Wednesday, April 30, 2014

We ask the questions around here.

The Word for today:
Luke 19:47 -20:47
mark this: Luke 20:1-3 --
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, "Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority."
He answered them, "I also will ask you a question. Now tell me..."
In Jesus' day, teaching was typically a tedious chain of authority citings:
"Rabbi Edelsheim says…but Rabbi Simeon says…while Rabbi Meir permits this alternative interpretation…"
Derived authority was the basis of their teaching.
Into this tradition stepped an unschooled rabbi from Nazareth who, it was reported, taught like this:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.'
But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." (Matthew 5:21-22)
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28)
No citations, no references to established scriptural experts. "Who is this man," they wondered, "and by what authority does he teach? Everybody knows that Nazareth is nowhere, filled with nobodies!"
The clash was inevitable. This itinerant teacher was a threat to their positions, to their status--and to their "authority" in the synagogues of religious Israel. He had to be confronted and stopped.
So the religious establishment brought their best and brightest to the task:
Now it happened on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted him…(Luke 20:1)
What a scene. Dozens of the priestly and academic elite of Israel approached the country-bumpkin Galilean. It was time for the city boys to take charge:
"Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?" (Luke 20:2)
Whenever they questioned Jesus' authority, he silenced them by responding with his own questions:
"I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John's baptism--was it from heaven, or from men?" (Luke 20:3-4)
Jesus' questions put them on the spot, positioning his detractors directly between a rock and a hard place. They could not answer without incriminating themselves:
"If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet." (Luke 20:5-6)
Jesus had forced them to "plead the 5th amendment"--
So they answered, "We don't know where it was from." (Luke 20:7)
Luke (20:40) states that Jesus' questions and answers were so amazing that no one dared to confront him again.
You will be confronted about your faith in Jesus and about the authority of scripture. You won't need to go looking for this fight; the fight will come to you. When it does, do not back down:
Dear friends, I've dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting--begging!--that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. (Jude 1:3/MSG)
In the meantime, train for that day by learning more and more about Jesus and his Bible:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with courtesy and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
Begin to rehearse questions which transfer the burden of truth to your opponents:
  • What do you believe in? Why do you believe that?
  • Where do you derive your standards of right and wrong?
  • By what authority do you pronounce your particular version of right and wrong?
  • What are the consequences, in individual lives, of living by your standards of right and wrong?
  • What have been the real-world effects of programs which incorporate the tenets of your philosophy?
  • What real hope can your philosophy offer? What is this hope based on?
  • Will your philosophy still have billions of followers in 2000 years? Followers from every corner and culture on earth, including millions who live with ridicule and exclusion and threat because of their faith? Followers who range from the illiterate to the most brilliant minds of their day--as Jesus' followers, in every era, have?

There, that ought to get you started.
In this regard, as in all things, let's strive to be like Jesus. Let's be in constant scriptural training. Let's take the offensive by putting opponents on the defensive, keeping them on their heels, and tripping them over their flimsy suppositions. (But while on the offensive, don't be offensive. Remember courtesy and respect! -- see 1 Peter 3:15, above).
The so-called wisdom of the present hour is less than veneer-thin. The hypotheses that would assail the gospel of Jesus Christ are easily refuted and shredded:
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
We are sons and daughters of the LORD God Most High.   Like Jesus, we ask the questions around here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

the poet of emotion

The Word for today:
Luke 19:29-46
mark this: Luke 19: 41…45 --
But as they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to cry…
Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants from their stalls.
Are you emotionally demonstrative? Well, if you are, then you're like Jesus!
Jesus created the emotions. As Lord over his creation, he was Lord over his emotions as well. And yet, he allowed them their full expression. In today's reading, for example, Jesus had no sooner experienced the adulation of the cheering crowds than he began to weep over them:
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:41-44)
Then abruptly, seemingly without transition, Jesus' anger stirs him to drive out the money changers in the Temple:
Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.' " (Luke 19:45-46)
I have an idea that emotions were not just feelings to Jesus. He felt emotion, of course, but he also employed emotion as a means of expression. He utilized emotion like a violinist utilizes his bow, like a poet utilizes words.
The man in Jesus was subject to emotions; he felt them. The God in Jesus commandeered emotions, making them subject to him.
Jesus' tears told his heart. Jesus' anger spoke his mind. He was the poet of emotion.
When I was a kid, they told me to stifle tears. When I became a man, they told me to stifle anger.
Jesus' Father never told him anything of the sort. So to all of you overt types, I propose that we continue to wear our emotions right on our sleeves. And if anyone tells us we're being too demonstrative, let's turn the tables and tell them that they're not demonstrative enough! With the life I've got left, I fully intend to become happier, sadder, angrier, and giddier (whether or not that's a word) than I ever was before.
Emotions can ride us right into the ground. But, as Jesus demonstrated, they can also be a divine language. So whenever people tell you that you've got to deal with your emotions, just emote--and tell them to deal with it!

