Set up for hope

Obadiah 17-21
It’s much easier to criticize people than it is to listen to them.

Never mind that we don’t really know their position. We have our assumptions about what we know. And we certainly don’t value their positions unless they agree with ours. Take what we assume about them and what we’re convinced about ourselves and watch out! Put them together and you get an unending cycle of frothy arguing.

Forgive me for such a general view. Maybe I’ve read too many social media comments.

But wouldn’t you love to see more civil, honest debates happen in our country? Don’t you wish we could weed out those people who only want to stir the pot for their own benefit?

I’m not convinced that’s impossible to do.

The church is set up to offer such hope. But it’s going to take a willingness on our part to be better. Maybe an uncomfortable willingness. Ever notice how we can be just like everyone one else?

How do we offer such hope and become something better than what we see and know now? Holiness. Our first pursuit is not more civil debates. It’s not more polite conversations. We don’t even need to make truth-telling our top priority. As God’s church, those kinds of things are the fruit of our holiness.

Anyone can be nice. Anyone can be honest.

Not everyone really cares about being holy. And that is precisely why the world needs the church. As such, our priority has to be our pursuit of holiness.

That was to be Isreal’s pursuit. The people of God were to show the nations what it meant to live at peace with God and others. We tend to talk a lot about their inability to do that. Be aware that we also learn something about our shortcomings when we read of theirs.

For example, let’s consider how most people might respond to Obadiah’s future vision. As a reminder, the prophet condemned the Edomites. They were Israel’s ancestors, but preyed on God’s people in their most desperate time of need. God promised a day when the tables would turn on them. They would suffer as their brother did. Obadiah said Israel would then “take possession of those who dispossessed them.”

Now, our culture loves this kind of situation. Think about so many of our movies and favorite stories. When someone whose role was the underdog or the abused is able to take control, something happens. So often in those scenarios, people now in control can yield their newfound power. They do so by exacting revenge or making others suffer.

So, if Israel does take possession as the prophet sees, how should they respond? What kind of power should they exert over those who wronged them? What would you want to do?

A lot of us might think we’d use our power for good. You could be right, but power does strange things to us. More to our point, power without holiness corrupts. Remember, we have a tendency to be just like everyone else. 

People love Ghandi’s quote: Be the change you want to see in the world.

That sounds good. But what if the change you want to see isn’t rooted in love and holiness? Eventually, we’ll always end up being like everyone else.

That’s why we look to Jesus. Our Lord appeared as God’s Son to fulfill what Israel did not. Think about how he engaged the world, not forgetting the needs of those on the margins. He brought to light how we tend to use our power and even our faith for our own benefit.

But holiness sets us apart.

As we pursue the holiness of God we become something different. That is the difference the world can see.

Stay blessed…john

Plant a tree

Genesis 21:22-34
I often think of this story in Genesis 21.

Last week, it came to mind because Corpus Christi’s city council approved a new tree ordinance. Now, new single-family and two-family residential lots must include a new tree. Want to build a new house? Great! Plant a tree, too.

That may not sound like much, but I appreciate the intent.

Planting trees is no new thing, of course. We attribute this great quote to Martin Luther (whether he actually said it is debatable): “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” My other favorite tree quote is a Chinese proverb: The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

Planting trees nurtures our world and our faith. Trees are also stories and signs. They connect us to our past and future. They can also point to our hope in God. Our Genesis text today reminds us they are expressions of faith.

Genesis 21 tells the story of how the city of Beersheba got its name. The name translates to “well of the oath” or “well of seven.” Both names refer to aspects of what we read in the chapter. Moses made an oath with Abimelech. As a result of the covenant the two made, Abraham has a stake in the land God promised him. Remember that God called Abraham to leave his home; the Lord didn’t tell him where he would be going. This covenant, then, is a big deal.

Now that Abraham has a better vision of the promise, did you notice what he did? After the two men cut their covenant, Abraham planted a tree. Maybe Corpus Christi is following his example.

The tree could’ve been a way to honor God. If so, it would be a reminder of God’s faithfulness. It could also be Abraham is claiming his hope in what God is doing. He wouldn’t plant a tree if he didn’t think this was where God led him.

Now, this next message is one I wish every older adult would receive. I had always glanced over Abraham’s tree. When someone pointed it out, it spoke deeply to my soul.

Abraham would not benefit from that tree much. Trees take a while to grow. So, who would use its shelter and shade? Those who came after Abraham.

I can be so stuck on what’s important to me right now. We want God to do so much for us. But what are we doing, what are we giving of ourselves that isn’t for us right now? As the church, what are we doing for the next generation? Can we stop complaining about them long enough to invest in their future hope? How willing are we to share our hope in God with them in meaningful and tangible ways?

In other words, what trees are you planting to help the next generation know the promises of God?

Stay blessed…john