Dear Lord, I come before you today with a lot on my mind and a lot going on. I know you are in charge and I know you are working things out in ways I can’t even imagine. I don’t always know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, but I trust you. Help me to live out this trust throughout my day and throughout my week. Help me to live out this trust in how I respond to others and how I respond to the news or things going on at work/school. Teach me and guide me to be the person you want me to be in all the places I go to and all the time I have in this life. Be with those who need to see you and I pray for those who I know who are struggling. Amen.
- Psalm 38
- Reading through Deuteronomy 5-20
This is good stuff! I’ve said in earlier posts that reading through the Law can get tedious at times. It’s helpful to think about it in terms of God creating a community and using the patterns to help them think about new kind of life together. Even still, the list of rules and obligations and details can make for slow reading. We appreciate the laws in our society, but few of us want to read legal textbooks.
Deuteronomy is noteworthy because Jesus used it in his “battle of the Bible” during his temptations in the wilderness. Remember Matthew 4? He also used these passages to help sum up the whole of the law in Matthew 22. It’s not enough to know passages from the Bible, after all, as passages can be used to justify all sorts of wrong behavior or assumptions. The challenge is to know both the content of the Bible and how it interprets this content.
What does God want of us? What should our priorities be? What do we need to avoid?
Not as a list of do’s and don’ts , but as a calling to be whole, and free, and in tune with God’s work and in being in tune with this becoming a people of blessing. These passages are important because they contain the 10 commandments, but far too often we take those as a religious stance, not a living way of life that orients us in love.
We are to live together among people, not get caught in jealousy or fall into shame, we’re to love others and that means treating them with respect.
We are to love God, and that means not treating God as a means to an end, or as childhood friend we can abandon if we meet cooler kids.
We are to resist temptations to go other directions or to follow wrong ways of life not because God wants to isolate us or like rules for their own sake. Doing those things tears us down and tears us away, even and especially if we think we can handle it or its no big deal. The brain is very good about rationalizing behavior and very good about hiding our own transitions away from hope and fullness. Our devotion gets broken down piece by piece, and then we wonder where the hope is or the courage or the love.
God calls us to live in a new way because God really wants us to experience life in full, together with others and together with this world. God thinks what he made is good and wants us to experience this goodness. But we think we know better, and others around us think they know better, and then we lose sight of God’s work. But God doesn’t abandon us. He leads us and guides us, and sometimes disciplines us, honing us to be who he has called us to be.
It’s not always an easy journey. But it’s worthwhile. Making it so, so important to continue to come back to these chapters as reminders of God’s purposes for encouragement on our own journey. I’ve read this many times, in fact, but I found tears coming to my eyes as I read these chapters again.
I needed the reminders of hope and promise this week.
These chapters of Deuteronomy don’t really need extra commentary. They’re bringing it all together–all that happened before and what is going to happen next. They give an interpretive key for how we are to think not only about the Exodus narrative, but how we’re to think about God’s whole mission in this world.
- Reading through 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians
Hooray for Jesus! We have been saved from our sins and saved into a new way of life. We have hope for God’s total reformation, renewing this world in light of his will and power. We enter into salvation with excitement and joy, earnest embrace of new possibilities. We seek out teaching and yearn for spiritual conversations. We listen to worship music and seek to find ways to contribute to our church and to those around us. Life seems so amazing in the dawning of the Spirit’s transformative work.
But, after a while, the fire cools. We get into a rhythm of life, maybe getting busier at work or having to ferry kids to and fro. Or, we may get to thinking, what’s the point of helping others? It’s all about going to heaven and that’s happening soon, so whatever we do in this life is really just a waiting pattern. How long are we going to wait?
This all isn’t a new challenge. First the excitement and then the realities of daily life. Knowing that Jesus is going to return gives us a kind of hope, but sometimes a sort of resigned hope. For the Thessalonians this was becoming a problem. Some people acted like faith was more like winning a lottery. What’s the point of working or striving at all? Jesus is coming back soon! What’s the point of living right? Jesus has put everything in order.
Only that’s not right thinking at all. Paul makes this very clear in what are really the most “letter like” of anything we’ve read yet so far. It’s like we’re reading other people’s mail. Of course, we’ve been invited to read it. Because we can deal with the very same problems.
I know I am. I know God has been doing a work in my life over the years. But I quite literally have no idea what next year has in store.
I have a job contract until June. After that? My field is among the very few where there’s really no jobs these days. I apply and apply for permanent positions, but nothing happens. I could very well get another contract extension with my present job, but no promises have been made and expectations are decidedly middling.
We live in Sacramento, but do not have any family here and while I am certainly committed to our church and my daughter loves her school, I don’t know how to stay in this area looking ahead. So, everything, just about everything, in life is in flux. It’s been this way for a while, a year-to-year existence where every year for much of the last few decades has been a mystery.
I’ve had times I’ve indulged anxiety over the years. I’ve had times I’ve indulged resignation. What’s the point of trying if things aren’t going to fall into place? I’ve also had long seasons where I did the work in front of me, but I felt that creeping shadow of doubt always around the corner.
Faith, in this kind of life, isn’t pretty wrapping around a regularly functioning middle-class pattern. It’s quite literally life and death, courage and perseverance, for me. If I don’t have faith, I fall to the side. I can’t do that. Not for myself, my family, or my community. So I have to have hope that God who started a good work will lead me, us, to a place of renewal. I have to have faith that my work isn’t in vain, and that the daily tasks aren’t just spinning my wheels, but are part of my calling, even if I don’t right now know what shape this is going to take in the future.
The key issue here has to do with what is called “eschatology.” Formally, that’s the big term for what we might call the “end times” or “last things.” Christianity is a message about our past (we’re sinners) and our present (we have salvation in Christ) but also about my future, your future, and the whole world’s future.
The future is some pretty intriguing and enticing stuff. In a way, though, it can be its own kind of idol. We worship possibilities and get seduced by wrong ways of thinking about it. Christian culture is full of this: when is it happening? who can we blame? what are the signs? who is our enemy? We then turn the future into a source of present fear and anxiety. That’s not right, that’s not what we read about the Spirit’s work in Galatians 5. We’re to experience peace, patience, hope, love, etc. The whole fruit of the Spirit.
Don’t let the future become a source of fear or excuses. Don’t let what God will do become a reason for you not to do what you’ve been called to do. God has this. He’s in charge and he’s doing it all in his own way and his own timing. We’re called to have hope in this truth, confident that just as Jesus rose from the dead he’s coming back in glory. But that’s not our mission to put that together and it certainly doesn’t help to be like kids in the back seat constantly asking “are we there yet?”
We’re called to have hope and confidence in God’s future work as a way of living fully in our present. We have been called to where we are and filled with the Spirit to live in the way God calls us to live.
Do that. Don’t get distracted by your past and don’t get distracted by the future. Live in faith in every responsibility and calling and possibility you have around you right now. Do the work, live life, be faithful to what God has given. He knows what he is doing, so we should trust him and listen to what he is calling us to do. Just like Israel in the wilderness.
5. Psalm 39
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.