Monday, April 28, 2014

God's greatest creation

The Word for today:
Genesis 50
mark this: Genesis 50:20/NCV --
You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people, which is being done.
What was God's greatest creation? Was it when he made something out of nothing?--
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
Or was it when he made light out of darkness?--
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)
Neither of those comes even close. We have to go all the way to the cross--where God made good out of bad--in order to see God's greatest creation.
It may be difficult for us to understand salvation as a creation, but in essence that's what it is. It was God's masterpiece, an utter triumph.
We, reluctantly, leave Genesis today. If you remember just one thing from this sublime book, let it be this:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20/ESV)
Genesis 50:20 points the Bible straight to the cross. The story below seeks to show how Genesis 50:20 works to point our lives in that same direction…
"Dark-night Saving Time"
In the distance, one by one, the streetlights begin to light up Niagara Falls Boulevard. The taillights rushing that way and the headlamps rushing this way form thin red and white strands. Three-quarters of a mile away, the sounds of traffic don't reach me. It's a movie with the mute on.
A chain stretches across the road winding around Oppenheim Park. The empty courts and pavilions and playgrounds are reminders of summer. The lodge is closed for the season, the doors padlocked. The only sound's the wind, sweeping through leaves that should have fallen weeks ago.
I know just when leaves should fall, because I've been a cross-country runner for forty years. When the clock is turned back an hour in the fall, my after-work run ends in gathering darkness. Over the years, along my accustomed routes, I've noted which trees still have their leaves at the time change. And even though we "fell back" a week later this year, my trees held more leaves than ever before. I consider them mine until April, because until then it's unlikely that another soul will see them. Until then, it's just me, in my green and white and golden garden.
At the end of October in 1968, I was 15 years old when my world unraveled in these back stretches of Oppenheim Park. I was a hotshot runner then, undefeated thus far that season.  "The culminating race, the Niagara Frontier All-League Meet, will be held at Oppenheim Park," I read in the paper. "Lockport High School is the overwhelming team favorite. They will be led to victory by sophomore Frank Pfeil," the paper said. Little did I know that time was lurking, crafting the inevitable opportunity to lead me out of grace.
At the time, I didn't know where Oppenheim Park was. But when I got off the team bus, I sensed I was at home. The narrow entrance off of the Boulevard opens up into wide, flat expanses with level footing. I was 15, I was undefeated, and over these meadows, I thought, I would fly.
The race was 2.5 miles long. I came off the line like I was shot out of the starting pistol. It was my custom to run immediately to the front and settle the issue within the first 2 miles. This day seemed no different.
At two miles, I was home free. There were fifty yards between me and 2nd. Nobody would make up 50 yards on me in just a half mile. I settled into a familiar hard cruise. At about 97 percent effort, I could hold this speed forever, it seemed, without touching my guts or the gear that I kept in reserve.
While everyone else cheered as I ran by, someone out of place caught my eye. One of my friends, a junior varsity runner who'd already run his race, was gesticulating up ahead. His arms, as they waved me onward, were too insistent, his body language too urgent. As I turned left around a red flag, I shot a glance back. Ninety-seven percent effort was not going to win today.
With just under a half mile to go, I immediately pressed on it. I took it to almost maximum effort. But it was still too far from the finish to go absolutely all out.
Now the cheers were turning to voices of alarm. Though you should never look back on a straightaway, I did. Two runners, from LaSalle and Kenmore East, were locked in a duel with each other, while gaining on me.
I took it to the limit, into that gear I usually saved for the last 400 yards. But there were 600 yards left.
As the two battled step-for-step with each other, the Lockport pack was closing to within striking distance of them.
Two hundred yards from the finish, my kick fizzled. Quickly, very quickly, they were upon me, six of them. A brown jersey from LaSalle shot by, then a yellow jersey from Ken-East. Then in a rush came the four gold and blue Lockport jerseys, my brother among them. He shortened his stride in uncertain hesitation. "Get in front of those guys," I yelled out to him and to the others from Lockport…
"Lockport High School dominated the Niagara Frontier League Meet," the paper read the next day, "led by the surprise third-place finish of John Pfeil."
I was dismayed more than distraught. And I was happy for my brother. He became a name that day. Though I would go on to win many a race, never again would I go unchallenged from the very start. Though I got faster and faster throughout high school and college days, never again would a meadow be a runway from which I would take off and fly. From that day forward I toiled at my sport. The fields yielded praise begrudgingly, if at all.
About ten years after high school, my Dad's health, never good, began to deteriorate. One day during his decline, he caught me off guard when he told me, out of the blue, that the best day of my life was the day I got beat at Oppenheim Park. "Something that needed to be broken was broken that day. It seemed at the time like a turn for the worse. But you just wait. As time goes by, you'll thank your lucky stars."
I didn't quite know what he was saying, or why he'd brought it up. Characteristically understated, he rarely talked on the philosophical plane. And the incident, though memorable, had been only briefly traumatic. I thought he'd perceived a significance that wasn't really there.
Sometime in the early 1990's, ten years or so after my Dad had died and twenty years after the race he'd commented on, I picked up a Bible. I thought that a person who'd read just about everything, as I had, should be able to say he'd read the Bible. It was intellectually embarrassing not to have read it.
In the opening chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, a shining land grows dark. Henceforth, the land would yield its fruit only by the man's forced effort, and the woman would bring forth a child in sorrow. At the end of Genesis, a man forsaken by his brothers--thrown into a pit and left for dead--ends up being the person who saves Egypt, and his own family, from starvation.
The man told his brothers, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today."
I must have read right over that line the first time I read the Bible. I read right over it the second, third, and fourth times, as well. But one year as I read it, I recalled my Dad saying, "It seemed at the time like a turn for the worse. But you just wait. As time goes by, you'll thank your lucky stars."
Maybe my Dad was right. Maybe it was that race that did it. Or maybe it was later on in life when far darker days arrived. But somewhere along the line, as he'd said, "Something that needed to be broken was broken."
My Dad said I'd thank my lucky stars. I don't. But I thank Jesus, who, later on in His book, said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," then carried sin and darkness and death to Golgotha, where His Father turned them into life and light.
Somewhere along the way, your stride was broken. Or your heart was broken; or your dreams, or your health, or your marriage, or your family; or promises that you'd made, or promises made to you. Something was broken because it needed to be.
Blessed are the broken in spirit. It was for you that His body was broken. It had to be, to save many people alive.
Blessed are the broken in spirit. Yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

