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“There WILL be wealth transfer”, God.

Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor
    amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.  Proverbs 28:8

In the history of ancient Israel, we see an enormous transfer of wealth over a relatively short period of time.  Genesis 41 tells the story of how, under the leadership of Joseph and the revelation of God, Egypt stored up grain during seven years of plenty and was then able to sell it during the following seven years of famine.  It is an ancient picture of what we would call perfect market timing.

As a result of this strategy, Egypt accumulates what is literally the wealth of nations because it is the only nation with food to sell.  Some translations say the “whole world” came to Egypt to purchase food.

However, only a few chapters later we see that fortune move again in a single night as the Israelites flee Egypt and the Egyptians surrender their wealth to them to hurry them on their journey.  Exodus 12 states that the effect of all these gifts was that the Hebrews, “plundered the Egyptians”.

We see that same story of wealth transfer played out in the New Testament on a more personal level in Luke 12 as a foolish man tears down his barns to build new ones large enough to hold all his profits only to learn that his soul is required of him that very night.  We see it again in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 as those who are obedient with their resources are rewarded and those who are not are deprived of what they have.

It is as if God wants to personally control your money!

Actually, no.  We have start with the understanding that all wealth is God’s wealth.  Your relationship to money was never more than one of stewardship.  You are holding onto it for God until He tells you what to do with it.

And just like you would, He has a plan for His money.  He wants to use it to help people, particularly those who are poor or disadvantaged.  He is more than happy to care for His steward but making His steward rich, uncaring, and insular was never part of His plan.

Don’t be someone the Lord has to use to amass money before giving to someone faithful enough to deploy it as ordered.  Be the obedient one, who devotes all God’s resources according to His perfect plan.  Be faithful over little, and be made steward over much (Matthew 25:23).

For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again,
    but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.  Proverbs 24:16

Every year I ask my freshman class, “Who would win in a fight, the Hulk or the Wolverine?”  The point of the question is about how students have to be resilient if they are going to succeed in college.  They must be the Wolverine, and no matter how many times they get knocked down by the intimidating institutions of the university, they will triumph if they just keep trying.

The question is whimsical but it has a historical element.  The Wolverine reportedly first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #181 in 1974.  He was created by artist Len Wein as an opponent who could take on the Hulk.  Hence my encouragement to the freshman, “You can beat the Hulk, because you were made for this.”

Our text for today indicates a great source for my freshman, or any of us, to get that resilience.  Walking in a right relationship with God will make us more than people who will fall.  It will make us people who rise.  The number 7 in this verse is probably symbolic.  It doesn’t mean on the 8th fall we will be down for good.  It means, no matter how many times we fall, the Lord will empower us to rise.

The righteous aren’t necessarily any tougher or stronger than the wicked.  The difference is that they have the ability to rely on power beyond their own.  No matter how many times they fall, the Lord has infinite power to raise them up again.  When the wicked reach the end of their strength, they just lie where they fall with no one to help them.

Let’s walk in the ways of the Lord, depending on Him to raise us up every time we get knocked down.  Our victory over the world is secure.  Not because we are strong, but because we have the courage to keep trying in the strength of the Lord, no matter how many times we fall.

“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
    I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—

    twice, but I will say no more.”

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:

“Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

“Would you discredit my justice?
    Would you condemn me to justify yourself?  Job 40:4-8

Those who remember the 1992 presidential election in the US will remember candidate Ross Perot.  He was famous for introducing his policy proposals with the phrase, “Here’s the deal.”  It seems “the deal” may be a common refrain in the US presidential community.  President Trump authored the bestseller, “The Art of the Deal,” long before running for president.

Many of us strike deals in our lives.  We may have a deal with our employers.  Technically, you may be supposed to be at your desk from 8:00 to 5:00, but the boss cut you a deal that you can leave early on Friday as long as you get all your work done.  We may have a deal with our spouses.  I’ll get up early on Sunday and get the kids ready if you take them to the park in the afternoon so I can take a nap.  We have deals with friends, roommates, teachers, just about everyone.

