A Shot at Redemption

redeemed2Genesis 42

Not sure what he is singing about but Paul Simon’s lyrics in Call Me Al declare:  “I want a photo-opportunity.  I want a shot at redemption.  Don’t want to wind up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.”  Can’t tell you when someone will take your picture or how to avoid the fate of a dead ‘toon, but a “shot at redemption?”  That is more than possible.

In Joseph’s story so far, we see a man that has had his ups and downs… who is now on a roll.  He has always been a source of blessing to those around him, and now he is a blessing to the whole world.  He is in charge of a massive food bank with the desperate from all the surrounding nations at his door.

A few years ago I was leading a Bible study on Joseph and we came to this morning’s passage. One of the Bible study participants asked an interesting question: After Joseph became Second in Command of Egypt… why didn’t he go seek out his family in the land of Canaan. Why indeed? I didn’t have an adequate answer… I had never thought about it I guess. One would expect that Joseph would have at least paid a call on them… to promote reconciliation or to enact revenge. And yet at least 7 or 8 years pass without even a postcard sent back to the family… why?

After looking into it, I think we are provided a clue to the answer during the years of Joseph’s prosperity.

Genesis 41:50-52 –  Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. [51] Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” [52] The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

Two sons were born to Joseph and as he called them to supper it reminded him of two things: Forget the Past…. Focus on the Prosperous Present.   Excellent Strategy… only one problem… it was doomed to failure.

  1. Avoiding the Past Doesn’t Keep It From Knocking On Your Door.

Jacob hears that there is grain in Egypt and sends his sons to buy some… “before [they] all starve to death.”  And so they went.  Now that morning Joseph got up to get ready for work and as he headed out he might have caught sight of his first born and said: “Good Morning my son that reminds me to forget my past and the treacherous brothers I grew up with. Have a great day at school. Love ya, bye.”

Was he ever in for a surprise at the Job site.   There are his brothers, that he has spent years trying to forget… kneeling before him.   Verse six says: “They bowed low before him, with their faces to the ground.”

Now Joseph recognized them instantly, but pretends to be a stranger.  This day was the day that God had appointed to Joseph to begin to deal with his past.

I’m not sure when that day will come for some of you. It has to be God’s timing. But usually the past eventually comes knocking. How you deal with it could change your life.

  1. Avoiding the Past Can Keep You From the Blessings of Confession and Guilt.

Genesis 42:21-24 –    They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.”  [22] Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” [23] They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.  [24] He turned away from them and began to weep, …

Two groups both need the blessings that dealing with the past can bring.

For the brothers the occasion spawns a confession of their sins of almost a decade ago. Notice how fresh the event was in their minds: Their ears still ring with the sounds of Joseph’s bleeding.  Reuben says: I told you not to SIN against the boy.

Rueben calls it what it is… not a misunderstanding… or a business opportunity they couldn’t pass up… or a punishment that Joseph had coming… it was a sin against him.  Joseph tells his brothers that he thinks they are spies.  He tells them to bring back their younger brother to prove they were who they said they were.  He keeps Simeon in prison for insurance that they will do just that.  Joseph is testing his brothers repentance here in a very hard way.

But while Joseph’s brothers needed to confess, Joseph, himself, needed to grieve. Did you catch that? As the brothers bring up that dark day… that day that had filled Joseph’s nights with terror… Joseph’s eyes began to fill up with tears. He’s reliving the moment… And he’s coming to grips with his loss.

3.  Another reason to resist avoiding the past is that it can keep you at odds with God.

Genesis 42:27-28 –  At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. [28] “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”  Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”

This is an unusual thing.

Say you just paid someone for cleaning your gutters with your last $50. An hour later you look in your wallet and your $50 is back. Now you KNOW you paid the worker. You mentally can see the $50 leaving your hand and entering his. So how would you interpret this new $50. “Hallelujah! It’s a miracle. Get the kids we’re going to Long Horn’s.”

That should have been the reaction of the brothers, but it wasn’t. Why?

Quick: Draw a mental picture of God.

What do you see in your mind’s eye? A Mean Overbearing Ogre or a Happy Loving Father? Now I’m not asking you what your theology teaches you He is… or even what you believe Him to be… what does your heart feel about Him?  Guilt has twisted the brother’s view of their God.

Papa Jacob isn’t much better.  When the brothers return home and tell him what has happened he declares:  “Everything is against me!”