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.
(1) see Hebrews 11; (2) see Genesis 50:20; (3) Genesis 27:13

Saturday, April 26, 2014

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.
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.

Friday, April 25, 2014

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?
(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

Thursday, April 24, 2014


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 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.
(1) Genesis 40:8; other examples of Joseph's God-reflex are found at 39:9; 41:16, 51, 52; 45:8.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

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:
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).
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)

Monday, April 21, 2014

What about 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.
(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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

among the garbage and the flowers

The Word for today:
Genesis 41:14-57
Joseph had ample reason for self-pity, rage, anger with God, and revenge. He had immense reasons to become enslaved to victimhood. But there is not a "poor me" hint anywhere in the entire Genesis account of Joseph. Though enslaved, Joseph chose to reject the slavery of self-pity and victimhood.
Through it all, he believed that the LORD was with him.
See the incident with Potiphar's wife: the story is bracketed by the reason for Joseph's success in 39:2, 21, 23:
The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. (Genesis 39:2)
But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. (Genesis 39:21)
The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph's authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper. (Genesis 39:23)
Your Bible says the same about you:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).
(Matthew 1:22-23)
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
Never once, whether in prosperity or adversity, had Joseph doubted God. Ripped out of his house at 17, hauled down to Egypt, one thing after another happening to him--and yet he believed God was with him. He had sensed and appropriated God's presence in every circumstance.
Among the garbage and the flowers...
Joseph's life teaches us that life is full of inequities and unfairness and tragedies. But it also teaches us that we have a great God who is with us, working amidst the rich compost of human life to do his will.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

