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May You Quickly Forget

Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”  Genesis 41:51-52

Hardship and suffering are a common thread of the human experience.  Some of us live easier lives than others but there are lots of kinds of pain and everyone has some.  The thing that makes us different is how we react to our suffering.  Some become wise while others turn bitter.  It is very much a function of the direction we are looking.

When one is in the middle of suffering, being self-focused is entirely expected.  The fact that Christ was concerned for the welfare of His mother while He was dying on the cross is extraordinary.  (See John 19.)  But before it was over, even Jesus cried out in thirst.

It is what happens after the suffering that makes all the difference.  Some people can’t take their eyes off themselves.  They dwell on their suffering and re-experience it over and over.  They burn with anger for whomever they blame for it.  They invest everything they have to try and avoid more suffering in the future.  They worry, and burn, and suffer, and imprison themselves in their own past.

Others can forget.  They forgive whoever caused their problems.  They accept the peace and joy that followed the easing of their suffering.  They don’t worry about what will happen next.  As a result they can turn their focus outward.  There, in the world outside themselves, they find others in whom they can invest.  They find people to whom they can minister.

And as they invest in ministry to others, those investments bear fruit.  They get to join the Lord in making a difference in the lives of others.  There may be no greater joy, and it all begins with forgetting.

The One Thing

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  Hebrews 5:7-8

Sometimes knowing the right thing to do in the working world can seem complicated.  We want to rely on the Bible to help us but the text doesn’t always speak to our discreet issues.  What virtues should I be seeking to live by?  What rules can I put in place for myself?  If I had only one principle to live by, what should it be?

Christ had one.  He committed to obey the Father, in all things, in everything.  He didn’t follow His own agenda but the one the Father set for Him.  From his earliest record in Scripture He knew He was to be in His Father’s house.

But the obedience was not just the cause of Christ’s righteousness, it was also the result.  Our text for today says that His obedience was learned through suffering.  That obedience must have been well-learned indeed.  Christ’s suffering, even before the crucifixion, was beyond the experience of almost everyone we might know.

Christ is both our Lord and example in this.  He doesn’t call us to be ethical geniuses.  He doesn’t require that we be philosophical scholars.  He just calls us to be obedient, like He was.  Will that obedience insure us easy, prosperous lives?  Probably not.  It will insure us reverence and the ear of our Heavenly Father.  All the same, there will most likely be some suffering in our lives, too.  But the suffering can also teach us obedience, just like it did our Master.

Learn from the best, my friends.  Obedience is our calling, plain and simple.

A Glorious Humiliation

 

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.  James 1:9-11

There are a lot of ways to alienate business people, but what is the one thing you can do to a business person to make him hate you forever?  Publicly embarrass him.  Our reputations are everything.  When we are humiliated in front of others it can destroy not only our careers but the business as well. This is the stuff of which lawsuits are made.

But it is more than the financial impact that makes embarrassment so horrible for us.  Our egos are at stake.  The one thing we never wanted to be was made to look foolish.  We don’t want to be seen as weak.  We don’t want to appear vulnerable.  For some, the very prospect of being embarrassed is more than they can handle and they will limit their activity however necessary to avoid the possibility.

Clearly James is taking a contrarian view on this issue.  He says rich people, presumably successful, hardworking, creative, rich people, should glory in humiliation.  Odd, no?

Except that he explains that it is our natural state.  All the ego we possess that requires we never be made to look small is a façade the Enemy has invited us to assume.  We have more in common with the grass than we do with majestic mountains or brightly burning stars in the heavens.  We appear on this earth for a short time, and our beauty passes quickly in the face of adversity.

Moreover, our Master demonstrated humility to us as a virtue.  He surrendered the heavenly attributes of His “Godness” to model how we are to live in this world.  He identified with the poor, with the refugee, with the sick, and with the oppressed.  And that humility became His ultimate glory.

Treasure your humiliation, my friends, wherever you find it.  It puts us in the place we belong, and it puts us in the shadow of the Lord’s glory.

The Blessings of Obedience

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.  Deuteronomy 28:1-2

I love being blessed by God.  I have received enough to know what it looks like.  I have an awesome wife, the most wonderful children and sons-in-law, and the perfect grandchild (with apologies to all the other grandparents in the world).  I also have meaningful work, a sturdy roof over my head, all I can eat (and often more), and a church where I can both worship and serve.

I want more blessing.  I want to see my children prosper, my family increase, my work to take people to new heights, and my church to reach the nations.  I also want to be blessed with more selfish things.  I want good health, more leisure time with those I love, and a little extra money would never hurt.  I suspect I am like every Christian on the earth.

And like every other Christian on the earth, I pray to be blessed.  Every day I beg the Lord to care for my wife, children, and grandchild.  Every day I ask the Lord to help me love my co-workers and do good for them.  I pray for effectiveness for my church, safety for my home, and health for my body.  I ask to be blessed by God.

But the Lord repeatedly, including in our passage for today, reminds us that blessing is a function of obedience. It is no good asking God to make me healthy while I survive on a diet of Snickers bars and diet soda.  It is no good asking God to bless my coworkers if I decide not to exert myself to work faithfully.  And it is no good asking God to bless my family while I pursue my own selfish ends and withhold what I have to give them.

Don’t misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with praying for blessings and God is not a cosmic vending machine that I can manipulate with my actions.  But our job is to be obedient.  It is the Lord’s work to decide when to bless.  Mercifully, he both knows what we need and loves us perfectly.  His commands are designed to pursue both those ends.  Instead of praying for blessing, perhaps we should pray for obedience.

You, Me, the Church and Jesus

“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice.  Matthew 5:38-39.

Business people have a unique opportunity to serve the church.  Not only are we often in the best position to fund its ministries, we also have some of the skills that are most desperately needed.  We know how to formulate an action plan, staff it with the right people, organize a meeting, set an agenda, allocate a budget, and measure the results to keep the whole operation accountable.  Sadly, many of us consider ourselves too busy to contribute what we have.

Some of us wait to be asked before we will write a check to help fund the new building or the new ministry, and then we want to have control over how the project proceeds, like we own it now.  Some of us want impressive sounding titles before we will serve, and then we want to delegate the real work to someone else.

Yes, it is a test of what we believe.  If we say we love the church, would that mean we starve it of resources?

The church’s description as the “Body of Christ” is not just a metaphor.  We can do nothing of ourselves that would have eternal value.  To the extent our brothers and sisters in the church are doing anything that advances the Kingdom of God, it is in fact God working through them. They are, indeed, the Body of Christ.

To deny our help to the church is to deny our help to Christ, Himself.

But some of us go beyond failure to support the church.  We openly criticize it.  We speak out publicly about how its affairs are mishandled, or how it is failing to minister to people (by which we often mean it is failing to minister to us).

Don’t misunderstand, the church is composed of sinners like you and me and much of what it does is tinged with the same sin, ignorance and incompetence that colors our daily activities.  But any time the Lord institutes activity, a heavy dose of humility is appropriate on our part.  Even the Pharisee Gamaliel (quoted above), was unwilling to interfere with anything that might be the activity of God.

Let’s be eager to support any activity of the church we understand to be the work of the Kingdom.  Let’s contribute all we have (yes, that includes those dollars we earned), and let’s reserve judgment on what we don’t understand.  As Gamaliel said, the Lord will make clear in time what it His and what is not.