Week 35: Death and Life

Readings for the week: Psalm 102, Isaiah 40-55Acts 5-8Psalm 103, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, you’ve invited us to life. You steer us away from things that cause us death, harm, frustration. You empower us to live in a new way, a way of hope, peace, joy, patience. It’s a way of love. But, there’s so many people telling us to do this thing or that thing. To fudge the truth, to play around with things we shouldn’t, to dance with the devil–it’s just for one song!  Thank you that you don’t give up, but continue to invite, and not only invite, you pursue us, seek us, help us to hear the music that you’re playing, and guiding us into the dance of life itself.  Help me to listen and to wait for your guidance.  Help me to see how I’m mucking things up and show me the steps that bring joy not only to me but also those around me.  Thanks for life and thanks that you’re not dependent on everything being just so in order to work. You’re my hope. May I live this hope in every part of my life this week.  Amen.

1. Psalm 102

2. Reading through Isaiah 40-55

God works. God doesn’t just work in a church setting or in ways that are categorized as “religious.” God works. God doesn’t just work in one part of life and ignore the other parts. God works. God created everything, and is in charge of everything, and continues to be in charge.

We use the term “Lord” a lot, but that doesn’t have very much meaning to us, more vaguely religious than anything else. But it’s a rich word, saying that God is in charge of life and death, everything.

Yet, we try to avoid this reality. We will give one part of our life to God but not others. We will excuse some actions and think God will take whatever we want to give.

Or, we think that we’re too far lost, too broken, too battered, that the invitation got lost in the mail and we’re doomed to life as we’ve experienced it, lost in apparent judgement.

That’s not the way God works.  In either way.  These chapters in Isaiah are a wonderful testimony to how God does work, what God expects, and how God responds.

Indeed, in these chapter we are given the Gospel message, the presentation of God’s hope and God’s deliverance. Not just deliverance! God gives a bounty to those who respond to the invitation.

Far too often, the Bible is read as if it is a “Good cop, bad cop” scenario. God is angry and mean and judgy and smiteful.

Jesus says, “Hey man, I’ll help you out and keep you from getting messed up by that meanie.”

The image is of a God who is eager to judge, and we barely escape judgement because good Jesus hides us in his robes.

These chapters show something very different. That the mission of Jesus is a new expression of God’s work but it’s not a new theme. God seeks the goodness of people, and it’s not because he’s mean that he warns against judgment. It’s a loving father who knows that other paths lead to hurt and destruction and famine.  Don’t go that way. There’s a better way, a way of life and a way of bounty.

Which is why Isaiah 55 is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.  Let us live in that music and dance to this rhythm. Let us go out in joy and be led in peace.

3. Reading Through Acts 5-8

If you walk in church circles long enough, you’ll often hear people saying they want to return to an Acts 2 experience.  It’s dynamic, it’s freeing, it’s empowering, it’s fun!  So, there’s movement to get back to that in form and function.

The trouble is, as the trouble is with a lot of church life, we want the results without having to join in with God’s method.

The story of Acts 2 isn’t that the church did all the right things and God said, “I like that, keep doing that,” so then we just have to do those same things and God will grudgingly approve of us too.

By no means! The story of Acts 2 is the story of the Spirit, and a church who was committed to listening to Jesus when he said, “Wait for the Spirit.”

Lots of people say they want an Acts 2 church because they see all that is possible. But, like with most things people want the possibilities without all the accompanying effort. It’s not effort to please God to get God to work, it’s effort because now that God is working, God expects something from his people who are reflecting this work into the world.

It’s discipline. It’s a new way life walking through life. Indeed, for the early church, faith in Christ is an orientation.  They called it The Way, after all.

Lots of people say they want an Acts 2 church. Not very many say they want an Acts 5 church. The Spirit is still the Spirit, but people don’t want the fullness of God’s work, calling them to not only power but also truth. People tend to want the benefits without the discipline, doing just enough to squeak by. We like our shortcuts and we like people to think we’re more than we are.  That’s not how God works.

The Spirit is the Spirit of life. When the Spirit works, there’s life. When the Spirit withdraws, death happens. We can grieve the Spirit, we can commune with the Spirit. That’s the testimony of Acts and the rest of the New Testament. We don’t pursue morality because of some arbitrary set of rules God has to turn us into marionettes.  God gives life and life with God involves living in certain ways because that’s the way of fullness, of hope, of joy, of peace.

We can’t fudge with these rules because we’re not playing a game. We’re living life. The forces of death are many, however, and there’s a lot of people who prefer their power and their privilege, even if temporary, to the fullness of life. They may not even put it this way, they think they’re experiencing better life and pursuing deeper truth. So who are we to say anything different?

Who are we to say we’re right and they’re wrong?

Again, this is the testimony of the resurrection. Why should we trust Jesus and not the religious leaders? Why should we trust Jesus and not the Imperial government?  Because Jesus died and Jesus lives. There’s a power of life and death and time and eternity that transcends the little opinions we have. This is the testimony of the early church.  You don’t lie to the Spirit, because that’s lying to life.  You can face seemingly overwhelming opposition and social and political opposition because those pose as having more power than they do.

These chapters are chapters of life and death.  But they’re not just general issues. Life and death have very practical expressions in our day to day life. That’s why those who testified to life, like Stephen, didn’t just preach a distant salvation about a vague spirituality. The testimony of life involves helping those who are suffering, giving to those in need, living in a new way that preaches and provides life in little and small ways.  It’s a holistic message that is a holistic expression of actual love to actual people in actual situations. It has a big picture message but always an immediate application.

The question is which Spirit we want to follow.

What is it the Spirit of God does in these chapters? What is it that those who are filled with this Spirit of God are called to do?

That’s the question that the Ethiopian asked Philip, because after reading Isaiah, he had questions, and the Spirit brought Philip at just the right time.

Did you notice that the same chapter the Ethiopian was reading, Isaiah 53, is part of our readings this week?  Whoa!  That chapter that led to a conversion way back then we get to read today.  Yet too often we ignore it, or can’t find the time, to read Scripture. What other gifts are we ignoring or dismissing that God is sending our way?

This book is called Acts for a reason. It’s the acts of the Spirit that leads to the acts of the people of God. That’s the Way. That’s our orientation.

Let us act accordingly.  The other way is death.

4. Psalm 103


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.