Wednesday, February 24, 2016

To God Be The Glory!

It happens sometime that what I think I am going to preach on in at the start of the week is not what I end up preaching on.
This week was one of those weeks.
I was going to talk about doing our best even when it is not what we want to be doing.
Even when our dreams are not met there is something really important about doing our best at whatever job we happen to be doing.
I was going to talk about Joseph and how he provides a good example to us about doing our best at whatever task we find ourselves.
I read a lot of Biblical commentaries this week commenting on Joseph’s character.
How he had grown up and learned to obey the Lord.
How through this difficult time of being a slave Joseph learned how to have courage and integrity.
It is not a bad message.
If you left here this morning thinking about the job you hate and how there is honor in doing it well that would be a good message.

But the more I read this part of the story of Joseph.
And on Wednesday night at worship when I listened to people talk about what they got out of the story I realized something I was missing that was really important.
It is not Joseph at all that was doing any of those things.
It was God.
A careful reading of the story shows that God is really behind it all.
Consider what it says, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man.”
Not, “Joseph being a man of good character and hard work became a successful man.”
It was because of God.
God is mentioned 7 times in this chapter of Genesis.
God gets all the credit for any success that Joseph might have had.
It was God who made Joseph what he was.
It was God that blessed the Egyptian’s house because of Joseph.
It was God the whole time that was with Joseph in prison.
God is the subject of this story not Joseph’s character.

I wonder how much of what happens to us in life do we take credit for when it is really God’s hand at work.
I wonder if Joseph knows that it is God who is with him during this time.
This is the thing about God’s work in our lives it is usually invisible to us.
We can’t see it all the time.
It is obscured to us because we believe that if God is with us than nothing bad should ever happen to us.
But if we consider Joseph’s life so far we see it is not like that.
Lots of bad things have happened to him.
He was sold into slavery by his brothers.
He was falsely accused of trying to have an affair with his master’s wife.
He was thrown in prison.
One could ask the question, if God is with Joseph why didn’t God stop all these bad things from happening?

Lots of times in our lives when we have hit a dead end, or taken a wrong turn, we wonder why God allowed that to happen.
I offer no explanations for that, and neither does the story of Joseph (at least not at this point).
What the story tells us is that even when our dreams don’t come true in the way we expect.
Even when there are turns in the road, even when there are dead ends, God is with us.
God is working in those times in ways that we might not recognize or understand.
But the worst thing we could do in those times is think that turning our lives around is based on what we can do.
That what is needed from us is more effort, better character, stronger courage.
The best thing we can do is turn over to God our lives and move ahead one day at a time.

The reverse is also true.
In good times we can’t take credit for what we have done, how we have prospered, what we have accomplished.
God gets the glory for anything that might have gone well.

Here is why this is important to me.
I really believe that we are all the same.
People are people.
Success is the product of something that none of us can bottle up.
No one has the solution.
And none of us is better than other people.
But if you listen to people who are “successful” talk it is all about them.
What they did.
How they persevered.
How they overcame.
How they worked hard.

Let me say something very clearly.
We shouldn’t get points for working hard.
Working hard is part of life, because life is hard.
Just because you work hard that doesn’t make you better than someone else.
It just means you did the basics.
My parents worked hard.
And our family did not become super rich, or famous.
So working hard doesn’t make you special.

Let me give you an example.
Everyone talks about Larry Bird how hard he worked.
He was the first one in and the last one out of the gym.
It is commendable, (and of course it helps to work hard) but there are probably tons of people who worked just as hard as he did and didn’t become one of the top 5 best players in the NBA.
Bird was gifted with things that no one else had.
Where did that gift come from?
I would say God.
Why Larry Bird and not someone else?
I don’t know.
I am not God.

But let me bring it down to our congregation.
I was out to eat lunch with two of our members.
They said, “Wow, it is amazing that our congregation is growing. Not many other congregations can say that.”
It is amazing and here is the thing I have no idea why.
There are other congregations that are growing but they grow because they are different, creative, and new.
They are led by extremely talented leaders.
We don’t have that going for us.
All I can say is, “To God be the glory!”
And that would be my answer is that God gets the credit.
If I preach a good sermon it is not because I know something that is great.
It is because God put that into me to preach, God gave me those words to say.
And the Holy Spirit moved among us that day.

On the second week of lent I think that is a great thing to hear, because lent is about realizing that our life belongs to God.
That in all things good and bad, in all times and places, in our best moments and at our most desperate, we give our thanks and praise to God.
We give our thanks for God who gives us courage to live through hard times.
We give our thanks to God who blesses even our meek efforts.
We give thank to God who picks us up when we are disheartened.
Thanks be to God who has given us the gifts to do the work in front of us.
Thanks be to God for blessing us.
Thanks be to God for being with us in all things.
God gets all the credit, to God be the glory.      


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