Dear Lord, thank you for all you have done and all you are doing. I look around and I see problems, and it’s easy for me to feel like they’re too much. But then I remember what you’ve brought me through. I see hope. Remind me of what I’m supposed to do today and to not let the whispers of discouragement or frustration sneak up and take over my thoughts. Help me to see those around me as you see them, and to hear them as you hear them, and to be the person you have called me to be. I’m not in this alone–you are with me and others are joining with you in these same goals. Give us strength and courage as we press on in love. Amen.
- Psalm 32
- Reading through Numbers 29-36; Deuteronomy 1-4
It’s sometimes thought that the Bible is what the Bible is, and that we encounter it in some kind of objective way. As if it is outside of the rest of our experiences. The reality is that we can never do that. We encounter the Bible a lot like we encounter people, with our moods, assumptions, priorities, influences all coming into how we read. Which is not somehow bad. We’re human, right? God made us, so it’s not like he’s wanting us to read in some kind of way that turns our thoughts off. People have read the Bible like that–or at least tried to–and then the Bible becomes just a task to accomplish, a daily reading of “just get it done.” Thoughts and questions can be troubling after all. Better not to ask. But then we get passive, and we don’t connect the Bible to our lives. We split off our religious life from the rest of our life, and then wonder where the joy went, the peace, the hope.
God doesn’t tell us stories for our entertainment and we don’t have a Bible so that when we get to heaven we’ll be sorted into better rooms based on how many books we’ve read and how many times we’ve read through the Bible. If we’re not engaging the readings, there’s no point in reading at all. Not that we have to spend hours journaling our reflections. But we do need to keep in mind how we are being shaped and what questions the texts are raising–both about God’s work and our participation in it.
It’s easy to be seduced, is what I’m saying. “Oh, God doesn’t care about that,” we say. We get drawn in by thoughts of nicer things, or pulled in by entertainment, or coddled by thoughts of our status. Step by step we’re excusing that burst of anger, watching something we shouldn’t, or whatever other mild-to-serious indulgence of our chosen sins we might overlook. It’s no big deal. They’re getting away with it.
And we want what they have. We want to get the benefits of life with God–and the benefits of a indulged life now. We want others to cater to us. And if God gives us a position of authority or of privilege, we think God’s doing it for our own sake, so might as well make the most out of it, and other people should step up and do what is right for us.
Somehow God’s will drifts into looking a lot like our will, only with religious language. We’re serving idols–whether of money, or lusts of any kind–but we think that’s it’s all fine.
Only it’s not. And it’s not fine because it’s a betrayal of God’s work in our lives and a betrayal of those around us. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we want what we want and if we run after it without God’s blessing, we cause chaos in our midst.
We want God and we want the world. That’s not a game that God lets us play for long.
In these OT readings, it’s easy to get caught up in the questions about God’s fairness. It’s one thing for us to celebrate the freeing of an enslaved people. It’s another thing to read about how God is commanding killing other people and taking their land. It’s easy to see this sort of God as different than what we read about in the New Testament. Bad cop God, good cop Jesus. Only it’s not like that.
God is committed to the salvation and transformation of the world. He could just wash it all away, but he has chosen not to do that again. He is working in the midst of complicated society and distracted, corrupted people. How to stay on God’s path? That’s the challenge of life in this world and the challenge of the passages we’re reading. Even in blessings–maybe especially in blessings–we can get pulled off track. God’s continued goal is to create a people. People need a place to live and food to eat and justice. But people also have a tendency to take the good and corrupt the process. And then they pull others into the corruption. The story starts going backwards again. God may not be willing to wash away the whole world, but he does seem open to cutting out the rot.
That’s not just a problem for the people, it’s a problem for leaders too. Moses himself wasn’t given a pass. Other people aren’t given a pass. Do we think God is convinced when we justify ourselves?
Keep on the path of God’s obedience. This isn’t to earn salvation, this is because we’ve been saved and are now part of God’s continued work in bringing hope.
