1 Kings 18:1-18 – Faith at Work

Obadiah Takes the Prophets to a Cave by Dutch engraver, Caspar Luyken (1672-1708)

For three years no rain fell in Samaria, and there was almost nothing to eat anywhere. The Lord said to Elijah, “Go and meet with King Ahab. I will soon make it rain.” So, Elijah went to see Ahab.

At that time Obadiah oversaw Ahab’s palace, but he faithfully worshiped the Lord. In fact, when Jezebel was trying to kill the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah hid one hundred of them in two caves and gave them food and water.

Ahab sent for Obadiah and said, “We have to find something for our horses and mules to eat. If we don’t, we will have to kill them. Let’s look around every creek and spring in the country for some grass. You go one way, and I’ll go the other.” Then they left in separate directions.

As Obadiah was walking along, he met Elijah. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down, and asked, “Elijah, is it really you?”

“Yes. Go tell Ahab I’m here.”

Obadiah replied:King Ahab would kill me if I told him that. And I haven’t even done anything wrong. I swear to you in the name of the living Lord your God that the king has looked everywhere for you. He sent people to look in every country, and when they couldn’t find you, he made the leader of each country swear that you were not in that country. Do you really want me to tell him you’re here?

What if the Lord’s Spirit takes you away as soon as I leave? When Ahab comes to get you, he won’t find you. Then he will surely kill me.

I have worshiped the Lord since I was a boy. I even hid one hundred of the Lord’s prophets in caves when Jezebel was trying to kill them. I also gave them food and water. Do you really want me to tell Ahab you’re here? He will kill me!

Elijah said, “I’m a servant of the living Lord All-Powerful, and I swear in his name that I will meet with Ahab today.”

Obadiah left and told Ahab where to find Elijah.

Ahab went to meet Elijah, and when he saw him, Ahab shouted, “There you are, the biggest troublemaker in Israel!”

Elijah answered:You’re the troublemaker—not me! You and your family have disobeyed the Lord’s commands by worshiping Baal.” (CEV)

Obadiah was the overseer in charge of King Ahab’s palace in Samaria of ancient Israel. To put it mildly, Ahab was a rascal. Old Testament stories frequently and purposefully contrast characters so that we will easily discern ethical differences between good and evil. Here we have a clear contrast between the godly and faithful Obadiah and the downright wicked royal couple of Ahab and Jezebel.

Whereas Obadiah was trying to preserve life and went to great lengths to do so, Ahab and Jezebel were doing everything in their sinister power to destroy life. The entire drama plays out like an episode of House of Cards. Ahab and Jezebel were a real king and queen who were thoroughly selfish and evil in all their dealings. Ahab, enabled and emboldened by his pagan wife, did away with the true worship of God and established the worship of Baal in the land of Israel. 

This did not mean, however, that God was absent or inactive. Rather, the Lord was working behind the scenes to undermine the systemic evil in the kingdom through his servant, Obadiah, who was devoted to God. Obadiah was neither a prophet nor a priest. He was simply a man working in an ungodly kingdom, doing the best he could to serve the Lord. 

Elijah may have had the prophetic voice and power, but Obadiah was the backstage administrator, daily cobbling together a living for hundreds of people without any support from the royal pain-in-the-butts.

Our ordinary everyday vocations and jobs have been ordained by God to use us where we are. Instead of lamenting our limitations or wishing the situation were different, we all have an opportunity for God to work through us in our current positions and stations in life. 

Every one of us has the daily opportunity to integrate our faith and our work through connecting biblical ethics to concrete applications at our jobs; seeing our workplaces as mission fields; interpreting our work through a Christian worldview; discerning our vocation as a calling from God; and, knowing our work is a means for God to transform and sanctify us.

So, how do you view your job?  How might you connect your faith and your work?  How does what you do reflect the nature and character of God?  In what ways do you think God wants to use you in your workplace?

Sovereign God, you cause nations and institutions to rise and fall; you set up leaders to rule and put them down.  Take my life and my work and use it in redemptive ways that glorify the name of Jesus and exemplify the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Malachi 2:10-3:1 – Remain Faithful

An Eastern Orthodox icon of the prophet Malachi

Don’t we all come from one Father? Aren’t we all created by the same God? So why can’t we get along? Why do we desecrate the covenant of our ancestors that binds us together?

Judah has cheated on God—a sickening violation of trust in Israel and Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the holiness of God by falling in love and running off with foreign women, women who worship alien gods. God’s curse on those who do this! Drive them out of house and home! They’re no longer fit to be part of the community no matter how many offerings they bring to God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

And here’s a second offense: You fill the place of worship with your whining and sniveling because you don’t get what you want from God. Do you know why? Simple. Because God was there as a witness when you spoke your marriage vows to your young bride, and now you’ve broken those vows, broken the faith-bond with your vowed companion, your covenant wife. God, not you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. And what does he want from marriage? Children of God, that’s what. So, guard the spirit of marriage within you. Don’t cheat on your spouse.