Many of us make deals with God.  I’ll pray and give and read my Bible but you have to keep my baby well.  I’ll stop drinking and using but you have to save my marriage.  Turning to God is a good thing when we are in need and obedience to what we know are his commands is also a worthy endeavor.

The problem, of course, is when we attempt to connect those two.  Bartering with God as to what He must do in exchange for our obedience reveals a major misunderstanding of our relationship with God.  God owns our obedience.  He doesn’t have to cut a deal with us to purchase it.  Any time we withhold obedience because we are disappointed with what God allows into our lives, we are stealing what God deserves by right.

There is no deal we can offer God.  But, mercifully we don’t have to.  The Lord loves us and doesn’t need to be persuaded to help us.  When we face challenges or experience needs, let’s approach God as His children requesting His help.  Let’s never try to buy His help with something He already owns.

Not a Problem of Power.  A Question of Courage.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.   With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.  II Chronicles 32:7-8

When I sit in my office and compare the things I want to do with the things I am able to do, I find a certain power gap there.  Some of the things I think would be good for the organization will require the approval, or at least cooperation, of others.  I can’t do them by myself.  I don’t have the power.  The same is true for me outside the office.  In my family, in my church, in what seems like my whole life, I have only a limited ability to do the things I think need to get done.  I only have so much power.

In our text for today, the nation of Judah has found itself in a similar situation.  The vast armies of Assyria have surrounded Jerusalem.  The people of the city can’t fight their way out.  Their best hope is for a long, demoralizing siege in which they slowly starve to death within the city’s walls.  The other possibility is that the Assyrians will storm the city, set fire to it, break down the walls, and slaughter them all by the sword.

Judah is clearly overpowered.  Except that it is not.

King Hezekiah reminds the people that God is for them and that His power is infinitely greater than the army which threatens them.  The Lord God could dispense with the Assyrians in short order.  It turns out Hezekiah was right.  Later in that same chapter the Lord sends an angel who annihilates the Assyrian army.  It turns out it was never a problem of power.  It was always a question of courage.  Would the Judeans trust that God would deliver them from the superior force or surrender to fear?

As for Judah, so for me.  All the problems I face, that I perceive as a lack of power, are really only tests of my faith and courage.  If I believe God is for me in any of the things I am trying to accomplish, it comes down to whether I will trust Him to make them happen.  Let’s give up asking God to give us more power, my friends.  Let’s beg Him for the courage to believe He will provide for our needs in Christ Jesus.  Let’s serve as Hezekiah to one another, en-couraging one another to trust in the Lord.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Ephesians 2:10

Many of us have the tendency to beat ourselves up.  We make a few mistakes at work or at home.  We fail to realize our own expectations of ourselves.  Even worse, others can point out how we failed to meet their expectations for us.  Any of those can put us into a tailspin.

In those moments, it can be so comforting to allow the Lord to speak into our lives.  We can return to scripture like our text for today and be comforted.  Only the Lord has the prerogative to define who we are.  Not our co-workers, family, or even ourselves.

But wait!  If only God has the power to define me, doesn’t that hold true for others?

  • Only God has the power to define my neighbor (also God’s handiwork), even when he irritates me for parking in front of my driveway and I am tempted to define him as a nuisance.
  • Only God has the power to define your marriage (a picture of Christ and the church – Ephesians 5) even when you might be discouraged and define it as a big mistake.
  • Only God has the power to define your children (a gift of the Lord – Psalm 127) even when they challenge you and you’re tempted to define them as exasperating.
  • Only God can define himself (compassionate, gracious, loving, faithful, and forgiving) even when we might be treating Him more like a cosmic vending machine.

Truthfully, only the Lord has the authority to define the entire universe – you, me, others, and the world around us.  It seems remarkably self–centered of us to accept God’s gift of redefining us but refuse it with respect to everyone and everything else.  Just as we gain value and comfort from knowing God’s word on us, everyone else in our lives is measured the same.

This week, my friends, let’s look beyond ourselves and see the world as God sees it.  Let’s walk in the truth of God for ourselves and for the whole world.