August 27: Joseph’s Pivotal Circumstances

Read Genesis 37:1-36

I heard his story as a young child in Sunday School. Joseph was the one whose father loved him best and proved it with a beautiful colorfully-striped coat.

I imagined him wearing it everywhere, even into the pit that his hateful brothers threw him into before they sold him. As a child, I felt sorry for Joseph. After all, he couldn’t help it that his father loved him most.

So at the end of the story, when Joseph became a ruler in Egypt, it made perfect sense to me. The good guy finally got what he deserved. And they all lived happily ever after.

But today, I see Joseph’s character a little more clearly.

It proves a far cry from undeserved animosity.

You might say Joseph was a 17-year-old tattle-tale, full of pride and dare I say a good bit of brat, who couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

Don’t get me wrong. Joseph’s brothers had no right to commit the hate-crimes they did. Nobody, no matter how bratty, deserves that kind of spiteful abuse. But as I read the account today, I find a little more understanding for the depth of his brothers’ resentment that had been building all those 17 years.

they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him (v4).

So when they picked him up and threw him into that pit, Joseph found himself in a pivotal circumstance that God would use to lead him into deeper, fuller life. You might call it a catalyst God used to make Joseph more fully alive.

When we study the life of Joseph we find circumstance upon circumstance in which God worked to complete the man He had called to help save His people. Each one an opportunity to grow and become more fully alive as God saw fit.

If we look closely, we might find ourselves somewhere in Joseph’s story, too — the bratty brother full of pride, the hateful Judah full of bitterness, the broken father facing his own sorrow and fear, the wrongfully imprisoned Joseph waiting for the promise of release. We may even find ourselves inside some pivotal circumstance of our own, at which point we can choose to remember God’s perfect plan:

To make us fully alive even through this situation and use it as a catalyst to better and more life in Him.


August 26: Opportunities

Read Luke 10:1-24

Luke 10 begins with a monumental day in the lives of the disciples and the ministry of our Lord.  This day was one towards which the Lord had been looking from the time He had chosen the disciples.  He had chosen them, you see, not only to spend time with them, but also that He might “…send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” (Mark 3:14, 15 NIV)  Their commissioning for ministry had always been part of His plan.  In many ways, it was for this day that He had prepared them.  He had long modeled what they were about to do.  And so, with some last minute instruction, He sent them out two by two.

You too have been chosen with a purpose.  God has selected you with good works of ministry in mind (Eph. 2:10).  And when you choose to respond to those opportunities…those pivotal circumstances…you can expect two of the same results experienced by those He sent out in Luke 10.

  1. Your ministry can bless others. As the disciples returned, they reported of how demons had departed from people, who had once been plagued by these tormenting spirits (v. 17b).  Many people walked in freedom as a result of their obedience.  Lives of men and women were transformed because of their efforts.  When you become a conduit, through which God works, others are helped!
  1. Your ministry can strengthen your joy and faith in Christ! The seventy returned with a sense of happy marvel at the idea that they had been used.  They had experienced the reality of God working through them and it thrilled them.  The pivotal circumstances that enabled them to serve Christ touched a faith nerve in them that could not be fully sensitized by theory or verbal instruction.  And the same can happen for you.  You will find an obedient response to the opportunities God affords you to be a key catalyst to growing your faith.

What opportunities await you today?


August 25: Jesus Makes a Difference!

Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

“Pivotal circumstances” are those events, situations, encounters in your life that proved to be a real turning point.  And, since we are talking about spiritual issues, these pivotal circumstances somehow served as catalysts of change or impetuses for increased faith.

I suppose the first of those circumstances in my life were the investments of Mrs. Shook.  She came to our public school offering Bible teaching and challenging us to memorize Scripture passages.  Although she made the gospel clear, it did not yet fully resonate in my life.

But then, when I was 14, a neighbor clearly shared the message of Jesus with me.  The Spirit of God convinced me of my need for the Savior.  On that day, I was born again.  A new magnetic north was established in my life; one from which I still take my compass readings today.

God used Paul’s preaching of the gospel to have a similar turning point impact on those in Thessalonica.  As a result of their encounter with the person of Christ and the message of the gospel, these men and women:

  • Turned from idol worship (v. 9)
  • Had begun to serve the living God (v. 9)
  • Demonstrated service characterized by faith, hope, and love (v. 3)
  • Were growing in Christlikeness (v. 6)
  • Lived exemplary lives (v. 7)
  • Proclaimed Christ in surrounding areas (v. 8)
  • Waited expectantly for the return of Jesus (v. 10)

To be sure, their lives were radically different as a result of hearing the gospel.  Because of the grace of God, they would never be the same.

Today, if you are present for the church picnic/baptism, you will hear some of the stories of people who encountered Jesus and who have been changed forever.  I trust you will listen with great fascination as God is honored!

When, where, through whom did you hear the gospel of Jesus?  How is your life different as a result?  Whether you were 4, 34, or 84 when it happened, God has designed that it would be pivotal circumstance in your life!


August 24: Choosing To See God In the Pivotal Moments

Read Genesis 4:1-16

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

A sacrificial offering turned pivotal for two brothers. For one, it served as a catalyst for fuller and more life. For the other, it led to bitterness and lifeless survival.

Cain could have chosen life. He had the chance to be fully alive. If only he had chosen the way of God inside his circumstance.

Both brothers offered thanksgiving to God. But only one was offered by faith. (See Hebrews 11:4.)

Faith is what made all the difference in this pivotal circumstance for Cain and for Abel.

Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil . . . But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.

Faith in God, the Giver and Sustainer of Life Itself, was the difference between what Cain gave (some of the fruits), and what Abel offered (fat portions from some of the firstborn).

Each man found himself in the same situation, with an opportunity to ride the catalyst to the fuller life that God lay in front of him.

But Abel trusted God in such a way that he was eager to give the best portions from the first of his flock.  His eyes of faith showed him the catalyst God provided through this pivotal circumstance. And it led him down the road of righteousness and God’s favor.

Cain, on the other hand, lacked that faith and chose to ignore the opportunity God had provided. The chance for fuller life, better life, complete life His way. Cain’s offering of compulsion showed his unwillingness to see God’s hand at work in His everyday life.

God gives you and me the same opportunities every day too.

We could wake up in the morning and go through the day knowing we should spend time alone with God, squeezing it in at a commercial break during my favorite television show.

Or we could plan the day with that in mind, offering every moment of it to Him and giving him our most alert time, our best attention.

Although either might be nice, only one is by faith. To offer Him our best inside the everyday moments, choosing to see His hand at work. Letting Him move us to be more fully alive.


August 23: Admonish and Own

Read 2 Samuel 12:1-39

There is a dimension of the providential relationships that God wants to build into our lives that is less comfortable.  Those relationships, you see, are not always marked by rainbow words of hope and encouragement.  The conversations cannot only be punctuated with encouraging statements like “I’m sorry to hear that!” and “Wow!  That must have been difficult!” and “I am praying for you!” No, sometimes difficult things must be spoken.  Occasionally, words of admonition and correction must be heard.

But both the speaking and the hearing of those words require sensitivity.

Nathan sensitively introduced the subject with a story that caught David’s attention and emotion before he said, “you are the man” (v. 7).  Nathan did not remain silent and just let David’s sin go unnoticed.  We do not serve others best when we just look the other way.  Or, at the other extreme, we can blast others out of the water if we jump down their throat with voluminous, finger pointing accusations.  No, we must sensitively speak the truth and do so in love (Eph. 4:15).

Meanwhile, David’s response required a sensitivity as well.  He readily owned his transgression by saying, “I have sinned against the Lord” (v. 13).  Our natural inclination is not to take correction well.  We may respond by defending our actions, somehow justifying them.  Or, in some instances, we respond by attacking our accuser.  “Who are they to say that to me?  They are not perfect!”  But, instead, we must sensitively receive the admonition, honestly evaluate its accuracy, and humbly own our failure.

Neither end of the conversation is easy to be on.  Both require that we are sensitive to each other, to the situation, and, ultimately, to the Spirit of God!  Having the kinds of providential relationships in our lives where someone loves us enough to sensitively correct is important.  Having the kind of relationships where we can be a voice of correction is key.


August 22: The Giving and Receiving

Read James 5:13-20

Have you ever been that person?  The one who was down but had no one with whom to share his feelings?  The one who was ill but had no one to pray or care for her?  The one who was ecstatic about life but lacked a person with whom to share the electricity.  The one who was wandering off track but has no “GPS person” in his life to bring the course correction?

If you have been that person, you know how dangerous, lonely, and discouraging life can be.  God never intended your life to be that way.  He has designed us for community…especially as Jesus followers.  Ours are to be lives lived not only in harmony with one another, but also ones that genuinely care for one another, weeping and rejoicing together (Rom. 10:15, 16).

When I live life like that, my trouble is not only voiced, but it becomes someone else’s concern.  The other person helps to bear a burden that was all too weighty when I was carrying it alone (Gal. 6:2).  They direct me to my divine source of help.  They demonstrate support.  They help me find solutions!

When I live life like that, my joy is neither contained nor is it merely a celebration between me and my Father.  Others join me in the festivity of giving praise to God.  They sing happy hallelujahs with me!

When I live life like that, my sin is no longer something I conceal in shame.  Instead, I confess it to God and to a caring brother/sister, who lovingly prays for my healing and holds me accountable in areas of powerful struggle.  They are interested in my rescue, not my ridicule!

But I also dare not forget that living life like that requires that I am not only on the receiving end.  I am the one bearing a brother’s burden.  I am the one sharing in a sister’s joy.  I am the one pointing a person towards righteous living.

Not only do I have the opportunity to experience the blessing on the receiving end of a providential relationship, but I am also called to the responsibility of being the one giving that blessing to others.


August 21: Spontaneous, Providential Relationships

Read Acts 8:25-40

Now that was a providential relationship that catalyzed a man’s faith!

Seat yourself in the Ethiopian’s chariot for a moment.  Next to you is a high ranking official in the service of the queen of Ethiopia.  He was a treasurer…at least for the queen personally, if not for the entire nation.  Perhaps he received for his work a healthy salary.

But, in spite of the high profile job and all that went along with it, something was missing in this man’s life.  (You know, prestige and possessions just can’t fill the voids in our lives.)  Though he was not likely a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he had apparently converted to Judaism.  He was willing to travel long distances to Jerusalem in order to worship at the temple.  And even now, on his return trip, on a desolate desert road, he was reading the Scriptures.  It was a statement from Isaiah the prophet:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”  (Is. 53:7, 8)

It was all so confusing.  Was Isaiah talking about himself?  Someone else?  If someone else, then whom?

Perhaps he was ready to place that into the mental file of “things I will never know” or of “things I need to ask a rabbi or priest next time I am in Jerusalem.”  Instead, a man came along…on a desert road…right up to him…asking him if he understood.  God providentially provided a person who could answer his question.  Philip pointed him to Jesus.  And, on that day, because of this providential relationship, the Ethiopian came to faith in Christ!

Who have been the people that God has providentially positioned in your life to help you take significant strides of faith?  While some of them may have been unplanned, others may have been ongoing and predictable.  Regardless, recognize that God likely has other providential relationships waiting for you in order to push the gas pedal down on your growth!


August 20: Parable of Providential Help

Read Luke 10:25-37

Who qualifies for help?  Most assistance programs of any kind have parameters that determine whether the applicant is eligible for the food, money, or health care being offered.  Given the limited resources, volume of applicants, and the non-relational approach, I suppose that such criterions are essential.

But what if the help comes from a person and not a program?  Now who qualifies?  That is the question posed by the lawyer that set up this familiar parable.  Who is the neighbor I am to love?  But, did you notice?  The lawyer already had his own list of qualifiers in mind.  He had made decisions in the past about those to love and those to ignore.  He had passed by some and helped others.  You see, he wanted to “justify himself.”  He was hoping that the list of criterion that Jesus gave would be a mirror image of his own.  He was wanting for Jesus to understand and accept the rationale behind his list that likely included things like reputation and side of the tracks a person grew up on.

