The Unhidden Agenda

Scripture Focus: Luke 8.17-18
17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”

Reflection: The Unhidden Agenda
By John Tillman

I still remember the first time I saw the music video for Michael W. Smith’s “Secret Ambition” at a summer youth camp in Glorieta, New Mexico. A Christian music video? We were mesmerized. 

Our generation was still singing, “Video killed the radio star,” and now we saw a high-production-value video of Jesus being killed. The song emphasized that Jesus went to his death purposely and resolutely. It brought the dusty theological concept of the messianic secret to life in a slickly produced video. “Nobody knew his secret ambition was to give his life away.”

The messianic secret is the idea that Jesus kept his true identity and mission a secret from the wider public. This fulfilled prophecy, as Jesus points out in Luke 8.10, but it also made his mission possible. He had to be rejected, betrayed, and crucified. So he hid his teaching in parables and only allowed “those with ears” to hear. He scattered seed on hardened, stony, or thorny ground, knowing it would not survive or sprout.

The parable of seeds and soils can sometimes make us think one’s soil is their destiny and nothing can change it. We can become fatalistic and cynical and doubt the gospel’s power.

However, a related parable follows the parable of the seed and soils. After speaking about closed ears that cannot hear the truth and hardened hearts that cannot receive the seed, Jesus speaks about light and sight.

Christ’s secret ambition was to go to the cross, but now, his public command is to take the light of the gospel to all places. The messianic secret was never meant to stay secret. These hidden things are meant to be discovered, and these concealed things are meant to be revealed.

Jesus hid his victory in the suffering of the cross and his indestructible life in the shroud of the grave. For a time, Jesus was the light hidden in a clay-jar tomb. But now, like Gideon’s torches, the clay pot is shattered, and the light is revealed. (Judges 7.16-20) The cat is out of the bag, and he’s the Lion of Judah.  

What was once the messianic secret is now the unhidden agenda of the gospel. Now is the time when the light of Christ shines openly. Come to him while the light shines.

Lift up his light so that he may draw all humans to himself.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is clear, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkened, what darkness that will be! — Matthew 6.22-23

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

​Today’s Readings
Haggai 1 (Listen 2:39)
Luke 8 (Listen 8:09)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Haggai 2 (Listen 3:49), Luke 9 (Listen 8:05)
Zechariah 3 (Listen 3:37), Luke 7 (Listen 5:40)

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Read more about An Amazed Faith :: Worldwide Prayer
Help me, my Lord, to always carry in my body
Your death, so that your life may be revealed
In me daily…

Miracles for the Undeserving

Scripture Focus: Luke 7.6-8
2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them. 
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well. 

Reflection: Miracles for the Undeserving
By John Tillman

Deserving. Undeserving.
Faithful. Unfaithful.
Believing. Unbelieving.

These themes run through Capernaum and are especially highlighted in the story of the centurion and his servant.

The Jewish elders who came to Jesus said the centurion was “deserving” of a miracle. Why? Because he loved “their nation” and financially supported their place of worship. They liked him because he helped them. 

Who deserves a miracle? Good people? Benefactors? Public servants? Important people? People we like?

In short, no one. God owes no one miracles. The centurion doesn’t deserve a miracle for being “one of the good ones,” and the Jews don’t deserve one either. Miracles are acts of mercy, not spiritual reimbursements.

That doesn’t mean the centurion didn’t show good qualities. One of the centurion’s best qualities is that he recognized that he was undeserving. His humility shows in his sending servants to stop Jesus from coming to his home. His repentance shows in his acts of mercy and service to the town. His faith shows in his recognition that Jesus did not need to be present to act in mercy.

The amazing detail of this story is not that Jesus did the community a solid by paying off the nice guy who did nice things with a nice miracle. It is that the outcast Gentile, working for the Empire, representing a man who thought himself to be God, recognized that Jesus, not Caesar, was the ultimate authority. The centurion calls Jesus “Lord.” But the insiders, the Jews, the people worshiping the God who sent Jesus and called him “My beloved Son,” did not recognize Jesus’s authority. They rejected him as Lord.

