Language can be funny, can’t it? We talk about the sunrise and the sunset when, in reality, it’s not the sun that rises or sets but the earth that rotates on its axis, exposing different regions to the sun. Actually, with respect to our solar system, the sun neither rises nor sets, but remains fixed in place. As Christians, we do something similar with language. You’ve probably heard a testimony from someone who was in a crisis situation when “God showed up.” But the truth of the matter is that God didn’t just somehow show up. We know that God is infinite; He is present everywhere at all times. We may say that God showed up, but, actually, He was there all along, and we finally turned our attention to Him. It might seem odd that people who believe in God would turn their attention away from God when they’re in trouble. Most of the time, it’s because we’re trying to figure out how to solve our problems on our own. In our culture, we’ve gotten used to turning to a bank or a doctor or a life-coach when we need help and turning to God for help only when a situation degenerates into a crisis. When we finally look to Him, we proudly announce that God showed up just when we were at our lowest! To be clear, there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of the resources that are available to us when we need help. My point is simply that we will save ourselves a lot of worry and grief if we turn to God before things get out of hand. When I was young, I gave my father a plaque for Father’s Day that read, “When all else fails, try a prayer.” He accepted it graciously but was quick to point out that the best way to approach life is to seek God before all else fails. Where do you turn when you need help? Remember the promise in Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength; an ever-present help in trouble.” He’s always right here with us!
You know what it feels like. You need help from someone, and he agrees to be there for you. He shows up late, acts tired and bored, and slips away as soon as possible. Even though his body showed up, his heart wasn’t there. Sometimes I wonder how God feels about our service to Him. Do we bring Him joy or is He grieved by our half-heartedness? This morning while reading Exodus, this verse jumped out at me, “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God” (Exodus 23:19). Most Israelites of that day understood the importance of cultivating the soil in order to grow crops. They were dependent on God’s blessing (rain, sunshine, good soil) combined with their hard work. As an act of worship, the people enjoyed the privilege of giving back to God what He had given them. The one stipulation…God wanted the best! Imagine an Israelite man going to the temple and giving the priest an “offering” from his field of rotten fruit and mildewed crops. Would this be accepted? In Genesis 4 we read of Cain who, “brought some of the fruits of the soil as offering to the Lord” (v. 3). While God “looked with favor” on Cain’s brother (Abel), the Bible says, “on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (v. 5). Many have speculated that God favored Abel’s offering because it involved animals. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the blood of Jesus for our sins. However, the Bible also speaks about offerings of fruit from the ground as something God accepts as well. I believe Cain’s offering was unacceptable because of Cain’s heart. Could it be that Cain gave God the leftovers—the rotten fruit? What does this have to do with me, you may ask? The Lord is the One who gives us everything we have. He also gives us the opportunity to “give back” to Him from His blessings. Do we give God the best of what we have or just the leftovers? For example, we are given the amazing opportunity to pray. Do we pray when our hearts and minds are fresh or do we repeatedly give God a few hurried and tired moments before we collapse at the end of our day? When we are asked to serve by helping someone or assisting in ministry, do we show up late and “sleepwalk” our way through…leaving as soon as we can? When we have opportunity to sing and praise God in worship, do we daydream about other things or consistently show up late? Let’s give God our best! He is worthy of our greatest offerings of time, talent, and treasure. He wants our hearts in our sacrifice and service! May He look with favor on our sacrifice! And, always remember that Jesus was God’s best, given for us!
