Do Not Despise the Day of Small Things

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. “These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:10 ESV)

Zerubbabel was Israel’s civic leader with a formidable task: rebuilding the temple. The temple lay in ruins, destroyed by the Assyrians. Twenty years had passed and no rebuilding had been done. No doubt there were naysayers, negative Nancys, pouting Pollys, barking Bobs. Before they could rebuild, they had to remove the rubble. And there’s no glory in rubble removal–it’s one tedious chunk after another.

However, days of small things are followed by moments of glory. We forget that, without the days of small things, there won’t be moments of glory. Noah spent up to 120 years building the ark–and a year riding in it to safety. Moses was on the backside of the desert 40 years, and spent one day crossing the Red Sea. Israel marched around Jericho for 7 straight days, and watched it fall in a few hours. Days of small things: moments of glory.

What is your day of small things? A fussy one-year old? A dirty diaper? Helping your aged mother into the shower? 10 hours on a Wednesday at work? One more semester in college? Correcting your teenager again…for the same thing you pointed out to her yesterday? Another day in singleness?

We love the miraculous, endure the mundane. We relish the glory, despise the groan. We celebrate the extraordinary, trudge through the ordinary.

When you’re sifting through the rubble remember there will be a day of rejoicing. Though Zerubbabel’s hands now held broken scraps of temple stone, one day they would hold the plumb line. One day he would measure corners, lay stones, build walls, erect altars, sew curtains, lead the people in celebration. Until then…the day of small things.

Jesus lived 33 years in relative obscurity, held neglected children, fed hungry commoners, angered religious elites. He endured six agonizing hours on a cross, three days in a tomb, and rose from the dead in a moment of glory.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

Jesus endured the day of small things “for the joy set before him.” For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.

 

 

The Deception of Disillusionment

And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. (Luke 24:17-20 ESV)

Jesus approached these two forlorn disciples on a long road back from what they thought was a failed mission. Their fearless leader had succumbed to the Jewish religious hierarchy and the cruel Roman torture called crucifixion. When Jesus found them, they stood still, looking sad. You can hear the biting sarcasm in Cleopas’ statement: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

He played ignorant. Jesus played ignorant! “What things?” he asked. Their answer to his question revealed the source of their disillusionment. Dictionary.com defines disillusionment as: disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be. They answered, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people…”

They were disillusioned because they expected too little, not too much! They thought of Jesus as a prophet, not the Prophet; as one who prophesied before God not as God. They were deceived by their low, incomplete view of Jesus.

What are your expectations of Jesus? Is it possible that His greatest accomplishment has fallen to the bottom of your list of expectations of him? Are you disappointed because the healing didn’t come you prayed for, someone else got the job you prayed for, the relationship you prayed for ended in an ugly breakup? I am not trying to diminish your suffering. I only encourage you to see Jesus for who He is, not who He isn’t. Paul had this in mind when he wrote:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32 ESV)

God is for you…even when He doesn’t make sense.

His Way Is Right

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7 ESV)

Any respectable person watching CNN in Jesus’ day would have known who Caesar Augustus was. He followed the famous Julius Caesar and became emperor of Rome in 27 BC. For the next 41 years he led the massive Roman empire and established a peaceful kingdom. Though all self-respecting Israelites hated Roman oppression, they appreciated the peace Caesar Augustus brought.

Quirinius was a well-respected war hero. He worked his way up through the ranks becoming a mentor for Casear Augustus’ grandson. He excelled at every position he held eventually landing the position as governor of Syria, the province in northern Israel where Nazareth is located. He would have been a regular contributor to Fox News–an expert in Palestinian affairs.

The leading news story of Luke’s day was the census. Reporters would have camped along the dirt roads leading into Bethlehem and interviewed the travelers. Caesar Augustus and Quirinius ruled the day. No one would have known a young woman named Mary and her fiancé, Joseph. They were lost in the sea of weary travelers making the trek to their hometown to be counted.

However, 740 years earlier a prophet named Micah called this:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2 ESV)

Every news outlet in Jesus’ day missed the story. Caesar and Quirinius ruled the world and the day…or so they thought. But out of Bethlehem, too little to be among the clans of Judah, came the Ruler of all rulers. I am reminded again of John Oxenham’s poem:

He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,–
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this–

HIS WAY WAS RIGHT.

