Default Settings for Scripture

Scripture Focus: 2 Peter 3.16
He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Reflection: Default Settings for Scripture
By John Tillman

The “default settings” of our mindsets about scripture have a big effect on our ability to make use of them in the ways Paul and Peter intend. Here are three to adopt.

The Bible is not written to us as much as it is written for us.
The Bible is, in one context, written by God to us. Paul tells us all scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3.16) But in another sense, texts are written by their authors to the audience they address. When Paul wrote 2nd Timothy, he was writing to Timothy in Ephesus, not to us. Paul also was not talking about the Bible that we have today. He was referring to the Tanakh and the versions of the gospels and church writings circulating at that time. Paul’s own writing is referred to by Peter as “scripture” so we know that early church leaders considered certain contemporary writings on a higher level than simple correspondence.

The Bible is not so much about us as it is about Jesus. 
We have a tendency to place ourselves in the stories of the Bible as we read them, experiencing them as we would literature. This can be helpful but we need caution and humility when placing ourselves in the story and we tend to overestimate how important our place in the story is. It is far more helpful to understand how the scripture relates to Jesus (as he explained to the Emmaus road disciples) than to understand how it relates to us.

The Bible speaks to us not only about the past, but about our future.
We will consistently misunderstand scripture if we do not labor first to understand its original meaning to its original readers. This means looking to the past. But scripture frequently speaks to us “from” the future when relating promises and prophecy that have yet to be fulfilled. We can look back and forward in the scripture at the same time.

Scripture is not written as much to us, about us, or about the past as it is for us, about Jesus, and about our future. 

These seemingly contradictory mindsets work together in tension. Just as a suspension bridge supports the weight of travelers through the tension between its anchoring points, scripture supports our spiritual journey by the tension between these truths.

May we walk in them.

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

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 22 (Listen – 3:53)
2 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:21)

Read more about It’s in the Bible
God has equally difficult work ahead of him to fulfill his purpose in us. We are soaked in and blinded by our broken, post-truth world.

Read more about Keep Drinking the Milk of the Word
Peter, and by extension every Christian, is called to feed a flock, starting with the young. Starting with milk. Milk changes a lamb to a ram.

Sufferings and False Prophets

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 21.3-4
3 At this my body is racked with pain,
    pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor;
I am staggered by what I hear,
    I am bewildered by what I see.
4 My heart falters,
    fear makes me tremble;
the twilight I longed for
    has become a horror to me.

2 Peter 2.1-3
2 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you…2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.

2 Peter 2.9-10
9…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. 10 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.

Reflection: Sufferings and False Prophets
By John Tillman

Peter, in his time, warned of false prophets by looking back in history. We can learn from this method as well. In ancient times and today, when prophets warn of disaster, people often reject the simple, life-saving courses of action they recommend in favor of idolatry, conspiracies, and lies. 

Despite Isaiah’s repeated warnings, and those of his successors Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the people of Judah and Israel remained stubbornly in denial about the coming exile and suffering. 

False prophets of ancient Judah misled the people about the future, maintaining that Babylon would never conquer Jerusalem. They accused faithful prophets of being obsessed with gloom-and-doom. Some were maligned for being unpatriotic or hating their country. Some were arrested, killed, or accused of conspiracy against the king.

The false prophets of Peter’s day twisted the teachings of Christ to endorse radical individual freedom that rejected repentance, responsibility for actions, and personal morality. One of Peter’s main concerns was that the truth of the gospel would be maligned and brought into disrepute by these false teachers. 

False prophets we deal with today may be religious or political in nature but what they have in common is typically telling us exactly what we want most to hear. 

Like Isaiah, in a time of suffering we can set a watch, a lookout, trusting that, in the future, we will see justice done. Isaiah saw the eventual destruction of Babylon, including some of the details of the account of the fall of Babylon as experienced by Daniel. (Isaiah 21.5; Daniel 5.1-5) But rather than joy, Isaiah is physically sick and disturbed by the destruction. He had longed for the twilight of this kingdom that would take his people into exile, but when he saw the darkness fall, he was terrified and grief-stricken. 

We are confident, as Peter assures, (2 Peter 2.9) that God can both save and bring justice.

