Week 39: Being shipwrecked isn’t the end of the story

Readings for the week: Psalm 112-113, Jeremiah 29-39Acts 24-28Psalm 114-115, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, thank you that you don’t give up and don’t give in. We do. Sometimes it’s too much, or there’s too much other things to do, and we let it all pile up and don’t do what we are called to do. Or we do it, but we’re not happy about it, we get to grumbling and complaining, finding someone to be angry at. You call us to peace and hope.  I want that. I need that. Help me to see how I interrupt peace and how I dismiss hope.  May your Spirit fill me this week so that even in the midst of a lot of bumps and busyness I can hold onto your perspective. Forgive me for how I stumble, and show me how I can help others in their journey.  Show me the way, this week, and give me strength to keep pressing on.  Amen.

1. Psalm 112-113

2. Reading through Jeremiah 29-39

One of the biggest lies people tell themselves is that God will never accept them.  They think they’ve done too much wrong, or messed things up too far, or gotten so far off track that there’s no hope. Some get lost in despair. Some double down and think they might as well embrace the sin and shadows.  Most people, though, aren’t so dramatic. It’s a quiet despair, a giving into the status quo.

They believe in God, maybe, but not a God that does anything or cares or wants them.

There’s all that baggage.

In Jeremiah we see God’s frustration and we see God’s judgment. We also see a glimmer of hope even still.

That hope can spur us on, it should! God wants us to be who we can be, to live as we should live, so that we are in tune with his work. He loves us! But he doesn’t put up with evil, and if we indulge evil, if we excuse it or spread it, God will put things right.  He doesn’t give up, but the path to restoration can get very tricky.

The hope God gives should never be a free pass to do evil. God has plans, we read in the oft cited Jeremiah 29:11. We like that verse, we’ll put that verse on the walls and share it on Facebook.  But the rest of these chapters frame that verse, showing that life can get tricky, it can get difficult, that the way of hope isn’t through a sunny field, but often a muddy slog along a very high cliff.

That doesn’t sound very inviting, I know.  But the hope is in the destination and the calling is to be obedient, because if we are, then later generations can experience a deeper peace, and a fulfilled hope. Our struggle is not in vain, nor is it a struggle just for our own benefit.

The question remains: Do we trust God? Do we trust God when things are going well? That’s the message for much of the early part of the Old Testament. Do we trust God when things are going very bad? That’s the call of the prophets. Whether they’ve gone bad because of something we’ve done or because something someone else has done isn’t the key issue. The key issue is trust, hoping in God so much that we’re obedient even when it seems it doesn’t matter and causes us more problems.

God is doing a work. Our calling is to persevere and speak truth so that others might keep pressing on and see the salvation of God.

3. Reading Through Acts 24-28

When things go wrong, it’s easy to think we did something to cause it.  That’s, after all, a big theme in the prophets. Israel messed up, and doubled-down in messing up, and finally God gets fed up, and then fired up.  Things get… complicated.  No longer winning, no longer blessed, the story becomes one of devastation and persecution.

So, if life is full of troubles, it’s easy to think we brought it on ourselves. Often, we have people around us telling us just that.

I did.  When I was dealing with some major life traumas in college, when things were getting out of control, getting more and more depressed, feeling isolated and frustrated after making what I thought were faithful decisions, I talked to a pastor. “You must be sinning,” he said.

That wasn’t helpful. I wasn’t perfect, to be sure, but I had committed myself to being obedient to God, and poured myself into doing my utmost. And things got bad and things got worse.

Fortunately, I had a Bible and was reading a lot of Christian writers in history, like John Wesley.

What I discovered shocked me, but it shouldn’t have.  Because it’s all through the Bible and all through Church history.

Bad things happen when we do bad things. That’s true.  But that’s not the only reason bad things happen. Sometimes, bad things happen when we’re in the midst of God’s mission and encounter opposition, from people or evil forces, who don’t want the best for us or are interested in serving God.

This is why discernment is important, to have confidence when we’re on the right track and humility when we’re not.

When we’re on the right track, when we’re walking with God and things get difficult, the calling isn’t to give up. It’s to speak.  This is where testimony becomes an amazing opportunity. It’s the sharing of truth, the sharing of hope, in the midst of trials. Not waiting until everything is resolved, but speaking of God’s work even while things are difficult. This is the place of faith, where the testimony isn’t just about the end result about about being a certain kind of person who lives in a new kind of way.

When things go bad, the person of faith testifies of God’s goodness. When things go wrong, the person of faith shares their hope and lives in love.

This is the radical calling, and it’s not one of our strength or our willpower, it’s the fruit of the Spirit, having given us a new vision of life we can’t help but live in this new kind of life everywhere we go, even when this confuses those around us. But their confusion is an opportunity. We can share, we can invite.

This is the story of Paul’s journey, a journey into a lot of different places but also a journey into a new kind of life, the resurrected life that exists even in this present.  We don’t know how Paul’s story ends. The book of Acts just stops before it gets there, maybe because it was written before Paul had died, maybe because it just doesn’t matter to the story.

What I love about how it ends is that by not wrapping everything up, it highlights how everything continues. The church continued to grow, people continued to hear the message, the Gospel was shared in highways, byways, and palaces.  Indeed, I’m writing this now because someone who heard Jesus speak shared the message with others, who shared the message with someone else, who shared the message with someone else, who shared the message…. until 2000 years later and half a world away, someone shared the message with me.

The testimony resonates and we’re part of this story, we’re still living in the narrative of Acts, with the Spirit continuing to raise up people to live out the Gospel and to speak the words of life. More than speak, to show their faith in what they do, and in doing that, showing the world what it is called to be.

What are you called to do this week? What are your acts that testify to God’s promise in your context?

4. Psalm 114-115


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.