CATEGORY: Devotionals

The Long Tail of a Good Blessing

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  Exodus 34:6-7

Last weekend I was at a family funeral.  The details are very significant but I confess I am not yet ready to write about those.  Perhaps they will be a topic for a future devotional.  What I can say is that I had an opportunity to ponder the nature of blessing in a new and important way.

We all know that when a business builds a new building or establishes a new product, it can inure not just to the benefit of the current shareholders and employees but to future ones as well.  I occupy an office that was built before I had ever heard of my university.  I once occupied an office that was built before I was born.

In the same way, when the Lord pours out His blessings on those who are willing to receive them, they can inure to future generations.  I have been blessed through gifts granted to my parents, my grandparents, and my great grandparents.  Likewise, when I receive a blessing from God now, I can pass on that blessing to my children and grandchildren.

Sadly, it can also work in reverse.  When I refuse an offering from God, I am refusing that blessing not just for myself, but possibly for many generations to follow.  If I refuse to grow in humility, to learn generosity, or to forgive freely, those same gifts may well be denied to those who follow me.  After all, they learn what I know, and I only know what the Lord has granted me to know.

Let us take seriously our place in history my friends.  It is one thing to harm our own futures by ignoring God’s call to justice or turning away from His requirement to love the least.  It is a much more significant act to withhold those same gifts from the many who may come after us.

Your Kingdom Come

This, then, is how you should pray:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.”  Matthew 6:9-10a.

It can be easy to be dismayed by all the evils of the world.  Last week alone there was news of 500 men and boys in Nigeria who had been falsely imprisoned and tortured.  It has been a particularly brutal hurricane season in the Caribbean with scores dead and thousands displaced.  There are literally billions of people living in what most of us would call poverty.

Our own efforts to resolve some of these ills seem to have done more harm than good.  Our medical advances have spawned an ever hastening war between viruses and immunizations to see which can mutate faster.  Our generous “aid” to many developing nations has deindustrialized their domestic industries.  At some point, we may have to admit we aren’t very good at saving ourselves.

We might well look to heaven in despair and wonder where Jesus is in the midst of it all.  His kingdom broke through into our world over 2000 years ago at the Nativity.  And yet, today, we can struggle to see His advance.

First, take comfort my friends.  Jesus said the kingdom is within you (Luke 17:21).  If it is within us, then we can take the fight to the Enemy with God alone as our ally.  Let His kingdom be your kingdom.  And let His kingdom come in your house:

  • Be kind to your family.
  • Sacrifice for your spouse.
  • Repent of your sin.
  • Speak the truth of God over your friends.
  • Share what you have with the less fortunate.

There is almost no end of ways that you can advance the kingdom without the help of anyone but the Spirit of God.

Your actions may not stop wars, halt climate change, or end racial discrimination.  But the Lord also said His kingdom was like leaven (Matthew 13:33).  Whatever you do to advance the Kingdom of God will spread.  Eventually the whole earth will be impacted by your simple acts of courage and obedience.  Let His kingdom come in you, my friends, and watch to see all that the Lord can do from simple obedience like ours.

The Power of Choice

Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.  Isaiah 49:1

I remember when I was a young man interviewing my heart out for a position, then waiting weeks to hear from the company.  Eventually they let me know I was “not right for the job”.  It was demoralizing to say the least.  I have had many and better jobs since then, but I still remember the phone call when they told me I wasn’t chosen.

I had a good friend in high school who asked four different people to the prom but no one said yes.  He was heartbroken and more than a little embarrassed.  He didn’t go to the prom at all.  An older fellow he knew was kind enough to go out to dinner with him that night just so he wouldn’t have to stay at home by himself.  He was pretty crushed.

Most of us have experienced the disappointment of not being chosen.  It comes in all different forms and from lots of situations but the feeling is similar.  Do you remember what it feels like?

We react to not being chosen in a lot of different ways.  Sometimes it makes us angry and we wonder what was wrong with the employer, boss, friend, or whoever it was who didn’t choose us.  Sometimes it makes us sad and makes us wonder what is wrong with us.  It can last a few minutes or a lifetime.  Sometimes, in the best of times, it can be redeemed by being chosen – deeply, personally, completely chosen.

This is the good news my friends.  The Lord chose you.  You were not an accident of biology or a just another chapter in an endless evolutionary story.  The Lord above chose for you to be on this earth, just as much as He chose Adam and Eve.  No matter who in the world has passed over or rejected you.  The Lord God almighty chose you.  And that is enough.

“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.