Elijah Must Come First

Scripture Focus: Mark 9.9-13
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. 
11 And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 
12 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” 

Reflection: Elijah Must Come First
By John Tillman

At the transfiguration, Jesus, Peter, James, and John are joined by Moses and Elijah. These prophets experienced God’s glory on mountains in the past. Now they experienced God’s glory in Jesus.

After the transfiguration there is a discussion about John the Baptizer and the role of “Elijah” as the disciples walk back down the mountain with Jesus.

For Elijah, the transfiguration “mountain top moment” follows his past experiences of a mountain of triumph and a mountain of despair.

On his mountain of despair a storm, earthquake, and fire passed. Then Elijah heard the whispering voice of God and emerged from hiding, covering his face. On the mountain of transfiguration, Elijah, face uncovered, speaks with Jesus, who commands storms, shakes the Earth, and baptizes his followers with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Jesus says that Elijah “comes” and “has come.” John the Baptizer was the Elijah of his day, preparing the way for Jesus. John, like Elijah, had ups and downs. In one passage he proclaimed Jesus the Lamb of God and in another questioned if he should be looking for someone else.

In my life, I often waver between cynicism and hope. One week, I despair at anything getting done or getting better. Then, the next week, I throw myself into work and celebrate even minor improvements.

One day, considering the state of the world and the Church, I’m ready for Christ to come, burn it all down, and start over. On another day, I’m praying for time as I happily tilt at windmills with the idealistic energy of Don Quixote and threaten giants with the bright hope of young David, swinging a stone.

Despair is natural if change relies on us, but it doesn’t. Change relies on us relying on God. For change to occur, Elijah must come first. 

Come down the mountain and be Elijah. Stand in the wilderness and be John the Baptizer.

Be a voice crying in the wilderness. Prepare the way for one greater than ourselves. Call our age to repentance. Challenge the false prophets and point out their failure. Turn the hearts of children to parents and parents to children. Set the axe to the roots of hypocrisy.  Set in motion the restoration of all things.

We all have mountains of victory and despair in our past and present, but a mountain of transfiguration rises in our future.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said: “Now the hour had come for the Son of man to be glorified. In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls on earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” — John 12.23-24

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

​Today’s Readings
Mark 9  (Listen 6:16)

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
To burn out of our souls our preoccupation with ourselves we require a different kind of axe and a different kind of fire. Thankfully, Jesus stands ready to supply both.

Read more about Hate Conflict? Love Truth
Who is responsible for stirring up conflict?…the deceitful man…normalizes conflict, conceals conflict, and stigmatizes dissent.

Proverbial Economics

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 19:1, 4, 7, 22
1 Better the poor whose walk is blameless
     than a fool whose lips are perverse.

4 Wealth attracts many friends,
     but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.

7 The poor are shunned by all their relatives—
     how much more do their friends avoid them!
 Though the poor pursue them with pleading,
     they are nowhere to be found.

22 What a person desires is unfailing love;
     better to be poor than a liar.

Reflection: Proverbial Economics
By Erin Newton

Proverbs seems to blame the poor for their situation—hunger is caused by one’s laziness or foolishness (Proverbs 19.15, 24). The statements read as harsh indictments to those struggling to survive.

The ancient Israelites were encouraged to avoid poverty or debt. The economic system did not have regulations on lending; a faulty decision could bring a family to ruin. Kinsmen redeemers were an opportunity to provide freedom from one’s situation (see Ruth), but other family members were typically in a similar scenario and unable to bring redemption to their brothers and sisters.

One skill we must learn when reading the Bible—especially the book of Proverbs—is to avoid reading it anachronistically. That means we must steer clear of forcing our modern systems into the ancient text. I find this most pertinent when reading about economics. Our social systems, finances, economies, and class structures are different from ancient Israel.

We must also learn to read the Bible as a whole, seeking to see the trajectory of a topic from Genesis to Revelation. We might read verses that blame the poor for their situation but that is not a prescriptive universal statement for all time.

There is also a unique feature when speaking of the poor in Proverbs. Alongside these blunt statements about the status of the poor are compassionate and honoring statements.

Twice in this chapter wisdom places the poor above others. One’s character is severed from his or her financial status. The blameless poor are better than perverted fools. The poor who seek God’s love are better than liars who seek power.

