Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quiet Righteousness

These are my notes for tomorrow's Sunday school class:

Can one person make a difference in our world? We live in a world with overwhelming problems.

~One hundred million children live on the streets of the world's cities, a world of drugs, crime, and abuse.
~Physical and sexual abuse damage over 625 million of the world's children.
~It is estimated that almost 6 million children fall prey to pedophiles every year.
~Three hundred thousand boys and girls have been forcibly made into child soldiers.
~Twelve million people fled their countries because of wars, disasters, and environmental collapse in 2003. Another 24 million people had to leave their homes for the same reasons, but stayed within their countries. The vast majority were women and children.
~Forty million people are infected with AIDS.
~Fifteen million children under the age of 15 have lost their parents to AIDS. By next year, the number is expected to double. (Get Your Hands Dirty, edited by Doug Priest and Nicole Cesare, pp. 62-68)

As we consider the Christmas narratives over the next few weeks, we will be looking at rather ordinary men and women who made a difference in their world by being faithful to God and his calling on their lives. They also faced overwhelming problems.

~In the Roman Empire, a child was not accepted into the family until the father accepted him or her. If not accepted, the child would be abandoned. Unless they were found by people who would raise them to be exploited as slaves or prostitutes, they would die of exposure to the weather or wild animals.
~The majority of the Roman Empire's population lived as slaves. If they escaped, they could be executed legally by their owners.
~The rulers were evil, paranoid, and cruel.
~The common people were at the mercy of people who had little understanding of mercy, and even less appreciation for it.

In such a world, we could easily become discouraged and give up. We do not have the knowledge, the wealth, or the influence to solve all the world's problems.

Neither did Joseph, the husband of Mary and the man who would help her bring up Jesus as a Son.

But he did make a difference. And he did it in a quiet and unassuming way.

In fact, as hard as you may look, you will never find one word spoken by Joseph in the Bible. He may have been a quiet man, but he filled a significant role in events that have affected all of us.

Let's read a couple of passages about Joseph as we consider his role in Christ's story and his character: Matthew 1:18-25; 2:13-23.

In Matthew 1:19, Joseph is called "a righteous man." In other words, he was a man who lived in a right relationship with God and with other people. If we are to make a genuine and lasting difference in this world like Joseph did, we will need to be righteous, too. We will need to live in a right relationship with God and others.

If you look back in your life at the people who have made a positive impact for God on you personally, you will probably remember someone who was righteous. I remember the man who baptized me. I was attending the Plainview Church of Christ in Catoosa as a teenager. It was a small congregation with a history of preachers who did not strike me as being very righteous, as I understand the meaning of righteousness today. They seemed to be rather hard to get along with. But then John Hurn, a high school science teacher, came to our church as our part-time preacher. During those years, he and his wife changed the atmosphere of the congregation. He would smile and laugh. He would listen when you had a problem or concern. He would visit members at home, at work, and in the hospital. He would preach the Bible faithfully and love the people he was preaching to. He once told me, "I want to be conservative in my doctrine and liberal in my love." And he was. I had never been exposed to a preacher like him, and it made a profound impact on my much so that he baptized me after a couple of years.

That was the kind of righteousness we see in Joseph, the kind of righteousness that takes God seriously and treats people properly.

Joseph was a man who paid attention to God's word. You will notice that every time he received a message from God by the angel, Joseph believed it and obeyed it. That's the kind of faith that makes a difference in the world.

If we are to make a difference, we will need to be listening to God's word, too. We will need to be involved in hearing the message of the Bible, whether by reading it every day or listening to it on CD or in some other way.

Then, like Joseph, we need to believe it. Our faith must be grounded in the promises of God. If we doubt God and his word, we will not be able to persevere when difficulties arise. Joseph faced difficult decisions, but he believed the word of God every time it was revealed to him. And because he believed, he made the right decisions.

He obeyed God based on his faith in God's word. We need to do the same if we are going to overcome the challenges of life. If we listen to God's word telling us to turn away from our sins, we need to obey. If we hear God telling us to stop cussing, gossiping, looking at pornography, or lying, we need to obey. If we hear God calling us to give up our old lives, be baptized, and live new lives for him, we need to obey. If we hear God telling us to care for a widow, forgive someone who has hurt us, mentor a child without a parent, or visit a co-worker in the hospital, we need to obey. It's an obedient faith in God that makes a difference in this world. That's why Joseph made a difference in his world.

Joseph also made a difference because he had a generous spirit. When he found out about Mary's pregnancy, he could have called for her death. It was perfectly legal. But his generous spirit would not allow him to do it, no matter how deeply he had been hurt and embarrassed by the news. When Jesus was born, Joseph could have rejected him. He knew that Jesus was not his biological son. But Joseph's generosity prompted him to care for the boy as any decent father would.

We need the generous spirit of Joseph in order to make a difference in our world, too. People around us are facing difficult circumstances and are vulnerable. They need our help rather than our judgment. If you are like me, you have seen a few co-workers rightfully fired for drug abuse, stealing, or some other violation of the rules or law. During those times, they have been vulnerable. They have known that they had done wrong and possibly ruined their careers (if not their lives). Those are the times when they need a phone call or a personal visit from a Christian who is willing to help. It may be the last thing they expect, but they will never forget someone who cares about them during a crisis. It could make a difference for eternity.

Finally, Joseph made a difference because he was a responsible and brave man. He risked his reputation by staying with Mary. People must have wondered whether he had gotten Mary pregnant. If so, he would not have been seen as righteous by his neighbors, no matter how good a man he actually was. But he was willing to embrace a bad reputation in order to care for his wife and her child. In fact, he was willing to risk his life to protect them from a bloodthirsty king who wanted Jesus dead.

As Jim Roberts has taught us, we need courage like Joseph's in order to make a difference. We need to be responsible even when it makes us look bad, even when we could face harm. Men, this is a special challenge for us. We are responsible for loving and protecting our wives and children in selfless ways, just like Joseph did. We need to be looking out for danger and doing our best to guide our families through it. This could mean signing up for a health insurance policy for our families, reading a devotional or biblical passage at the dinner table instead of watching the Simpsons (or the news or sports or whatever else may be on) in front of the TV while we eat, or a number of other things. Whatever our circumstances, we need to exert the courage to be responsible in our spheres of influence.

It's no wonder that the Bible calls Joseph "a righteous man." He was the perfect man to fill the role of a father for Jesus while he was on Earth. We can learn a lot from him, and in some ways, be like him today. If we do that, our world will be a better place.

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