Monday, November 24, 2014

Children, Do You Know What Your Heavenly Father Is Doing?

Is God far-off or near?   Is he remote, passive, and impersonal or actively and intimately involved in creation.  The scriptures answer resoundingly that the latter is true.  Jesus said God personally decides when a thing insignificant as a sparrow will die and he keeps track of exactly how many hairs are on your head (Matthew 10:29-30).  The deist idea that God is like a watch maker who made the universe with the ability to continue to run on its own so he could go off and do something else is completely foreign to scripture.  Psalm 139 is a beautiful meditation on intimate, personal care God has for us.  The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is continually, “..upholding the universe by his word of power” (Hebrews 1:3).  In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes that God “is above all and through all and in all”.  Not only has God not left the universe to run on its own power, he is continually exerting the power of his will to hold every atom together.  If he ceased to do so for even a moment the entire universe would utterly vanish.
God is intimately involved not just in nature but also human affairs.  Daniel received a vision in which he is told, “the Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men”(Daniel 4:17).  The psalmist declares that God “guides the nations upon earth” (Psalm 67:4).  When Balaam tried to curse Israel, God prevented him from uttering curses and made him pronounce blessings instead (Numbers 24).  When God was finished punishing Israel in exile, he moved Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation authorizing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).  We also read in the Bible how king Rehoboam did not listen to the people; for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahi′jah the Shi′lonite to Jerobo′am the son of Nebat (1 Kings 12:15).  The Bible gives us a picture of God allowing people to do some things but restraining them from doing others. It shows God moving people to act so as to bring about his purpose.
David and Abigail recognized this when Abigail’s husband Nabal returned David’s kindness with contempt and scorn.  When Abigail heard that David and his men were coming to avenge themselves upon Nabal, she quickly gathered a peace offering and hurried to meet David.  When they met they acknowledged that “the Lord has restrained (David) from bloodguilt, and from taking vengeance with (his) own hand”.  They were confident that this was so even though there had been no miraculous manifestations of God’s presence, no angelic appearances or voices from heaven.  They knew these events could be explained only by the influence and intervention of God in their own actions and decisions.
All these things are ancient.  How about today.  Is it possible that God may still be actively working in us and those around us and influencing the events of our lives?  Yes, he certainly is.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  In John 5:19 we read, “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise”.  Jesus explained that he was watching his heavenly father in every situation. After observing what his father in heaven was doing, Jesus cooperated with his father by doing the part assigned to him.  He shows us that our heavenly father is not distant and detached but ever present and always at work in the world.
You may be thinking, “This is all very good and well but what does this have to do with us?  After all, Jesus was the Son of God.  Surely it’s impossible for us to do the same thing he did.  The answer is yes and no.  Jesus was fully human in every way but his human nature was pure and sinless. Our human natures are thoroughly warped and twisted by sin.  Jesus was like Adam and Eve before they sinned.  Paul calls Adam the first man and he refers to Jesus as the second man and the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-47).  During his life on earth  Jesus lived the way Adam was intended to live.  He did it perfectly in every way.  Jesus ability to see what his father was doing and work with him was not a divine ability but a human ability.  This means we can do what Jesus did although not as easily and as well as he did.  Our sinful natures weigh us down and keep us from living the way we were intended to live.  As we seek God’s grace (help), and respond to it, we can learn more and more to see what God is doing wherever we are and work with him just like Jesus did.
The first step is to cultivate an awareness of God’s presence in everything we do.  If we don’t believe God is at work around us or fail to look for signs of his presence we will never be able to enter into his work.  Then we should be praying that our eyes will be opened to see what God is doing and our ears sensitized to hear how we are to help.  The more we respond to the grace offered us the more we will fulfill these words from the apostle Paul: Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1).  We most certainly can work together with God as we respond to the grace he gives.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hireling Or Son?

Are you a hireling or a son?  In his famous sermon about the good shepherd Jesus contrasts the good shepherd with the hireling.  When a wolf attacks the flock the cowardly hireling abandons the sheep and runs for his life.  However the son risks his life by running forward and putting himself in danger between the sheep and the wolf.  These are the two choices we have in our relationship with the Lord.  We can serve the Lord like an employee or like a member of the family.
The employee does only what he has to do.  He arrives for work just before his shift begins and clocks out as soon as the numbers on the clock turn over at the end of the day.  He does exactly what he’s required to do and no more.  It was in this same spirit that the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  He didn’t ask in sincerity wanting to truly learn but because he served God like an employee.  As an employee he wanted an detailed definition of “neighbor” so he could fulfill the commandment exactly without doing any extra, unnecessary work.
The son, on the other hand, is a member of the family.  He never clocks out and goes home.  He’s on call all the time.  He works gladly because he loves his father and his father’s house.  He needs no job description because he considers his job to be anything that needs to be done.  It never enters his mind to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”

This world is our Father’s world.  Everything and everyone we see belongs to him.  Our only choice is how will we live.  Will we live as small-minded, petty employees continually saying, “That’s not my job.  She’s not my neighbor.  I’m on my break right now.”  Or will we live as sons and daughters of the owner who are always gladly about our Father’s business.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Eating From The Dog's Dish

