2 Corinthian 2:12-17 – God Prepares the Way, Not Me

“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 didn’t 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.” (Contemporary English Version)
 
            God is the One who calls people to himself.  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 the Holy Scripture.  God is the main and principal actor in the unfolding drama of redemption of the Bible.  God is the Great Shepherd who calls, gathers, assures, forgives, teaches, leads, and sends people throughout the ages.  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 the rancid field of relational separation.
            You see, my friend, that unless we capture the vision of a God who orchestrates and animates his self-revealing 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 His 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 given rain, and the producing of fruit.  In many ways, we’re 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 his 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, blowing the sound of Jesus Christ in melodious sounds of deliverance; with the breath of the Holy Spirit giving the wind.  Amen.

Acts 5:33-42

            People talk about things which are important to them.  Even quiet and introverted individuals will speak at length, barely taking a breath, if you get them on a topic they are passionate about.
            Today’s New Testament lesson has the Apostles speaking incessantly about someone they love to talk about.  In fact, the Apostles (the original disciples of Jesus) talked so much about what they loved that the Jewish ruling council of the time (the Sanhedrin) wanted to shut them up by killing them.  But a wise member of the council saw the foolishness of this and persuaded them against it.  Instead, the council gave the Apostles a thorough whipping, warned them to stop talking all the time, and let them go.
            There is a time to listen, and there is a time to speak.  The Apostles could not keep silent.  They considered their beating an act of solidarity with their Lord Jesus and went right on talking.  The text says: “Every day they spent time in the temple and in one home after another.  They never stopped teaching and telling the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”
            The joy of knowing Jesus – crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again – is such a full experience that one cannot help but talk and speak about him incessantly.  Even in the face of persecution, the ecstasy of knowing Christ transcends physical pain and suffering.
            Consider the Apostles, and think about the church today.  There are places throughout the world where the scenario of constant chatter about Jesus is taking place with joy, despite the presence of persecution.  There are also places, mainly in America, where talking about Jesus does not even take place in the church building where believers gather to worship, let alone out in the public square.
            The great tragedy of the contemporary Western church is that you can talk about only the weather, the latest sports, political happenings, and get away with never speaking about Jesus.
            Today, allow two different emotions to sway your prayers and speech.  First, allow the joy of the Lord Jesus to fill you and give you freedom to speak his Name and the grace he gives to others.  Second, allow a sorrowful lament to rise from your heart and speak it out loudly before God concerning the great silence of the church in the West.

 

Loving Lord Jesus, you save completely those who come to you by faith.  Thank you for the work of forgiveness and healing that takes place in your Name everyday in the world.  Yet, I also lament the many confessing believers in your Name who never speak of the good news in their everyday conversations, even at church.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy, and grant us peace.  Amen.

Romans 15:14-21

            Paul was an apostle, that is, a person commissioned by God and sent to the Gentiles – people other than the Jews.  Through Peter, and then Paul, the good news of Jesus spread to persons that were beforehand considered unreachable.  Paul saw himself as having no limits as to who could hear and respond to the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  He understood himself as standing between heaven and hell, interceding and pleading on behalf of people who need their lives changed through Christ.
 
            It is quite possible that there are persons in our sphere of influence in which we think that they would never respond to the message of Christ’s redemption.  In this holiday season of the year, in which we remember God’s loving gift in the humility of God becoming man, it is far too easy to lose sight that at that Christmas party, family gathering, and interaction with that person in the long shopping line, there are those who need Jesus – and we will never know if God is wooing them to himself unless we share life with them.
 
            Perhaps we need to see ourselves as Paul did – standing in the gap and always trying to find ways to proclaim the gospel to people who require deliverance from empty ways of life.  That cousin or uncle, that co-worker or friend, and that neighbor or new acquaintance, can be forgotten by us as to their ultimate and most real need to discover faith.  We, my friends, are the conduit that God has ordained to bring his life-giving message to people all around us – people for whom we might have already written off as unreachable.
 

 

            We praise you, O God, for the ministry and success of your servant, the Apostle Paul, through whom we who are Gentiles owe our own faith and calling.  Grant us a vision like his, the conviction and commitment to pursue it, and the grace which confirms and prospers it.  Amen.

Isaiah 59:1-15


            “Truth stumbles in the public square.”  That is the prophet Isaiah’s summary phrase of ancient Israel’s moral situation.  He wrote to a post-exile community that was still reeling from losing their land and finding their way among the rule of others.  They were not a free people – by a long shot.  And their deliverance from Gentile dominance was not coming anytime soon, for a reason.  They still had not really dealt with their own problems.  They wanted salvation without confession, and freedom without repentance.  But Isaiah reminded them that their separation from God was a result of their violence, deceitfulness, and corrupt system of justice.  The Jews were neither pursuing peace, nor the common good.  There would be no deliverance apart from facing those sins and renouncing them.
             Without a virtuous citizenry, truth stumbles in the public square.  That is, if national morality and personal ethics are absent, truth erodes and any system of laws and justice devolve into a morass of selfish agendas and lack of concern for all persons.  People might haggle and disagree on what is the best way forward for a given nation, but if they do not begin with the foundation of truth and virtue, then violence is the ultimate outcome because people want what they want and do not give a damn about anything else.  They will kill and covet, but they will not get what they want since their motives are unethical and immoral.
             This is why the spiritual tools of prayer and fasting, confession and repentance, faith and public moral action must be the underlying conscience of a nation.  Without virtue, truth may stumble but will always be present to speak to power.  Government is designed as an institution to promote the common good of all citizens.  If divine intervention is necessary, the proper course of action is acknowledgment of transgressions.  
             Sovereign God, you are the invisible ruler among the nations.  Our sins are many and they bear witness against us that sound judgment has left the room.  Christ, have mercy upon us, and grant us your peace through the blessed Holy Spirit.  Amen.