determination” that they will somehow pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There is certainly no hope that the next leader of Rome is going to provide means to make life more comfortable. The people were often already poor, hungry, and mournful. Jesus is born as one of them.

It is easy to expect Jesus to be something he is not. Or maybe we expect him to act for us in a way that has been answered “no” for now. Even though Jesus calls it blessed, being poor or persecuted or hungry is exhausting. How can we have peace in that? We fight the good fight, finish the race, and rest from all labor.

Jesus changes our world in ways that we sometimes cannot see or understand. We can forfeit peace and strive to change what is happening or we can recognize that even the infant Savior works in ways unseen. The hymn, “What Child is This?” speaks to the unexpected form of our Savior. Good Christians, fear, for sinners here / the silent Word is pleading. His labor of love never ceases, we rest in Him.

The day will come when all our toil and labor will cease. The peace of advent is knowing how blessed it is to toil and labor each day for his glory until he calls us home.

Music: “What Child Is This,” recording, Josh Garrels, 2016

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9.1

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 27-28 (Listen – 7:27)
Revelation 14 (Listen – 3:51)

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Read more about The Work of Faith :: Love of Advent
Actively waiting for the return of Jesus begins with the work of faith.