Thursday, April 27, 2017

limping into heaven

The Word for today: 
Genesis 49
mark this: Genesis 47:9 --
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning."
Jacob was a person whose faults are catalogued for chapter after chapter in God’s book. But by the end of his life, as he is blessing his children, we sense the great change that has come over him. When we get to the New Testament, we'll even find him in Faith's Hall of Fame! (1)
Jacob wrestled with life, and with God. He would not let go, and so was blessed in the holding on. It wasn’t within him to yield, so God blessed him with an injury which taught him to yield.
In Hebrews 11:21 we'll see a touching scene—Jacob leaning on the top of his staff. God had crippled him to bless him; bad for good. (2)
Jacob was his Mom's favorite. But because of their conspiracy to deceive Isaac, Jacob was forced to leave under threat from Esau. She never saw him again:
Upon me be thy curse, my son. (3)
There followed for a while some sunny days. Jacob worked seven years that he might marry Rachel. But the years seemed only days to him, because he loved her so. Then it grew dark again.
He watched Rachel die giving birth to little Benjamin. She died on the way to Bethlehem, when she delivered the son of her sorrow--who was the son of his strength. He was so attached to this little one that his life was said to be bound up in the life of the lad.
He had another favorite—Joseph, Rachel’s other son. But he'd lost the boy long ago. He'd often wondered, over the years, about him. But he tucked his sorrow away, as people do.
Can you imagine his sons, watching him grieve while not telling him how they'd dipped Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood to deceive him—just as he’d deceived his own father with the skins of a goat.
***
Behind this story with all its sin and sorrow stands God, calling out to wayward Jacobs everywhere, going to great lengths to show that He Who saved Jacob—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—can save your soul as well, even if he must break your leg to do it.
Better to limp into heaven than never to enter at all.
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(1) see Hebrews 11; (2) see Genesis 50:20; (3) Genesis 27:13

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

a massive concept of God

The Word for today:
Genesis 47:13-48:22
"Examine your faith!"
We're told, in 2 Corinthians 13:5, to examine our faith. So, go ahead, test yourself…
It's a little unsettling, isn't it? I mean, what's the standard? What does an 'A' in Faith look like; what does a 'C' or an 'F' look like?
Well, the Bible devoted an entire chapter--Hebrews 11--to that very question. Think of Hebrews 11 as the Honor Society of Faith, because it's filled with examples of those who got an 'A.'
And of all the persons found in Hebrews 11, I would put Joseph right at the top of the class. His A+ faith serves as a standard by which we can evaluate our own.
The important thing to remember is that the size of your faith isn't a measurement of you; faith is not something inherent. Instead, faith is relational; it's as big as the God you believe in. Faith is so powerful, and so revolutionary, and so full of possibility because it is not confined to our little selves, or bound by our limitations!
So don't be intimidated by someone else's A+ faith. Instead, let soaring faith inspire you! Let's examine Joseph's great faith so we can join him in the Honor Society someday:
1. Joseph had a massive concept of God. "In his day, Joseph maintained the greatest concept and understanding of God of any living soul. Joseph's understanding of God was that he controlled all of life, including its day-in, day-out events." (1)
2. Joseph believed God's Word that had been revealed to him through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He believed in God's covenant promises.
3. Joseph believed that the LORD God was with him, both in the pit and at the pinnacle.
So, let's review before we take the test:
Faith isn't inherent, it's relational. And because we can have a relationship with the living God--the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph--we can have the same faith that Joseph had.
Joseph believed in God's greatness, more than any other man; he believed in God's Word, as no other man; and he believed that God was with him, more than any of his contemporaries.
And his faith had nothing to do with 'Joseph' at all.
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(1) Quoted from  "Genesis: Beginning and Blessing" by R. Kent Hughes

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

shepherds need not apply

(written by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Genesis 46:1- 47:12
mark this: Genesis 46:34 --
"...for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians."
Q- So the Egyptians don't like sheep. What's the big deal?
A- The Bible doesn't say that. It says they don't care for any shepherd.
Q- Okay, so Egypt didn't like shepherds 3500 years ago, what does that have to do with me?
A- It's got everything do with you (presuming you live on planet earth).
Q- Huh?
A- Let me 'splain.
First of all, there is more than culture differences going on here, but that is the level where it starts. Jacob and his family were shepherds. What started as a few speckled, spotted and black lambs (1), quickly grew to a sizable herd that took a large extended family to tend. That worked well in Canaan, but not so much in Egypt.
The Egyptians, for whatever political, cultural, religious or other reasons were not that big on sheep. Joseph, being accustomed to life in Egypt, gives his dad and brothers the heads up before their big meeting with Pharaoh. He knows the big "so what do you do for a living" question is coming, and instructs his family how not to embarrass themselves. (Although many people think that Joseph was being shrewd here and making sure that the Israelites would remain set apart from life in corrupt Egypt.) And so Jacob and company end up in Goshen, the fertile northeastern part of Egypt, and apart from the main population.
But more than explaining how the Israelites got to where they were at the beginning of Exodus, this one little line gives us great insight to our own world. In the Bible, followers of God are constantly dealing with the tension in living in a world that doesn't care about God. And in the Bible, "Egypt is a symbol of the world system and it's bondage (2)."
Sometimes the world tolerates God's people, sometimes it persecutes them, sometimes it could care less about them. Egypt ("the world") was content to let a faithful and faith-filled Joseph save their posteriors from starvation. But once Joseph's descendants became too many, Egypt's response was enslavement and genocide (3). One thing is consistent, the world does not want God telling it what to do. Remember "every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians."
A shepherd by definition is one who directs, corrects, and leads a flock. The world wants no such shepherd.
But let's stop talking about the world and make this personal. Each one of us is born "an Egyptian." Not one of us want anyone telling us what to do or where to go, naturally. We want to be our own shepherd (even though we are just sheep!) But our own stubbornness and refusal to be led has been our undoing. "We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us have turned to our own way. (4)"
In response to our wandering, God sent us, not a map or GPS, He sent us a Shepherd. The word declares that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. How is that so? Because the Good Shepherd lays down His life to the sheep (5). Everyday, I can choose to submit to His care and instruction. Or I can go the way of Egypt, the way of the world, the way of every human heart and tell the Good Shepherd to take a hike. These are the only two options.
Just remember, Jesus made one thing clear: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me (6)." I can read Psalm 23 over and over again. I can acknowledge that Jesus is the Good Shepherd until I am blue in the face. The question remains, do I listen to His voice?
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(1) Genesis 30:32
(2) Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete OT. p. 60
(3) Exodus 1:9-16
(4) Isaiah 53:6
(5) John 10:11
(6) John 10:27

Monday, April 24, 2017

God-reflexed

The Word for today:
Genesis 45
mark this: Genesis 45:8
Joseph, to his brothers: "So it was not you who sent me here, but God."
In a classic (1980's?) television commercial for V8 Tomato Juice, an actor finishes another type of drink -- a cola of some kind -- then pops himself in the head and says, "Gee, I could have had a V8!"
The inference is that V8 would have been more healthful and just as refreshing as the cola. But we are not V8-reflexed. We tend to think of soda pop on a hot summer day before we think about vegetable juice.
I often experience the same syndrome concerning God. When problems occur, I turn reflexively to my own resources for the answer. I'll attempt to reason my way through, or weasel my way out, or talk myself past the problem. The first solution I turn to is myself.
After all of that inevitably fails, I pop myself in the head and think, "Gee, I could have gone to God!" I could have prayed first, or waited for spiritual clarification, or applied the principles of His Word. But God is all too often an afterthought for me.
We all know that what people do in reflex is very revealing of what is within. For Joseph, turning to God was the habit of his mind. For example, when the cupbearer and baker mentioned their dreams, Joseph instantly referenced God: Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me (1). In this, Joseph foreshadowed the way Christ himself would live.
I am slowly making God my first instinct, but I have a long way to go before I become as God-reflexed as Joseph was.
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(1) Genesis 40:8; other examples of Joseph's God-reflex are found at 39:9; 41:16, 51, 52; 45:8.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

close and closer

The Word for today:
Genesis 44
mark this: Genesis 44:30-31 --
"I cannot go back to my father without the boy. Our father's life is bound up in the boy's life. When he sees that the boy is not with us, our father will die. We will be responsible for bringing his gray head down to the grave in sorrow."
Death is separation from God:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?  (Psalm 22:1)
Life, then, is death's extreme opposite.
The biblical understanding of life is not only fellowship with God, but oneness with him. Life, in fact, is to be immersed in God, submerged in God, lost in God:
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
This one-ness is first (and best) seen in the Trinity--where Father, Son, and Spirit merge, but don't disintegrate.
It is next seen in the picture of marriage:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24; cf. Ephesians 5:30-32)
It is then seen in the picture of the church--where each is part of the other, with Christ the head:
He is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:18)
***
We are not meant to be alone, cut loose, or adrift.  Jesus is not only with us, he is in us:
That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us… (John 17:21)
As I write this, it is Good Friday afternoon; Jesus, in a commemorative sense, is on the cross. But even then, we were with him and in him:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. (Galatians 2:20)
Jacob's life, as we read today, was bound up in the boy's life (Gen. 44:30). Jonathan and David were knit, soul to soul (1 Sam. 18:1). David's life was bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD (1 Sam. 25:29).
***
Jesus said, in John 3:16, that he came to give us life, which is fellowship with God. But he didn't stop there. He came, he tells us in John 10:10, to give us life to the full--
life where soul merges with soul, and spirit with Spirit; where Trumpet and echo are not only inseparable, but indistinguishable.
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Saturday, April 22, 2017