Like Isaiah, may we see beyond our current sufferings to God’s future for us. May we have confidence in the justice our God will bring on false prophets and the oppressors of today and tomorrow. And when we see their suffering, may we not rejoice, but weep.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “So always treat others as you like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets.” — Matthew 7:12

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 21 (Listen – 2:32)
2 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:52)

Read more about Slavery to Maturity
Israel gained political freedom, yet were morally and spiritually fragile and prone to deceptions by Balaams and Ba’als and idols of the desert.

Read more about Blessing and Woes :: A Guided Prayer
Luke adds the woeful warning that when we are treated well, we are like the false prophets of old.

Naked Humility, Unexpected Salvation

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 19.23-25
23 The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

Reflection: Naked Humility, Unexpected Salvation
By John Tillman

When disaster or invasion or pandemic threatened, the people of Israel and Judah expected God to restore them, his chosen people. It isn’t that they did not expect judgment for sin. Rather, they, like many modern Christians, never recognized that the way they were conducting worship and politics was despised by God.

Despite being in denial about it, in a hypothetical exile, they would readily have expected salvation from God. But they would not have expected him to rescue anyone else. Isaiah’s pattern of referring to present judgment while holding on to future hope takes this inconceivable, unexpected turn in the concluding verses of chapter 19. 

Isaiah predicts something that no one in the ancient world would think possible. Egypt and Assyria united in worship as brothers in Israel? Unthinkable. These nations were not just Israel and Judah’s enemies—they were enemies of each other. The image Isaiah paints of the three countries—united by a highway, speaking a common language (of Hebrew faith), and attending a common place of worship—was a ludicrous impossibility.

We don’t live in that time just yet. We live a time when enemies, left and right, will strip naked and humiliate their opponents—a time of angrily bared teeth and shamefully bared buttocks. (Isaiah 20.4, 3.24)

How do we remain faithful without resorting to the weapons of shame or the strongarm tactics of anything-goes politics?

Isaiah models acceptance of derision, embodied humility, and expectant hope. Before Judah’s allies, the Egyptians, were humiliated and marched naked into captivity, Isaiah gave up his own freedom and swallowed his pride by going naked for three years, predicting the coming time of violence and shame.

Isaiah also shows us the power of accepting suffering as a discipline, while at the same time setting our hope on the future. Isaiah spends little time celebrating the downfall of others but focuses on Judah’s own religious sins and wretched political ethics.

May we practice naked humility, humbling ourselves before we are humbled and stripping away pride before it is stripped away.

May we expect, anticipate, and celebrate the unexpected grace and mercy of our God poured out on unexpected worshipers.

What kind of God brings peace to those perpetually at war with one another? Our God does.
What kind of God restores the unexpected and the undeserving? Our God does.
What kind of God saves people who are not his people? Our God does.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I love you, O Lord my strength, O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven. — Psalm 18.1

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 19-20 (Listen – 4:49)
2 Peter 1 (Listen – 3:06)

Read more about Different Kind of Exile
This repost from 2018 cannot be more applicable. Too many of us are ignorantly using our “freedom” to cover up our evil selfish desires in the midst of this COVID-19 response.

Read more about Hope Amidst Destruction
Even among the destruction of what is coming to Judah in Isaiah’s prophecies, there is hope. God promises to place his glory over the remnant, like a tent or shelter.

No Such Thing as God Forsaken

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 17.10-11
10 You have forgotten God your Savior; 
you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. 
Therefore, though you set out the finest plants 
and plant imported vines, 
11 though on the day you set them out, you make them grow, 
and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud, 
yet the harvest will be as nothing 
in the day of disease and incurable pain. 

Reflection: No Such Thing as God Forsaken
By John Tillman

Isaiah has condemnation to go around. 

No matter how evil the surrounding cities have been, however, Isaiah always circles back to remind Judah and Israel that they have been unfaithful and that judgment is coming. “You have forgotten God, your savior…” (Isaiah 17.10)

It can be dangerous and prideful to read biblical prophecies as if we are the righteous prophet. This may apply to a narrow group of people and circumstances but, more often than not, we will find greater insights in prophetic texts by assuming that we are the ones being spoken to, corrected, and condemned as unrighteous. This assumption reaps great rewards in helping us understand why God is angry, what he requires of us, and how we must return to him.

