I wonder what it was like being Joseph and Mary and watching Jesus grow up. Some people have this goofy idea that Jesus didn’t become the “Christ” until He was baptized. But Jesus knew long before His baptism what He was about. He knew His purpose.
When Jesus reached the age of twelve, His family made their regular trip to Jerusalem to worship. As happens with large “tour” groups, some people get separated from the group. It wasn’t until the tour had started back to Nazareth that Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus wasn’t with the group. They panicked, headed back to the city, and spent three days searching until they finally found Him in the Temple. He had been having deep discussions with the religious teachers, all of whom were amazed at His understanding. When His mom scolded Him for causing them such panic, He answered, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. (Luke 2:49–50)
From an early age He knew what He was to be about. He was to be about His Father’s business. Why should they have been surprised to find Him in His Father’s house? You and I don’t have the same calling as Jesus, but we do have a calling (Eph. 2:10). Others may not understand, but God has us on this planet for a reason. He has things for you to do, places to go, people to see. You have a purpose.
The Bible teaches what we call the “priesthood of all believers”. After the coming of Jesus, the role of “priest” no longer fell to a select group defined by their ancestral connection to Aaron, but every believer now functions as a priest. The book of Exodus gives us an excellent picture of what a priest is supposed to be all about.
One of the functions of a priest was to pray, to intercede for those around him. In particular, the high priest wore a “chest piece” that seemed especially connected to prayer. On this garment were gemstones with the names of the tribes of Israel engraved on them. “In this way, Aaron will carry the names of the tribes of Israel on the sacred chestpiece over his heart when he goes into the Holy Place. This will be a continual reminder that he represents the people when he comes before the Lord” (Exo. 28:29 NLT). Beloved when you enter God’s presence to pray, come with the requests of those whom you love, those who are on your heart.
Inside this chest piece were two mysterious objects used to determine God’s will, the Urim and Thummin. “In this way, Aaron will always carry over his heart the objects used to determine the Lord’s will for his people whenever he goes in before the Lord” (Exo. 28:30 NLT). We too have a tool for figuring out God’s will, God’s Word. It’s a good discipline to pair your prayer time with your Bible time. God not only wants us to bring our requests to Him, He wants to give answers to us, and the answers are in His Word.
I know that some of you will think I am strange, but I kind of like history. Like some of you, I was never that good at memorizing dates, but I sure do like the stories that come through history. The value of history though is not the stories, but the lessons you learn or don’t learn from it. A fellow named George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. The folks in Narcotics Anonymous have a famous saying, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”
I sure understand why we sometimes want to “forget” the past. The concept of forgiveness has a bit of a connection with that idea. There are some things that we ought to forget. We ought to forget the grudges and the things that others “owe” us. But if we forget too much of the past, we will find ourselves in that old Groundhog Day loop, repeating the same things over and over again, hoping things turn out differently but getting the same results.
When the children of Israel faced that terrible problem where they were caught between the advancing Egyptian army on one side and the Red Sea on the other, Moses told them that something wonderful was about to happen. And they needed to remember. And Moses said to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place…(Exodus 13:3)
Long ago when the brothers kidnapped Joseph and sold him as a slave, they made up a story for their dad that he had been killed by an animal. Then came that moment some 15 years later when they discovered that their brother was not only alive but he was the top guy in Egypt. Talk about awkward. I wonder what they told dad. It’s not until another 17 years that papa Jacob passes away, and the brothers finally get around to dealing with this old grudge, mostly out of fear of what Joseph might do to them now that their daddy is gone. I find it interesting that they don’t come personally but resorted to sending messengers claiming that it was papa’s idea all along for Joseph to forgive his brothers. Not exactly the best apology I’ve ever seen. Who knows if they were even sincere? They may have only been apologizing out of fear that Joseph might take revenge. I guess you could say that it all goes to show that they didn’t know their brother. Joseph only wept when he heard what the messengers said. When the brothers actually showed up to talk to Joseph, they fell on their face before Joseph, and he responded, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? (Genesis 50:19) Joseph had seen how God had worked despite all the mess. He not only forgave them, but promised to take care of their families. Sometimes I wish we could be a lot more like Joseph and forgive even the messy apologies. Hopefully, it won’t take 32 years to resolve things.
The way Jesus told the story it all seems so obvious. This one guy owes the King a billion dollars. But the guy is broke so he begs the King for help, and the King does the most amazing thing – He doesn’t just restructure the guy’s debt, the King actually forgives the entire debt. A billion dollars! When this forgiven fellow goes out to collect the ten bucks his friend borrowed at Starbucks, the friend begs for mercy, but the original forgiven fellow responds harshly and throws his friend into prison. When the King finds out, he is quite upset with the forgiven fellow and He says, “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’” (Mat 18:23)
The obvious lesson is that I am the forgiven fellow who ought to be forgiving others. But I have to tell you that over the years I’ve found that it isn’t all that easy, is it? I don’t know about you, but I have a boatload of excuses as to why I ought to send my fellow debtor to prison. Here are some of my better excuses: “After all, isn’t it good to teach others the responsibility of paying their debts?” Or, “And this other person is quite a jerk as well. I only forgive people who deserve forgiveness.” Or, “You don’t know how bad they hurt me!”
