Not in the Brochure

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 1:21-22, 25
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Reflection: Not in the Brochure
By Jon Polk

Expectations. We all have them. When fulfilled they can be a powerful source of excitement. When dashed, they can lead to tremendous disappointment.

Time for that family holiday to visit the amazing national park which you’ve heard so much about. You’ve studied the brochures, plotted your route and set out with great anticipation. You arrive to discover that the cabins aren’t as clean as they looked in the photos, the mosquitos are large and hungry, and you have to pay extra for firewood! This was not in the brochure!

Jews in Jesus’ day had read the prophets, their brochures describing the coming of the Messiah. Paul writes that “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” Jews expected a victorious Messiah, signs and wonders accompanying a conquering King with power, majesty and glory. The Greeks were sophisticated; they were concerned with the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge for its own sake.

Jesus dashed both their expectations. He did not come as a conqueror to please the Jews, nor as a philosopher to please the Gentiles. Instead, Jesus was a King who demonstrated his power through the sacrifice of his own life and his wisdom by preaching a message of selflessness and humility.

Imagine what even Jesus’ own followers might have felt seeing their beloved master, teacher and friend taken down from the cross and carried off for burial. “What just happened? Wait a minute, Jesus, this is not what we followed you for! This was not in the brochure!”

How would our life brochure read if we wrote it? It probably wouldn’t be much different than the expectations the Jews had for the Messiah. Jesus will solve all your problems. Jesus will make you happy. Jesus will defeat your enemies and those who have done you wrong. Jesus will bring roses and ponies and rainbows.

Now to be fair, Jesus does provide peace, comfort, joy and satisfaction in life, but not always in the way we might expect. Come to Jesus and sacrifice yourself? Follow Jesus and give your life away? That’s not in our brochure.

The Christian life has a way of not turning out the way we expect. We make our plans, we have our ideas about what God should do for us, we have our own self-focused motivations, but the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. We strive to provide for our own security and comfort in this life, but the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 

Thankfully, through that foolishness and weakness, we are saved from our own expectations to discover God’s higher wisdom and humble strength and we learn to live a new life, one that we may not have expected.

*This devotional was written from a devotional Jon gave for the staff at International Christian School in Hong Kong. To see the video version of this devotional, follow this link.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Help me, O Lord my God; same me for your mercy’s sake. — Psalm 109.25

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

Today’s Readings
Job 13 (Listen -2:27)
1 Corinthians 1 (Listen -4:03)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 14 (Listen -2:23), 1 Corinthians 2 (Listen -2:26)
Job 15 (Listen -3:23), 1 Corinthians 3 (Listen -3:05)

Read more about Crucified, By Nature
It is hard for us to grasp how foolish, offensive and shameful crucifixion was in the ancient world.

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
If Jesus had a website “Can you show us a sign from Heaven?” would be listed in his FAQs.

Cameos of Love :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture Focus: Romans 16.1-4
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Reflection: Cameos of Love :: Worldwide Prayer
By John Tillman

A cameo is a “positive relief” image and is often a profile image of an individual. This means that the item is carved so that the image to be shown is raised up from the surface. The process of carving a cameo involves cutting away everything that is not a part of the image.

As Paul winds Romans to a close, he carves us a quick image of Phoebe and others who ministered with him. Phoebe was a deacon from the port city of Cenchreae, which served the region of Corinth. She was a co-worker with Priscilla and Aquilla of Corinth. She was being sent to Rome (either carrying this letter or following shortly after) and she was trusted with a mission that was in need of assistance. Paul is confident that her work, which scripture does not specify, will be of spiritual benefit for he testifies that her ministry has already blessed his own life. Paul’s brief description of Phoebe is like a cameo, raising up for us the most important details of her life. And when we look closely, what we see raised up is, in reality, an image of Christ.

May we pray this prayer from Australia, asking that God raise up in us the image of Christ, and carve away from us other parts of our lives to show to the world, his perfect cameo.

Cameos of Love
A prayer of Intercession from Australia

Creator God, all-compassionate Father,
Source of life whose heart is passionate towards all,
May we, your people, be cameos of your love and
compassion to a hurting and fragile world.
Daily we are confronted with the harsh reality of violence, greed,
abuse, unrest, and tragedy. Stir our response by owning your heart and mind.
May we be courageous in challenging injustice,
Ready to listen but hesitant to judge,
Willing to welcome the outcast,
Diligent in seeking and claiming truth.
Oh God of hope,
Your light never fails, is never extinguished.
Warm our hearts with the fire of Christ’s love so that wherever we go we will communicate Jesus Christ.
In His divine name we pray.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Divine Hours Prayer:  The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O  Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

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

Today’s Readings
Job 12 (Listen -2:21)
Romans 16 (Listen -3:30)

Read more about Reflecting the Unity of Christ :: Worldwide Prayer
Dear Lord, mold us into that perfect image that reflects the beauty of Christ in a broken world.

Read more about Christ’s Supremacy :: A Guided Prayer
Help us to let go of anything which strives to take your place.
Make of us a body that serves, be our head which gives us purpose.

Content Mastery vs the Master of the Content

Scripture Focus: Romans 15.14
I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Reflection: Content Mastery vs the Master of the Content
By John Tillman

Jeannette Clift George, in her book, Troubling Deaf Heaven, relates her early struggles with God’s word.

“Someone told me to read the Bible until I understood something from the reading. After an hour of intense reading I threw my copy of the Bible across the room and cried aloud to God, “Yes, I have learned something! I have learned that I don’t understand your Book! Now can I stop reading it?” And then, still muttering over the details of my problem, I went over and picked up my Bible, with it’s tossed pages all askew, and read again. My early Bibles show the wear and tear of my struggle.”

Kierkegaard asserts that the Bible is easy to understand and we merely feign misunderstanding to shirk its demands on us. However, many, especially in the early steps of discipleship and study, do struggle with it.

Too often, immature disciples approach the Bible as consumers, treating it as a store full of solutions to our problems. When we do this, we are easily overwhelmed by its shelves, confused by its organization, and frustrated by seemingly inexplicable products. The Word of God is not a store, a catalog, a manual, or a textbook, and our approach to scripture must go beyond scholarship. No accumulation of facts will feed our faith.

Our hope of gaining meaning from God’s Word is listening for his voice, personally calling to us. We must trust that the Holy Spirit Jesus promised will break the silence. George continues:

“Then, one day, one reading, all of a sudden I saw me in the Scripture. My need—my question for the day, my tears for the evening, my fears for the morning, me—in God’s Holy Word. That made all the difference in the world.

That’s why I keep praying even when God’s silence infers the communication is out of order. I found me in his Word because he put me there. God put me in his Word that I might hear him in the silence, that I might hear him in the midst of arguments with him, that I might know that he knows me and loves me because he said so.”

In our rhythms of prayer and reading, we do not pursue mastery of content as much as we pursue a relationship with the Master of the content—a relationship with the Holy Spirit that goes beyond bringing the text to life and joins us in walking through our life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and mind. — Psalm 26.2

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

Today’s Readings
Job 11 (Listen -2:01)
Romans 15 (Listen -4:32)

Read more about How Not to Read Scripture
No one ever found joy and companionship from re-reading an instruction manual. The Bible is more akin to a pointillistic painting…You have to step back to see the likeness the artist has created.

Read more about The Scripture Cannot Be Set Aside
Considering all of Scripture together without breaking it apart requires patience and a deep familiarity with Scripture.

How Not to Read Scripture

Scripture Focus: Job 10.12-14
      You gave me life and showed me kindness, 
         and in your providence watched over my spirit. 
      “But this is what you concealed in your heart, 
         and I know that this was in your mind: 
      If I sinned, you would be watching me 
         and would not let my offense go unpunished. 

Reflection: How Not to Read Scripture
By John Tillman

In part of today’s passage, Job describes a God who seems deceptive. Job accuses God of using kindness to mask a secret desire to harm Job when he inevitably sins. Is this God real? Should we be ducking for cover from a God who is out to get us?

Sometimes when we read the Bible we forget who is talking and why. It is not always God talking and every phrase or group of words is not always an actionable directive or nugget of “truth” we can apply. We need to see the bigger picture.

In this passage, God is not telling us that he is out to get us. Job is sharing his emotionally charged opinion with his friends. Job is conjecturing, not speaking for God. Later, God will condemn Job’s words as “darkening his counsels” and being “words without knowledge.” (Job 38.1-3)

We also can “darken God’s counsels” (or obscure his plans, as the NIV puts it) when we speak words from the Bible without knowledge. It is an error to think of the scripture as the “words of God” instead of the “Word of God.” The Bible is God’s Word—his perfect revelation, but it is not a transcript of God’s unambiguous commands. The Bible is a work of art, not a manual.