His way is right when no one notices. His way is right when no one cares. His way is right when no one understands.

His way is right.

His Way Was Right

Timing is everything. Yogi Berra, former MLB player and coach, said, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go.” According to Paul, Jesus’ birth was right on time. In Galatians he writes:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)

Scholars have identified several factors that made the arrival of Jesus and the spread of Christianity so timely. Check these out:

  • Pax Romana–Rome was a massive empire controlling most of the known world. While Palestine squirmed under Rome’s heavy hand at times, the reality is that Rome’s dominance created peace over most of the known world. This Roman peace paved the way for Jesus’ message and the ability of the Apostles to travel unhindered and spread the Christian message.
  • Developed roads–Because of a highly developed system of roads, the Gospel message could spread quickly and efficiently.
  • Common language–Greek had become the common language of the Roman empire, and it was a variety of Greek that was easy for the common person to understand and write. Language has always been critical to the spread of the Gospel. It was no different in the 1st century.
  • Anticipation by Israel–Rome’s heavy hand made Israel long for someone to step in and release them from oppression. While their view of a Messiah was very different from Jesus’ life and ministry, they were looking for the long awaited Messiah.

God’s timing is perfect.

Years ago I discovered John Oxenham’s poem (God’s Handwriting) and have returned to it many times:

He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,–
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this–

HIS WAY WAS RIGHT

Waiting: God’s University

Years have passed. Joseph is almost 40 years old. His dream that got him in such trouble has taken him from the pit, to Potiphar’s house, and to the prison. Now he is Prime Minister of Egypt. Perhaps he reflected on that dream so many years ago:

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Genesis 37:5-8 ESV)

Now, years later, they show up. He never realized his dream would come to fruition like this. He was no longer a smug teenager; he had become a responsible adult. His ego had long ago been checked by suffering and the harsh reality of responsibility. His brothers and father got hungry–so hungry that Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to get some food. When Joseph saw them he wept. As a matter of fact he sent them out of his presence so they couldn’t see him crying and his weeping could be heard throughout the palace.

As a teenager Joseph never saw the dream playing out like this. As a grown man he had a dilemma. Would he accept the ones who sold him into slavery? No doubt he had already forgiven them. Now he had the upper hand. Now he could make them serve him. Would all those years in Potiphar’s house resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife now be avenged? He could make them pay for his forgotten years in the prison.

It’s funny how waiting on God often has more to do with preparing us for His plan for our lives than the actual plan itself. God will accomplish His purposes. We call that the sovereignty of God–His ultimate control over the course of human (and your personal) history. We spend much of our lives in training. There are some things God has for you that you simply cannot handle right now.

Waiting is God’s opportunity to refine you, to mold you into the man or woman He intends you to be. Your experiencing God in the waiting years enables you to handle the responsibility of the fulfillment of His plans. In case you feel alone, consider this list of “Who’s Who” in God’s story:

  • Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 when Isaac was born.
  • Moses spent 40 years on the backside of the desert…and returned to Egypt at the young age of 80!
  • David was God’s anointed king–and ran from Saul for at least 7 years.
  • Paul the Apostle met Jesus on the Damascus Road and went into training for most likely 10 years before he ever preached!
  • And most profoundly, Jesus, the Son of God, was born to Mary and lived in obscurity for 30 years before performing his first miracle or preaching his first sermon. God in human flesh was the Christmas gift that wasn’t fully unwrapped for 30 years!

Waiting is the norm in God’s economy.

You may feel that you are in a holding pattern…that nothing significant is happening. You’re in good company. And God isn’t finished with you yet.

After Two Whole Years

After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile…

Two long years passed. His brothers had sold him. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him. The cupbearer forgot him. He waited. Then Pharaoh had a dream. Joseph didn’t know Pharaoh had a dream until Pharaoh sent for him. Genesis 41:14 recounts the events: Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh.

I am convinced that all of Scripture is inspired by God and useful. I have often wondered why the writer included this detail. In a story with such high stakes, why would the writer talk about shaving and changing clothes. I am convinced that while the prison may have changed Joseph on the outside, it did nothing to affect him on the inside. Though Joseph had waited years for this moment, he didn’t rush into Pharaoh’s court. He shaved. He changed his clothes. And then he appeared before Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Isaiah 41:15-16)

This is Joseph’s moment of glory–and he deflects it to his God. The pit had not thwarted Joseph’s faith. False accusations did not derail Joseph’s resolve.  The prison had not not made Joseph bitter–he was better.

