How to Read Prophetic Judgment

Scripture: Jude 5
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.

Reflection: How to Read Prophetic Judgment
By John Tillman

There are many passages in the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments that are meant to comfort us. But the more typical function of prophecy is to cause us discomfort.

Examples of both comforting and afflicting passages occur in our readings today—both in Jude and in Isaiah.

Comforting:
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! — Isaiah 30.18

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. — Jude 20-21

Afflicting:
“Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,
this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant. — Isaiah 30.12-13

Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. — Jude 10-11

When we read prophecy in the Old or New Testament, we often try to identify ourselves with one of the groups mentioned. Are we the prophet? Are we the Israelites? Are we Balaam? Are we the Gentile nations?

This can be an interesting intellectual exercise, but is often a waste of time. One reason is it is unhelpful is that when we do this we take it easy on ourselves.

We tend to identify ourselves as the Israelites when prophets are saying comforting things to Israel, but when the prophet is condemning Israel, we imagine ourselves as the righteous prophet and our evil government or evil culture as the target.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that much if we understand who is analogous to the nation of Israel or who is analogous to the nation of Babylon. It matters far more to understand why God is angry, what he requires of us, and what he wants to do through us if we return to him.

Prophecy can spur us on to love and good deeds, to mark a clear path of repentance and clarify the consequences of disobedience. But we blunt the point of prophecy’s spurs when we avoid the probability that we are the ones a prophecy is about. We miss the point of prophecy entirely when we weaponize it to attack others.

The best way to read prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the speaker, but as the spoken to. Judgment-filled prophecy is one case in scripture where it is safer to assume it’s about you than others. Once you do this, you can take whatever steps of grace-filled repentance the Holy Spirit directs you to.

Following this approach we will be far more uncomfortable reading prophecy, but our discomfort will lead to a more richly flourishing faith.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Open my eyes, that I may see the wonders of your law. — Psalm 119.18

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 30 (Listen – 5:52)
Jude 1 (Listen – 4:12)

Love’s Journey :: Advent’s Love

Reflection: Love’s Journey :: Advent’s Love
The Park Forum

The town of St. Joseph, 60 miles north of Kansas City, MO, originally served as a starting point for the Oregon Trail. In its heyday, the streets would have been filled with thousands of pioneers provisioning for the final time before “jumping off”—a term used for leaving civilization behind for the nearly half-year journey west.

Almost thirty years after the Civil War, in 1892, Katherine Kennicott Davis was born into a second-generation pioneer family who had settled in the old trailhead town. By the time Davis was born the railroad had expanded and St. Joseph was no longer as influential. Much like the town they lived in, Davis’ family was neither culturally elite or affluent, but even as a child she showed unique talent which would shape her life.

While pioneers risked everything to travel from St. Joseph into the promise and peril of the Wild West, Davis would take her own risks, cutting her own path east. After graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she braved trans-Atlantic travel to study at the Royal Academy of Music.

Davis returned to the US and, with a world-class education, dedicated herself to teaching children music at various schools across New England. The majority of the more than 600 pieces Davis composed during her lifetime were for the children she taught.

In 1941 Davis penned, “The Carol of the Drum,” which would be popularized as, “Little Drummer Boy” when the Trapp Family Singers picked it up in 1955. Despite her volume of work and level of talent, Davis isn’t widely known for any other song.

The story of the “Little Drummer Boy” embodies part of the beauty of Davis’ story. The song begins with a boy taking a risk to travel and sit with someone great. The boy is aware of—but undeterred by—his simple heritage, offering his musical talent with great diligence. Though many might overlook such a musician, he receives the prize upon which his hope was set: the love of the One whom he has been playing for all along.

ListenLittle Drummer Boy by Dolly Parton (4:36)

The Morning Psalm
Therefore my heart dances for joy, and in my song will I praise him. — Psalm 28.7

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 8 (Listen – 3:02)
3 John (Listen – 1:51)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 9 (Listen – 5:07) Jude (Listen – 4:12)
2 Chronicles 10 (Listen – 3:01) Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)

Idols of the Heart :: Weekend Reading List

Modern Christianity speaks often of “idolatry.” In once sense the term is outdated—harkening an era of statues and animism. Yet in another it is radically seasonable. Psychiatrist David Powlison explains:

What happens to the Gospel when idolatry themes are not grasped? “God loves you” typically becomes a tool to meet a need for self-esteem in people who feel like failures. The particular content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—”grace for sinners and deliverance for the sinned-against”—is down-played or even twisted into “unconditional acceptance for the victims of others’ lack of acceptance.”

