Last year we went travelling and had a hire car. We were fortunate to get an upgrade which gave us a car with all kinds of extra gizmos. One was 'Lane Assist' - sensors that could see the lane markings so the car would beep at you if you strayed out of lane. We also benefited from the built-in SatNav - handy since we were in a strange country with unfamiliar roads and place names. Both were guidance systems to help us with our driving and exploring the land ahead.
Note in both readings the background is a hostile environment. Jesus warns his followers that people or the authorities will turn on them just as they will turn on Jesus. Paul talks of his own trials and sufferings, and bluntly says 'everyone in Jesus will be persecuted'. As we come out of Lockdown I have been encouraging us to pray for Spiritual Awakening. Yet let us be clear, people may well be hostile to our message, with anger or a kind of blame to direct at God.
Yet note that it is quite possible for spiritual awakening and hostility to go together. That was often Paul's experience!
With that context we can explore the two readings which talk about two very special guidance systems that God has given us. In John 16 Jesus says that the Spirit will come and guide us into all the truth. This is the first system, which talks of the solid truth of God's purposes. Note these are truths already 'written up' in the Hebrew scriptures.
The Spirit guiding is God speaking today. It is Father, Son and Spirit working together in a perfect harmony to enable us, mere humans, to know what is real and what is the way forward.
Paul in the 2 Timothy passage urges Timothy to continue in the way of following Jesus that he has learned, a way he has been mentored in by Paul. Again that is a way that has deep roots in the Hebrew scriptures. Paul wonderfully describes scripture in verse 16 as 'God-breathed'. That is not God-dictated, but God-inspired by the same Spirit that Jesus talked of.
Paul notes that scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training. This is therefore the second guidance system. The 'rebuking and correcting' is like the Lane Assist - giving us a 'beep beep' to warn us to adjst our steering. Yet also it 'teaches and trains', i.e. it conditions us to learn instinctively to make the right decisions. A marathon runner must physically train of course, to build muscle and stamina. Yet a competitive runner will also learn through many training runs how to respond to different situations and conditions they may face in upcoming races.
We should understand that these two systems of Spirit and Scripture are meant to work together. We need both lane discipline and navigation! The Jewish leaders turning on Jesus knew their scriptures, but they completely missed the point and didn't recognise Jesus as the Messiah. We need therefore to learn to read scripture spiritually - Word & Spirit combined, with the Spirit helping us read.
Scripture is not simply a 'set text', but an open text to be read and wrestled with. For Countess Free Church I like to think that we 'take all scripture seriously'. That means we may not understand it all, we may struggle with some of it ... but we don't discard or ignore, but rather we wrestle with it with an openness to the Spirit to lead us in how we should live and operate.
So for us now the new key question and challenge is:
Key Qn: [UP] Where is God nudging you?
Challenge: Up your game with reading some scripture regularly
Use that key question as a 'soul question', i.e. ask it of people when you contact them for a chat. In raising your game it is not simply the amount of scripture you read, but your openness and depth of reflection. My regular habit before daily reading is to pray: 'Father thank you for this scripture, Jesus open it to me, and Spirit land in my heart what I need right now'. Doing this will help us keep in lane to walk rightly with Jesus, and will enable us to navigate with the bigger decisions - even should we face hostility or simply other distractions that might bump us around.