the things that never happened

The Word for today:
Genesis 40:1-41:13
mark this: Genesis 40:23--
Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
Joseph, falsely accused by Potiphar's wife, is thrown into prison.
There he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's butler and his baker. Predicting that the butler would be set free and restored to his former position, Joseph asked just one favor in return:
In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.  (Genesis 40:13-14)
But the butler is so elated with going back to his job and being in favor with Pharaoh again that he forgets all about poor Joseph.
In spite of the discouragement, Joseph believed that God was moving in his life, and the fruits of his faith were apparent. He was faithful in every relationship of his life. He was faithful to Potiphar. In prison he was faithful to the keeper of the prison. He was faithful to God, always giving Him the glory. We will see later on that he will be faithful to Pharaoh, and he will be faithful to his own brothers. Joseph’s faith made him faithful.
Put yourself in Joseph's shoes. He feels forgotten, forsaken. To the natural eye, it looks like his prayers have not been answered.
But Joseph saw with the eyes of faith. He saw right through the little "No's" to a bigger "Yes."
God wants to leave him there for a purpose. Suppose the butler had said to Pharaoh, “There is a prisoner down there who is innocent. He should not be there—he has been falsely accused. And he interpreted my dream for me. I sure would appreciate it, Pharaoh, if you would let him out.”
If Pharaoh had let Joseph out, he would have been at home in the land of Canaan at the time that Pharaoh needed him to interpret his dream. But God wants to keep him nearby, and prison is a convenient place to keep him. There will be no difficulty in Pharaoh’s finding him when he needs him.
Because it is impossible (for us) to know the things that didn't happen, it is impossible to calculate the benefits of God's "No's."
But the things that never happened may prove, someday, to be the best things that ever happened to us.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Joseph: a prophetic picture of Jesus

The Word for today:
Genesis 38, 39

There is no one in the entire Old Testament who is more closely a type of the Lord Jesus Christ than is Joseph.

(A type of Christ in scripture is a prophetic picture of the Christ to come--or a prophetic picture of the conditions of his coming kingdom.)

There is so much resemblance between Joseph and Jesus that we've constructed a chart which will alert you to some of these parallels.   As you read, be on the lookout for these remarkable prophetic illustrations of Jesus!

Joseph—a type of Christ

Joseph              Parallels                                         Jesus
37:2       A shepherd of his father’s sheep           John 10:11, 27-29
37:3       His father loved him dearly                      Matt. 3:17
37:4       Hated  by his brothers                              John 7:4,5
37: 13,14     Sent by father to seek his brothers   Heb. 2:11
37:20      Others plotted to harm him                      John 11:53
37:23       Robes taken from them                            John 19:23,24
37:26       Taken to Egypt                                         Matt. 2:14,15
37:28       Sold, by his own, for the price of a slave    Matt. 26:15
39:7         Tempted                                                      Matt. 4:1
39:16-18  Falsely accused                                         Matt 26:59-60 
39:20       Bound in chains                                         Matt. 27:2
40:2,3      Placed with two other prisoners (one saved, one lost)   Luke 23:32
41:41       Exalted after suffering                                Philemon 2: 9-11
41:46       30 years old at beginning of public recognition      Luke 3:23
42:24; 45:2,14,15; 46:29    Both wept                         John 11:35
45:1-15    Forgave those who wronged them           Luke 23:34
45:7          Saved their nation                                       Matt. 1:21
50:20        What men did to hurt them, God turned to good  1 Cor. 2:7,8

*Miraculous births; 
*Coat of many colors set him apart--Christ separate from sinners; 
*Joseph ruled over brethren;
*Christ presented Himself as Messiah and was ridiculed; 
*Both raised out of the pit (grave); 
*Both mocked; 
*Delivered to the Gentiles; 
*“Numbered with the transgressors;” 
*Seemingly died (or so his father thought) and was “brought to life” again as a triumphant king instead of a suffering servant. 
*Both had gentile “brides.”


Thursday, April 17, 2014

amazing, abounding grace--part 2

The Word for today:
Genesis 37
mark this: Romans 5:20 --
But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.
When we look at its panoramic whole, we see that the prevailing theme of Genesis is grace.
Yesterday, we saw God's grace in the lives of Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. Today we will conclude by looking closely at our most popular hymn--John Newton's "Amazing Grace."
Grace means that God is good even when we aren't. God's grace is what saves us:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
What Ephesians 2:8-9 means, when stripped of its theological terminology, is that God didn't save me because I am good, he saved me because he is good.
Grace upon grace.
We usually focus on saving grace, as in John Newton's hymn:
Amazing grace!--how sweet the sound--that saved a wretch like me.
But there is much more in the word grace, as the rest of the hymn bears out.  The second verse sings of preparatory or, as the theologians say, prevenient grace:
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.
Newton's third verse is about sustaining, enabling grace:
Through many dangers, toils, and snare, I have already come;
'tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
And the final stanza is about glorifying grace:
When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun.