- Opening Prayer:
Dear Lord, thank you for your calling and your promise that you will continue to be with me. I’ll admit that I don’t always turn to you when I need to. I’ll admit that sometimes I let the unknown get to me and the struggles weigh me down. Forgive me when I lose faith, forgive me for those times I’ve gotten caught up in frustration, anger. Forgive me for struggling with faith. Thank you for the reminders of your faithfulness, that I’m not alone, and that it is worth pressing on. Be with me in my hurts, guide me in my uncertainties, shape me into the person you are calling me to be. Help me to see you better today. Help me to listen to you this week so that I might stand strong in each moment, whether high or low. I want to follow you. Show me the way. Amen.
- Psalm 10
- Reading through Genesis 32-45:
Life is complicated. We know that. We tell that to other people. But for some reason it often takes us by surprise when we have to deal with complications. Something goes wrong, something breaks, something is stolen, someone is hurt, injustice goes unpunished, truth gets hidden behind glossy smiles. When we only have a surface level understanding of Scripture, we think that these are a sign of God’s disfavor. When we only have a surface level understanding of Scripture, we assume that if we do everything right, right things will happen in life. If we do wrong things, then wrong things will happen.
This is a transactional view of God’s work in the world. This involves thinking life is about transactions, put one thing in and get the equivalent back, and there’s a ledger that keeps track of what we do or don’t do. It’s like God is a vending machine, we get what we pay for. Life isn’t like that, though, and the Bible doesn’t teach that. We see people who have problems and sometimes the problems are caused by their sins, sometimes by their fear, but sometimes they’re caused because they did the right thing.
If they had given into temptation, life would have been easier for them! But it’s not all bad news. God isn’t the cop waiting in the shadows for people who are speeding by. There’s also surprising good, glimpses of redemption and glimpses of God’s favor.
God is doing a much bigger work than we can see, and a much bigger work than what we might expect. Indeed, sometimes his favor comes from people we might think are outside of God’s story. That’s a surprise! But it happens again and again. The Old Testament is telling us a specific story of God’s work in Israel, but God isn’t limited to a particular people in a particular time.
In the chapters for this week, we see examples of injustice and sadness, and we also see examples of surprising redemption. As you read, take note of each surprising twist, whether a positive response when bad was expected, or harsh treatment when everything was pointing toward favor. And sometimes, this is maybe the hardest, when the nothing hits, and there’s a long waiting.
When we only know the Bible through the “children’s stories” version, we hear about God’s answers almost right away. Forty days of rain, Noah is saved! Abraham goes, and his life is blessed. So silly for not trusting about Isaac. Of course he was willing to sacrifice him later. But when we pay attention, there’s a lot of time going by in these stories, often years.
We don’t get an answer in a week and we get impatient. Where’s God? Meanwhile, read about my friend Joseph this week. How long was he in prison for doing something right? What was he thinking in the middle of his 20s?
In a season where I felt abandoned by God, I found solace not in the big answers in Scripture, but in those passages of waiting. I resonated with Psalm 105:17-19 which says about God’s work with Joseph, “He sent a man before them; Joseph was sold for a servant: His feet they hurt with fetters: He was laid in chains of iron, Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of God tried him.”
The Hebrew puts it a little differently, with “he was laid in chains of iron” literally translated as “His soul entered into the iron.” Translators have a goal of taking the meaning into the English, so they make it more in keeping with regular experience. But, I know what the Hebrew is saying here, and the experience of his soul entering into the iron–depression, resignation–makes sense. I’ve had seasons where my soul was deep into the iron.
Sit with Joseph in that prison a while, and remember what God was still doing. Reading this story with that in mind helped me press on when I didn’t feel there was any reason to do it. How can God work in my story, I asked. Then I remembered Joseph. God was faithful. God is still faithful.
The Bible isn’t a story of God’s instantaneous answers, it’s a story of God’s redemptive work in the midst of difficult times, sometimes longer than we want to think about.
As you read, think about how God twists the expectations, think about what you’d expect if you were in the story versus what actually happened. Try to pause and consider the timeline, how much time went by between conflict and resolution. What’s the calling of those chosen by God? What’s God’s method in responding to his people?
