Dear Lord, as the new year gets going, it can be hard keeping up the momentum. Things to do, people to see, bills to pay, work to finish. It goes from a trickle of activity to a torrent of expectations. Great plans and inspired goals bump into the pressures of life and all the busyness pulls me in every direction. Remind me of your peace. I pray for those in my neighborhood that they too would experience your peace. I pray for those who continue to deal with losses and hurts, that they may be comforted. May your Spirit lead me in how I use my time and how I use my energy so that I can contribute to the lives of others around me and so that I can experience joy at each step rather than frustration. Help me to focus, and help me to let go of those things that I think I should do but you’re not asking me to do. Amen.
1. Psalm 82-83
2. Reading through Job 25-42
Why do bad things happen? What is the source of evil in this world? If God is all powerful and all loving, why is there so much hurt all around us?
These are some of the most challenging questions a person can ask. So challenging, in fact, that far too often those in charge try to silence or ignore these questions. Or maybe even worse, try to give an answer that somehow dismisses the problem.
What I love about the book of Job is that it confronts these very human questions head on. It sits with them. Literally, as Job and his friends sit together they’re arguing over what exactly happened that led to Job’s really bad circumstances.
When bad things happen, we want an explanation. It’s not always going to fix the problem, but at least we know who to blame and maybe can pick up some tips what to do, or not do, differently. We want to still, or at least divert, the torrent.
The news is filled with this, all sorts of bad things happening and we’re not just told about what is happening, but they try to explain why. Sometimes there are clear causes. Sometimes, it’s made to sound a lot more clear than it is. Blame is assigned. Causes are insisted on. Arguments are dismissed. If something bad happens, there’s something or someone to blame, right?
That very human tendency drives us even in our relationship with God. We want God to make sense, we need God to be nicely explained and orderly, and follow the script that we’ve been given.
Only that script? It’s not what we read in the Bible. Sure, sometimes we reduce the Bible to an easily digested morality play or set of bullet-point action steps or nicely formulated statements about who God is and what God is doing. But when we read the Bible, not just talk about the Bible or use bits and pieces of isolated verses, there’s a lot more complexity, a lot more mystery, a lot more that is just like life. Things happen.
In these amazing chapters, Job is caught between the way the world should work and his own honest and genuine sense that he didn’t do anything wrong. Yet, everything in his life went wrong! His friends offer various examples of popular counsel, some more true than others. Job isn’t convinced. He cries out for all of us, “Why is this happening?!”
And he gets that wish that so many of us might like, to actually get a response from God.
This response adds to the brilliance of this book, as it neither dismisses the problems nor gives a neat, tidy solution. God responds forcibly to Job, but doesn’t dismiss his claim for truth. God certainly doesn’t reject Job for asking.
Sometimes the asking, the searching, the commitment to honesty is the best expression of faith we can have. And this book is, above all, a book about faith and obedience, not letting go even and especially when life is full of messes. This is a testimony we will encounter later in Daniel and which filled the early church with hope, even when persecution seemed everywhere.
Faith isn’t in the easy explanations, it’s in the long patience and commitment to hold onto God during it all. God may not give us the answer we want, neat and tidy, but shows the bigger answer is in knowing God hasn’t abandoned us and God is certainly going to make our faith worth it.
How would you have responded to Job? What questions do you have for God these days? Go ahead, be bold and honest, and have a chat with God about these.
3. Reading Through Luke 4-7
These chapters show the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. Far too often, the churches I’ve been a part of emphasized the birth of Jesus (Christmas) and the resurrection of Jesus (Easter), pointing to the death of Jesus on the cross as basically the only other important thing we needed to know–and share. “That’s the Gospel,” I was told.
In these chapters, we learn there’s a lot more to what Jesus did than be born, then die, then rise again. The Gospel writers spend a good amount of space telling us what Jesus did, what he taught, how he interacted with people. And so it’s important to listen to these writers, as these are the Gospels!
Luke begins in chapter 4 with the first step of the ministry of Jesus after his baptism: being sent into the wilderness, fasting and then being tempted. Both Jesus and Satan quote Scripture.
Using Scripture isn’t enough, after all. Knowing it isn’t enough. We have to be wise and discerning, led by the Spirit, in how we respond, lest we get caught up in evil and justify it with Bible passages. Jesus shows his allegiance and his obedience. He will live in light of the Kingdom of God. And that continues to be his message and the goal.
So, what is the Kingdom like? What are the emphases? What is, after all, the Gospel that Jesus preaches, enacts, and lives out throughout? These chapters are important because they’re not just about Jesus.
They’re pointing to our calling as well.
Jesus called the disciples and the disciples called others after them, and down the line, through history and across the world, we’ve been called into this mission too. It’s not the mission to die on a cross, it’s the mission to continue to enact what it means to live in line with the Kingdom.
That’s what the Spirit does. And when the Spirit works, we may be led into the wilderness for a time, we may encounter struggles and opposition, but the mission of God’s work is assured. These chapters instruct, remind, inspire, and orient us in living in this world in a new way, empowered, truly saved, by Christ for a purpose.
What is your calling? What stands out in these chapters? What is the Spirit calling you to do? Who is the Spirit calling you to be?
4. Psalm 84-85
If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or haven’t started yet, 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.