Jesus did many miracles in Capernaum. However, Capernaum was not a place of great faith. Jesus would condemn the area for persisting in unbelief despite all the miracles he did there. (Matthew 11.23-24)

No one is deserving, yet Jesus does miracles for the undeserving. No one is completely faithful, yet Jesus is amazed at the faith that he finds on the earth. Those who should believe—who saw miracles—rejected faith. Those who have reasons not to believe—being the “wrong” race, party, or having the wrong job—are found among those who call Jesus “Lord.”

The gospel is the ultimate miracle. None of us deserve it, yet Jesus offers it to us. Call him Lord, and come under his authority.

Thank God that he does miracles for the undeserving.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6

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

​Today’s Readings
Zephaniah 3 (Listen 3:38)
Luke 7 (Listen 7:14)

Read more about Josiahs Need Zephaniahs
The next generation needs us to model condemning our past sins, confessing them, and being free. Josiahs need Zephaniahs.

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City of Revelry

Scripture Focus: Zephaniah 2:15
15 This is the city of revelry
     that lived in safety.
 She said to herself,
     “I am the one! And there is none besides me.”
 What a ruin she has become,
     a lair for wild beasts!
 All who pass by her scoff
     and shake their fists.

Reflection: City of Revelry
By Erin Newton

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­If you had to name a current “city of revelry,” what place would you think of first? It could be a city that hosts annual festivals like New Orleans and Mardi Gras or New York City and the Thanksgiving Day parade or Albuquerque and the hot air balloon festival. Perhaps it’s a small festivity like my hometown that hosts a winter wassail fest and a jazz concert weekend.

Amid all the fun, noise, and laughter, it is easy to look at life there and see it as indestructible. We rarely feel our weakness when we are having fun. Revelry can give way to self-reliance. Zephaniah prophesied to Assyria, looking at the city of Nineveh and remarking on her boasting: “I am the one! And there is none beside me.”

The pride of the city was wrapped up in its festivities, feasts, abundance, power, and relative safety. Assyria’s power remained unchecked for a long time. But now Nineveh was destroyed, only to become an uninhabited place and disgrace to passersby.

On a national scale, we have often chanted words similar to Nineveh—words that boast of greatness, might, strength, wealth, and luxury. Even on a local level, we easily scoff at how we are better than others. Seemingly innocent allegiances to universities or sports teams, political parties or celebrities, social agendas or denominational preferences, all these can turn our hearts to boasting our own greatness and belittling everyone who differs from us.

The pride of Nineveh meant she did not rely on God as we know him. She had gods that could be placated when they were angry and manipulated when she needed something. The gods Assyria truly trusted were her weapons and methods of terror. Her motto was to make everyone afraid and, therefore, submissive.

Rarely do we read the Old Testament and imagine ourselves in the place of Assyria. (We prefer to differentiate between them and us.) But our hearts are not so different from Nineveh. We boast in ourselves and trust only in our ease of living—equating that with being undefeatable.

Zephaniah also calls out to Judah—whose capital has not yet fallen in judgment. “Gather together, gather yourselves together… seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered” (vv. 1, 3).
We have the choice to be like Nineveh, forcibly humbled under judgment, or we can seek humility ourselves and find favor in God’s mercy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let us make a vow to the Lord our God and keep it; let all around him bring gifts to him who is worthy to be feared. — Psalm 76.11

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

​Today’s Readings
Zephaniah 2 (Listen 2:44)
Luke 6 (Listen 6:46)

Read more about He Raises Us
Zephaniah calls tenderly, yet urgently, to those who are faithful in the land to respond to God while there is still time

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Invitation to Re-creation

Scripture Focus: Zephaniah 1.7
7 Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, 
for the day of the Lord is near. 
The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; 
he has consecrated those he has invited. 

Reflection: Invitation to Re-creation
By John Tillman

Zephaniah’s shocking beginning rewinds the order of creation. Zephaniah sees God turning back to Genesis page 1. As pages turn, humans and beasts, then birds of the sky, then fish of the sea, are wiped away like chalk from a blackboard. 

Why does God take this drastic step? Is all humanity doomed? Is there any hope in this darkness?

When predicting the outcome of an NBA finals match, a sports commentator might say, “This team will wipe the floor with their opponents.” In case you don’t know basketball, no humans are ever used as mops. The prognostication implies one opponent will dominate the other in a decisive victory. Like sports commentary, apocalyptic visions and prophecies are often poetically exaggerative.