Some may fear this lowers the Bible’s authority or lessens the miraculous spiritual nature of the Bible. The opposite is true. We rob the Word of God of its power when we think of it as merely an owner’s manual of unimaginative, dictated instructions. No analogy is perfect but the instruction manual analogy for the Bible is particularly flawed. If it were true, we should skim the Bible and toss it in the closet with the rest of the instruction manuals. This is how not to read scripture. No one ever found joy and companionship from re-reading an instruction manual. 

The Bible is more akin to a pointillistic painting. When you zoom in far enough, all you might see is a few dots of red, blue, or yellow. You have to step back to see the likeness the artist has created.

This is why is it so vital that Christians read the whole Bible and read it regularly. (This is why we follow a whole-Bible reading plan.) In this way, we are equipped to view the Word of God as a work of art that reveals who God is, what God is doing, and what God expects us to do. 

*View the world’s most famous pointillistic painting, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”, by Georges Seurat at this link.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

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

Today’s Readings
Job 10 (Listen -2:12)
Romans 14 (Listen -3:28)

Read more about How to Read Prophetic Judgment
There are many prophecies that are meant to comfort us. But the more typical function of prophecy is to cause us discomfort.

Read more about A Berean Palate
The Thessalonians were prone to being riled up by exaggeration and falsifications. Just like we are. 

Christ, Our “If Only…”

Scripture Focus: Job 9.33-35
      If only there were someone to mediate between us, 
         someone to bring us together, 
      someone to remove God’s rod from me, 
         so that his terror would frighten me no more. 
      Then I would speak up without fear of him, 
         but as it now stands with me, I cannot.

Reflection: Christ, Our “If Only…”
By John Tillman

Job cries out over the course of his many speeches for mediation.

Job’s speeches flow with expansive, idiomatic imagery that recognizes an uncrossable gap between Job and his creator. God could no more come down than we could go up, and if God did step down…mountains would melt seas would flee…making Job’s problems inconsequential. 

Job had no illusions that he could actually speak to God. He only asked, “If only…”
If only, he would hear me…
If only I could face him…
If only he could hear my case…
If only I could stand in his presence…
If only there was a mediator…
If only there was a go-between…
If only there was a redeemer…

In the context of the beliefs of his age, Job’s request was foolish, impossible, and inappropriate. To propose God lower himself to address Job was unthinkable. Even as great a man as Job was reported to be, this was considered to be a prideful and sinful desire. Even Job’s friends, who, out of love, sat in the dust with him for days without speaking, considered this a scandalous bit of madness. This is why Job’s friends seem so harsh to us, so callous. Job is asking not only for the impossible but for the inappropriate.

But thank God that he is the God who abandons propriety to run to us. God’s love for us is foolishly, scandalously undeserved. He is the God who does the unthinkable on behalf of the unworthy.
God does not step foot on Earth to melt mountains but to melt hardened hearts, turning them back to God.
God does not wade into humanity, timidly cringing at the grossness of flesh, but rejoicing in living among us. He joyfully eats our fish, pays our taxes, touches the diseased, speaks to (and raises) the dead.

God is a God for whom there is no uncrossable gap. He crosses the distance to us. 
Christ comes, applying for Job’s job posting. He would be our mediator if we let him. He stood between us and God. He removed God’s rod from us and placed it on his own back. He will remove our terror of God and allow us to see perfectly God’s tender mercies to us.

God told Moses he was the Israelites’ “I am.” Christ holds out his hands to Jerusalem, to Job, to us, and to all mankind, longing to be our “If only…” 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord Lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation!
Therefore will I extol you among the nations, O Lord, and sing praises to your Name. — Psalm 18.46

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

Today’s Readings
Job 9 (Listen -3:22)
Romans 13 (Listen -2:35)

Read more about Greater Footstool, Greater God, Greater Redeemer
As Job begins, Satan walks the Earth and has power over it. Before Job ends, he declares the promise that the Redeemer will stand upon the Earth to reclaim it.

Read more about Taking Sin Seriously
Jesus doesn’t “let the woman go.” He sends her out. Jesus, instead of taking the woman’s life, redeems it. He buys it for his own.

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