Week 34: The Way of Hope

Readings for the week: Psalms 97-98, Isaiah 21-39Acts 1-4Psalms 99-101, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

 Dear Lord, you are good. You’re good when I’m feeling great and all is going well. You’re good when I’m frustrated and not sure where things are going at all.

1. Psalm 97-98


2. Reading through Isaiah 21-39

When reading through Isaiah, it is easy to get caught on the judgment, and there’s a lot of that. As we know from the first chapters of Genesis, and have been reminded ever since, God isn’t limited to one group of people or one type of religion.  God is in charge.  God is in charge of it all. And by that, I mean everything. All of it.

That’s all well and good to say. Indeed, it’s a lovely thing to proclaim, and put up messages online and share with others.

But what does this actually mean for us in practice? Do we really believe it when the rubber meets the road?

What does that mean?

This is what Isaiah is really getting at. Reminding the people that 1) God is lord of everything, all of it, everyone and 2) that this means something for us in how we live life.

What matters to God? Sometimes we think that what God wants is for us to show up in the right place on the right day and do the right things in the right order and if we dress up in good clothes to do it, all the better.

God doesn’t mind that, but if that’s all we are willing to do, then God isn’t pleased.

Isaiah is reminding us here that God is lord of all the nations and that God is in control. The question isn’t what we might say we believe about God, the question for us, the driving question, is how we respond during times of crises or struggle or frustration or doubt. Do we seek answers in other places? Do we abandon our faith the moment trials come to seek help from that which is more visibly influential?  Isaiah here warns against doing this, against seeking help from Egypt, because Egypt isn’t in charge?

What is our Egypt? Where do we seek answers to fix that which we think has gone wrong? Do we give ourselves over to making as much money as we can? To politicians? To distractions that keep us from thinking about what is happening around us?

These chapters are full of judgment against doing this. But more importantly they are full of invitations too, a back and forth discussion that warns against seeking help from insufficient sources while calling us to seek God, to trust God, to be patient, and trust that even if things are bad, even if things seem out of control and without hope, God isn’t limited to the ways of the world. God can do a marvelous thing, God will do a marvelous thing, God loves us and seeks us, and wants our best.

Do I believe that? It shows in how I act today. Do you believe that? Show it by how you face your struggles today and people will see that your faith is something extraordinary indeed.

Do not panic. Do not fear. God is faithful. Let us listen to Isaiah’s reminder and put this into practice.


3. Reading Through Acts 1-4

This is the often ignored gem of the Bible, the book that people tend to skip over between the Gospels and the book of Romans.  Sadly skip over because this isn’t included in the New Testament as an optional text.  It’s vital reading and is absolutely essential for coming to terms with both the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

There’s a lot going on in Acts, its a history book after all, but I suggest there are two main themes.

The first main theme sets the stage for the second main theme.

What’s Acts about? It’s in the name. It’s about acts.  Not that profound, right?  Don’t let the simplicity of the name get you thinking it’s a simple book, however.

Whose acts is it about?  Well, on the surface we can say the acts of Peter or Paul or some other characters. This is true, in part.

But that’s not the main theme.

Acts is about the work of the Spirit.

It is the Spirit who acts that is featured from beginning to end, and it is the Spirit who acts who develops all that happens. Indeed, we can even say that just as the Gospels are the story of Jesus, the book of Acts is the story of the Spirit.

Far too often, however, the church ignores the work (and acts) of the Spirit. We talk about the Father, and talk about Jesus, but the Spirit is a bit like the Cinderella of Christianity, doing the work but never invited to the ball.  Or like tinsel thrown on a Christmas tree, there for some flair and flash, but not really necessary and increasingly left off altogether.

Yet, in Acts, we find the Spirit playing an essential role, not only in what the early Christians were doing but in who the early Christians were becoming.

The other main theme in the book of Acts is the acts of the early church.  What was the early church like? How did it spread? What were its emphases? What were its challenges?

But don’t jump too quick to thinking Acts is all about the early church and thus ignore that primary theme.  The gathered disciples in Acts became the Church because of the work of the Spirit, oriented by the Spirit, propelled by the Spirit, expanded and enlightened by the Spirit.

How does the Spirit work? As you read these chapters and the rest of the book, take notes about what the Spirit does.  It acts! But how does the Spirit act among humanity? The Spirit who is one with Christ is the Spirit that carries on the messianic mission.  What does this mission look like?

And then, secondarily, take note of what the early church did.  The church did that which the Spirit led it to do. It acted in the power of the Spirit and formed along the pattern of the Spirit, becoming a new people living life within this world according to the dawning reality of the Spirit’s presence.

Finally, pray alongside these chapters, asking for the Spirit’s presence and the Spirit’s guidance so that we today, as individuals and as a church, can participate with the Spirit in transformative ways.


4. Psalm 99-101

 


5. Respond

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.

I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff! 

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 helps to share as we learn from each other.

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.