1 Corinthians 1:2 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus”

            Paul says that the members of the church at Corinth are sanctified.  The Greek word he uses here comes from the same root word that is translated as holy or saint.  Whenever you read any of these words – sanctify, saint, holy - in their various forms, they all convey the idea of someone or something that is separated or reserved from others to be special or set apart for special purposes and uses.
            It’s not just the Corinthians who were sanctified.  The New testament frequently uses words like holy, saint, and sanctified to refer to all disciples.  If you believe in Jesus Christ you are a holy, sanctified saint.  This means you are set apart and reserved for special purposes.  You are prized and particularly cherished by God and he has dedicated you for his use and to do his service.
            In the days of temple worship there were bowls and other utensils that were reserved for use in the sacrifices performed during the worship of the Lord.  These utensils were sanctified and holy.  It would have been a great blasphemy for anyone to take one of those bowls home and use it in his own house.  These bowls could only be used for temple worship and for no other purpose.
            So what does that mean for us?  It means we are not to live in a common, ordinary way.  We are separated from ordinary people for a higher, special kind of life.  Does that mean we should not have jobs, get married, have children, own houses and do all the other things of normal human life?  Does that mean we should spend our entire lives in monastery cells praying and worshipping God?  Prayer and worship are certainly good things and we should be doing them often but all the other things listed above are good as well and are actually God’s will for most people.
            The difference for us is the way we do those things.  For example, ordinary people might tell a lie if it helps them get what they want or avoid trouble but you would never want to lie if you are sanctified.  You are reserved for something better and higher.  You have been set apart for truth telling.  The same goes for many other ways of doing things.  Ordinary people can steal, be lazy, hold grudges, take revenge, be selfish, and similar things but sanctified people are reserved for a special, higher way of life.  When a sanctified person does one of these common things it’s like taking a bowl from the good china, one that’s reserved for special times when you have guests, and using it to feed the dog.  You also would never think about serving food to a guest in the dog’s dish.  In the same way we should consider it unthinkable to live like ordinary people.  Sanctified people are reserved for better things.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Who is Sos’thenes?


1 Corinthians 1:1 “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sos'thenes”

            Who is Sos’thenes?  The short answer is we don’t know.  However, it’s possible to make some informed guesses about this mystery man.  The first thing we can say is that Sos’thenes is part of a very select company.  There are only three people whose names are mentioned by Paul in the greetings of his letters: Timothy is mentioned six times, Silva’nus is mentioned twice, and our man Sos’thenes is mentioned once.  We know quite a bit about Timothy.  We know that Timothy was one of Paul’s closest associates in the work of spreading the gospel and a prominent leader in the early church.  Paul mentions Silva’nus several times in his letters allowing us to discover that he also was one of Paul’s close coworkers and a preacher of the gospel.  Since Sos’thenes is mentioned in the same context as these others, it’s reasonable to assume that he also was a partner with Paul in the spreading of the gospel.
            The name Sos’thenes is also found in the book of Acts.  We can’t prove beyond all doubt that the Sos’thenes mentioned in Acts is the same man mentioned in 1 Corinthians but there are some good reasons to think he might be.  The first reason is that Sos’thenes lived in Corinth and so it makes sense that Paul would mention his name when he writes a letter to the Corinthian church.
            Luke records the story of Paul’s first visit to Corinth in Acts 18.  Following his usual custom, Paul began his work in the city by arguing in the synagogue every sabbath.  He had some success and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.  Even “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized”. Eventually though a majority of the Corinthian Jews rejected Paul’s message and “opposed and reviled him”.  So Paul stopped going to the Synagogue but continued preaching in the house of a man named Titius Justus who lived next door to the synagogue.  Since Crispus, the ruler of the Synagogue, had gone with Paul, the members of the Synagogue elected a new leader - Sos'thenes.  Eventually the Jews, lead by Sos’thenes, made a united attack upon Paul and brought him before Gallio, the Roman governor of that area.  The governor however refused to even hear the case and threw them out of the courtroom.  The Jews were outraged at their treatment by the governor and by the failure of their plan.  Wanting a scapegoat on which to focus their anger, they started blaming their leader for this disaster.  Right there on the street, in front of the governor’s court they seized Sos'thenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and began beating him.  Poor Sos’thenes was helpless against the angry mob.  Even the governor ignored the situation and refused to break up the riot.
            Since Sos’thenes was elected leader of the synagogue after opposition to Paul and the gospel coalesced among the Jews, he obviously was prominent among those who rejected the gospel.  He was no doubt an outspoken critic of Paul and determined to keep people from listening to this man whom he considered to be a heretic and liar.  He certainly was also a capable man who attracted the respect of others since he was made the leader.
            It’s interested to note that Sos’thenes was a lot like Paul.  Paul also had been a bitter opponent of the gospel and a leader in the effort to stamp out the Christian message.  Paul’s life was transformed when Jesus appeared to him, knocked him on the ground and blinded him with the dazzling light of his glorious presence.  Sos’thenes followed a similar pattern.  He was the leader of the opposition to the gospel in Corinth, and he suffered a crisis when he was rejected and beaten by his own people.  If my guess is correct, he is the one Paul refers to in his letter who was a coworker with Paul in spreading the gospel and establishing the church.
            Both Paul and Sos’thenes are case studies in the power of a crisis to transform our lives in a good way.  We often know what we ought to do but we can’t bring ourselves to do it until some crisis provides the motivation necessary to take action.  This is what the writer to the Hebrews meant when he wrote about discipline:
Hebrews 12:6 “For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”.
The discipline these people were enduring was suffering at the hands of evil people.  They were in the midst of a crisis, but it was all part of God’s plan for their good.  A crisis does not automatically produce good in us.  That’s why the writer exhorts them not to get discouraged and give up.  Suffering has the power to make us either bitter or better.  It all depends on how we respond.  A certain politician recently quipped that it’s a shame to let a good crisis go to waste.  That’s good advice for us.  When hard times come our way we should always see it as an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Sos’thenes.  I’m sure he didn’t feel very good after the mob finished kicking him around on the street in Corinth, but years later he was probably able to thank God for that day.  In the end the pain he endured was nothing compared to the eternal weight of glory he is now enjoying forever.