People love to point out sin in others, elbowing them in the ribs and saying, “the preacher is talking about you.” However, confronting our neighbor with a jab in the ribs (or a stinging Facebook comment) is an immature reaction to God’s truth. The mature disciple does not use scripture primarily to poke one’s neighbor’s ribs but to prick one’s own heart.

Like Isaiah’s audience, we may be tempted to shout  “amens” when our “enemies” are condemned. However, maturity is shown when we agree with God not about others’ sins but about our own. We prove ourselves to be Christ’s disciples when we celebrate the salvation of our enemies, as the Damascus Christian community celebrated the conversion of Paul, who became God’s chosen instrument to take the gospel to the nations, including the condemned city-state of Damascus. 

“There is no such thing as a God forsaken town.” — Carolyn Arends 

Paul saw Damascus as a city containing his enemies and the Christian community thought similarly of Paul. Paul was blinded so that both groups could learn to see differently. May our eyes be similarly blinded and our vision similarly improved.

It may be a long road and a long exile between condemnation and redemption. May we not lose hope in our God or hope for our cities. Let us not forget our God, our savior, our rock, our fortress. May we resist the urge to apply judgmental texts to others before we have humbly examined our own hearts. May we never celebrate the destruction or condemnation of others. May we celebrate instead the redemption of sinners and the welcoming of outcasts into God’s family.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I love you, O Lord my strength, O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven. — Psalm 18.1

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 17-18 (Listen – 3:44)
1 Peter 5 (Listen – 2:11)

Read more about How Not to Read Scripture
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.

Read more about How to Read Prophetic Judgment
The best way to read prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the speaker, but as the spoken to.

Different Kind of Exile

Scripture Focus: 
1 Peter 2.15-17
For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

From John: This repost from 2018 cannot be more applicable. Too many of us are ignorantly using our “freedom” to cover up our evil selfish desires in the midst of this COVID-19 response.

Reflection: Different Kind of Exile
By John Tillman

In 1 Peter 2, we see that the scattered exiles from Jerusalem must live in submission to masters, whether harsh or kind. Their lives—their good deeds—are literally the arguments they are to defend themselves with.

In Isaiah, we see a different message to the soon to be exiled. It is a taunt for their enemies to be used in the distant future after the current hearers are long dead and a future generation is restored.

But as Christians go into exile in the rising anti-Christian culture, we don’t seem to be willing to serve our oppressors in love. We want to taunt them now, not later.

As the exiled people of God, Peter tells us to silence the ignorant not by shouting them down, but through service, respect, love, and honor.

Peter encourages his exiles not to allow the oppression and suffering they are going through to be something that crushes their faith. Instead they are to allow the weight of their suffering to press them deeper into the footprints of Jesus Christ who has walked the path of suffering before us.

Living as outcasts in society has nearly always brought healing to the church through suffering. The historical church that suffers, tightens its grasp of the gospel as it loses worldly influence and power. The church that suffers scatters, spreading the gospel to new areas and communicating it in new ways. The church that is oppressed, attacked, sidelined, and shunned, is shunted back onto the narrow path of obedience to Christ.

Peter’s words about living in a pagan society have always been applicable, but they seem especially appropriate to our times. Most people who don’t accept Christianity aren’t concerned with our theology. They are concerned by our actions.

They need to see the argument of our actions line up with our words, and they need to see the integrity with which we suffer.

In this world, we are cast out. In the renewed world we will be brought in. May that day come soon. And may we bring many following behind us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 14 (Listen – 5:04) 
1 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:48)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 15 (Listen – 1:34), 1 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:30)
Isaiah 16 (Listen – 2:32), 1 Peter 4 (Listen – 2:50)

Read more about The Mingled Prayers of Exiles
We abandon hope in princes, kings, or human power, taking refuge only in you, Lord. (Psalm 118.1-9)

Read more about In Denial in Exile
The elders of Israel…were continually in denial about their judgment and exile.

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