Joseph interpreted the dream. Pharaoh was blown away. He responded:

Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God? Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:39-43)

In one day Joseph moved from the prison to the palace. In one day Joseph transitioned from taking care of criminals (and being accused of being one himself), to saving a nation from starvation. For the next seven years Joseph led the people to grow and save grain and other produce. Because of the imminent famine, Egypt must be ready. Joseph was 30 years old when he became the Prime Minister of Egypt. Half of his young life had passed and his dream hadn’t been fulfilled. Now he could see the possible fulfillment of those long-ago dreams!

He married and had two boys. Their names reveal Joseph’s heart.

Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:51-52)

God saved Joseph so that Joseph could save a nation. Joseph saved a nation so that the nation could save his own brothers and dad. God preserved Joseph’s brothers because God promised Joseph’ great-great grandfather (Abraham) he would. While Joseph waited, he had no idea the great plan God was unfolding.

The cupbearer may have forgotten him but God hadn’t. HIs brothers may have tried to kill him, but God preserved him. Potiphar’s wife may have tried to seduce him, but God strengthened him.

God waited with Joseph.

Joseph waited on God.

His dream became a reality.

God Waits With You

And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed. (Genesis 39:20-23 ESV)

Joseph’s dreams have faded but his God hasn’t. Who would have thought that the road to God’s plan for His life would lead through a prison. But the LORD was with Joseph. Though Joseph didn’t have his dreams, He had God’s presence. Though Joseph was unfairly imprisoned, he was unconditionally loved. Though Joseph suffered unjustly, he worshiped unhindered. God showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. God went to prison with Joseph.

Quick question: If you had a choice of your plan without God’s presence or God’s presence without your plan, which would you choose? We’re quick to answer, “God’s plan, of course!” And when the rubber meets the road we question God’s timing, God’s involvement, God’s presence. We act as if God doesn’t know what He’s doing or why our lives are going the way they are.

God went to prison with Joseph. It is a helpful reminder that God went through your divorce with you. God endured the death of your loved one with you. God sat through chemotherapy with you. God was at the kitchen table when you sat there, heard your son scream profanities, and walk out.

And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed. God was Joseph’s success.

Moses experienced this too. Israel had camped at Sinai and the time had come to leave. God instructed Moses to lead them to the Promised Land. Moses wanted to know who God was going to send with him. God’s answer to Moses may catch you by surprise:

And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:14-16 ESV)

Moses didn’t want to leave unless God’s presence went with them. He’d rather stay in Sinai with God than live in the Promised Land without him! Why? Moses answers that question: Is it not in your going with us that makes us distinct?” What distinguished Israel was not their “Israelitishness.” What distinguished Israel was God’s presence.

And what makes you “you” is God’s presence.

God waits with you.

Joseph, the Ultimate Waiter

The last fifteen chapters of Genesis are filled with the story of a young man who learned first hand the art of “waiting.” As a young teen Joseph had a couple of dreams. His critical mistake was sharing those dreams prematurely with his brothers. When he told them that they would one day bow down to him, they didn’t receive it well.  Joseph paid dearly for that mistake.

One day his father sent him into the fields where his brothers were shepherding to take them some food. They seized the opportunity to get rid of him once for all–they grabbed him, ripping off his coat of many colors–and threw him into a pit. When traders heading to Egypt passed by, Joseph’s brothers sold him. Faced with the dilemma of what to tell their aging father, they dipped Joseph’s prized coat in animal blood and told dad he was killed. Jacob mourned, the brothers gloated and Joseph learned a new language in Egypt.

Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, a high-ranking Egyptian official. He served flawlessly. His dreams seemed a not-so-likely reality as he managed Potiphar’s household. Then one day–oh the difference a day makes–Potiphar’s wife found Joseph attractive and threw herself at him. Joseph repeatedly refused.