Zephaniah is predicting that God will dominate and destroy every evil thing in creation and win a decisive victory over sinful kings, warriors, leaders, economies, and all wicked powers. Not one evil thing or human will escape, and their defeat will be humiliating and overwhelming. He will wipe the floor with them.

Zephaniah makes the purpose of this destruction clear. The world is unmade to wipe the floor with humanity’s idols. This newly cleaned space will be inhabited by those whom God saves by his mercy. (Zephaniah 3.9) He will wash the feet of those who enter.

No religion deals with evil as directly as Christianity does. Some prefer God wink at evil and pretend it doesn’t exist. Other philosophies excuse evil as “alternative choices” that are “good” for those who choose them. Even prominent leaders who claim to follow Christ have embraced this kind of moral relativism with “ends justify the means” mentalities.

These tactics of dealing with evil are as gutless as they are meaningless. In Jesus, God takes on evil directly, at cost to himself, on behalf of the victims. He enters the ring, becoming the ultimate victim of evil to win the ultimate victory over evil. Those who cling to evil will be swept away in the battle. Those who cling to Christ will be credited with a victory only he can win.

As Zephaniah says, “he has consecrated those he has invited.” This is the invitation Jesus extended to the rebel on the cross. This same invitation was extended to me and to you and to all humanity. Have you accepted this invitation? Have you extended it to others?

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. — Ephesians 2.8-10

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

​Today’s Readings
Zephaniah 1 (Listen 3:09)
Luke 5 (Listen 5:04)

Read more about A Bad Day Fishing
Jesus will show up on our worst days. He is calling us to fish. Peter never catches a fish without Christ’s help. And neither will we.

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No, Not Like That

Scripture Focus: Habakkuk 3.1-2, 16
1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. 
2 Lord, I have heard of your fame; 
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. 
Repeat them in our day, 
in our time make them known; 
in wrath remember mercy. 

16 I heard and my heart pounded, 
my lips quivered at the sound; 
decay crept into my bones, 
and my legs trembled. 
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity 
to come on the nation invading us. 

Reflection: No, Not Like That
By John Tillman

A common objection to faith is that if God is all-powerful and all-good, how does he allow evil to exist? Either he is not all-powerful, for he cannot stop evil, or he is not all-good, for he will not stop evil.

Habakkuk has his own version of these objections. Habakkuk is distressed by violence and injustice. The legal system is corrupt. The guilty go free. The innocent are unprotected. He objects that God is not taking action.

God says, “I’m already doing something about it. The Babylonians are on their way.” (Habakkuk 1.1-4)

Rather than rejoicing, Habakkuk questions God’s choices. Surely God cannot use such ruthless, violent, and prideful people. “No, God. Not like that! Not those people. Not those means!”

Perhaps Habakkuk just wanted a new king or a few judges replaced, but God saw deeper problems. We can be like Habakkuk in many ways. We see evil and think God isn’t taking it seriously. But when God acts, we think God is going too far. We didn’t want him to take it that seriously.

God takes both justice and mercy more seriously than us. He knows better than us the costs of holding them both. 

In the parable of the tares in the wheat, Jesus implies that evil is more intimately bound up with us than we think. The tares cannot be pulled up without damaging the wheat. When we ask God to pull up weeds, he can see the weed’s roots are tangled around our own.

We must trust God when he chooses to address evil, whether it is in our hearts, in our institutions, or in our countries. We may not understand how long it took because we don’t know the depths of his patience and mercy. We may not understand how severe the judgment is because we don’t know the depths of our own evil. We may not understand the means God uses because we don’t remember that God can and will use anyone and can turn any evil to good use.

More than anything else, let us stay in dialogue with God, as Habakkuk does. We don’t have to hold back our doubts, fears, or objections. If we draw close to him, God will draw near to us. He will confront us with our sins. May we repent. He will comfort us in our distress. May we lean on him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

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

​Today’s Readings
Habakkuk 3 (Listen 2:59)
Luke 4 (Listen 5:27)

Read more about He Became a Servant Beyond Jubilee
Habakkuk’s psalm longs for the Lord to make himself known…What Habakkuk waited for, we have seen in Jesus.

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