Thank God for spiritual heroes
Philippians 2: Give him a grand welcome, a joyful embrace!
When the church at Philippi heard about Paul’s imprisonment they wanted to do something tangible to help him. They decided to send one of their own, a man named Epaphroditus, to Paul, likely carrying an offering for him. The arrival of this good man warmed Paul’s heart, greatly encouraging him. Then, to his dismay Epaphroditus became ill, sick enough to die. Although it was touch and go for a while Epaphroditus recovered completely. Now, Paul’s writing a letter to the Philippian church and he intends to have Epaphroditus deliver it, returning home. The Apostle tells them that Epaphroditus is a real hero, a great man of God. He urges them to give him a hero’s welcome, telling them “people like him deserve the best you can give.” As I read about Epaphroditus today I’m reminded of some spiritual giants I’ve known in my life. A few of them are well known, at least in some circles. They’ve received a fair amount of deserved recognition. Several, though, never made it to the big stage. In my case, they’re some pastors I’ve known, either during my growing up years or as co-workers in the Kingdom. Some of these good people never pastored large churches and as far as I know never received any denominational rewards. Still, they’ve encouraged me and I’ve seen in them the heart of Jesus for their people. Today I remember a pastor who took time to sit down with a boy to explain sanctification in a way he could begin to grasp. I also remember a pastor who always had a smile on his face and a kind word to say to others even though he was going through some hard times. These are spiritual heroes who deserve a “grand welcome, a joyful embrace!”
Take Away: Thank God for the spiritual heroes who have influenced your life.
Three cheers for Ebed-melek
Jeremiah 38: Jeremiah sank into the mud.
Jeremiah’s reprieve from the cistern of Jonathan doesn’t last. He’s more accessible where he’s being kept in the courtyard of the palace guards so people are coming to him to hear the word of the Lord. And that’s just what they hear: being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them invulnerable. The city’s going to fall and their only hope is to surrender. When community leaders realize what’s happening they go straight to king Zedekiah, insisting that Jeremiah be silenced. Once again the king fails as he washes his hands of the situation, handing Jeremiah over to his enemies. Jonathan’s cistern was at least dry. They put the miserable prophet down in Malkijah’s cistern. There, we’re told, “Jeremiah sank into the mud.” One can only imagine the terror of Jeremiah as his feet touch the mud and he begins to sink. How much mud is there? Will he suffocate, drowning in mud? The Lord, though, hasn’t forgotten his prophet, and the Lord has some loyal people in the city. One of those people is Ebed-melek. When he hears what’s happened to Jeremiah he goes to the king and insists that Jeremiah deserves better treatment. Once again Zedekiah wavers, this time giving permission to Ebed-melek to take some men and get Jeremiah out of that cistern. We don’t know much about Ebed-melek. He was an Ethiopian, an official in the court, and his name means “servant of the king.” This event causes us to wish we knew him better. This man suddenly appears on the scene, is used by God at a critical moment in history, and then moves on, never to be seen again. In the Kingdom there are those who are called to play big roles. Some are like Jeremiah who stays on the center stage of history for decades. (This is just an aside, but we shouldn’t mistake being called to play a big role in God’s plans to mean we’ll always like where that role takes us. Rather, it might be to a terrible place, knee deep in mud.) The rest of us, though, are given supporting roles. It may be that our whole lives will be lived in the background, unnoticed by history. However, we might, at just the right time and place, be given some key lines to say or a fleeting, but important, thing to do. If that’s what God has in mind for me, I hope I can do my job as well as Ebed-melek does in this passage.
Take Away: We may live our entire lives and only be given one, eternal, history making opportunity. Let’s make the most of that opportunity when it comes.
2 Samuel 17: Shobi…Makir…and Barzillai…brought beds and blankets, bowls and jugs filled with wheat, barley….
David and his supporters have fled Jerusalem with scant preparation for their exile. Still, David has friends. Hushai takes his life in his hands to not only be a spy in Absalom’s court, but even offers Absalom bad advice as he makes plans to go after his father. Jonathan and Ahimaaz and an unnamed servant girl serve as couriers. A woman at Bahurim helps these couriers hide. Meanwhile, others are providing provisions for David and those who have fled with him. Before long they have “roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey, and curds and cheese” thanks to Shobi, Makir, and Barzillai. Know what? As I type the names of these people the spell checker on my computer is going crazy. Apparently, my computer has never heard of Hushai or Ahimaaz or Makir. Maybe you haven’t heard of them either. These people aren’t major figures in history so their names aren’t well known. However, on this day as David flees for his life, they all play vital roles. You might say that they each rise to the occasion. The fact is that there are a lot more people like dear brother Barzillai and the woman at Bahurim than there are people like David. I identify with that crowd and maybe you do too. We may not get the headlines, but, if we’re faithful to do the right thing at the right time, we might just make a major, if unnoticed difference in the world.
Take Away: Not all heroes are famous.
Grasping at straws
Judges 17: Stay here with me. Be my father and priest.
Things go from bad to worse as I progress through the book of Judges. The lofty mountain top encounter with God through his servant Moses of centuries before is forgotten as is Joshua’s declaration of faithfulness to God. The light of the promise made by their ancestors at the Red Sea and then at the Jordan River is nearly extinguished. Judges is a downhill book. There are occasional heroes but they become fewer and fewer. The heroes we do find become more and more flawed. Here’s the story of Micah and his hired Levite priest. In this spiritual night, there’s a hunger for God, but it’s so broken and disfigured that we hardly recognize it. Using God to get wealthy or for the purpose of fortune telling is the order of the day. The tribes that were so united under Joshua and Moses are now fragmented politically and greatly influenced by the pagans of the land. The tug of war over who gets the priest is a pitiful reminder of the result of spiritual emptiness. In spite of the uniqueness of this story, I think it’s being lived out in my own culture. People who think they’re beyond needing God grasp at anything that promises to satisfy their emptiness. As I see the pitiful people of this distant day fighting over the Levite priest, I’m reminded that our message of “God with us” is the one the world desperately needs today.
Take Away: There’s a hunger in our lives that can only be filled by the Lord.