So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. (Genesis 39:6-10 ESV)

Joseph faithfully waited on his God. God gave him the dream and God would fulfill the dream. Though a slave, Joseph never lost sight of the God who gave him those dreams.  When he wouldn’t succumb, Potiphar’s wife accused him of trying to rape her and Potiphar threw Joseph in prison.  Again he actively waited. In a foreign land surrounded by strangers, Joseph waited longingly for His God.

Tomorrow we’ll discover the next chapter in Joseph’s life. His entire life was a holding pattern–he waited.

Perhaps you feel you’re in a holding pattern, waiting for your ship to sail. You feel bound to the shore, at a proverbial stalemate in your life. Joseph’s life is a testimony that there are no stalemates in God’s economy. Your suffering is his stage to announce his sufficient grace. Your poverty is his opportunity to show his plenty. Your emptiness is his opportunity to showcase his fullness.

Wait…longingly and faithfully.

Wait.

What Waiting Is

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. (Lamentations 3:25 ESV)

It’s Monday morning and some of you are already anticipating Friday! You’re in “wait” mode. For you waiting is a daily exercise, a weekly routine. To think of waiting on God has no appeal to you. Yet here the writer of Lamentations applauds waiting. The Lord is good to those who wait for him. If that’s the truth (and it is…God’s Word is alway true), then perhaps we should spend some time thinking about what waiting on God is and isn’t.

Waiting on God isn’t waiting on an appointment at the dentist’s office. Waiting on God isn’t waiting on a meeting with your CPA to figure out how much taxes you owe. Waiting on God isn’t sitting outside the principal’s office because you’ve been caught…again.

The word “wait” in the Old Testament describes a longing feeling, a heartfelt desire accompanied by action. As a matter of fact, there’s something at work in the above statement that any of my Old Testament students could recognize (if they paid attention!). It’s called parallelism.  The two statements in Lamentations 3:25 are an example of synonymous parallelism–they mean the same thing.

In other words, waiting on God isn’t sitting idly doing nothing. Waiting on God is seeking Him. Waiting is an active endeavor. Waiting on God is getting dressed for that first date, making sure your hair is right and your cologne is evenly sprayed…because you can’t wait to see your girlfriend. Waiting on God is driving home from college and knowing where the first glimpse of the mountains is while anticipating the aroma coming from your mom’s kitchen. Waiting on God is rehearsing the questions you want to ask your mentor as you fly across the country to meet him for the first time.

So here’s my challenge for this week of Advent: wait on God by seeking Him through His Word. Read one chapter every day this week. Before you read, ask Him to speak to you. Clear your mind and heart and listen for His voice. If you seek Him, you will find Him.

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks Him.

Revel in His long anticipated goodness this week.

The People That Walked in Darkness

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2 ESV)

Last night Hannah came home and announced that the sky was showering meteors! Immediately she and I went outside and stared up into the sky…and saw nothing. Well we saw stars like normal. So we came back in, googled it and headed out to a dark spot. We went into the darkness to see the light!

We loaded up (11 pm) in the Honda Pilot. Wendy, Hannah, Trent (and his two friends who spent the night) and I headed to a dark spot and waited. In the darkness we waited for the light. We peered into the sky to see falling stars. The sources of these meteors is as striking as the meteors themselves. Here’s what wired.com had to say about it:

Although most meteor showers happen when Earth passes through a path of debris left by a comet, the source of the Geminids is a 3-mile-wide asteroid-like object called 3200 Phaeton. When it was discovered in 1983, it looked like any other asteroid. But further observations using NASA’s STEREO spacecraft over the last few years have revealed that 3200 Phaeton has a tail like a comet. It’s now called a rock comet—yet another in-between object that seems to be part asteroid, part comet.

Imagine it–3 miles of light. The meteors came through; the light penetrated the darkness. We were in awe of the splendor and glory of God’s creation.

Imagine 400 years of darkness. 400 years of longing for God’s voice in the midst of the darkness. 400 years of silence. And out of the darkness piercing light erupts–like a shower of meteors out of a 3-mile-wide asteroid. Read the story of Jesus’ birth. The resounding refrain is light! Angels with glory shining around them. A star guiding magi from the east.

God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) but at Christmas he condescended to become one of us. Light penetrated the darkness. John said it succinctly, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Jesus is light worth waiting for. He is the meteor shower of all meteor showers.