We’ve covered a huge amount of ground in the first couple of weeks, most of human history really. Beginning this week the timeline of the stories begins to slow down, but we’re still talking whole lives, with only the key moments highlighted. In the midst of this, people lived life as it was. That’s the place of faith. Life happens, and in that life we’re called to carry on and wait for God’s purposes to be revealed in full. Waiting is hard, but that’s a common calling of God. Wait, trust, hope. God is faithful.
What stood out to you in these chapters? Any questions? Any challenges? Post in the comments section what comes to mind. Don’t feel you have to write a lot, even a sentence or two is welcomed.
- Reading through Matthew 9-11
“Be a Christian, life is great.”
“Evangelize the leaders and the rest will follow!”
“When Jesus calls, he says happy things and bestows good favors, and always is encouraging.”
“Holiness means separation. God can’t put up with sin or brokenness.”
Where do we get these ideas? Not the Gospels.
What is the message of Jesus in these passages we’re reading this week? What was his response to others? If you had to sum up the Gospel in one sentence based on these chapters, what would you say?
These are important questions because now we’re getting into the heart of his expressed ministry. We got his background, we got his initiation, we even got an overview of the kinds of things he said when the Bible talks about him preaching to crowds. Now we’re seeing him in action, out and about, Jesus as a leader and Jesus as a pastor and Jesus as a teacher.
Jesus is God. That’s not something that is entirely clear yet in our reading, so I’ll say that as a theological statement. It’s something people realized along the way after learning from those who knew Jesus, reflecting on the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.
Jesus said and did things that could only be explained and connected to the rest of Scripture if he was indeed God. How does that work? Father, Son, Spirit. That’s a good question. Keep reading your Bible and tell me what you think along the way.
I highlight it now because if Jesus is God (and he is) then what we’re seeing in these chapters isn’t just the story of an important person chosen by God–the New Testament version of Abraham–we’re getting a glimpse into who God is, what God values, how God works. Jesus is holiness itself, where does he go? Who does he talk to? Who does he invite to follow him?
Jesus is rougher than we might expect. He’s also more active. He’s not the stoic guy off in the distance making pronouncements. He’s in the mix, honest to the point of embarrassment. He’s not exactly selling the lifestyle in some of these passages. And yet, here’s a guy who heals, who gives hope, who calls out and doesn’t give a… concern about what others think he should or shouldn’t do. He’s not spreading fear, he’s speaking truth. He’s not talking pie-in-the-sky, he’s handing out actual, identifiable good news to people.
He’s telling things like it is: if you follow, life is going to be hard. But it’s worth it, oh it’s worth it, because there’s life, and truth, and hope in the midst of this, calling us out of the status quo to follow the wild folk who upset the world and its ways in order to show there’s a better way, and not just talk about it, but show it. Want to live, really live, live like you’ve never imagined, here’s teh way. But it’s not easy and sometimes it’s confusing, and sometimes we’re not sure if we’re on the right track. Even John the Baptist got concerned. But keep pressing on, that’s the message to those in the trenches, the lost, outcast, abandoned. Wherever we happen to be, Jesus comes to us.
We’re invited into this, into this ministry, into this story, that is the culmination of the hope that people hoped for. Is Jesus the one we’re to look for? He’s doing the things that the prophets said the one looked for will do. He’s enacting a new story in the midst of the old one. Yeah, he’s the one, but like the rest of the story with God, when we choose God’s path, we bump up against the conflicts and criticisms of the world. Reconciliation happens, but it requires a shift from the ways the world wants God to be, as we learn the ways of God reaching out to the world.
Which side are you going to choose? It’s a crossroad. Who do you trust? It’s a commitment. In spite of all the troubles that Jesus talks about, despite the fact that the narrow path seems the most sketchy, there’s the promise that it’s the easier way. Are you weary? Are you overwhelmed? Are you among the broken or outcast? Jesus invites you. Are you among the wealthy? The successful? The insiders? Jesus is calling you out. Which life will you choose?
We see in this chapter miracles and promises and honest commentary on the ups and downs. What stood out? What questions are you left with? Do you identify with any of the characters in these passages? Share what comes to mind.
5. Psalm 11-13
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.