Mystery in the Ashes

Scripture Focus: Job 11.7-9
7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
9 Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.

Ephesians 3.17b-18
17b I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…

Reflection: Mystery in the Ashes
By John Tillman

Job’s friends tried to explain his tragedies as punishments, implying that Job must have done something wrong to cause his suffering. Zophor takes the gloves off and directly attacks Job, hitting him with an angry, accusatory rant. Zophor says Job’s sins are so many that God has forgotten some of them.

Zophar claimed no one could probe the mysteries of God’s action or knowledge. “What can you do or know? God’s actions and knowledge are higher, deeper, longer, and wider…” Ironically, Zophar was simultaneously claiming to understand God’s actions and knowledge.

Some people want a logical and predictable god. Do good? Get immediate, tangible rewards. Do bad? Get immediate, tangible punishment. This turns faith and obedience into cost-benefit analysis and god into a robot who blesses when we push the “bless me” buttons and punishes when we push the “punish me” buttons. 

God is not a transactional robot god. Compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, God maintains love to thousands, and forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. (Exodus 34.6-7) God is relational, complicated, and at times illogical: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them?” (Psalm 8.4

What Zophar thought illogical and impossible happens. God came down to speak to Job. But that was just a taste. Eventually all the mysteries of God are revealed in Jesus—the very ones Zophar thought unknowable.

Jesus is not a robot god distributing tragedies as punishments or blessings as rewards. He’s not a distant God, who is ever-so-sorry you are hurting and tells you to buck up. He’s not a God like Job’s friends who will sit with you awhile but then lose patience and say something hurtful.

Where is Jesus in Job-like moments? In the ashes with us. Perhaps, like Job, there is mystery in the ashes we cannot know without going through the pain.

Jesus is God right in the midst of our hurting and he is there to reveal the mystery of God to us. Who demonstrates the height, depth, width, and length of the love of God? Jesus. (Ephesians 3.14-21) Who shows us the Father? Jesus. (John 14.6-9) Who blots out our sins from God’s remembrance? Jesus. (Hebrews 8.6, 12-13; Jeremiah 31.34) Who reveals to us the mystery of God? Jesus. (Colossians 2.2-3)

Our only joy in blessing or suffering. Jesus. Our only hope, in life or death. Jesus.

Music: Christ Our Hope in Life and Death — Keith & Kristyn Getty

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah—that is Christ—is coming; and when he comes he will explain everything.” Jesus said, “That is who I am, I who speak to you.” — John 4.25-26

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

Today’s Readings
Job 11 (Listen 2:01
John 11 (Listen 6:37)

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A Glorious Mystery

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 3.1-6, 14-15
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

Reflection: A Glorious Mystery
By John Tillman

Paul’s Ephesians 3 prayer, beginning in verse 14, is well known. It is often memorized. Portions of it are often in liturgies or prayer guides. But it is an interrupted prayer. What is so important Paul would stop praying?

Paul begins to pray in verse 1, but after just getting started, he breaks in the middle of a sentence. Most modern translations include a dash: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—…” 

Paul just can’t go on without making sure that the Ephesians remember something: the mystery of Christ.

When you read or watch a good mystery, the revelation of the truth is, by design, a surprise. However, with the best sort of mysteries, once we know the truth and reflect on the plot and the clues, we think, “Ahhh! It was so obvious!” If the clues don’t make sense or if the vital clues were kept from us, the revelation isn’t as satisfying. Only highly skilled authors can write mysteries that do not violate this principle of fairness.

The mystery of Christ is that God always intended people of every race, not just Jews, to be part of the kingdom of God. No tribe, tongue, or nation will be unrepresented and the Gentile nations will not be second-class citizens or immigrants. God isn’t just handing out green cards or worker permits. (Joshua 9:20-27) Not only will all people be full citizens, they’ll be family. All ethnicities will be “heirs together with Israel.” Heirs of God’s promise. 

This mystery surprised many people in the first century, including Paul himself and Jesus’ closest disciples. However, this mystery does not violate the principle of fairness. When we look back through the scriptures, as seen through Christ, (Luke 24.25-27) we say, “Ahhh! It was so obvious!” The clues were right there all along.

