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.

From the Crucible of Suffering

Scripture Focus: Job 6.2
Oh, that my grief could actually be weighed
And placed in the balances together with my tragedy [to see if my grief is the grief of a coward]! (The Amplified Bible)

Reflection: From the Crucible of Suffering
By Jada Swanson

With these words, Job responds to the accusations of Eliphaz. He felt that he was being unjustly judged by his friends. Since they had not suffered the great loss that he had, there was no way for them to understand his grief. The raw emotions that are expressed cannot be truly understood unless one has walked this journey.

It is easy to see God’s grace when things are going well. But in the midst of suffering—when we don’t sense any positive change in our circumstances—we can start to question God’s goodness and his love. Not to mention, navigating the advice of others while in the midst of great pain and suffering can be an added trial. To be sure, Job’s friends doled out quite a bit.

Suffering and brokenness are common experiences to which all who live in this world can relate. Yet, many tend to gloss over suffering, thinking it is unspiritual to dwell upon. The pain of suffering is like a visit with an unwelcome friend. Still, the importance of sitting with this intrusive companion, learning from the experience, and, in the end, being transformed cannot be minimized. It is essential in navigating the journey of suffering and loss.

There is a deep richness that comes to people who face suffering biblically. A key to this richness is a joy and a contentment that difficult experiences cannot steal. Unfortunately, many Christians do not look at suffering in this way, and run from it, instead of facing it head-on.

Are you in the midst of a trial, experiencing great loss, suffering without hope? You may wonder is God being too heavy-handed? Or if this kind of suffering is “normal” for a Christian’s life? Those are honest questions. And, sometimes, the answers do not come as quickly as we would like.

In the crucible of significant suffering, profound good often emerges. In these times, we can be assured that our powerful, tender God is with us, helping us discover meaning and purpose in the trials we experience and the suffering we endure.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; incline your ear to me and hear my words. — Psalm 17.6

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

Today’s Readings
Job 6 (Listen -2:56)
Romans 10 (Listen -3:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 7 (Listen -2:23) Romans 11 (Listen -5:23)
Job 8 (Listen -2:09) Romans 12 (Listen -2:58)

Read more about Meaning In Suffering
Because there is meaning in suffering we can refocus our attention toward the outcome.

Read more about Suffering for Our True Identity
It is not our goal to get the world to like us. In fact, we should not be surprised when they hate us.

The Grace of Holding Space

Scripture Focus: Job 5:27
We have studied life and found all this to be true.
Listen to my counsel, and apply it to yourself.

Reflection: The Grace of Holding Space
By Jada Swanson

Eliphaz continues to share his thoughts, encouraging Job to simply turn to God and everything would be alright. When the fact remains, Job never turned away from God to begin with. To his credit, this is what Eliphaz’s tradition has led him to believe. Sadly, he is a misinformed theologian. Which, no doubt, many of us have encountered or, perhaps, we have been at one time or another.

As Christ-followers, we are called to carry one another’s burdens. However, when someone is navigating grief, a traumatic situation, or a horrific loss (relationship, job, etc.), we must resist the need to try and fix the problem, heal the hurt, or repair the damage, and, instead, embrace the tension that exists. Although it can be awkward, during these sacred times, silence is our ally. Instead of expressing empty platitudes or well-meaning, but unhelpful Christianeze expressions, choosing to simply be present with another is the most loving alternative, even if the silence is deafening.

What is most needed in these times is a willingness to simply “hold space” for another. What does it mean to hold space for someone else? Author Heather Plett describes it in this way,

“It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control … To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.”

God, help us all to become comfortable with the necessary response of holding space for another. May we sincerely seek and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance during those times.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery.
Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant who puts his trust in you. — Psalm 86.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Job 5 (Listen -2:29)
Romans 9 (Listen -5:15)

Read more about Constant Comfort in Suffering
When every other source of joy is dried up…the stream of God’s mercy flows on as freely as ever.

Read more about What to Expect When Suffering
When in suffering, we can at times be surprised by the emotions that are stirred. We can encounter deep sadness, anguish, and even rage.

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