We all wear glasses. These are the “lens” through which we see life. From this vision (or lack of) we then explain the circumstances which swirl around us. In times of great trials, it’s easy to allow our lens to become the darkest of sunglasses. We tell ourselves things like, “God has something against me. God doesn’t see what I am going through. God doesn’t care.” So, how we see life is how we explain it to ourselves and others. Consider Joseph. As a 17-year-old he was sold as a slave…by his own brothers! He was uprooted from his family and homeland, forced into slavery and imprisonment for 13 years…as a forgotten nobody. But, God was with Joseph! When the time was right, God exalted him to second in command to Pharaoh! As I read this amazing story, I wonder how Joseph looked through his “glasses” at his 13 years as a slave. Was he bitter? Did he try to block this out and never think about it. Did he comfort himself with visions of “getting even”? The answer came when his brothers arrived in Egypt to buy food. After some episodes of interesting drama, Joseph revealed himself to his shocked brothers—the very ones who sold him into slavery. If this story was produced by Hollywood, the ending would show Joseph killing most of his brothers and sending the others into the deepest dungeon to rot in slow deaths. Is this what happened? To be sure, his brothers were scared to death of Joseph’s revenge. But, to their amazement, Joseph said to them, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5, 8). Wow! Joseph chose to be blind to revenge. He refused to put on the dark shades. Instead he saw his life and everything that happened to him through the lens of faith in God. What does this say to us? Instead of complaining and looking at life in the worst possible way, can we ask God for grace to see through faith? Can we believe that the future will reveal that God is working behind the scenes even in the drama and “unfair” crises of life…in order to bring about ultimate good? The same Spirit in Joseph can be in us. May the Lord grant us eyes to see beyond the pain of the moment and to believe He is working all things together for good!
When we look at others, what do we admire? A quick survey of the American entertainment industry reveals our values. We admire people with beauty, money, success and power. We are impressed with people with strength and athletic abilities, and we are willing to pay big money to see them perform. But, the great question of life is, “What does God admire?” You don’t have to read too far in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, to discover the answer. God admires, honors, and blesses…FAITH! Consider Abraham. When called to move to another country, “By faith Abraham…obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). He was willing to live like a refugee in a tent, even though God said he would one day inherit the land. Hebrews 11:9 says, “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country…for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” He was promised a son, but there was no child for 25 years! However, God had plans for Abraham and Sarah because they exercised faith. “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11). So, life comes down to this…. Will we spend our short time on earth wearing ourselves out running after what others admire? Or will we give ourselves to grow into people of faith? Faith is not some kind of gimmick where we twist our minds to embrace fantasy. Faith is laying hold of God’s reality, believing that what we cannot see is just as real as what we can see. Peter, the apostle of Jesus, exhorted us: “Make every effort to add to your faith” (2 Peter 1:5). Faith is God’s gift to us, and what we do with faith is our gift back to Him. Grow your faith by hearing and reading the Bible. “Faith comes from hearing the message…” (Romans 10:17). Grow your faith by developing a prayer life and establishing priorities. Grow your faith by submitting your life and future into His hands. The world and everything that impresses others will all pass away. The righteousness God gives through faith lasts forever. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Trust Him!
There’s one story told by Jesus that I think about more than any other. It’s called “The Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus begins by telling the disciples about a man (estate owner) who called three of his servants together before traveling on a long journey. To each servant he gave a sum of money (called “talents”) and then went his way. After a long time, he returned and settled accounts with the three servants. Two of them were wise because they had invested the funds. The increase pleased the master and he commended them both saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, 23). However, the one servant did nothing with what he was given. In the end, his “reward” was shame and ruin. This story sobers me as I put myself in the parable and ask, “Which servant will I become?” As a follower of Jesus Christ in 2020, I present two earnest prayer requests…both for myself and for the church. First, I pray, “Lord, help us to be faithful!” I want to demonstrate faithfulness by seeking the Lord every day through prayer and the reading of the Word. I want to be a faithful husband to my wife Terry. I want to be a faithful example to the body of Christ of what it means to love the Lord. Also, I pray for the people of Highway and Resurrection Life to be faithful to follow the Lord, to love one another, and to gather together for worship and the Word. My second prayer request for myself and for the church is: “Lord, help us to be fruitful!” The Word teaches us that our fruitfulness comes from the Lord (Hosea 14:8). Jesus told His disciples, “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16). The Lord expects us to invest what He has given. As Christians, we are called to act on our faith, not just think about it. Jesus did not say, “well thought” or “well considered” but “well done.” In 2020 may the Lord be pleased with the fruit of our lives, growing from the soil of faithfulness!