Dear Lord, thank you for this day, for this week, for all you are doing. Thank you for being with us. Thanks for sticking with us when we don’t know what to do and end up doing something wrong. Thanks for giving me hope there’s something more in this life than just trying to survive and there’s more in this life than just getting more stuff or more distractions. Help me to see with your eyes this week and hear with your ears, that I might know even better who you have made me to be and how you have called me to use my life, my story, my skills in helping those I meet. May I encourage others as you encourage me in big ways and in small ways every where I go this week. Amen.
1. Psalm 71
2. Reading through 1 Kings 11-22
Remember reading through the Law a while back? God did a great work among the people, bringing them out of chaos, slavery and hopelessness. He saved them. More than just free them, he called them into a new kind of life, intended to be a expression of God’s calling for humanity.
He gave them a pattern to live out, as they learned what it meant to be this people. He gave them rules, not because he was trying to be mean but because he loves humanity and wants people to live together well. Conflict happens, disagreements and ambitions collide with each other.
God has a plan. The people, however, didn’t quite trust. They tried to live according to God’s law and according to the patterns of the rest of the world. It didn’t quite work out, as that’s like trying to mix water and fire: they don’t mix. One takes over the other. The fire is extinguished or the water evaporates.
In these passages we see how this pattern continued. Solomon was given all the wisdom possible, everything worked out well, he had his heart’s desire and the favor of God.
Sometimes we like to think if we have “this” or “that” then all will be well. But the problem with humanity is that when we have that and this we find our own ways of getting into troubles.
We think that if we have the right leaders, or right followers, then we can get things done. But far too often what gets done isn’t what God wants. Leading isn’t everything. Indeed, while there are a lot of leaders in the Bible, there’s not too many of those who actually lead the people in light of God’s calling.
In these chapters, we see examples of those who led poorly. Not because they were bad leaders–some of them were quite good in some ways!–but because they discounted God’s calling.
God told the people what he would do, and he did it. He told the people what they should do in order to stay in tune with God’s work, and it wasn’t burdensome. Don’t treat people (or the earth!) bad. Don’t give into passions for money, or sex, or fame–those don’t lead to real hope. Do what is right. Live justly. Be fair. Be honest. Be trustworthy.
But power corrupts and the examples of others can corrupt. We think they are getting away with wrong behavior, and then we think we can too. Then we start competing and undermining each other. The promises of the world seem so dazzling and enticing.
God isn’t ignoring it. He didn’t ignore the kings and their misbehavior. He doesn’t ignore the leaders who lead the people into idolatry or evil. We may not be kings over countries, but we all have our little kingdoms, the zone of control we assert in this world, where our will can get things done. These may be very little kingdoms indeed, but they’re still there and we all have one. How do we live within our zone of control? How do we respond to temptations or desires or the examples set by others. Do we lead those within our influence toward God or do we lead them farther away.
That’s the challenge for us. And the reality is that God isn’t ignoring injustice or immorality. God sends reminders. He told the people what to expect, and had a lot of patience while they were learning. But now they should know better. We should know better.
And that’s what pretty much the rest of the Old Testament is like, God reminding the people of their calling. God sending those with potent words and sometimes even shocking behavior to be voices calling out in the wilderness.
Do we listen to people like Elijah?
Elijah, of course, is one of the heroes of the faith. A prophet beyond almost all others. Yet he too got discouraged and frustrated and overwhelmed. So we shouldn’t think God is absent when we feel exhausted, like Elijah we should do our part, wait on God, and trust that God will send us ‘ravens’ to take care of us in our need.
Where do you stand with God this week? Do you need to confess a wrong path and return to God’s calling? Do you need to praise God’s goodness and press on? Do you need to lament your frustration and discouragement, asking God to meet you, not because you lost faith but because you’re needing real help in difficult times? Spend some time in prayer, and trust that God is continuing to do a good work.
3. Reading Through 1 Corinthians 7-9
God saves us from our sins. That has a particular experience: we are personally saved, not saved as a collective. But we’re not saved in isolation. We called to be part of a people, saved then invited into a purpose and calling and mission. We’re called to run to win, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9.
What does it mean to win? That depends on what you’re playing, right? If you’re running a race, that means getting to the finish line. The reality is there are a lot of people running in this world, in all sorts of directions, in all sorts of ways. It’s not enough to just run. You also have to run along the course (Phil 3:12-14) God sets. A person who runs 26 miles isn’t necessarily competing in an actual marathon. Simply sprinting 100 meters won’t matter if you’re running the wrong way.
When we think about the Christian life and how we’re supposed to live, it is easy to get caught up in our own behaviors, and skirt the edge as much we can about what we can get away with and what we need to do. Paul is giving us pointers here about the race we’re actually in. It’s not about just us, we’re not running by ourselves. In a way, it’s more like a relay race, where we’re part of a team. We need to be aware of each other person, the race they are running, their skills and their hangups.
That’s why our behavior isn’t just about us. When we love each other, we’re attentive to each other. We will refrain from doing that which might cause other people problems, even if there’s not an absolute law against it. In the Wesleyan Church, for instance, they made a stance against drinking alcohol. Because the ministries were often working with those who had drinking problems. Better not to drink alcohol than to lead someone who struggles back into temptation and then into chaos. It’s not worth it, to lose a brother or a sister.
That said, we should also refrain from legalism. Paul’s concern is for those who are struggling, those who are weaker, or those who are vulnerable. But, the powerful like to exert control too. They use morality, want everyone to fit into their demands, not to serve God, but to exercise their will over others.
How do we know what to do if it’s not simply about following the details of the rules? This is what discernment is about, praying and seeking the Spirit’s guidance, and being willing to let go that which we might feel we can do, simply because in the moment or in the context, it’s not the right thing to do.
Life with Christ is a dance, and these chapters give us some very helpful cues about the rhythm and steps of this dance.
4. Psalm 72
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.