Dear Lord, I like to say that if I only had “this” or “that” or the right situation, then I’d be able to spend more time with you and do better in every part of my life. But there’s always something that grabs my attention, something that frustrates me or distracts me. Get one things solved, it’s onto the next, and the next, and so on, and so forth. You’re waiting for me, seeking me, sharing with me, but I’m not paying attention. Give me discernment this week about how I use my time and my energy. Give me discernment about how I turn my emotions over to other causes or get caught up in tasks that aren’t what you’ve called me to to. Help me to be wholly who you have called me to be and to be a person who helps others hear you, see you, experience you, this week. Amen.
Reading through Judges 1-12
We’ve gone through the lists, the rules, the initial introductions. If people were naturally good and could keep things right if they just had the right circumstances, then we might very well be at the end of the Bible, not still near its beginning. But, there’s a lot more to the Bible as you can tell, so that means that people have a way of messing things up. Not all at once, mind you, but it happens. God had been faithful, the people had a place to live, to thrive.
But like so many of us, when things start working out, it’s easy to make excuses, to let down the discipline, to think we can navigate being who we are called to be while mixing in a lot of things that aren’t good for us. “That doesn’t affect me,” we say. Or “that isn’t a big deal.”We make excuses for eating, watching, doing things that aren’t what God wants for us, and convince ourselves God doesn’t care. Or, do this enough, we start convincing ourselves we don’t care about God anyhow, that we can do what we want because we know what’s best.God isn’t out to get us. God doesn’t set up patterns for life because he’s a frustrating bureaucrat who likes to make up rules, then catch us when we break them.
God wants the best for us, and in creating this world, set up patterns of life that help us live in rhythm with each other and with this world.But we look around and see people who sound like they’re really make the most of life. They’re not, not nearly as they’d like us to believe, but it sounds so appealing. We get pulled in and pulled away. Then wonder where God is when things get bad.There are times that things get bad because evil is trying to destroy us.
There are times things get bad because God is shifting us away from hardship into a new pattern of life, and transitions can be difficult.
Then there are times things get bad because we’re ignoring what God is asking of us, taking the wrong things seriously and not taking seriously the important things. So we have the book of Judges, which is the closest the Bible gets to an HBO or Netflix series, which exciting drama, key heroes, lots of drama, and not a little shocking plot twists.
The narrative here is at its most dynamic, but underneath it all is the message that life didn’t have to be this way, that God was and is seeking something better, that peace is possible for those who wait on the Lord. But we don’t wait. We watch what we want, do what we want, follow the trendy idols around us, and chaos reigns.
But God never gives up and God continues to raise up people to speak words of truth and do acts of courage.
The question for us is who we are going to be this week? This month? Those who walk with God or those who walk away.
Reading Through John 1-4
We’ve made our way through different parts of the New Testament over the last months, and now we’re getting back to the Gospels. Rather than having us read all the Gospels in order, this reading plan has us read one, then assorted other New Testament books, then resets us into the chief story of Christ. If the Old Testament readings are like a long distance trip, the New Testament readings are like we’re making four laps around a track. Now that we’ve finished one lap, the basics are familiar, the key issues and themes are raised, and we can do this next lap with more insight and understanding.
Why are there four Gospels? Because the Bible isn’t a book of declarations, it’s a testimony by witnesses, and having four witnesses to the story of Jesus provides more authority. Four perspectives that overlap in a lot of ways but not in every way.
John is probably the least like the other three Gospels in both its goals and its telling. The other three borrow from each other (or a shared earlier source) and while each seems to have a different audience in mind (which shapes how they tell the story) they have a lot of events and even phrasing in common.
John is doing his own thing. There’s definitely overlap, but that’s because they’re talking about a particular person in a particular time of real events. John is more theological at times, giving us a bigger view of God’s work in Jesus, but also has some other distinct flavors.
There’s a lot here that has become “Christianese” like being “born again” or Jesus is the “Word”. But here it’s not simple religious sayings. There’s a depth behind what John is doing, as he’s relating the life of Jesus to cultural discussions and showing the extent of the claims about Jesus. Like with the book of Judges, the call of God isn’t about just giving us a good start, then letting us go on our way.
It’s about a new beginning, a life with God that shapes our whole life. He calls us into a new kind of participation in this world, with the maker of this world, in anticipation of the future of this world that begins even now.
Recognizing this call is key to our life. Recognizing that God loves us and God has entered into this world to lead us into the way everlasting. God is love and so loves us God isn’t waiting for us to get it right on our own and isn’t just going to send another judge to help give a temporary boost in our troubles. God so loves us that God himself walks among us, and teaches, and shows who God is and what God wants.
It’s a rather shocking set of chapters to read, actually. Shocking in a very different way than our readings in Judges. God is present. God is persistent. God is truly with us. John saw him and is a witness to us that God is doing an amazing work in this world.
4. Psalm 50
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.