Where “the Gospel” is shared, it comes across something like this: “God accepts you just as you are. God has unconditional love for you.” That is not the biblical Gospel, however. God’s love is not Rogerian unconditional positive regard writ large.

Dr. Powilson’s masterful work, Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair” explores the immense power idols have on modern life:

Idols define good and evil in ways contrary to God’s definitions. They establish a locus of control that is earth-bound: either in objects (e.g., lust for money), other people (“I need to please my critical father”), or myself (e.g., self-trusting pursuit of my personal agenda). Such false gods create false laws, false definitions of success and failure, of value and stigma. Idols promise blessing and warn of curses for those who succeed or fail against the law.

A culture’s idols are not simply its statues, but the things it pours the most energy and resources into worshiping. Ancient cultures built structures that survived millennia; U.S. investment portfolios designed around the 7 deadly sins outperform the S&P 500 every quarter. Startup investing Motif Investing explains:

Some luxuries see reduced demand during tough times. But smokers could keep smoking, drinkers keep drinking, and the lustful keep…lusting. Bad habits are hard to break. And when times are rough, who wants to even try? Nobody can predict the markets, but consumers are only human. And economic conditions may not be able to defeat their appetites for sinful stuff.

Christianity challenges the faithful to sacrifice their life of idolatry—not in a misguided attempt at moralism, but because the gospel offers something infinitely more valuable. Powilson concludes:

The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, “God accepts you just as Christ is. God has ‘contra-conditional’ love for you.” Christ bears the curse you deserve. Christ is fully pleasing to the Father and gives you His own perfect goodness. Christ reigns in power, making you the Father’s child and coming close to you to begin to change what is unacceptable to God about you. God never accepts me “as I am.” He accepts me “as I am in Jesus Christ.” The center of gravity is different. The true Gospel does not allow God’s love to be sucked into the vortex of the soul’s lust for acceptability and worth in and of itself. Rather, it radically de-centers people—what the Bible calls “fear of the Lord” and “faith”—to look outside themselves.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 28 (Listen – 4:49)
2 John (Listen – 1:50)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 29 (Listen – 3:55) 3 John (Listen – 1:51)
Isaiah 30 (Listen – 5:52) Jude (Listen – 4:12)

Monday’s Reading
Isaiah 31 (Listen – 1:49)
Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)

All Things New :: Advent’s Love

“Experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having),” observes Cornell University phycologist Thomas Gilovich. Research over the past decade has converted this reality from hypothesis to near-universal belief.

It is no coincidence that Google searches for spiritual experiences, while remaining exclusively a U.S. search term, have maintained a steady clip over the same decade. This, of course, isn’t a bad trend—God’s love is irresistibly wonderful.

In his book God’s Love, David Powlison explores the glory:

God’s love actively does you good. His love is full of blood, sweat, tears, and cries. He suffered for you. He fights for you, defending the afflicted. He fights with you, pursuing you in powerful tenderness.

The experience of God’s love draws us into relationship with him. This is where we have to fight our cultural instincts. Experiential purchases are transactional—we pay to receive a benefit which outlasts material purchases. If all we want is an experience with God we’ll miss the depth of his relationship with us.

Advent draws our hearts away from a commodified experience with Christ. Timothy Keller gets at the heart of the season when he says, “The religious person finds God useful, but the Christian finds God beautiful.”

How are we to rest in the beauty of God’s love? Advent reminds us it’s by setting the tune of our heart toward God’s return. Dr. Gilovich’s research came to the conclusion that, “Waiting for experiences tends to be more positive than waiting for possessions.” No wonder the language of Heaven, which lacks details of material inheritance, is dominated by our relationship and proximity to the Father.

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 9 (Listen – 5:07)
Jude (Listen – 4:12)

Spur a spiritual rhythm of refreshment right in your inbox
By joining this email list you are giving us permission to send you devotional emails each weekday and to communicate occasionally regarding other aspects of the ministry.
100% Privacy. We don't spam.