1 Chronicles 9: The first Israelites to return from exile to their homes and cities were the priests, the Levites, and the temple support staff.
After page after page of genealogy we arrive at the wrap up statement that “this is the complete family tree for all Israel.” After wading through the names (or maybe skipping them) we breathe a sigh of relief, ready to get back to the story telling of the book. Instead, there are more names! The writer skips over the years of exile to the beginning of the return to Jerusalem. He speaks of these people differently, though, and it feels as though the writer may be a contemporary of some of these folks. In just a few paragraphs we’ll be back to the story of King Saul and begin marching through the king stories of Israel and Judah. However, having just finished the genealogy followed by the list of early returnees to Israel after the exile, I can’t help but reflect on how connected it all is. Other nations that are exiled are absorbed into the culture of the Babylonian and, later on, Persian empires. These descendants of Abraham, though, hold together. There are changes to their culture and traditions, but they remain a separate people through it all. It’s only because of that that I can read “this is how it ended” followed immediately by “this is how it continued.” There’s only one way to explain it: it’s the Hand of God. This God made promises to Abraham and centuries later to David. Through the prophets, even in the darkest of days before the exile, there’s the promise of restoration. Now, in an almost offhand way I see part of the fulfillment of that. “Here’s the end of the story…now, let’s get back to the story.” Caution: God at work here!
Take Away: The Lord’s faithfulness spans lifetimes and generations. His faithfulness never fails.
1 Chronicles 7: Ezer and Elead [were] cattle-rustlers, killed on one of their raids.
The accounting of Ephraim’s family tree unearths the gem that some of the family were cattle-rustlers. Things got so bad that the natives of Gath caught them and killed them. Their dad was deeply grieved by their deaths and, when a baby was born to the family he named him “Unlucky” to reflect how he felt about things. The story is just thrown in with the continued listing of who was the father of whom, but it does spark the imagination a bit and it feels like we’re hearing about the old American west rather than about life centuries before Christ. I wonder how the original readers reacted to this bit of information. Did they hang their heads in shame or did they sheepishly grin at one another? I think there’s room for both reactions. It’s that way for us too. We can’t escape our connection to family. Sometimes we’re quite pleased with it and other times, well, not so much. At one level, I’m reminded that I’m not above the ups and downs, successes and failures of life. At another level, I don’t need to take myself too seriously. At least, so far as I know, I don’t have any ancestors named “Unlucky.” I’m not as sure about the cattle-rustling though.
Take Away: Don’t take life too seriously – sometimes it’s best to smile and move on.
We are family
2 Samuel 19: Because the king is related to us, that’s why!
David is a part of the tribe of Judah and as he victoriously returns to Jerusalem following the defeat of Absalom it’s the warriors from Judah who lead the way. This doesn’t sit too well with the other tribes, collectively called “Israel.” Ultimately, the rivalry between these “brothers” will result in one kingdom becoming two. For now, the seeds of the coming division are seen in arguing about who is most loyal to David. Shortly, Sheba of the tribe of Benjamin will try to divide Israel from Judah, but David’s forces will put down his rebellion. For now, we focus on the response of the men of Judah to the complaint that they’re being overly possessive of King David. Their answer is simple enough: “he’s related to us.” They feel a special connection to David and real pride in his leadership. Because of that, they want to stick as close to him as possible. As Christians, we feel that way about our King. We’ve been adopted into his family. He’s our Master and Savior, but he’s also our Brother. We want to stay as close to him as possible. After all, we are family.
Take Away: I’m glad I’m part of the family of God!
All in the family
Numbers 12: God overheard their talk.
On the surface it’s a family squabble. Moses’ brother and sister, Miriam and Aaron, don’t like his wife. This isn’t especially earthshaking. There are many in-laws who don’t get along. In this case, though, Moses’ brother and sister go public with their family dispute, apparently undermining his leadership by pointing out that Moses is married to a non-Israelite. It’s here that we find this chilling sentence: “God overheard their talk.” Actually, this passage usually brings a smile to my face. The statement that Moses is the most humble man on the face of the earth is quite funny when we think of the tradition that Moses is the author of Numbers. Supposedly we have him describing himself here as the most humble man on earth! In spite of the smile, however, this is quite a serious passage. God doesn’t like it when people undermine the leadership he’s put in place. The issue here isn’t about disagreeing with leaders, questioning some decision they’ve made. Instead, it’s about undermining God-given authority. In this case, God doesn’t like what he hears and acts to shore up his chosen leader’s status by diminishing theirs. Surely there are times when church leaders need correction but if they need to be taken down a peg or two, we’d better be careful about our place in it.