Why is it so hard to do what’s supposed to be so obvious? Perhaps I need to stop making excuses and just do what is right. Forgiveness is right.
It is certainly a bizarre story. If it took place today, Abraham would have been arrested for attempted murder, or locked in a psych ward. Abraham heard the voice of God. And God asked Abraham to do the most difficult thing, something that shouldn’t be even considered. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac on a distant mountain. Now Abraham had known God a long time, and Abraham knew this wasn’t his own crazy thoughts – so Abraham did what God asked. I don’t think God really wanted Abraham to go through with it, but God was testing Abraham to see where Abraham’s priorities were. Was God first in Abraham’s life or was the treasured son first? As you know (Gen. 22), Abraham passed the test. Abraham began the ritual sacrifice but was stopped as God could see that Abraham intended to obey. A sacrifice was made, but instead of being the son, Abraham sacrificed the ram that God provided for him. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” (Genesis 22:14)
I often marvel at the picture that Abraham was painting. I don’t know if I would have been able to do what Abraham did. But then it really isn’t up to me to do it either. The ultimate lesson was that God was the One Who Provides. We don’t sacrifice ourselves or our sons because God offered us His Son. He paid our debt. Why would God do such a thing? Because of love. Amazing love.
People go fishing for lots of reasons. Some people go fishing just because it’s a chance to get away and relax. Those are the people that say, “The worst day of fishing is better than the best day at work.” Others go fishing for sport, to compete for the prize and catch the big one. Others actually go fishing to make a living. The two brothers in our story are of the latter.
And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18–20)
What was it about Jesus that drew these men to Him? You could make the point that they hardly knew Him. Yet He called and they answered. They even answered the call with such finality that they left their old nets in order to follow Him. And Jesus did what He promised. He made Peter and Andrew the finest “fishers of men”. It wouldn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of time to unlearn those bad fishing techniques and learn the way of the Master. But fishers of men they would be. And it all started with their response to the call, “Follow Me”. I may not know what is up ahead for you this year. You may feel that you don’t know that much about Jesus. You may be wondering what is going to happen with your life. Jesus extends His hand and says, “Follow Me”. Will you?
In the world we live in, looks are everything. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what most of us do. It’s the flashy, shiny, brand new car that catches our eye in the parking lot. We might form ideas about the inhabitants of the house down the street by the condition of the house. They might ask the Miss America contestants to speak about their hopes for the world, but the thing most remember is the swimsuit competition. Solomon wrote, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s okay to take care of your physical body. It’s not a bad thing to put a coat of paint on the old barn once in a while. But beauty is, after all, only skin deep.
For those of us who are trying to “be beautiful”, pay attention. Let your concerns go beyond what people see. Take care with your heart. Be sure to walk with God. Cultivate a life of faithfulness. Some of the people around you may only notice what’s on the outside of you, but God notices what’s on the inside. The people that count in your life should also notice the inner you as well.
For those of us who are looking at what we call “beauty”, it might be time to rethink things. Perhaps we ought to learn to treat others with the dignity of paying attention to what’s on their mind and what’s in their heart. Look for what is truly “beautiful”.
I don’t know about you, but I get kind of impatient. I remember as a kid having trouble waiting for the moment on Christmas morning when we could open our presents. On car rides I would be the one asking, “Are we there yet?” As a grown up, I can’t wait for the next new gadget or the next software update. And one of the things I have trouble waiting for most is the resolution of problems. I want things fixed, and I want them fixed now. The problem with my impatience is the fact that some things just take time. If you pulled the cake out of the oven before it was done baking, you wouldn’t enjoy it all that much.
Over the years I have found something to be true. God actually knows what He’s doing. He knows just how long it takes for that cake to bake. He knows the answer to “Are we there yet?”
The prophet Habakkuk wrote, Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry. (Habakkuk 2:2–3)
Habakkuk goes on to give us that marvelous truth that the “just” will “live by his faith”. You might not see
the answer, but you can trust that God knows what He’s doing. It’s not a bad thing to just “wait for it”
Pride and Prejudice. Sounds like one of those romance novels, huh? But you see the two principles show up in the obscure book of Obadiah. The prophet Obadiah was given a message of judgment from God to the people of Edom. They had two problems that they needed to deal with – their pride, and their prejudice against God’s people.
When the nation of Judah fell to the Babylonians, the Edomites sat on the sidelines and cheered the destruction of their neighbors. After all, they hated those despicable Jews. Yet God had a warning for the Edomites, that they too would face judgment.
Their first problem was their pride. God said, “The pride of your heart has deceived you… You who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ (Obadiah 3) They felt that they were better than everyone else, and with that comforting thought, they turned their anger against their neighbors who were facing annihilation. Again God spoke up, “Nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; Nor should you have spoken proudly In the day of distress. (Obadiah 12)
It’s our pride that causes us to ignore our own issues and problems. And when other people run into rough times, especially our “enemies”, we can gloat over their difficulty when we might have deserved that judgment as much as they did. What if that particular trouble was happening to me? Humility and compassion might be the thing that could turn an “enemy” into a “friend”.