Thursday, February 21, 2008

We Are Not Our Own


Genesis 42:29-38 and
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
It is helpful to consider Paul’s words in portions of verses 19 and 20: “you are not your own…for you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” Elsewhere Paul writes, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8). As Christians we no longer belong to ourselves but are part of God’s household, almost literally as servants who have been purchased by the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. And not only that, but as a household or family, we also belong to one another as together we make up the body of Christ at work in the world. So we no longer live according to our own desires or needs, we no longer place ourselves at the center, but we live first for God and God’s will, and secondly for the community of faith. Interestingly, Joseph did not realize it, but that is exactly what he had been doing. He had been living for the wider community, not for himself. He could not trace the events of his own life at the time they were happening, but eventually when he looked back on his journey he recognized that it all was according to God’s will. Even Jacob, who had previously wrestled with God, did not recognize the events unfolding as a part of God’s providence. But he, too, would come to see the hand of God at work.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sovereignty, Seekers, and Seeds


Genesis 42:18-28
At the end of verse 28 we read the question that Joseph’s brothers asked to one another when they discovered that their money had been returned to them along with the grain they had purchased: “What is this that God has done to us?” They recognized the role that God played in their lives, how the hand of God was at work day to day, even in simple acts or small details. The God of all creation is not so big as to refrain from involvement in that creation. The brothers were bothered by the prospect they faced, mainly because of the guilt they bore over what they had done to Joseph. Perhaps this is why they felt the hand of God to be heavy on them. But their question can also be one of comfort for God’s people, for no matter what happens, God is at work in the world and in the lives of God’s people.

1 Corinthians 5:9-6:11
6:11 reflects on the change that some of the members of the church in Corinth have undergone in their lives, from sinful and immoral lives to lives of faith: “And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” They were liberated from their past lifestyles, cut free from the weight of their sins, and set on a new path in discipleship. We, too, share that joyful reality in our baptisms. We, too, are a part of the household of God and therefore we, too, should seek lives of modesty and morality, reflective of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Mark 4:1-20
I can’t help but think that the members of the church at Corinth to whom Paul was addressing his concerns were like the seeds sown among the thorns: “these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.” Paul, of course, was trying to encourage the Corinthians to make better choices in their living. Jesus, too, was calling his disciples to understand the difficulties that they would face and the temptations to which they and others would be exposed so that they would know the importance in making those same good choices.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Memories, Yeast, and Satan


Genesis 42:1-17
Verse 9 says, “Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them.” As his brothers bowed before him, Joseph was able to trace the providence of God back to the beginning and see that God’s word to him had been true. The dreams he had once shared with his family had, in God’s time and in God’s was, come to fruition. It had been a difficult process, but it had reached a point of clarity. Poet Maya Angelou has a book entitled “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now.” I wonder if that isn’t how Joseph felt. I also wonder why it is so difficult for us to be patient and allow God to work out the divine purpose in our lives, even when we know that it is unfolding. At least that is something I have to work at.

1 Corinthians 5:1-8
Paul uses a powerful metaphor in verse 8. “Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Jesus, of course, uses the same metaphor in warning the disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6). A little yeast goes a long way, and allowing evil to remain a part of the community would do much damage. So the church in Corinth is encouraged to cleanse itself of those practices and those individuals who may cause the entire congregation to lose focus on the gospel.

Mark 3:19b-35
Jesus words in verse 24 are referring to Satan. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” If Jesus is casting out demons, how can he be possessed as some claim? But the words are a reminder to members of the church as well to seek unity and to work together.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Random Thoughts


Genesis 41:46-57
Verse 51 tells about the name that Joseph gave to his first son. “Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.’” Manasseh is from a word meaning “making to forget.” But obviously Joseph hasn’t literally forgotten his hardships in Egypt, nor the land and people from which he came. He isn’t talking about amnesia. (What a funny name for a child that would be!) But the new thing that God has done in Joseph’s life is so wonderful as to remove the pain of the past and to replace it with a hope-filled future. As long as Joseph was trapped in his anger or sadness over things that had gone before he would have been incapable of living into the future that God was holding out to him. We hold on to our anger and our hurt over past events at the risk of losing the opportunity to embrace what God is doing in our present and our future.

