Ephesians 2:1-10 – Saved for a Reason

At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead because of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It is not something you possessed. It is not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (CEB)

Christians are not saved so that they can just sit in a worldly holding tank until Jesus comes back. Deliverance is only one side of the salvation coin. We are saved so that we will engage in good works for in the here-and-now.

Christians know they are saved from sin through the forgiving work of Jesus Christ. It is an act of sheer grace on God’s part. A believer is not born again through personal effort any more than a baby is birthed because of her own doing. Salvation is thoroughly the work of God. Even the faith needed to believe is a gift graciously provided by God.

There is more. The Lord also has some plans and purposes in mind for the people of God. Christians were birthed into a new spiritual community with new commitments to do all kinds of good deeds. It is as if sin were a weight or an obstacle that has been removed so that living a life full of goodness can now move ahead and do its work. To be saved is to be freed for a vigorous moral life.

The great problems of our world are, at their core, spiritual problems which are an opportunity for believers in Jesus to take the lead in agitating for change. Expecting human governments or corporate systems to take the lead in moral transformation is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.

Christians, churches, and faith communities can and ought to storm the gates of hell for the lives of women caught in sex trafficking; provide uplift and the tools to a better life for those in grinding poverty and hunger; challenge the idolatry of the American gun culture; speak up and step out for equality and an egalitarian culture; care for the sick and dying; reform morals; hold the world ethically accountable for its actions; and, hundreds of other realities of living in a fallen broken world.

In essence, when stripped to the center of the issue, these problems are not political, social, or cultural concerns – they are spiritual. Mass murder violates God’s command to not kill. Hunger and poverty too often result from greedy leaders in power who covet resources for themselves, violating God’s commands to provide for the poor and needy. Sexual slavery treats persons as chattel property and not as image-bearers of God. 

God has delivered us from the vice grip of sin so that we are free to tackle the immorality of the world around us. Perhaps you have a boss who is nothing more than a master of a small world and bullies and manipulates his employees. Maybe your local municipal authorities turn a blind eye to moral evil and cannot see they are public servants. It could be that within your own family there are problems of addiction which need to be graciously confronted and dealt with. 

Whatever the issues are in your sphere of influence, God has providentially placed us in the places we inhabit for just such a time as this so that we can do good works, both big and small, taking on immoral establishments as well as little acts of kindness. Doing good comes in all sizes, and all of us are to share our lives for the betterment of others.

Saving God, you have only good plans for your world and your people. Use me today and every day to be an agent of blessing and goodness, working for the benefit of others who need the freedom of Christ’s redemption and the power of his resurrection in their lives. Amen.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 – The Sweet Scent of Salvation

“When I went to Troas to preach the good news about Christ, I found that the Lord had already prepared the way.  But I was worried when I did not find my friend Titus there. So, I left the other followers and went on to Macedonia.

I am grateful that God always makes it possible for Christ to lead us to victory. God also helps us spread the knowledge about Christ everywhere, and this knowledge is like the smell of perfume. In fact, God thinks of us as a perfume that brings Christ to everyone. For people who are being saved, this perfume has a sweet smell and leads them to a better life. But for people who are lost, it has a bad smell and leads them to a horrible death.

No one really has what it takes to do this work.  A lot of people try to get rich from preaching God’s message. But we are God’s sincere messengers, and by the power of Christ we speak our message with God as our witness.” (CEV)

God is the One who calls and empowers people for service in the church and the world. God is the powerful sovereign ruler of the universe who prepares the way for people to proclaim the good news of deliverance in the name of Jesus. God is the Being who dominates Holy Scripture. God is the main and principal actor in the unfolding drama of redemption in the Bible.

God is the Great Shepherd who calls, gathers, assures, forgives, teaches, leads, and sends people throughout every era. God is the diligent and careful farmer who enables the knowledge of Jesus to spread across the earth and cause a bloom of grace to flower.

God is the divine florist who produces the sweet smell of salvation from a rancid past of relational separation.

You see, my friend, that unless we capture the vision of a God who orchestrates and animates self-revelation to others, you and I will muck around this world trying to live the Christian life in the misguided notion that leading others to Jesus Christ is on our shoulders – that somehow our ability, or lack thereof, determines whether another person is delivered from their brokenness and finds God.

Oh, my goodness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who are estranged from God, like vulnerable lost sheep in the world, are called by the shepherd, not us. We simply go in the enablement of God’s power and blessing to pick up lost sheep and carry them back to the fold. 

You and I are messengers, couriers from God with a life-giving message of forgiveness and deliverance for all whom the Lord calls – and God’s voice can be heard across the entire world.

We are field hands who enter the harvest and enjoy the gathering of fresh grain into God’s great storehouse of grace. You and I did not make anything grow. God was really behind the planting, the growth, the rain, the sunshine, and the harvest. In many ways, we are just along for the tractor ride.

Many Christians put far too much emphasis on themselves – what they should and could be doing, as if the salvation of others depended on them. But God is behind every good and beautiful thing in this earth. Learning to trust the Lord’s leading and power makes all the difference in a world needing Jesus. 

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me to the beginning of this day. Preserve me with your mighty power that I might be an instrument in your grand orchestra of salvation, giving off the sweet scent of salvation and blowing the sound of Jesus Christ in melodious sounds of deliverance; with the breath of the Holy Spirit giving the wind.  Amen.

Acts 15:36-41 – Imperfect Relations

Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit all the brothers and sisters in every city where we preached the Lord’s word. Let’s see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them. Paul insisted that they should not take him along, since he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their argument became so intense that they went their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and left, entrusted by the brothers and sisters to the Lord’s grace. He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (CEB)

Perfect consensus, complete harmony, and perpetual peace are ideals, not reality, this side of heaven. Oh, it is not as though we ought to give up striving for such things – we just need to understand we will only experience them partially, and not fully, until Christ returns. 

Imagine if Paul and Barnabas, along with their entire coterie of people who traveled with them, decided that they would not go anywhere until there was 100% consensus on every decision to be made. It could be that they would never get anything done at all. It is sad when people cannot come together and be of one mind, but it happens, and will happen again. Sometimes we simply need to go and do what we think is best, whether others agree with us, or not.

“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”

Mahatma Gandhi

I am a bit adverse to taking sides on most things, but I admit to having a bent toward going with Barnabas. His name means “Son of Encouragement.” He understands taking someone under his wing and giving them a second chance when they screw up.  Barnabas had a soft spot for John Mark.  Barnabas seems like the kind of guy who knows about grace. This is a guy I could hang out with.

Paul, on the other hand, had much more of a Type A personality. I can just imagine Paul saying, “There are things to do, goals to reach, areas to conquer. I don’t have time for this whining and cry baby stuff.”  Paul did not want someone in the group slowing them down with fear or lack of courage. For all that I appreciate about the great Apostle Paul in the New Testament, sometimes he strikes me as being too driven and difficult to work with.

Yet, in the end, taking sides is not really the issue. It is about God working a divine, sovereign, and good will through stubborn and stupid people like me, and maybe like you, who sometimes get lost in winning an argument. 

When all is said and done, nothing is going to thwart God’s providential plans and purposes in this world.  So, rather than taking sides, I think I will rely solely on God’s grace and mercy in my life to work through me, despite my oft short-sightedness.

Holy God, you work your good purposes in and through your people, no matter what.  I want my life and work to be a joy to you and with others, and not a burden.  Create in me a clean heart.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting, through Jesus Christ, my Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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.