Monday, November 1, 2010: A New Thing
Daily reading: Isaiah 43:15-19; Matthew 9:17
God is doing something new. What is it? Will we know it when we see it? This new thing is some sort of massive miracle that will transform all life. This new thing, however, is not just freedom from exile. The new thing is a cosmic transformation so big that the entire world will take notice. This new thing moves beyond our old rigid dogmas and into a new world of possibilities. There’s a warning in Matthew 9 about how transformative this new thing is going to be. The old religious containers won’t be able to hold this “new wine.” The wineskins will break. Is God doing something new in your life? Do you think you’d be able to see it if it were true? Ask God to show you one “new thing” that God is doing in you.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010: Entrenched?
Daily reading: Isaiah 43:15-19 again; Matthew 23:13-15
Jesus often railed against religious entrenchment. In the Matthew reading, he takes on the scribes and Pharisees for their misplaced piety. The prophet Isaiah says a similar thing to his audience. The people have become so entrenched in their faith tradition that they don’t believe they have anything more to learn about what is possible with God and God’s activity in the world. Faith becomes static, dogmatic, and unable to imagine that God could do anything new. This is a faith that is seized up, catatonic, totally compromised by the current culture. Are there parts of your life that are religiously entrenched? Where are you seized up or catatonic? Ask God to break you free from those places where your life is compromised.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010: Exile?
Daily reading: Isaiah 43:15-19 again; 1 Peter 2:11-12
Isaiah uses imagery of the Israelites fleeing from Egypt and the army of Egyptians overwhelmed in the Red Sea to speak to people exiled in Babylon. Prophets often used historical images to remind people of God’s faithfulness while calling them to return to faith. Israel’s faith is deeply rooted in the far-reaching past acts of God. But in this text, the prophetic formula changes. The prophet first reminds the people of God’s power and God’s favor. But then he challenges them to step into a future where God will do a new thing. God is powerful and has done great things, but turn your face into a new future. 1 Peter reminds us that there are exiles today, as well; people of faith dispersed throughout the world. Are you exiled from your real home? Have circumstances led you to believe that God cannot possibly do a new thing in your life? Ask God to remind you of what God has done in your past, and give you a new hope for the future.
Thursday, November 4, 2010: Enough?
Daily reading: Romans 3:19-28; Psalm 1:1-2
This section of Romans is part of Paul’s final argument about judgment. Paul concludes that the entire world is guilty before God. The law gives us knowledge of sin, but no amount of dutiful law-following will save us from it. So while the law is useful, and a gift to the Jews (and the whole world), it cannot free us from the power of sin. Paul defines sin as more than individual transgressions against God; it’s deeply connected to the human condition. The question changes from “Have we done enough?” (a question that has no answer), to “Do I have faith, and do I believe?” This argument from Paul to the Romans (which began in Galatians) is so new and radical that we are still wrestling with it today. It’s one thing to delight in God’s law and quite another to believe that you can somehow do enough to fulfill the law. Do you have faith? Do you believe? Ask God for the gift of faith, and then trust God to provide it.
Friday, November 5, 2010: Religiosity?
Daily reading: Luke 5:33-39; Jeremiah 31:33
One of the biggest arguments Jesus has with the Pharisees is that they are so consumed with their own piety and religiosity that they have forgotten the moral demands of that very religion. It is clear to the Pharisees and the followers of John the Baptist that the Jesus movement is not religious enough, so Jesus, the leader, is questioned. Jesus responds by refusing to debate the merits of their practices. He shows no interest in arguing the finer points and details of religious life, something the Pharisees love to do. God’s law is written on our hearts, yet we simply cannot behave according to the law. Is that how we end up with religiosity? Is there a part of you that’s simply putting up with religiosity? Ask God to take away anything that’s getting in the way of you become a new creation.
Saturday, November 6, 2010: Renewal?
Daily reading: Luke 5:33-39 again; Isaiah 35:3-7
Jesus says that the coming Kingdom of God should be celebrated. This renewal is new: reaching out across boundaries, living into the Kingdom in the present. Jesus’ second point, made more dramatic through the parables of the cloth and the wineskins, is that this new thing that Jesus is doing cannot and will not fit into any previous religious paradigm. It is so new that it is actually dangerous to the Pharisees. Jesus’ message that the Kingdom of God is near is incompatible with the existing religious systems, and, in many ways, it’s also incompatible with many Christian systems today. The Isaiah text describes this renewal in physical ways, with new strength and recovery from weariness. Where do you need renewal today? Ask God to make it possible for you to run and not be weary.
Sunday, November 7, 2010: Open?
Daily reading: Luke 5:33-39 again; Isaiah 65:17-18
There are times when our own imagination about God’s ability to do new things succumbs to a static religious dogma. What new thing is God calling us to be about? What religious systems have we created that Jesus would declare too unstable for his new wine? Can God do something new within us? How can we remain open to the movement of God and still be faithful? Many people hear the word “open” and they immediately assume that the word of God is being compromised. Is God’s future open or determined? In Isaiah, we sense the prophet’s excitement about the new thing that God will do. Where in your life has static religious dogma taken hold? Ask God to make you open to what God is able to do through you.