1 Corinthians 4:8-21
In verse 21 Paul writes, “What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness.” This sounds a lot like Teddy Roosevelt’s assertion that American foreign policy should be to “walk softly and carry a big stick.” Paul is asking what sort of relationship the Corinthians would like to have with him, and whether they will continue in their arrogance or will defer to his authority and to the work of the Spirit. As a pastor I don’t think Paul’s question would be appropriate for me to ask a congregation. But I understand the responsibility that church leaders have to encourage Christians to seek unity and to serve one another, not in arrogance but in the Spirit of Christ. Sometimes this requires sternness, and sometimes it does not.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Success in God's Terms


Genesis 39:1-23
Verse 2 says, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man…” As the story unfolds Joseph’s success will ultimately be in God’s terms and it will lead to life for his brothers and father. How many of us define success in terms of what God is doing in our lives? I know I have a hard time not worrying about where my career is headed or how I’m doing financially. And yet, ultimately, it is in God’s terms that true success is found, and this success often takes shape around the relationships we have with others and how we are able to enrich other lives and be enriched by others in turn. That is the nature of the community of faith. In his song “Within You, Without You” George Harrison sings, “When you’ve looked beyond yourself, you may find peace of mind is waiting there.” In terms of success I think he is absolutely right. What God gives us is to be shared. Success in God’s terms takes many shapes, but it generally involves our ability to relate to others and to share of ourselves.

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15
Similarly Paul offers these words to the church in Corinth: “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (v. 3:7). Success in God’s terms is the work of God. Even when we “succeed” we must give God the glory for it is God who is active. We each have our role to play, we each have gifts to share, but God it is the one who brings our actions to fruition.

Mark 2:1-12
According to Mark, when some scribes heard Jesus forgive the sins of a paralyzed man they had serious qualms. “Why does this fellow speak in this way?” they wondered. “It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins by God alone?” (v. 7). And of course that’s the point. God was forgiving the sins of the paralyzed man. But the scribes, the ones who should have known best, did not recognize God’s work when it was right in front of them. We must also beware not to make assumptions about what God “would” or “wouldn’t” do, or we may find ourselves missing the point. Success in God’s terms takes many forms and really does not depend on our approval. God is working out a purpose that will likely surprise us in many ways. The scribes also should have been delighted to see the paralyzed man healed, they should have rejoiced that one who had suffered so was now free from this horrible condition. But they could not let go of their assumptions even long enough to see the grace at work in another life. Again, what God gives us is to be shared, and success in God’s terms often involves our ability to relate to others in the light of God’s grace.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Listening to God


1 Corinthians 2:1-13
In verse 13 Paul writes, “And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” God builds a community through the work of the Holy Spirit, a community with its own language, its own ethic, its own way of understanding life. This community is guided by the Spirit, not by human standards or human precepts. Ultimately, only those who are “spiritual,” who have received God’s Spirit, are capable of understanding the implications of this new community and the gifts that God has given to it through the Spirit.

Mark 1: 29-45
Verse 35 always stands out when I read this passage. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Jesus recognized his need to pray and to reflect in private. He needed the chance to hear God’s voice in his life. He needed to be able to separate himself from the cares of the world so that he could better know God’s will. And then he got back to work. If the Son of God needed time to pray and reflect in his life, what does that say about us? It says we must take the time to listen for God’s word as well, so that we may be guided in our living.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Boasting in God


Psalms 34
Verse 2a says, “My soul makes its boast in the Lord…” One of the dangers of our self-reliant, individualistic society is that too often we put our confidence in our own efforts. We celebrate the accomplishments of athletes, too, and self-made men and women. But the psalmist puts his confidence in God and goes so far as to “boast in the Lord.” I admit that I have rolled my eyes a time or two when an athlete has been interviewed after a game and has thanked God or Jesus Christ for his accomplishments. But that may be as close to boasting in the Lord as some people come, and perhaps we all should pay attention and follow suit.