Step one: stay focused. Don’t get caught up in the world, because then there’s no progress and no help, and rather than being a people of hope, we become a people of competition and vanity and distraction.
The passages this week cover a lot of ground but really emphasize the importance of walking that narrow path, not getting pulled to the right or the left, not justifying our distractions or getting lulled into disobedience. We have different issues and questions and justifications in our era, but we’re still people like people have always been.
The question is whether we are committed to being God’s people. We’ve been made alive through Christ, in the power of the Spirit we live in a new freedom of hope and life.
Don’t embrace the rot of death anymore. In big things or in small things.
- Reading through Hebrews 9-13
Have faith! Do you have faith?
Common language in the church. Also, rather Christianese. Christianese is that way we use terms or ideas as if they’re commonly understood. Only far too often, they’re more like buzz words or mantras, not only confusing for others but not really even meaningful to us. The words become decorations in our conversations, a way to show others we are on the right team and know what we’re talking about.
It’s like the guy who subscribes to home repair magazines, gets a lot of nice tools in his garage, but doesn’t actually fix anything. Yeah, I’ve been that guy. I like the idea of being handy, but actually being handy takes up time and assumes I not only spend time doing the project but learning how to do the project, how to use the tools, how to not use the tools (key for keeping all of one’s fingers). But if I just know the terms and own the tools, I can go to Ace hardware or talk with friends and still get the ego boost of being part of the handy men club.
It takes a lot of humility (or at least some humility) to ask for help or teaching or admit that maybe I don’t know where to start when I need to replace a sprinkler head. That is supposed to be something a guy knows!
The trouble is that knowing the lingo and having the tools can get a person to thinking they actually do know what they’re doing. That’s a good way to break things and cause more trouble. And that person is also really hard to work with. They think they know more than they know, and heaven help us if others believe they know, because they start leading people into bad situations or bad habits.
So, what is faith? Faith isn’t just having a set of beliefs about something, having the right terminology in place, or having a set of assumptions about how the world was created or when it will end. We like to equate faith with “opinions,” as if faith is somehow opposite to facts or faith is somehow a “get out of explanation” card. That’s missing the whole call of faith. Faith is not a way to excuse either our ignorance or our laziness.
What is faith like in the Bible? It’s not just people sitting around and feeling good that they believe the right things about religious questions. Faith is action. In this way, faith is really more like trust. We can have faith in someone based on our previous experiences with them, but our faith in them is shown when we take a risk in trusting them. The bigger the risk the more faith we have (hopefully!).
Faith is acting in the present in light of what we trust about God’s work in the past and in the future. It’s not about arguments between other religions or a category we stay in. It’s a way we live. It’s a way we live even when things don’t initially look like they’re going the right way. It’s staying on the highway even when people are saying, “You’re going the wrong way!” Not because you are stubborn and don’t want to listen. But because you looked at a map and they didn’t. You have faith in the map. So you keep driving. Maybe the map is wrong. Maybe they looked at better maps? What to do? Stopping doesn’t get a person anywhere, and turning around might get you more lost. If you’ve seen the map, live out your faith. Keep going.
That’s the calling of faith in God. Scripture tells us the way God works, what God values, how God is interacting with this world. Do you believe it? Honestly, God doesn’t care if you simply believe something about it. Are you trusting God in your life in ways that show you have faith in what God has done and trust him for what God is doing? Do you have faith to keep driving according to the “map” without getting caught up in the distractions or discouraged.
God has done a work. You’re not alone on this path. There are women and men who have walked this road and have trusted God with everything they have, and it wasn’t in vain! God is doing a work.
Faith isn’t a set of beliefs. It’s knowing God, trusting God, so much we live in ways that reflect what we know to be true, even if it hasn’t happened yet. Not without evidence. Because of the evidence we have of God’s faithfulness and commitment in the past. God is the God of Promise. God is faithful. Will we be people who walk the road of trust?
5. Psalm 37
If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or having started year, don’t worry. Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week, and catch up with what you’ve missed in future years.
Also, I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff!
And, since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.
Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other. Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering. Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.
Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.