Week 10: Challenging Faithfulness

Readings for the week: Psalms 32, Numbers 6-15, Romans 10-16, Psalm 33Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

 Dear Lord, thank you for your wonderful work that you have done and continue to do.  Thank you for the beauty of what you’ve made and the wonders of how everything fits so precisely together.  The world is amazing! It’s also hard in a lot of ways. But that doesn’t stop you and it shouldn’t stop me.  I am frustrated with a lot of things these days and don’t know how parts of my life are fitting together. Help me to trust you, to continue to take each step that you’re asking me to take. Forgive me when I grumble or lead others to grumble. Help me to see through your eyes and hope with a hope that is based on your trustworthiness. 

You’re asking me to trust and to not get overwhelmed.  I need help with that. Help me to see what I can do in the world around me to help others, to share with them hope in words and in actions.  Guide me this week as I continue to take steps forward in being who you have called me to be in every way. Thank you that you’re in this for the long haul and won’t let me go and won’t let me down.  Help me to be that kind of person too–faithful and trustworthy–at my work, with my family, with my friends, in my community. Amen.

  1. Psalm 29-32
  2. Reading through Numbers 6-15

When God does a great work, we expect fast results.  God has finally intervened!  There’s movement! There’s freedom! We can do it!  God is now in charge!

This is especially true if we’ve been waiting a while for God to work in a visible way in our lives.  We’re tired, we might even be bored with struggle, we’re definitely ready for something new, encouraging, exciting (in a good way).

When the new activity comes with responsibilities, we’re eager.  We embrace the devotion and value ways in which to honor God’s work. God doesn’t always work the same way. But when God does work, and makes clear what his work is, then it makes it a lot easier to respond as we should.

Unless God takes too long.  Then, we start to wonder. Was God’s work before just a figment of our imagination? Maybe God got things started and wants us to put the rest in place.  Maybe we’ve done something wrong.

It’s easy to get impatient when God’s work isn’t working like we think it should.  We get to thinking maybe God needs some advice about it all, maybe a little prodding.

In these chapters we see the height of devotion. The tabernacle has a grand opening. We read about the dedication of God’s particular priests–the Levites–and celebrate God’s faithfulness in bringing the people of out slavery by commemorating the Passover. The Passover isn’t just about the past after all, it’s a statement of God’s faithfulness, and keeping the Passover celebration is a way the Israelites show their faithfulness. God is faithful to the people, the people are called to be faithful to God. God has done a good work in the past, and God will continue to do good work, bringing the people to where he said he would bring them.

But it’s not without its bumps.  And as the people continue the journey, the bumps loom larger in their eyes. God brought them out, but into what? A wilderness where food and water are hard to find. Well, not basic food, sure, there’s that, but God said he’s give bounty. They wanted their protein and so complained. They wanted fresh fruit and vegetables. They were impatient and demanding. They didn’t really trust God.

The people complain, the complaints gather steam and become complaints about the management of the whole ordeal.  Because now, in the complaints, it’s not a miracle of a journey toward freedom, it’s an ordeal the people are putting up with.

You can almost hear the heavy, dismissive sighing in the back seat.

The people were brought to the edge of the Promised Land, but the complaint had gotten into their souls, fear replaced courage, hesitancy replaced hope.  Because they indulged a kind of attitude along the way, this attitude began to define their whole perspective on life.

And it has consequences.

God wasn’t finished with the story, but it’s clear that God is willing to wait as people discover faithfulness, and embrace courage. Those that do so are honored by God, but it doesn’t mean they avoid the sad consequences when a community turns away from faith.

Have hope. Have courage. Love.  Hold onto faith. It’s not just a nice motivational ideal. These can radically affect those around us.

God is the Lord. And we are to be holy. And to be holy means to hold onto faith and walk as God leads.

  1. Reading through Romans 10-16

The reading in Romans nicely intersects with the readings in Numbers this week.  The big story of the Exodus out of Egypt into the Promised land really is an archetype. A part of God’s work in history that also reflects God’s pattern in how he works in this world.  We’re given clear guidance by Paul about what lessons to take from it.

It’s clear that people have a responsibility. We are to be holy (as God defines it). We are to be faithful (as God defines it). We are to press on in the work that God initiated, having hope and not giving into faithless actions–whether by dismissing God or by trying to put ourselves in charge.

We need to be people who are faithful in living lives of love and hope, making a way for others to find their part, continuing to do our parts in this great mission of God’s work in this world. We have the Spirit, we don’t have excuses.

But we like excuses and we like to make our own rules and some of us even like being hall monitors for God. Don’t be like that. Be faithful. Pursue peace. Embrace patience.  Live lives of hope-filled participation with each other.  That’s a wonderful calling, truly a Promised Land, but the giants are many.

Fortunately, we know the stories of the past, and we’re not alone in this path.  Let’s embrace God’s life with each other and be people who live out a new way wherever we’re at.

Paul was Jewish–and his writing and message very much reflect this–but his audience was not entirely Jewish.  That is probably why Romans is such a powerful letter even still. It gives a substantive amount of theology in a short space, to a diverse audience made up of women, men, Jews, Gentiles, slave, free.

It’s not a narrow message to a limited set of leaders or those who fit a limited category.  Leaders need to be faithful and those with power need to be faithful and those without power need to be faithful. We’re in this together and called to reflect the love of God to those around us.

There’s grace given to us, and that brings with a responsibility for us to be faithful in what God has done and doing in our lives.  Don’t give up!

At the end of the letter, we get a wonderful insight into the church in Rome. This wasn’t a theology text or a letter without a context.  It was a letter to specific people at a specific time in a specific place.  Likely written around the mid-50s.  So poodle skirts, large fins on cars, and rock n’ roll music. No… wrong 50s.  Written in 50s of the first century.

For me, it’s amazing that this letter–written only a couple decades after the crucifixion–really has everything we continue to believe as Christians.  Written very early in the history of the church to people who themselves may have experienced or known people who experienced the earthly ministry of Jesus. Paul can’t be making things up!  There are still a huge amount of witnesses!

Spend some time with these names. Some may not stand out at first, but every name as an amazing story to it. And some even I love that Paul mentions specific names.  While we tend to highlight the big names in Scripture (Moses, Paul, Peter, etc.) the reality of the people of God is that the work is carried about by a multitude of women and men.

We get a glimpse into that with what is rather similar to a closing credits.  Read chapter 16 as if it’s scrolling down from the top of a screen. It’s not just credits, it’s also greetings and shout-outs.

This is a personal letter to people Paul knows, that we get to read.have some very interesting theological statements.  Junia, for instance, is a woman’s name, and she’s “prominent among the apostles.”  That’s only one among the many here.  And we also learn that Paul didn’t write his own letter, but dictated it to Tertius.

Let’s thank God for Tertius for his work he did that continues to last.  Let’s thank God for all those mentioned for their faithfulness to God when still quite in the wilderness. Persecution was common.  They saw the Promise, they saw the goodness, they also saw the problems, the chaos, the giants in front of them. They kept going.  Given the persecutions, there’s a good chance that almost this entire list of people died for their faith. The power of Rome could only do so much. These people believed in a bigger reality.  They kept the faith.  The faith we share with them.

We have a faith today because so many kept passing on the faith in those days. A message that has been spread by the brave, the hope-filled, the diligent, in all the eras since.

It’s a message to the church at Rome, all those who gather together in the name of Christ to live out life in a new way with a hope in God’s continued work. What God started in the mission, cross, and resurrection of Jesus is a message of freedom.  But we’re not there yet.  So have faith.

5. Psalm 33

6. Respond

If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or having started year, 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.