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Caution, God at work here
Genesis 39: As it turned out, God was with Joseph and things went very well with him.
When Joseph is sold into slavery the last word to come to mind is “blessed.” Things don’t look like they’re going to turn out “very well.” Being sold into slavery indicates one’s being cursed rather than blessed. However, God’s at work here and the first part of the story gives us little indication of what the last part’s going to look like. While being sold into slavery isn’t one of our common concerns, it’s true that life takes some unexpected and unwelcome turns. The thing is that such events are, in the least, God’s providential will. That is, he isn’t pulling strings, forcing people to do bad things, but he does allow it to happen. In fact, the Lord specializes in turning stuff like this upside down. Because of that, sometimes things start out looking pretty messy, more like a demolition project than any kind of construction. The key in the passage before us today is the phrase “God was with Joseph.” In fact, that’s the key to the whole Joseph story. It’s almost as though there’s a sign: “Caution, God at work here.” For every setback there’s a more than equal advance. When God’s at work, the end of the story is always “things went very well.” It may not seem to be that way at any given point along the journey, but that’s how it is going to end.
Take away: We don’t always understand all that’s happening, but when God’s at work, things turn out just fine.
Can’t we all just get along?
1Corinthians 1: You must get along with each other.
As I understand it, Corinth is a lot like the Old West of American movies. It’s a rough and tough place with lots of immorality. Paul comes preaching the Gospel of Jesus and many of these rowdy people become believers. For a year and a half (a long time for him) Paul stays, establishing them in the faith, teaching them what it means to be Christians. Now, he’s moved on, but has received word that things aren’t going very well in Corinth. One of the big problems is lack of unity. The Church of Corinth is splitting, not into two parts, but into several. In fact, if there’s an opportunity for discord, they’ve found it. Paul writes to them, saying, “You must get along with each other” and then both reasons with them and shames them into unity. As I consider this passage the call of Jesus to his followers to be one even as he and his Father are one feels quite distant. I share the Apostle’s concern as I look at the state of Christianity today. Sometimes “oneness” seems out of reach and I wonder if Paul was writing to the Church today what he would say. There is, though, a silver lining in these opening words of 1 Corinthians. It’s Paul’s sunny, optimistic approach to all this. He describes the church as “cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God filled life” and reminds them that Jesus “will never give up on you.” The Lord has already done a lot in their lives and Paul assures them that he’s going to keep right on working. So, as I read these words today I confess that the state of Christianity today concerns me. At the same time I’m infected by Paul’s optimistic view of the Church. It’s good to remember that God’s still at work today.
Take Away: The Lord is working inside the Church to make us one, and, as we cooperate with him, that’s just what he’s going to do.
Wake up and smell the coffee!
Romans 13: Be up and awake to what God is doing!
I’m chest deep in my life in the church. I’m a pastor so I have a love and responsibility for the flock I shepherd. Beyond that, I’m a denominational pastor so I have connections to maintain, meetings to attend, reports to do. I’m okay with it all. I pastor a fine congregation and I’m proud of my denominational ties. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, I have to be careful that programs and meetings and traditions don’t own me. Sometimes, I need to be reminded that God doesn’t exist to help me plan the fall program of the church and he isn’t waiting on the denomination to tell him what’s next. In fact, sometimes God sees trends and opportunities that aren’t even on my radar screen. I need to be careful that my religious life isn’t all about me performing as God sits in the audience wondering what I’ll do next. I belong, not to my local congregation or the denomination or even the Church universal, but to the Lord. I’m reminded of all that today in the words of the Apostle. What’s God doing right now and how does he want me to be part of it? That’s how the Church at large needs to operate. This is how the local church is to think. It’s how I’m to live my life.
Take Away: Don’t get so immersed in church culture that you fail to maintain contact with the Lord.
God at work here
Romans 2: There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong.
Paul hasn’t spent his time locked up in some ivory tower thinking about hypothetical situations. Rather, more than anyone else, he’s gone out into the real world dealing with people from all walks of life and a variety of religious beliefs. We think that if we have a spirited exchange with a friend who’s a Catholic or a Pentecostal or a Baptist that we’ve been debating religion. Paul has encountered a variety of religious views that reveal our denominational differences to be as trivial as they really are. He’s worked with idol worshipers and with a wide variety of pagans. In all that, Paul has never backed away from his faith in Jesus Christ and he’s proclaimed that faith at considerable personal cost. Still, even in the most non-Christian settings he’s discovered in people the image of God. He’s seen in those who’ve never heard of the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount an innate understanding of the concepts taught to God’s people by them. This, Paul says, is a proof of God’s hand in their lives and a reminder that their coming to Christ isn’t as distant a journey as one might think. On one hand, I don’t want to drift into the dangerous waters of universalism. Among other things, that diminishes the sacrifice our Lord made on the cross. On the other hand, I want to appreciate the good things I see in people who haven’t yet come to the Lord. On every human heart, follower of Jesus or not, a sign can be hung declaring “God at work here.”
Take Away: Before I ever think of God he thinks of me and before I ever respond to him, he’s already at work in my life.
The story continues
Acts 28: Paul lived for two years in his rented house.