But the poor are often neglected and unnoticed by their peers. It is no surprise when we read, “Wealth attracts many friends.” People want to be friends with the wealthy in hopes of gaining wealth by proximity or receiving some benefit from the association.

In contrast, “the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.” No financial gain or personal benefit is assumed when befriending the poor. This can only be true if our priorities revolve around ourselves.

Proverbs are not the final words on wealth and poverty. Reading holistically, some proverbs move the conversation forward by highlighting the sharing of wealth: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord” (Proverbs 19.17), and “the righteous give without sparing” (Proverbs 21.26).Jesus said rightly that we would always have the poor among us. He calls us to give, come, and follow him (Luke 18.22).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

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

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 19 (Listen 3:09)

Read more about Would You Rather Proverbs?
No amount of wealth, power, or ease is worth abandoning the way of Jesus. These are the very things Satan tempted Jesus with.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Our work needs the support of donors like you. Please consider supporting our ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

Tares Will Burn

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 18.14-15
14 The human spirit can endure in sickness, 
but a crushed spirit who can bear? 
15 The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, 
for the ears of the wise seek it out. 

Matthew 13.30
30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.

Reflection: Tares Will Burn
By John Tillman

It crushes the spirit and sickens the heart when evil returns and seems unopposed.

Recently in American cities, Nazis openly marched and chanted in the streets, referring to non-white people as feces and vermin.

Over 400,000 Americans died defeating the Nazi empire, yet today, Hitler’s flags and slogans in American streets brought shrugs from some politicians, media personalities, and Christians. “Are they really Nazis? Did anyone interview them to find out what they want?” As if we couldn’t listen to the chants, read the flags, or remember what Nazis want.

In the 1930s, Nazi ideology twisted and manipulated Christianity and the Bible into an explicitly anti-Christian mandate of hate. Nazi ideology was defeated by those who reclaimed Christianity from hatred, kinism, and fascism. Yet today, some think fascism might not be so bad, and some Christians have pulled Nazi definitions of Christendom from the trash heap of history and are reheating them on a stove to serve their followers.

Who can endure when sickness such as this returns and returns? How can our spirits not be crushed to witness moral and theological failure? To what can we appeal when those supporting hatred, violence, and oppression slander the very name of Christ?

There have always been tares among the wheat, false gospels among the true, and false Christs posing as “saviors” of the church or Christianity.

There is no glib proverb promising such things cannot happen in our time. There’s no easy answer other than proclaiming the truth. There’s no course of action other than staying the course in the way of Jesus.

There is good news. First, this evil is not unopposed. Don’t become distracted by Christian voices deceived by or apathetic to kinism and racism. Lend your voice to those who cry against such things.

We may be embarrassed by the arguments between Christians about whether it is bad that Nazis are marching or not. We may be disappointed or disillusioned by the failures of leaders or organizations to confront false Christendoms, false gospels, and false messiahs that promote them.

However, there are those longing to hear the truth if we will tell them. The heart of the discerning longs to acquire knowledge. The ears of the wise are seeking the truth.

There are tares in the field, but many people search for the true wheat. And someday, those tares will burn.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? Who may abide upon your holy hill?
Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart.
There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend; he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
In his sight the wicked is rejected, but he honors those who fear the Lord.
He has sworn to do no wrong and does not take back his word.
He does not give his money in hope of gain, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things shall never be overthrown. — Psalm 15

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

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 18 (Listen 2:23)
Mark 8  (Listen 4:29)

Read more about Breathing Prayers
Breath prayers are simply short prayers which can be said “in a breath.” These are often taken from scripture.

Read more about A Sword Unsheathed
May we cry against violence not cry for it. 
May we end the suffering of the poor not endorse it.

Would You Rather Proverbs?

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 17.1-7
1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet 
than a house full of feasting, with strife. 
2 A prudent servant will rule over a disgraceful son 
and will share the inheritance as one of the family. 
3 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, 
but the Lord tests the heart. 
4 A wicked person listens to deceitful lips; 
a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue. 
5 Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; 
whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished. 
6 Children’s children are a crown to the aged, 
and parents are the pride of their children. 
7 Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool— 
how much worse lying lips to a ruler!

Reflection: Would You Rather Proverbs?
By John Tillman

“Would You Rather?” forces choices between bad and usually gross options. “Would you rather eat a live bug or a hairball?” Some proverbs sound like a question from the game: Would you rather be peaceful with poverty or problematic with prosperity? (Proverbs 17.1) But God isn’t trying to gross us out or force us to choose between two bad options. God is teaching us to see and to think differently.