Jesus didn’t really answer the man’s question in the parable.  In His story, Jesus didn’t really describe the person.  He was just “a man.”  Oh, yes, we do know that this man was beaten, naked, and half-dead.  Meanwhile, we don’t know his background.  We aren’t told his nationality.  Jesus didn’t describe his reputation.  His political leanings were not described.  Did he have tattoos?  Short hair?  Was he a senior citizen or a senior in high school?  We just don’t know.  Apparently, that information is unimportant.  Perhaps part of the message is that every person in need is a neighbor to love.  Perhaps part of the message is that every person must be willing to enter into a providential, divinely arranged relationship as one who offers what he/she has.

Instead of describing the man who was worthy of help, Jesus describes three people who had opportunity to help.  Two of them passed by.  Was it because of their busy schedule?  Was it because helping would complicate life?  Did their list of qualifiers dictate that the man was unworthy of help?  We aren’t sure of their reasoning, but the point Jesus was making was clear.  Be the person who lovingly helps! Rather than asking, “Who qualifies for my help?” we must ask, “What keeps me from helping?” How can you be used of God in a providential relationship today?


August 19: We Need Each Other!

Read Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

God never designed for us to go through life alone.  Already on Day #6 of creation, He observed the solitude of the man He created and declared that it was “not good” (Gen. 2:18).  Consequently, He sought to remedy that.

But the ultimate good life is not necessarily experienced in marriage.  Now, that statement may require some explanation…especially to Celeste, my wife!  What I mean is that God wants us to be connected to others in meaningful, encouraging, God-glorifying, accountable relationships.  Marriage is certainly a unique and important expression of that.  It is only in marriage between a man and woman that two people become one.  It is only in a husband/wife relationship that God’s gift of sexual intimacy is to be enjoyed.  Marriage is a unique blessing from God.

Meanwhile, the unmarried person is of no less value.  In fact, Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 7 that there are specific advantages to the single life.

Whether a person is married or not, Solomon points out the vanity, the meaninglessness of the life of one who has no meaningful connection with others.  This is the person with “neither son nor brother” (v. 8).  It is the man without friends.  It is the woman cut off from family.  One can argue, “At least this person can give himself/herself more completely to another biblical value…work.”  But the purposelessness of such a life is real.  His money doesn’t bring contentment.  Her life lacks joy.

But, oh the blessing of the life connected to another!  Those providential relationships offer accountability and more.  Together with others, our productivity increases (v. 9).  Friends are there to help us when we stumble in life (v. 10).  In close relatives, we find those who are there with us when we face the cold realities of life (v. 11).  With God’s help, we can stand with others against the temptations, challenges, and even satanic opposition (v. 12) we may face.

I am grateful to have people like my family, my Grace Group, and others in our pastoral staff who are there for me.  So, who are those people in your life?

The contemporary band “Sanctus Real” gives us an upbeat reminder of our need for others in their song “We Need Each Other.”  Check it out if you care to.


August 18: “You Can Do This!” Encouragers

Read Hebrews 10:19-39

The author of the book of Hebrews wrote to point out several things to his original readers and to us.  Let me just point out two of his most obvious themes of the book:

  1. The supremacy of Jesus. He is better than anything and anyone.  Whether it is angels or Old Testament high priests, Christ is better.  As such, He is worthy of:
  2. Enduring, persevering faith. We dare not “throw away our confidence” (v. 35) or “shrink back” (v. 39).  Instead, like the heroes of the faith before us (ch. 11), we are to run with endurance (12:1).

Let’s face it, giving up is not only an ongoing option, it is also an occasional temptation.  The path that is ours as followers of Jesus is not broad, paved, flat, and easy.  No, it is narrow, rocky, steep, and sometimes treacherous.  And yet, our enduring faith is more than worth it because we follow One who is incredibly faithful.

Our resolve to endure, our commitment to persevere is not only strengthened by an understanding of Christ’s superiority.  It is not only motivated by a legacy of faithful saints.  That commitment to faithfulness, you see, is also inspired by others around us.  Here is the way the author put it:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV)

We have a responsibility to one another to “meet together” and to “spur one another on.”  God has providentially designed relationships within the church, the body of Christ, to provide the “you can do this” encouragement that all of us need.  We must make sure, however, that our lives are in close enough proximity to others through things like ABF’s and Grace Groups to make that happen.

Is yours?