The adventure at sea over, the prisoner Paul arrives in Rome. There, in a rented house with a Roman guard, Paul sets up shop, welcoming those who come to talk about Jesus. Luke’s account ends here. Frankly, it’s not a very satisfying ending. When I conclude reading the gospels I finish each of them feeling quite satisfied. After all, the resurrection pretty much sums up the story. Beyond that, the book of Revelation probably wins the prize for having the most satisfying conclusion. The book of Acts, though, leaves me wondering what happens next. Here’s Paul, still a prisoner, waiting his turn to state his case in Caesar’s court. I have to look beyond the Bible to find what happens next. The most common speculation is that Paul is released after two years, probably because his case is thrown out of court. He returns to his missionary efforts, and, later on, is arrested again and this time is executed in Rome. Why our writer, Luke, doesn’t continue his account is unknown. Perhaps he leaves Rome, never to return, while Paul is held under house arrest. Perhaps he did continue with part two of his account but it was somehow lost. Maybe the cliff hanger conclusion to Acts is intended to remind me that the Book of Acts is still being written. After all, the purpose of the book is to tell how the Holy Spirit works through the Church to carry out the mission given it by the Lord. The story won’t be complete until the return of Jesus to this world. To some extent, all Christians are characters in this continuing story. We don’t think about it very often, but it might be said that we’re living in the book of Acts.
Take Away: The Holy Spirit continues to work in this world. How can I best cooperate and partner with him?
Loving, doing, and fixing
Jeremiah 9: I’m God…these are my trademarks.
Jeremiah says that certain things define God. First, he says that God acts “in loyal love.” Centuries later John will declare that “God is love” but Jeremiah has already beaten John to the punch. God thinks of himself in terms of his faithful love for his Creation; for you and me. Second, I see that he does “what’s right” and sets “things right and fair.” The Lord fixes things. He doesn’t leave them as he finds them. Right now, God’s at work “fixing” this broken world and he won’t rest until he’s done it. Finally, God delights in “those who do the same things.” The Lord isn’t working solo in his “loving, doing, and fixing” efforts in this world. He’s very pleased when we join him in these things. Once I respond to his love and his “setting things right” in my life, he invites me to join him in what he’s doing in the world. When I do that, it’s a delight to him.
Take Away: The Lord isn’t working solo in his “loving, doing, and fixing” efforts in this world – rather, he invites us to join him in this great work.
Such Good News!
Isaiah 42: I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
As Isaiah celebrates the ministry of the Messiah it seems that God, Himself, steps onto center stage. He, too, comes to rejoice in the promise of a “new salvation work.” This Salvation-Bringer is coming, not because people have earned it but because the Lord has “taken responsibility” for them and is going to act in their behalf. The result of that ministry will be that God’s people will “live right and well.” Today, I’m reminded that Jesus didn’t come to the world to condemn us for living poorly; instead, he came to enable us to live well in the sight of God. Jesus put it this way: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
Take Away: Jesus came to enable us to live well in the sight of the Lord.
God’s the cook, I’m just a waiter
Proverbs 3: Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person.
The highest honor in life is to work with God in what he’s doing in the world. It’s amazing to realize that the Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, will call on me to assist him in some manner. Jesus uses his disciples to assist him in performing miracles. For instance, when he feeds the 5000 he uses them as waiters who distribute the food. Obviously, transforming a sack lunch into a truck load of food is the biggest part, but the disciples are pressed into service, assisting in the miracle. The wise man of the Proverbs reminds me that I ought to be aware of the needs I encounter in life and realize that God will use me as his assistant to meet those needs. I know that he doesn’t have to have my help. After all, he could rain down manna from heaven. However, I also know that he invites me into partnership with himself. Again, the highest honor in life is to be invited to labor with God.
Take Away: How might the Lord use me, in even some small minor way, to assist him in his purposes today?
The real work
Nehemiah 4: We countered with prayer to our God and set a round-the-clock guard against them.
The enemies of Nehemiah and his rebuilding project first try to discourage the workers by making fun of their effort. When that doesn’t work they begin to prepare for more concrete action, or at least threaten an attack. Nehemiah takes this threat seriously and organizes two defense efforts. One is to post guards to keep watch. The other is to organize prayer. This reliance on prayer isn’t unusual for Nehemiah at all. Often we find him responding to problems by praying. While posting guards is a practical thing to do, I think the most practical thing he does is to pray. I tend to treat prayer as a last ditch effort to be used when all else has failed, or something to be done by people who are unable for some reason to get involved in the “real work.” Know what? It’s prayer that’s the real work. Nehemiah goes ahead and arms the workers for self-defense but the attack never comes. The reason is that he and his team first countered the threat with prayer. Thank God for prayer “warriors” who fight and win battles in prayer.
Take Away: Its prayer that’s the real work.
Ready or not, here it comes
2Kings 11: Athaliah, oblivious to his existence, ruled the country.
Jehu’s purge nets both Joram, wicked king of Israel, and Ahaziah, the king of Judah who has become a partner with Joram in his sinful leadership. Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, takes her son’s place, not only on the throne but also as one committed to evil. Her first act is to kill anyone in her family who might contest her claim to the throne of Judah. It appears her plan has worked, and it would have, except for the bravery and quick action of Jehosheba who hides the infant Joash from his own grandmother’s murderous intention. Now, six years later, it’s time to act. Intrigue abounds as plans are made to dethrone the pretender Athaliah and elevate Joash to his rightful place as boy king. As this takes place we’re told that Athaliah is “oblivious” to it all. I think the Lord often works like this. Ordinary people and even the wicked pursue their goals, pressing on, thinking everything is working out as anticipated. Meanwhile, God is at work in the underground. Big things are coming and we’re “oblivious” to it all. For Athaliah it means that her hijacking of the throne of Judah is soon coming to a bloody end. For followers of the Lord, it means that we’d better keep our eyes on Jesus and be ready for — well, be ready for “whatever” comes next.
Take Away: Even when we can’t see it, the Lord is at work, preparing for the next big thing.