What is your heart’s cry today?   Guess what?  With God you have a shot at redemption.  “If God is for us, who could be against us!” (Romans 8:31)  God could be bringing up your past today so that he can take those ugly things… that happened to you or that you have done to another… and turn them into a glorious future!

What do you do when the past comes calling?  Know that you have a shot at redeeming that past.  If you are in the place of Joseph’s brothers… you own up to it and repent of it.  If you are in the position of Joseph… you face the pain and forgive.

God longs to heal your deepest wounds.  Would that today be when your healing process begins.

Do you have a hurt from the past that God seems to be bring up again and again in your life?  Isn’t it time to face it with Him?

Blessings!

 

 

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Reconciliation Day

peaceGenesis 33

Last week we left Jacob walking in the morning light after his life changing encounter with God. He has a confidence in him that he never knew he could have. And there will be more surprises ahead for him… for… This. Is. His. Reconciliation Day!

Years ago he left town with just the staff in his hand and the clothes on his back. And though He has made a good life since then, something has been holding him back. That something was the need to go back home and make things right with his brother Esau.

But as we have learned… and is repeated in this chapter’s text… Esau has rounded up a welcome wagon consisting of 400 men. 400 armed men. Hell’s angels on horseback.

The hairs on the back of Jacob’s neck had to have been standing straight up as he enters into this meeting with his brother. He pushes his family out in front. (Least favorite wives and their kids in the front… thanks a lot dad!) And then he himself steps toward his brother…

He is now staring… in the face… the challenge of reconciliation.  And amazingly… that face is smiling!

Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. …  10 Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably.

Esau’s face was the face of God to Jacob. He could see that it was ultimately God that was gracing him through the miracle of reconciliation with his brother, Esau.

He could see the hand of providence in the situation. Reconciliation is not a common thing in our world. In our own strength we get mad and stay mad. To me “reconciliation” is a mark of a true Christian. And it proves to me that the Gospel works. BLESSED are the peacemakers, Jesus said.

Now… this doesn’t always mean you trust everybody and make yourself vulnerable to someone that has hurt you. Verses 12-17 seem to indicate that though there was a pleasant outcome, Jacob still keeps himself and his family a safe distance from his brother.

Reconciliation is complete only when trust is rebuilt between two willing hearts… and that can take time. Take your time and do it right. “Love your neighbor as yourself; but don’t take down the fence.” (Carl Sandburg)

But having said that… you will never reconcile by wishing your neighbor ill.  Reconciliation begins when we wish for the other party the love of Jesus.

Sue Martinuk shared in Christian Reader about a tiff she had with her roommate in college.  They dealt with the anger by not communicating with each other.  She came in one night and found a note from her roommate: “I wish you Jesus.” She cried. Then wrote a note asking her for forgiveness. She placed it on her pillow and went to sleep.

Later, her roommate came home and shouted from the hallway that she had left a note on her desk–“Your sister called and asked me to send her the music for “I Wish You Jesus”!”  Sue remarks:  “We both had a good laugh–and were reconciled.”

What do you wish for others? If it is Jesus… it is bound to be the solution to a lot of conflict.

Is there someone in your life that you need to reconcile with?  Can you begin by “wishing them Jesus?”  Here is hoping that you will see the face of your enemy “as the face of God.”

Blessings!

 

Missteps

Genesis 12:10; 13:3,4missteps

The autobiography of Billy Graham begins with this sentence: “It was July 14, 1950, and I was about to make a fool of myself.”

He had just spoken personally with President Truman. They spoke informally for a bit and then he went out to the press and told them every word of their conversation (some of it very personal in regard to faith and religion).  He then knelt down and prayed a prayer of Thanksgiving in front of all the popping flashbulbs and scribbling pencils.

Truman was furious.  He never invited Billy back to the White House during his presidency.

One White House staff memorandum in late 1951 stated bluntly: “At Key West the President said very decisively that he did not wish to endorse Billy Graham’s Washington revival meeting and particularly he said he did not want to receive him at the White House. You remember what a show of himself Billy Graham made the last time he was here. The President does not want that repeated.” Ouch!

Billy Graham, however, was able to not only speak, but be the confidant of several president following. Billy learned a secret about mistakes.