God of the ordinary

The Word for today: Genesis 43
God never appeared to Joseph.
But His leading and shaping hand is more evident in Joseph’s life than anyone else in Genesis, many of whom God appeared to. In fact, there is no person in the Old Testament in whose life the purpose of God is more clearly seen.
This should be an encouragement to every child of God. None of God’s children today have ever had a direct revelation from God. When the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, God’s expression to our age was finished, complete:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
It is for our encouragement that God did not appear to Joseph directly because we can still know that He is leading and directing us.
Above all, the story of Joseph is about God working his will through the everyday events of life. There are no miracles here. God does not suspend his natural laws to make things happen. God's hidden hand arranges everything without show or explanation, without violating the nature of things (1):
And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:7-8)
God is not just the God of the extraordinary, but the God of the ordinary as well.
His power and infinitude take the good and evil actions of Joseph's family, of Pharaoh and his servants, and use their actions for good (Gen. 50:20).  (2)
God providentially brings about Joseph's rejection so that Joseph might ultimately be used to effect his people's salvation. "Providence" is the hand of God in the glove of human events:
Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.  (Psalms 77:19)
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(1) and (2) Quoted from "Genesis: Beginning and Blessing" by R. Kent Hughes

Friday, April 21, 2017

What about Reuben?

reuben
 
(written by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Genesis 42
mark this: Genesis 42:37-38 --
Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.” But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you..."
Poor Reuben. Nobody ever seems to listen to you. You were Jacob's firstborn son (1)! You had such promise. But even as the eldest, you were never a natural leader. You couldn't stop your closest brothers Simeon & Levi from going upon a murderous rampage (2). When your brothers decided to nix Joseph, you knew in your heart it wasn't right. You tried to cook up a little scheme to rescue Joseph, make the other nine look bad, and perhaps get back into Papa Jacob's good graces, but that didn't work either (3). Nothing ever seems to work for you.
And then there was the whole incident with Bilhah (4). Nothing like crashing your father's harem to add dysfunction to an family that was already on the edge. The worst part about it was that even after this, your father did and said nothing- which is exactly what you feel like. You're no longer just an embarrassment, you are a ghost. Nobody talks bad about you, in fact, no one talks to you at all. And now once again, you find your voice, your promises, your vows not just turned down, but not even heard.
*****
Is there room in the kingdom for the nobodies?
I sure hope so, because Reuben is so typical of so much of humanity. Weak. Inconsistent. Wanting to do what is right but not able to. Full of sin, skeletons in the closet and shame. Reuben's life is a mess, not because of one fatal mistake, but a whole lifetime of weakness. His life is an example of one of the most subtle of dangers of sin- passive drift.
Don't forget, the vast majority of people on this planet are not ax murderers or serial killers or terrorists. The vast majority are not militant atheists who want to wage war on everything that has to do with God. The vast majority are like Reuben, quietly and passively floating down the river of life. They generally don't rock the boat (at least not that often). They make good neighbors and co-workers (or at least not bad ones). They have nothing personally against God (except that they are personally against any real involvement by Him in their lives). They are neither seekers nor rebels spiritually, they're just a-passing through.
But in the end, it is the folks who are most like Reuben who are the most in danger of eternal loss. As CS Lewis pointed out, "The safest road to Hell is the gradual one- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones (5). "
The only hope I have for Reuben is the same hope I have for myself. Even a life that was as consistent as a sloshing bucket of water (6) can be a life that is redeemed.
You see Reuben, even after everyone else gave up on you, your brother Joseph forgave you. Even all the junk you pulled or failed to pull off, God was able to work good out of it (7). So cheer up Reub, you miserable failure! All your mistakes serve as a means to further show just how amazing the grace of God really is.
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(1) Genesis 29:32
(2) Genesis 34:25
(3) Genesis 37:21-22
(4) Genesis 35:22
(5) Quoted from Mere Christianity
(6) Genesis 49:4
(7) Genesis 50:19-21