Week 48: Sticking with God especially when things get worse

Readings for the week: Psalm 1372 Chronicles 18-31Mark 12-14Psalm 138, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, there’s a lot of stories out there that grab my attention. There’s a lot of promises out there that try to recruit me to hoping in them. There’s a lot of people who tell me which way to go and who to be and what I should be doing with my time and money.  There’s only one you, however, and you are the way of truth, hope, life.  Help me to see your way clearly, help me to hear your Spirit and know how to discern where you are working.  Give me strength to press on when I am exhausted, and patience to wait for you rather than trying to put things into place myself.  May I have the courage of those who followed you to the end, so that I might see you throughout my journey and press on beyond the end into a new life.  Surround me and guide me and use me to help others hear your voice and see your work more clearly.  Be with those I know who are struggling and send answers to all my needs.  Amen.

1. Psalm 137

2. Reading through 2 Chronicles 18-31

He did what was right in the Lord’s eyes.  That sentence is a crucial one in the study of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. It is the ultimate (literally) proclamation of how a leader was aligned with God.  It is the seal of approval.  That said, it isn’t a once and done situation. There were kings that disobeyed God from the start and kings that obeyed God with their whole heart from beginning to end (though rarely without bumps). Then there are the kings that started well, but got caught up in the power or were influenced by other kingdoms around them. They were co-opted, and they led the people in destructive ways that became infections within the society.

What makes the difference for these kings? It doesn’t seem there’s a clear pattern. It’s definitely not due to circumstances. We tend to excuse our misbehavior or loss of faith when things get rough, when faced with big problems or constant irritations.  We may not have big kingdoms, but we do have zones of influence where we like our will to be done and we affect people in how we choose to act.

That is what makes these chapters not only historically interesting as a study of the journey of the people of Israel, but also personally interesting. The Bible does not idealize humanity. It doesn’t even idealize it’s own supposed ‘heroes’.  It’s gritty, showing that bad things happen to good people and bad people, with the challenge not in what happens but in how people respond. Do they respond in faith, doing what is right in the Lord’s eyes.

Or do they respond by rejecting God?  Both troubles and success can lead to abandoning God, with excuses and justifications providing all sorts of immediately convincing reasons.  But, abandoning God means jumping out of the rhythm of God’s work, so that the bad can get worse and the good can turn awful in a moment. It’s not just private decisions either, as if our sins or our faithfulness are just things that happen in our own self. How we live, what we choose, reverberates through our “kingdom.”

How are your choices this week reflecting your faithfulness?  Which of the kings in these chapters do you like the most? Which do you identify with the most?

3. Reading Through Mark 12-14

Who is Jesus? It’s a straightforward question but it’s not necessarily an easy one.  We who are Christians know what we’re supposed to say, but that’s not necessarily what everyone actually believes. Indeed, there’s a lot of people who say that Jesus was a good teacher, and that the early church made up a lot of stories about him in order to make him more than he was.  That attempts to explain away the miracles and the weight of exclusive call.  But is it really possible to say that?  The Gospels give us the testimony of a the earliest witnesses, and they do so in a way that doesn’t fit what we might expect. The early disciples, after all, weren’t exactly models of devotion.  They stumbled. They lost faith. They even betrayed and ran away at times.  They spent time with Jesus, but didn’t quite trust Jesus even to the end.

This isn’t surprising. Indeed, it seems that Jesus was well-prepared for this, and his teachings go well beyond just moral encouragements and wise sayings. He was political–his teachings had distinct social goals–but he wasn’t partisan, he refused to take any of the sides that were offered. Jesus is his own side, and rather than get co-opted he made a new way.

What does this way look like?  That’s the challenge of the Gospels and the curious testimony of the earliest Christians. It was a testimony of a great work of God that entered into this world among the lowly and outsiders, changing everything from below. Jesus refused to cater to the powerful and he resisted the easy answers. He was willing to face down opposition knowing–absolutely trusting–in his mission no matter what happened. Whether praise or abuse, he was not going to get co-opted.

He didn’t walk this path in silence. He continues to state not only the goal but also the method, the path to renewed hope that comes through difficult times and the honor that God gives to the lowly obedient more than the powerful.

If you were to describe the Kingdom of God in light of these chapters, what would you say? What does Jesus value? What does Jesus seek from those who say they follow him?

4. Psalm 138


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. Start where you can and then continue on.

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.