- Opening Prayer:
Lord, thank you for your presence, that you reach out to me and invite me to come closer. I’ll admit that I’m anxious, that I’m worried about parts of my life, that I’m not sure how things can work out. I admit that I mess up and get distracted. I admit that sometimes I try to get out of doing those things I know you want me to do. Forgive me. The amazing thing is that you still invite me. Today I seek you and today I pray that you help me understand and help me act in ways that matches what you’ve asked me to do. You are with me, and because of that, I can do all things, and when I mess up, you’re there to keep me going. Encourage me and remind me to encourage others I meet this week.
- Psalms 7-8
- Reading through Genesis 20-31:
When we don’t know the Bible all that well, we can get to thinking that the people in the Bible were real superstars, better than the rest, more like religious superheroes than us. Strange folks with strange powers of saying the right things and doing the right things at just the right time. When we read the Bible, that idea is quickly shattered. Take Abraham for instance. He is featured for his faith throughout the Bible, he’s the man who went when God said go, and yet we find him struggling in the midst of real life circumstances.
God calls us to faith, but when life hits us, it’s easy to get anxious, and do what we think we have to do to keep things under control. Then we mess things up and make them more complicated. But what I love is that the Bible doesn’t avoid talking about real life, or how things get complicated, or struggles. The people in the Bible aren’t fake, artificial heroes.
They’re real men and real women who are trying to make it in this world. That doesn’t excuse their mistakes either. It’s like the Bible is giving us story after story about real people in real situations in order to encourage us to have faith in our real situations. The victories in the Bible aren’t heroes doing heroic things, it’s regular people who take the steps of faith when God calls. Go. Stay. Trust. Wait. Fight. Pray. The failures in the Bible aren’t done by only the evil people. Abraham followed God, but he stumbled along the way too. So did Isaac and Jacob. They made mistakes, they lacked altogether faith, and those times of stumbling caused problems.
But God was still working. He made a promise, didn’t he?
And if we make a mistake? God’s still working, it just means things can get harder than they should have been. God is at work. When we step out and follow, God is faithful in working, knowing who we are and how we can struggle. God invites us to have faith in everything, even the little things. Spiritual maturity isn’t just about the big decisions, it includes the huge amount of little, daily things as well. Do we have faith to trust God in our finances? That work situation you’re dealing with? The loneliness? What we do in response to these challenges show the status of our faith. Don’t feel guilt about it. God’s not asking for guilt, he’s calling us to obedience because he loves us and wants us to be free in life. Use these lessons to become aware, doing better day by day.
Then we get to Isaac, the second key figure in the line of God’s promise to Israel. Let’s face it, Isaac is a mixed character. Like all of us, he has his good points and he has his bad. He’s not idealized, he’s not someone who is superhuman. He’s a guy with a mixed character who is caught up in his ambitions and his frustrations.
Notice how a key part of the story is the interpersonal relationships. We tend to think of sin as a private issue, some rule we break. But here, it’s really about how people respond to other people. Trust is broken, people are taken advantage of, people act out of fear or hurt or jealousy, and then others suffer. It doesn’t have to be like that.
In what ways do you see sin affecting people’s responses to each other? What would have happened if they had faith instead at each step? How do you see this in your life?
I know there are times I let anxiety or frustration get the best of me, and rather than being a help, I add to the chaos around me. I’m seeing how faith isn’t just an internal issue, it really changes my witness and my contribution, shaping my experience of life. It makes me think about how I can have faith that God is working and to really live like I believe this.
Some questions to help you dig deeper: What stands out to you in this passage about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? What was Abraham’s calling in this passage? What ways did he show faith in God’s work? In what ways did he lack faith? Where did Isaac show faith in God? Where did he lack faith? What stands out to you in the story of Isaac? How about Jacob? Where did he show faith? Where did he lack faith? What difference did it make?Did one scene especially hit you more than the others? What questions do you have?
- Reading through Matthew 4-8
First, notice the Spirit. We like the Spirit in ways that gives religious flair, but what about the Spirit in chapter 4? What’s the first work of the Spirit after the baptism of Jesus? It’s not some some emotionally charged event. The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness. To be tempted. That’s a pretty common theme in Scripture, actually. Not that God is setting us up to fail. We miss the point. God is setting us up to trust. Do we trust God? What do we choose when faced with alternative solutions to our desires? How far are we willing to trust?
Remember what I said last week, that among the key questions the Bible answers is “What is sin?” and “Who is God?”
In our NT readings this week, Jesus addresses both questions, though not through a teaching on doctrine (the things Christianity teaches about different topics). He teaches on both through actions and expectations. He shows that he is willing to trust, to step out and away, relying on God’s provision.
He also shows he is a master of Scripture. In the first section, he shows his mastery of Scripture in facing his own temptations. The devil doesn’t try to seduce Jesus away from faith, rather the devil distorts that faith, using Scripture as a justification to give into temptation. That’s the amazing thing, that the devil knows Scripture so well as to use it against us.
Do we know Scripture well enough to combat these distortions? That’s one goal of this year’s reading through the Bible!
The devil lies through telling the truth, and we have to know the truth as a whole to push back. Jesus uses quotes from Deuteronomy to assert God’s deeper truths. In this temptation he is also showing patience and endurance. There are three temptations, but early Christians noted how these temptations are at the root of others. So in addressing these, Jesus shows he can overcome any others.
Having overcome these temptations, now we see Jesus teaching to others. Matthew 5-7 is called “The Sermon on the Mount” and is the longest passage of Jesus’s preaching. It covers a lot of ground, with the emphasis on who we are to be and what we are to do.
It can sound very strict and demanding, yet the goal isn’t to make us feel bad nor is it (I think) to give us an impossible standard. We’re given insight into what God expects and in this we are also called to take up the path of Christ. This isn’t our own strength or willpower, we need the Spirit to work in and through us. The Sermon on the Mount is an encouragement and invitation.
God expects more from us than we think is possible, but does not leave us on our own to get it done. We have the Spirit too—those of us who have committed ourselves to Christ—and in prayer, study, patience, community, struggle we can experience a hope and new life. Jesus points the way and shows us what that way looks like, and walks that way himself before inviting us to follow.
The life of faith isn’t passive waiting. It is active engagement with the world, responding to the world in new ways. No longer being overcome by fear or anxiety or temptation. The sermon on the mount is an invitation, and we see the results of living in this way in how Jesus responds to this world. It is not legalism and it is not meant to be a burden. It’s a journey into faith and a journey into freedom.
Some questions to help you did deeper: What stands out in this passage to you? What questions do you have? Did anything confuse you? What phrase or passage really hit home the most? What do you think about the beatitudes (the part of Jesus’s sermon where he says “Blessed are the…”) Did something he teach seem especially difficult? Or especially inviting? Have you ever been in the midst of a storm that filled you with anxiety? Did talking to Jesus help? Share your thoughts so that we can learn from each other and grow together in wisdom.
5. Psalm 9
Share your thoughts in the comment section. This is a very important part of the reading goal, as 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 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.