Week 50: Take a sad song and make it better

Readings for the week: Psalm 141, Nehemiah, JudePsalm 142, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, you don’t tell us that life will be without problems. Sometimes we can get to thinking that everything will go without worry or bother if we walk with you. It’s odd to think like that, since the Bible is filled with stories of those who walked with you, and they had lots of problems! Problems happen, but walking with you leads us through them in new ways, opening up possibilities and transforming our experience of life at each step. Remind me today how I am to live in light of you. Renew my hope, inspire my trust, give me strength and courage to press on to see the victory that is possible in you. Thank you for the ways you have worked and continue to work. Thank you it’s not really about works at all, but about coming close to you and finding a bounty of life with you.  Be with those I know who need to know you.  Be with those I know who need to see your answers. Help me to be the person you called me to be at each point, filling me with your Spirit so that I can embrace life in full!  Amen.

1. Psalm 141

2. Reading through Nehemiah

Nehemiah is the companion to Ezra. While Ezra focuses more on the religious aspects of the return to Jerusalem, emphasizing the restoration of the Temple and the renewal of Temple worship, Nehemiah focuses on the infrastructure, the rebuilding of the walls and resettlement within those walls.

Someone might characterize one as focusing on the spiritual side and the other focusing on the political side, but that’s making boundaries where they don’t really exist. As Ezra and Nehemiah emphasize, the religious involves the spiritual and the political, and the infrastructure does too.  There’s no separation of spheres of life in Scripture.  God isn’t just lord of the Temple after all.  God is involved in everything, and that means everything is drawn into the discussion of God’s lordship.

Of course, this isn’t an excuse to establish our own power or control over others to get what we want. God is in charge, and our faithfulness means being courageous and being humble at the same time. This is the lesson the people have learned, what Nehemiah is expressing throughout. He’s not about to be discouraged by those who come against him, but he’s not in this to make himself richer or more important. The long lesson in Babylon is that faithfulness to God is everything, and it seems that even as there’s a lot of discouragement and low morale, the rebuilding of the walls also involves a rebuilding of their sense of being the people of God.

I highlight the term “people” here because all throughout Nehemiah we are given a sense of how many different people are involved. Nehemiah is leading the way, but at every stage and every place it’s a group effort. People have their portion of responsibility and their gifts they offer. This is a bottom up restoration, an investment in the rebuilding by everyone for everyone, so the final experience is one in which the people invested their time, energy, resources, sharing in the struggles and in the accomplishment.

It’s not an easy process.  Like with the Exodus narrative, blessings come with opportunities and challenges. The invitation to a new beginning doesn’t leave faith behind, indeed it magnifies the need for it. In pressing into the new phase, there continues to be people and circumstances that reject the Story that God is writing and reject the possibilities for change.  The work of faith is saying nay to the naysayers, and not just speaking but indeed acting in ways that show trust.  This trust isn’t passive. It involves a lot of sweat and strategy, making wise decisions about rebuilding and about defending against evil.

Where are the broken walls in your life? What needs rebuilding and restoration in light of trusting God’s work?



3. Reading Through Jude

As we come near the end of this year through the Bible, we’re mostly encountering themes that we’ve heard before. God does a lot of teaching, but also a lot of reminding, and reminding again, and a fair amount of “if I have to tell you one more time, you’re going to be in big trouble.”

Jude is a short book, only one chapter, and as our only New Testament reading this week, it gives us a nice break from the long passages. We’re getting into Revelation next week, so enjoy the short reading.

Even though short it carries a big and important message: The dangers of corruption or immorality or distraction aren’t just coming from outside the church.   Those are to be expected and are often obvious. The bigger danger is really from the inside, what Jude calls the jagged rocks just below the surface of the water, teachers and others who look like they’re committed to Christ, but have other motives or other allegiances.

Indeed, often these people can seem very faithful in a lot of ways. They show up to church, they teach, they may even preach, serve on elder boards, be involved. But their commitment is to something other than the work of the Spirit. They may be what Wesley called “almost Christians,” having the form of Christianity without its heart. These people might even have good motives or goals but because they are not walking with the Spirit will steer the community in destructive ways.

Others are actually in opposition to the Spirit, out to make money or secure power or fill their ego.

The tendency then and now is to hear the claim of allegiance to Christ, to see a title or hear someone’s claims of faith as being unimpeachable. They are a man or woman of God, and can do no wrong! They are the anointed ones, or the ones with the vision, or the ones with the money, or the ones willing to do a lot of work.  These then cause us to overlook their dysfunction. And in doing that, our walls break down, our message is diluted, the community fractures, often while the message of Christianity still sounds like it is there.

It has been hollowed out. Jude, a brother of Jesus himself, cautions the people to be discerning, to not just look at the surface but to look below the surface where the dangers can be the worst. Don’t be patient with evil and don’t dismiss corruption among those who might have other good gifts.

The Spirit isn’t just given to the powerful or the titled. The Spirit doesn’t empower people then just let them do whatever else they want as long as the big stuff gets done.  The Spirit is given to all, for all, to empower the whole people in the mission of God to acts of service and lives of holiness.

We need to keep our wits about us.

I realize I’ve just about written as much here as Jude wrote in his book!


4. Psalm 142


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.