When we read the Old Testament, we are reading the mystery backward. Knowing the solution, the truth, we can see more clearly the clues that God, a highly skilled author, placed there.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, in which he prays to “God the father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name…” makes more sense when we understand this mystery. From many peoples, God is making one people. From many families, God is making one family.  It is more than we would imagine he would do—a glorious mystery.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. — Psalm 92.12

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 25 (Listen 2:50) 
Ephesians 3 (Listen 2:41)

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Fasting from the Feast

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 3.10-12
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Scripture: Luke 14.17-18
At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses.

*As we enter the unintended fast of social distancing and canceling of many events and pastimes, may we make more time for drawing close to God in prayer and God’s Word.

Reflection: Fasting from the Feast
By John Tillman

We already know how to fast. We have simply been fasting from the wrong things.

Our culture has steadily, for decades, been encouraging us to abstain from spiritual disciplines in favor of activities that we are led to believe are more profitable.

Our culture tells us that rather than read scripture in the mornings, we must pound through more emails. Productivity trumps biblical literacy.

We are told rather than praying at noon, we should skip lunch to work at our desk or take lunch with a valuable business contact. Productivity and self-promotion trumps prayerfulness and relational spirituality.

Rather than living simply and giving extravagantly, we reverse the equation, making our giving a simple percentage that satisfies a legalistic requirement or gains a tax benefit. Moral satisfaction trumps active compassion.

Rather than draw away from the world to worship in community with other believers, we draw away from others to worship with our headphones in—shutting the world out via podcast or streaming music and worship services.

When we have had just enough of God to make us feel more emotionally healthy and morally superior, we wish to move on to productivity, profit, and success. (All with the implied blessing of God of course.)

“Many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted him to do, and we should be obliged if he would now leave us alone.” — C.S. Lewis

We’ve pushed our chairs back from the banquet table of God’s Word and placed our hand over our glass to prevent being refilled with the wine of his Holy Spirit.

God invites us to the feast of the kingdom. But many are fasting from God’s feast in order to binge on the benefits we can wring from the world.

May we return to the table and to the fellowship of believers with gusto, pushing aside distractions and false supplements that aren’t real spiritual food. As the voice of Christ cries through the prophet, Isaiah, “Why spend money on what is not bread?

Spiritual disciplines of daily Bible reading, prayer, and meditation are not the spices and subtle flavorings of life—they are the main course. Everything else is sprinkles of garnish.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me. — Psalm 31.3

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 10 (Listen – 3:34) 
Ephesians 3 (Listen – 2:41)

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May we fill our unexpected margin not merely with more streaming entertainment, but with a more serious approach and commitment to prayer.

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Fasting is cutting off the weights our broken world hangs on our balloon so that we remember to rise, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s Prayer for the Power of Faith

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 3.16
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being

Reflection: Paul’s Prayer for the Power of Faith
By John Tillman

Paul does not presume faith or spiritual power and neither can we. We also must kneel humbly, admitting our powerless state and our tendency towards unbelief. Let us pray this prayer on our own behalf and on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.

Prayer for the Power of Faith:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father…”

We are your children, adopted through Christ into your family.
We kneel, humbling ourselves, acknowledging our poverty, our nakedness, our need.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being”

We do not need your power only for great deeds of faith.
We need your power for every moment and miniscule act of goodness.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

We need Christ to dwell in our hearts by faith. 
It is not that we do not have faith, Lord.
We do not lack belief. But we struggle with putting our faith in other things.
We are full of self-belief. We believe in our wealth. Our faith is in stockpiling resources. Our faith is in our human wisdom. 
Empty us of these beliefs.
Fill us with true faith in you alone.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Fill us with the Spirit as Jesus prayed.
May we fulfill the words of Christ when he said that we would do greater things than he did.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…

Our imaginations are sinful, Lord. Do immeasurably more than we can imagine.
Do immeasurably more than give us wealth. 
Do immeasurably more than give us power. 
Do immeasurably more than give us honor.
Give us service to perform.
Give us needs to meet.
Give us debts to cancel.
Give us trouble for which you are the only answer.

“…according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they which 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
1 Kings 6 (Listen – 4:30)
Ephesians 3 (Listen – 2:41)

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