In the world, the “party” is worth the “strife.” The grind is worth the drip. Even if it means grinding up your competitors, workers, or family. Wealth, power, and ease are worth whatever you do to obtain them. 

In Christ, no amount of wealth, power, or ease is worth abandoning the way of Jesus. These are the very things Satan tempted Jesus with. We must resist them, too.

In the world, children inherit whether they are wise or wastrels, whether their habits are gracious or grotesque. Birthright is biological, and the first always gobbles the biggest slice. 

In Christ, the first are joyfully last and the older serve the younger. Not only that, God treats as family outsiders and exiles who embrace wisdom and disowns and rejects biological kin who mock his grace and mercy.

In the world, we mock the poor for their poverty and honor those who inherit wealth as if they earned it.

In Christ, there is good news for the poor. Helping the poor is helping Christ himself, and mocking or turning away the poor is mocking and turning away God himself. Kingdoms and their leaders are wicked if the poor, the foreigner, and the vulnerable suffer and righteous when they find justice and peace.

Among God’s people, in Christ, a new family is defined, a new kingdom is founded, and a new world is created. In this family, love is defined differently. In this kingdom, power operates differently. In this world, growth occurs differently. We should be different. We should expect, pursue, and celebrate different things when we are a part of Christ than we do as a part of the world. We must align our hearts and minds to these new ways of thinking.

We are not choosing between two bad options when we choose the way of Christ. We are learning to spot what is good in what the world finds gross and what is gold in what the world dismisses as dross.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let those who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

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

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 17 (Listen 2:58)
Mark 7  (Listen 4:28)

Read more about Proverbs’ House of Mirrors
Do our words rhyme with God’s? Or do they stink? Would we enjoy eating them?

Read The Bible With Us
It’s never too late to join our Bible reading plan. Immerse in the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.


Faith After the Storm

Scripture Focus: Mark 4.37-41
37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” 

Reflection: Faith After the Storm
By John Tillman

How tired Christ must have been to sleep during the storm. 

Mark gives us the beautiful eyewitness detail of Christ asleep on a cushion. Jesus had healed and preached all day long. Then he had preached it all again to his disciples, who had heard the stories but, like the crowd, had difficulty understanding.

Jesus was so exhausted that the wildly rocking boat, the crashing waves, and even the boat filling up with water didn’t wake him. Jesus slept on in the midst of this terrible storm, until his shaken disciples shook him awake.

The disciples didn’t seem to wake Jesus expecting him to save them from the storm. They merely woke him to complain about his treatment of them. “Don’t you care that we are going to drown?” The drowning seems a foregone conclusion. There is no direct request, merely bitterness and accusation. 

How often do we pray to Jesus without faith but with bucket-fulls of complaints and accusations?

Don’t you care? Why don’t you answer? What’s wrong with you?

After Jesus calms the storm, we expect the disciples’ fears to be as calm as the sea. Instead, they are even more terrified. 

Jesus asleep on the cushion is a punching bag for our emotions. Asleep, he cannot dispute our complaints, our fears, or our version of events. 

Jesus standing and commanding the storm is intimidating and disturbing. He is no longer someone we can shake awake and push around. Jesus is not a servile employee behind the desk of God’s complaint department. Instead, he can demand our service and command our compliance. His power and position cannot be debated or bargained with. His rebuke of the storm may rebuke us as well. “Quiet. Be still.” We may be as terrified by a Jesus who calms storms as we are by the storms themselves.

After the storm, Jesus says, “Do you still have no faith?”

Whatever degree of faith we have after the storm, Jesus is willing to do great things through us, as he did through the disciples. Like the disciples, we must contemplate the fearful question, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Spend some time meditating on this question. Who is this Jesus?

As you do, may the storms of your heart be stilled and calmed by Christ. The winds and waves listen to his rebukes. We can, too.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to  be heard;
Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip. — Psalm 66.9

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

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 14 (Listen 3:45
Mark 4  (Listen 5:01)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 15 (Listen 3:36), Mark 5  (Listen 5:21)
Proverbs 16 (Listen 3:15), Mark 6  (Listen 7:23)

Read more about Fear in the Boat
So we will suffer and make our way through together with Christ, looking always to him who is with us in the boat.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Please consider becoming a donor. Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.