Take Away: A God called leader remains human and prone to error but he or she also deserves respect as one set apart by the Lord.
Talk about sibling rivalry!
Genesis 37: The story continues with Joseph.
Things finally settle down for Jacob and his journeys come to an end. His many children grow up as he and his wives grow old. It’s time to focus on the next generation. Jacob’s multiple wives plus their maid servants have produced lots of kids, especially sons. The fundamental flaw of this polygamous system is apparent in Jacob’s having a favorite wife who, in turn produces favorite children. The women struggled with this approach and their children aren’t as docile about it as their mothers were. Their sibling rivalry is similar to what their father and his brother experienced decades earlier. When Jacob makes it clear that Joseph is his favorite the other brothers band together in their hatred of him. It’s only a matter of time before this pot boils over and the day comes when the brothers are given a golden opportunity to act against Joseph. At the last minute they modify their plan and rather than murder him they sell him into slavery instead. The thing that comes to mind as I consider this story is the amazing flexibility of God. He works through situations that are mishandled. Had the brothers gotten along I still think Joseph would have become a powerful man. I also think all of their lives would have been easier. Still, when they act as they do, the Lord’s purpose isn’t ruined and the Lord immediately goes to work to accomplish his purpose while honoring their free will. As I read this story, I’m reminded that it’s better cooperate with what God wants in the first place and enjoy his blessing along the way. Still, while the Lord holds me accountable for how I live my life; poor decisions on my part will never negate his ultimate purposes in the world.
Take away: God always honors free will, but he doesn’t let our failures stop him from accomplishing his purposes.
The God of the House of God
Genesis 35: He built an altar there and named it El-Bethel (God-of-Bethel).
Having returned to his home region, Jacob and his large family settle in. However, it isn’t long before things get complicated. The interaction between Jacob’s family and the natives of the land turns ugly with a rape and then retaliation that includes murder. It’s time for them to go and the Lord names the place: Bethel. It was at Bethel that the Lord first appeared to Jacob when he was on the run from his brother. Now, he moves his entire family and all his belongings to Bethel. Apparently, it comes just in time. Not only are the locals preparing for war against them, but many of Jacob’s entourage has begun to dabble in the religions of the region. It’s time for Jacob and family to go to Bethel. When he arrives he builds a new altar to the Lord there. The name “Bethel” means “House of God.” Jacob names the altar “El-Bethel” meaning “The God of the House of God.” He isn’t only bringing his family to the place where he met God; he’s bringing them to God, Himself. I know it’s quite a stretch, but I can’t help but think of our own efforts to impact our families for God. It isn’t enough to insist that they behave themselves or even attend church with us. We need to bring them to God, Himself. Without that, everything else is just sideline stuff that’s bound to fail.
Take away: We need to do all we can to bring our loved ones to a personal relationship with the Lord.
Passing the faith along
2Timothy 1: What a rich faith it is, handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you.
Paul writes to his young friend Timothy from prison. He wishes he was free, able to travel, preaching the gospel, visiting friends he’s made through the years. How he misses Timothy. Despite the difference in their ages, they’re “joined at the hip” in ministry. Not only are these two men united in ministry, but Paul knows Timothy’s family and values the steady faithfulness of both his grandmother and mother. Now, Timothy has taken up the life of faith he first learned from these two women. How proud they must be of their son and grandson! I understand that as beings with free will that each person must make his or her own decision about spiritual things. However, I also know that having a godly heritage gives a young person a head start in spiritual matters. In fact, Timothy’s testimony could be mine. Today, I thank God for a faithful mother and grandmother who nurtured me in the faith. Both of these who influenced me for the Lord are now in heaven. Perhaps there’s someone who helped you to come to know the Lord early in life. If so, thank God for them. If possible, it might be a good idea to tell them how much you appreciate their godly influence on your life.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for those who have touched your life in Jesus’ Name – and if possible thank them too!