“I hate divorce,” says the God of Israel. God-of-the-Angel-Armies says, “I hate the violent dismembering of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage.” So, watch yourselves. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t cheat.

You make God tired with all your talk.

“How do we tire him out?” you ask.

By saying, “God loves sinners and sin alike. God loves all.” And, by saying, “Judgment? God’s too nice to judge.”

“Look! I’m sending my messenger on ahead to clear the way for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Leader you’ve been looking for will enter his Temple—yes, the Messenger of the Covenant, the one you’ve been waiting for. Look! He’s on his way!” A Message from the mouth of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. (MSG)

Any reader of Holy Scripture must come to grips with sections of it which are difficult, harsh, and scathing. Since the Bible covers a complete range of the human condition, not all we find within it are bunnies and butterflies. The prophets of the Lord held back no punches when it came to delivering their message.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, the prophet Malachi squarely addressed the people’s issue of unfaithfulness. They were faithless to one another; faithless to their spouses; and, faithless to God.  God is described by the prophet as weary and exasperated with a lot of talk with no faithful presence and action. 

God hates divorce simply because it is so damaging for those involved. This is not a divine decree that divorce should never exist any more than God’s hatred for the people’s worship means that worship should never exist.

Both marriage and worship are to be meaningful experiences of devotion and dedication to the significant human and divine relationships in our lives.

God has no tolerance for half-hearted commitments which either opens another to violence or having verbal or physical violence perpetrated outright by the one who ought to be protecting and loving.

The solution to the two-faced problem of the people with their milquetoast obedience is that a messenger will be sent to prepare the way of the Lord.  He is coming, and it will be soon.

Keeping the end of our lives and of history in mind helps bring greater clarity and purpose to the present. The season of Advent reminds the faithful that since Jesus is coming soon, we must hold fast to our Christian allegiance. 

Faithfulness toward God also means having a faithful presence (albeit perhaps virtually) to the people close to us and near us.

Malachi exhorted the people to guard their spirits because a lack of personal awareness within causes a dearth of awareness without in simply seeing others but not really seeing them. Spousal abuse is not okay, and the God who sees all will rouse and act on behalf of the one stuck in a situation and pattern of neglect and/or exploitation.

It is necessary to monitor the condition of our souls and be in touch with the state of our spirits so that we remain faithful. We are to nurture our inner selves so that outward actions reflect faithful commitment without harming those closest to us.

Vulnerability with oneself and submission to basic accountability structures are important so that we are aware to strengthen the inner person.  Rather than embrace a rabid individualism, communal dedication is a primary way of pleasing God, serving others, and realizing divine blessing. It also is a necessary preventative to domestic abuse.

Everyone deserves healthy relationships.

If you or someone you know is the victim of spousal abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website at https://www.thehotline.org/

Sovereign God, the One who sees and knows all, help me guard my spirit so that I will be faithful in all I do and in all my relationships with others, especially my own family and spouse.  Strengthen my soul to remain dedicated to seeing the coming of Jesus in all his glory.  Amen.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 – Giving the Good

Psalm 85 by American artist John August Swanson

Lord, you were favorable to your land;
    you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
    you pardoned all their sin….

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
    for he will speak peace to his people,
    to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
    that his glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
    and will make a path for his steps. (NRSV)

Steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace are terms which all spiritual folks need to be familiar with as well as experience. Steadfast love and faithfulness have its ground in God’s chesed, the divine covenant loyalty and kindness which always holds on, even despite people’s fickle commitment. Righteousness and peace are primarily relational terms which communicate a harmonious way of being with others and all creation.

This psalm says God will give exactly what the people have prayed for. It is a blessing given by the Lord to those who long for wholeness, integrity, and unhindered connection with God and God’s creation. And it is in the metaphors surrounding the words which give us such a beautiful picture of the blessing realized.

This is neither a general nor generic blessing from God Almighty. It is personal. In the grand immensity of the universe, the Creator God bends and condescends not only to all humanity but also to the individual. God’s steadfast love and faithfulness will meet to bless you and me. The Lord will come alongside and conform a divine blessing to our life. God’s grace will stick to us like glue in the form of right relationships and unity.

All of God’s attributes and character shall work in a seamless whole to bring divine acceptance and assistance to our lives. The good news here is that our struggles to be right and live right amidst terrible conditions of pandemics and people’s petulance have a vindication of divine sanction and enablement.