Genesis 37:12-24
As Joseph’s brothers conspire to kill him they say, “and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Had Joseph’s dreams been of his own design, had he put on airs based on his own conceit, then this would likely have been the end of things for Joseph. But the dreams were not Joseph’s own, they were God’s gift to him and, in a manner of speaking, his “boast (was) in the Lord.” As grim a situation as it was, it was in the hands of God and the brothers ultimately could not end the dream.

1 Corinthians 1:20-31
Paul also calls his readers to trust in the power of God over and against human power. God choose the weak and the foolish and the despised through which to work in the world in order to shame that which the world considers strong, wise, and reputable, “so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (v. 29), adding, “as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (v. 31).

Mark 1:14-28
Verse 28 says of Jesus, “At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” This fame, of course, is based on his power to heal and to teach with authority. The fact that Jesus was the Son of God remained hidden to most of the people, even when the demons shouted it aloud. But earlier in the passage Jesus had called Peter, Andrew, James, and John away from their professions, away from relying on their ability to provide for themselves, with the worlds, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (v. 17). Discipleship, trust in God’s work in Jesus, is to be their new occupation. They will be challenged to make their boast in God and what God is doing in their midst, not because of Jesus’ ability to heal, but because he is the Son of God.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Looking Beyond


Habakkuk 3:1-18
Verses 17 and 18 are powerful: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.” No matter how bad it gets, no matter how difficult life becomes, the prophet will always rejoice in the Lord and what it means to be one of God’s people because it is from God, and no other source, that salvation will ultimately come. What a gift the prophet has been given, to be able to look beyond even the worst of conditions to see the glory that is coming.

Philippians 3:12-21
Paul, too, looks beyond the here and now to that which is to come. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20). Paul knows that whatever challenges lie ahead, the struggle is well worth the results. So he will continue to push ahead no matter what and calls his readers to do the same.

John 17:1-8
John’s gospel is also looking ahead. In verse 3 Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The focus to our living, then, is to be on God as known in Jesus Christ with the understanding that this will lead to life beyond death. No matter what we face in this life, our focus must be on God because it is in God through Jesus that we will receive our salvation.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Active Righteousness


Amos 5:6-15
Verse 11 is typical in its indictment of the unrighteous. “Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.” The judgment of God is sure and certain. Those who have denied basic dignity to others and have taken advantage of their plight will, in turn, find themselves overthrown and oppressed. Those who have put all their effort in caring for themselves and who have shown no regard for others will be punished.

Hebrews 12:1-14
Hebrews offers an alternative to the evil decried by Amos: “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (verse 14). Righteousness is not simply the absence of evil. It is an active pursuit of that which is good and it requires one to seek it out and to engage in it. We are not simply to avoid what is bad, but to do what is good. We are not simply to keep from hurting the poor, but we are to seek them out and offer help and support. “Lord, when was it that we saw you…?” ask the sheep in Matthew 25? “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,” answers the King. Pursuing peace and holiness, then, is a believers calling.

Luke 18:9-14
One’s attitude before God is also important. The “punch line” to this familiar story in Luke really sums up all three readings for the day: “…for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” The kingdom of God, then, is built “upside down” in human terms with the meek and lowly lifted up and the proud and arrogant brought low. It is a theme that Luke uses elsewhere, for example in Mary’s words in Luke 1:52, “(God) has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly….” To stand with God is to stand with the poor and oppressed and to work to meet their needs rather than taking advantage of their plight or even ignoring it and hoping it goes away.