Dealing with freeloaders
2Thessalonians 3: If you don’t work, you don’t eat.
Having dealt with the issue concerning the Second Coming Paul turns his attention to a more immediate concern. From the establishment of the Church years earlier, Christians have been wonderfully generous. That’s true concerning their relationship with outsiders but even truer of their relationship with one another. The Church is like a family with each person valued, loved, and cared for. Some are more materially blessed than others but in blessing some the Lord has blessed all. However, that mutuality has drawn some to their number who come to get rather than to share. This, apparently, has been a problem from the beginning. Paul reminds them that twenty years earlier when he was their pastor that he set an example of pulling his share of the load and also had a rule in place that everyone else did the same. This was such an important concept that Paul sat an example: working his fingers to the bone for the church and then moonlighting to help with the expenses of the church. It’s a balancing act in which those who have genuine needs are cared for but at the same time those who won’t do their part are encouraged to do so. It’s a challenge for the Thessalonians and it’s a change for the church today. On one hand, we have “no work, no eat.” On the other hand we have the instruction to not “treat him as an enemy.” The Apostle tells them to sit down with such a person and explain to them that we may not all be able to contribute an equal amount but we can all do whatever it is that we can do. Allowing people to be freeloaders in the church (and, I think in society as well) isn’t doing them a favor.
Take Away: We need the wisdom of the Lord to show compassion to those who need a helping hand and at the same time insist people do what they are capable of doing to care for themselves.
Hum “Family of God” as you read this one
2Corinthians 9: God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
In spite of Paul having written some pretty stern stuff to them, he remains confident of his good relationship with the Corinthians. In fact, he moves from the topic of his first letter to them to encourage them to be generous in their giving to a special relief offering he’s collecting to be taken to the Christian poor in Jerusalem. If you think about it it’s quite an impressive thing he’s doing. These Gentiles wouldn’t have given a second thought to some Jews living in Jerusalem just a few years earlier. They felt no connection to them and they certainly wouldn’t have considered sending them a relief offering. Now, though, it’s all changed. Their lives are now linked to the lives of people throughout the region. Before it was “us and them” but now it’s all “us.” What has happened? Jesus! His presence in their lives has made them part of a family. These days, they not only know about fellow believers in distant Jerusalem, but they’re willing to send them some of their hard earned cash to help them through hard times. What Paul began so long ago continues to this day as Christians send offerings to people in distant places in the Name of Jesus. God’s people are the most generous people on the face of the earth. The reason, according to Paul, is that we’re behaving like our Heavenly Father who’s the most generous Being there is. We’re part of a great family and our Father has set for us a powerful example of giving. We give to all who are in need, but we’re especially willing to give, even sacrificially, to help our brothers and sisters. “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.”
Take Away: God’s people are wonderfully generous people.
I’m glad I’m part of the family of God
1Corinthians 16: And I love you all in the Messiah, Jesus.
Paul has been pretty hard on the church at Corinth and with good reason. On one hand, they appear to be a template for what a Christian church isn’t supposed to be. There are failures upon failures there and in this letter the Apostle is like a fireman trying to extinguish several blazes. On the other hand, he has a warm, fatherly, relationship with them. He’s not angrily ready to toss them aside. Instead, he sees them as worth redeeming. Beyond all that, I have the distinct feeling that my impression of this congregation is rather one sided. There’s plenty wrong there, but a lot of it is likely associated with their being enthusiastic about living for the Lord and, at the same time, are coming out of a clueless, immoral culture. The result is enthusiastic ignorance. Maybe that’s better than being knowledgably bored! Paul concludes his letter by restating his love for them. They may be an ignorant and frustrating crowd, but Paul claims them as his own. It’s a pretty good reminder of how things are supposed to be in the family of God. We may have a few who are sometimes a bit off the grid, (of course that doesn’t include you and me!) but we love them just the same. After all, we’re together in this family of God.
Take Away: As the old saying goes, “Sometimes I wonder about everyone but me and thee…and sometimes I wonder about thee.”