Dear Lord, thank you for this day and thank you for this week. Thank you for the invitation to life you offer to me, the counsel you give me, the encouragement you speak into my life. Sometimes life is so full of busyness or chaos that I let your words get crowded out, then I wonder where you are and feel lost. But you’re not lost, you’re not afraid, you’re not overwhelmed. May I find the moments of stillness this week, and hear your voice anew. Be with me in my struggles and in my opportunities. Help me to focus in ways that honor you throughout my life. Be with those I know in their struggles and possibilities. Bring healing and activate hope. Forgive us where we stumble and show us the steps we need to take this week, as individuals and as a community. Amen.
1. Psalm 122-123
2. Reading through Ezekiel 14-24
Why do bad things happen in this world? It’s easy to want a simple answer to that question, a way of summing it all up. But there’s not a single answer. There’s a lot of different answers depending on the situation. This is clear throughout the Bible. We have the book of Job, for instance, in which he went through struggles as an expression of faithfulness. Some go through struggles in testing or temptation. Some journey through struggles as part of the bigger mission of God in this world. Even Jesus had to walk this difficult road.
But, not all struggles are part of the divine intention. God invites us to live in new ways, fruitful ways, ways that build community and bring joy. But, like a good diet involves self-restriction for the sake of better health, so too does life involve not doing some things for the sake of doing better things. When everyone around us is eating buckets of cheeseballs and gallons of cheap chocolate ice cream, however, we get drawn in too. Or, when everyone is hyper focused on ever more fastidious feasting, we can think we’re being more sophisticated, more like the fancy folks, by joining in. But food then takes over our lives.
So too with just about everything. People get caught up in the ways of this world and then they’re caught in a trap. Rather than focusing on God’s invitation, they experience God’s absence. The more anxious they get, the more they dig into their own solutions or listen to the solutions of those chaotic folks around them. Then they completely forget God and God’s call and the fact there was a better way.
God invites people back. But the longer people resist, the more God seems willing to let them experience the effects of the path they have chosen.
Why do bad things happen? God isn’t shy about sharing, and the prophets are giving clear statements about what went wrong, why things got worse, and whether God is open to reconciliation. The answer to that last issue is a resounding, “Yes!” but things can’t keep going like they were. God is not going to be a passive participant while the people have affairs and give themselves over to chaos. The invitation is to that new way of life, the way God intended, the way God even empowers. There is grace. But until the people listen, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to listen, things are getting bad to worse.
Ezekiel is thus both a wake up call and a testimony of God’s commitment. He’s not leaving the reasons a mystery and in declaring his judgment, in listing the ways the people have messed up through literal and figurative descriptions, the prophet is giving an expressive testimony of who God is and what God wants.
It’s easy to point fingers and wonder why they didn’t listen. It’s so clear!
It still is. Like Paul says in Romans 2, who are we to blame them when we’re doing the same things? How are we caught up in the chaos around us? How are we spending our time, energy, money? Do we look to God for good spiritual feels while looking to the rest of the world for counsel on everything else? God isn’t about checking the religious box. God is lord of all, and the less we align with God in all our life, the more the chaos enters in, and can even consume us.
The message is to stop having affairs with the world around us and to find our rhythm and love in and through God.
3. Reading Through Ephesians
What’s one book of the Bible you’d suggest a person read if they are willing to only read one? Maybe one of the Gospels, sure, or maybe Romans. I think Ephesians is a strong candidate, even though it’s not usually the first people pick. The Gospels are great, of course, but are a telling of the ministry of Jesus, not so much a statement about what it means to be a Christian. What did the early church emphasize? What did the early church leaders teach and what was the expectations for Christians? This isn’t creating a division between Jesus and the disciples, this is emphasizing how they were faithful to the mission Jesus handed to them and were empowered by the Spirit to live it out. When we lose sight of this, we start taking the Bible in pieces and parts, making it what we want or what some other teacher wants it to be. These letters are written to correct a problem in certain cities or as in the case of Ephesians to provide a concise call of what it means to be a Christian. Here is what to believe and what to do with it and how to endure trials.
Paul starts off by giving a big picture, what God has done. He then highlights the human situation. Did you know that while we think of religions mostly being about which god to believe in, they’re really ways of coming to terms with human issues? We have a problem as people. Paul shows that God is in charge of everything and has a plan, and the problem of humanity is something that Jesus has addressed. God who is lord of all, creator of everything isn’t distant or a general idea. God is particular too, and Paul emphasizes how God’s particular work is an invitation to each person who hears. God has a plan, God is engaged in a mission, and the church is the community of those living this mission out even now, in the power of the Spirit.
So, in light of all of God’s work, in light of all of God’s power and salvation, those who are Christians need to act accordingly. Living a life worthy of what God has done. This isn’t to earn salvation, this is reflecting that God has work. If we don’t live like it, we’re telling God his work is not sufficient. We don’t have to live in sin anymore, or act in the chaotic ways of the rest of the world. That’s not who we are anymore, so we need to be attentive to the Spirit and live in these new ways.
Trials will come and opposition will abound but if we hold onto God’s calling, if we cling to the teachings we’ve been given, and the hope we’ve been invited into, and the Spirit who is truly God with us, we’re going to be fine. That’s Paul’s message: be encouraged, God has this, just don’t wander away from him.
4. Psalm 123-124
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.