So, take a big breath and exhale, allowing the worries and anxieties of adverse situations to be expelled from our weary spirits. The Lord will give what is good. Today’s psalm is a wonderful reminder that salvation is not limited to a coming life; it is also deliverance in this present world we inhabit, basking in the Lord’s love and shalom and enjoying the good gifts God wants to give us right now.

Gracious God speak peace to your people. Through your Son, the Lord Jesus, we turn to you in our hearts, knowing your steadfast love and faithfulness, your righteousness and peace goes before us, with us, and behind us. In Christ, our salvation is at hand. May we reflect your goodness, as we respond to you with heart, soul, mind, and strength. This we pray in the name of the One who is your peace, your salvation—Jesus Christ. Amen.

Matthew 24:45-51 – The Master is Coming

Expert explains about plagues, Armageddon and Jesus' return

Jesus said, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (NIV)

Satan once called on some demons of hell and wanted to send one of them to earth to ruin some souls. One demon came forward and said, “I will go.” The devil said, “If I send you, what will you tell the humans?” He said, “I will tell those humans that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.” 

Then another demon came forward, darker and fouler than the first. The Accuser said, “If I send you, what will you tell humanity?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called a conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that good will be triumphant and evil defeated. You may not go.” 

Then one last demon came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. The devil said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid in the destruction of their souls?” The demon said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!”

Most people’s crime in not gross sin but in plain indifference, without much thought to a future judgment day. Jesus said that such persons will not know what hit them because the Day of the Lord is coming, and it may be soon. Therefore, the question for Christians is not “When will Christ return?” because no one knows the answer.  Rather, the question for us is:

Are you ready for Christ’s return?

Today’s Gospel lesson is part of what is known as the Olivet Discourse, Christ’s final sermon before he faced the cross. Jesus was looking for his disciples to keep watch, to stay alert, to be ready, like a watchman on a tower scanning the landscape for an invading army.  We are to remain vigilant and remember Jesus is coming again.  We are to live each moment considering the promise of Christ’s coming, not knowing the day when it will happen.

Keeping watch, being ready, and staying alert means being witnesses to a world going about their merry way unaware that there is a doomsday.  We are to be active, like Noah building the ark, anticipating the great flood of coming judgment. We are not to waste time creating prophecy charts and trying to connect current events to the Lord’s return. Instead, we are to prepare for the coming judgment through living godly, upright lives. (2 Peter 2:4-9)

We keep watch by being faithful stewards in God’s household. 

We are to avoid being like the unfaithful teenager who, when given the responsibility of watching over the house while his parents are gone for the weekend, has a big party and trashes the house.  The parents will come home at a time the teenager does not expect, and then there will certainly be weeping and gnashing of teeth! 

The faithful and wise steward is busy doing the master’s business – the mundane work of taking care of the master’s house. Preparing for Christ’s return leads to down-to-earth acts of love and care, without passively or nervously sitting around and waiting.  The unfaithful servant in Christ’s story is careless, cruel, and carouses because he pays no attention to the fact that the master could return at any moment.

When Christ returns, none of us knows who will be taken and who will be left – because people might look like the same on the outside, doing the same work side by side, but can be very different persons on the inside.

As believers wait for their Lord’s return, they may become impatient and get caught up in petty day to day problems, losing sight of what is tremendously important.  One day, a man named Denis Waitley, was trying to catch a flight but was running late. So, he ran through the airport terminal.  He got to the gate the split second the gate agent closed the door.  Denis explained his situation, that he had a speaking engagement to get to, but the agent did not budge. 

Denis’s frustration turned into fuming.  He stormed out of the boarding area and back to the ticket counter to register a complaint and reschedule his flight.  The anger intensified as he waited for more than twenty minutes in a line that barely moved.  Just before he got to the counter an announcement over the intercom changed his life.  The flight he missed, flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles, crashed on takeoff and killed every person on board the plane. 

Denis Waitley never registered his complaint.  In fact, he never returned his invalidated ticket.  He took it home and pinned it on a bulletin board in his office to remind him whenever he got frustrated or upset that life is more than day to day impatience, worry, and complaints.  It is about serving a lost world destined to slide away from God apart from the grace that can turn judgment into blessing.

We are to keep watch for the Lord’s return because it could be today. 

In the meantime, we are to be faithful by serving a world in tremendous need of getting on the ark and being saved from the coming judgment. Perhaps the best way to overcome our own chronic unhappiness and struggles is to serve the world and be the servant God wants us to be.

God Almighty, you are our hope in this life and the life to come, as we wait for Christ’s return, help us to work for the good, as if each day is our last; and let our hope for a new day shape how we live now. We look forward to the time when all will be made right. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.