- Opening Prayer:
Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of freedom and hope, freedom to live in a new way and hope that you are faithful to your promises. Thank you for calling me, for filling me with your Spirit, for walking with me in the midst of my wildernesses and for leading me to a place of rest. Help me to see your work more clearly. There’s so much anger out there and there’s so many people telling me who I need to be and what I need to do. I’m surrounded by too many different songs singing at once! I want to hear your voice and sing your song throughout my life. Lead me in the path of righteousness, help me to see others as you see them and to help them sing as you want them to sing. Be with me throughout this week. I don’t always trust you, God, but I want to–more and more every day. Teach me, guide me, fill me, pour out your blessings in my life and show me how I can best invest in the lives of others. Amen.
- Psalm 18
- Reading through Exodus 11-24:
You’re free! At first that sounds wonderful, the lack of limitations, the end of restraint, the opening of possibilities. But freedom is more difficult to manage than we realize. What should we do? Where should we go? Who should we be?
In these questions we turn to others for guidance. They’re more than willing to give their opinions, but they’re either lost too or they’re not interested in our freedom, they’re interested in more power or influence.
Freedom can also feel overwhelming. There’s a sense of safety in the protected space of the status quo.That’s why the suicide rate jumped so high after the fall of communism in East Germany. There was freedom, but what was a person to do, how were they going to survive when there were no longer any guarantees?
The tendency is to jump back into constraints, to find something to give a sense of purpose or distraction. We look at the future in freedom and get overwhelmed. God may have worked in the past, but what about “this,” this problem that we’re in right now.
The biggest problems we ever have are the problems that are right in front of us. God, of course, saved us from that problem in the past, but that’s in the past, and what about this. Will he come through? Has he abandoned me? I should probably panic and fret just in case, until he brings an answer and then I can get to worrying about the next thing. And there’s always a next thing, and it always seems the biggest. We look for answers in relationships, in having more stuff, in going places and doing things. But there’s always the next thing that keeps us anxious and, terribly, this anxiety helps us feel alive.
But we easily become slaves to anxiety. There’s no faith in anxiety, it’s a reluctant relationship with God, a “prove it” kind of constant challenge. Meanwhile, God freed us for the sake of freedom. He called us out of places we were trapped, and called us into a new life. But this new life has boundaries not because God is trying to march us through new kinds of control, but because the path of freedom has a lot of dangers. We’re easily caught up in our passions–anger, frustrations, greed, envy, pride, distractions–and while these seem to feel good in the moment, they’re traps. We get caught and then wander back into kinds of slavery, and lead others there as well.
Freedom is wonderful, but at this point in human history, it takes vigilance to maintain. That’s why the God who frees is also the God who guides, who gives miracles when miracles are needed, guidance when guidance is needed, and a map for how to live in this freedom so that the community doesn’t fall apart. This map is called the law, and this is the path Israel had to learn to walk as much as it learned to walk in the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land.
What were the challenges that Israel faced as they found this new freedom? Did any stand out to you? What are your challenges in walking this path? Where are you enslaved? Where are you finding counsel or guidance in where to go or who to be? Share your thoughts about what stood out in these chapters and share questions you might have.
For instance, even though I’ve read through the Bible many times over the years, I was struck by Exodus 24:9-11. Wait, does it say the leaders saw God standing on a very blue floor? I don’t think I ever noticed this before. They ate and drank before God. A very image of communion–of thanksgiving–that should give them utmost confidence in God’s presence with them as they press onward.
- Reading through Matthew 15-19
“If only Jesus did a miracle in my life, then I’d believe.”
“If only those other people would get out of my way or do things right or at least stop messing things up, then I’d be able to focus.”
What will it take for us to trust God. What will it take for you to trust Jesus?
That’s a really important question, because it’s not generally what we think. We want God to do grand things, but then he does, and we find the next thing to worry about or another excuse to not follow. That’s a key theme of humanity throughout the OT and NT . We’re really looking for excuses, coming up with reasons why to hedge our bets and do what we want. Jesus sometimes makes things hard and there’s always a reason to put off what we know we should do.
That’s not the way of faith. Even when Jesus does do a miracle, performs a sign, answers a tricky question, makes a grand appearance, when we lack faith we’ll find some other reasons. Or like Peter or the pharisees, we’ll focus on the wrong parts and then not get the real lessons.
What will it take for us to trust? To decide to trust. And be willing to risk it. Like the Canaanite woman, whose persistence got the attention of Jesus. It’s an odd story for us, because we’re with her, not part of the people of Israel (most of us at least) but given access because of grace and God’s opening. Jesus is part of Israel’s story, the part we read about in the OT, but in this passage he shows the way forward for us all. Trust, commit. Then even the foreigner becomes an example to the insiders. God is all about trusting him.
How do we trust? We commit to living life in a new way and that means being willing to respond to others in ways that might be difficult outside the calling of God. We forgive those who owe us. We confront those who are doing wrong but claim the name of Christ. We live in a faithful way, putting aside those forms of slavery–whether sins or strongholds or even legalisms–for the sake of God’s community.
The sign of God is the sign of love, a love that transforms and a love that shares freedom.
The question before us is whether we really believe this. If we really do, then we let go that which pulls us back and we embrace this new life of freedom and trust in God’s provision. Letting go Egypt for the sake of the Promised Land continues to be a theme even in Matthew.
5. Psalm 19
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.