Abram in Genesis 12:10… just 6 verses from his marvelous act of obedience in verse 4… makes a misstep.  Abram went to the promised land as instructed and pitched his tent. The Promise had been offered and Abram had taken God up on His offer.  Now came a period of waiting.  If one was to give grades to Abram so far.  He would have straight A’s.  An “A” for listening to God.  An “A” for submission.  An “A” for obedience.  But now, when it comes to waiting, he gets an “F.”

He first of all goes into the Negev – a Desert Region, Southern most extremity of the promised land.  Nothing wrong with checking out the land.  But it is there that he meets a test.   12:10:  “Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.”

Here is Abram’s first test: “Will God provide for my basic needs?”  He took one look at his circumstances and said, “There is no way this is the road God wants me on. It is time to abandon faith and time to start using some common sense.”  What road does your faith have you traveling these days?  Are you looking for a way around some struggle in your life?  Maybe the way God would have you move is through, not around your difficulties.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time makes people do rash things.  Check out Genesis 12:11-20.  With brutal disregard to Sarai, and a total lapse from faith in his Lord, Abram resorted to deceit in order to save his own skin.  In the process he endangers his family.  (Husbands, don’t ask your wife to be complicit with you in a lie.  You are out from under the protection of the Lord when that occurs.)  Abraham lies to Pharaoh… well, half lies anyway.  Sarai was a half-sister.  Abram, the great man of faith, knew what it was to desert the way of faith, and experienced fear and fell into temptation.

But after practically being thrown out of Egypt (12:20) Abram did what we all must do after a misstep.  13:3-4 reads:  “He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly, and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.”

He retraced his steps and he finds forgiveness, cleansing and renewal… where?  Where he had last worshiped the Living God.

Driving around a new neighborhood a young woman noticed a hair-salon chain offering $10 haircuts. “How could local salons compete against such a low price?” she wondered.  Then a few doors down she saw a sign on the storefront of a locally owned salon, it read, “WE REPAIR $10 HAIRCUTS.”

There ought to be a sign outside our churches that reads:  “God Repairs Damaged Lives.”

Remember Billy Graham’s mistake.  He learned from it.  Right after that debacle, Graham vowed never to make that mistake if he was granted access to a person of influence again.  He learned from the error… repented of it.  And it made all the difference.

Made a few missteps?  Your journey isn’t over.  Retrace your steps back to the sight of your last act of faith.  He awaits you there with forgiveness, healing and a fresh map of the promised land.

 

 

Flag on the Play

penalty-flagEcclesiastes 7:20

20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

There was a unique call in the NFL game this last Thursday night.  The Philadelphia Eagles were on offense during the 4th quarter.  A flag was thrown for a false start.  This is a call that usually indicates sloppy play on the part of one or two players of the offensive line.  In this case the sole offender was the only one NOT  flagged for the infraction.  The center, Jason Kelce, forgot the snap count… and while everyone else sprung into motion… he never hiked the ball.  Referee Walt Anderson received more than a few laughs for his announcement:  “False start, everybody but the center.”   The culprit was the only one not called for the penalty.

Our verse today from Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is not a single person on this earth that is innocent before a holy God.  Not even righteous people do good all the time… even they sin.  Illegal motion could be called on just about every play that humans beings are a part of.

Romans 5: 6-8 reminds us:   For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Solomon said there in not a righteous man who continually does good and does not sin…. but that was because he never met Jesus.  Our redeemer, in the fullness of time, came to live  the only sinless life that has ever been lived.  Then, at the cross, where He died, He took the penalty for our sin.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)   In the game called life, He has given us the victory!  And has made us penalty free in the process!  Blessed be His holy name!

Did I Forget to Pay?

guest checkRomans 13:8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

In my minds eye I picture a grand luncheon.  Not a modest meal but one that is three courses long and definitely not fast food.  The meal was impeccable, the waitress polite, my company delightful… I leave the restaurant with a spring in my step.  “Thank you God for good times with great friends,” I utter.  I am still paying homage in my mind to the cherry cheesecake and the french amaretto coffee as I head down the interstate to get back to my job site.  And then it hits me… “Did I forget to pay?”  I try to keep one hand on the wheel as I check my wallet.  I groan as I look inside to see the $50 I left the house with still in my billfold.

I imagine for a moment the restaurant manager reading the glowing compliments I paid him and his establishment on the comment card I had filled out.  He is probably not at all interested in my praise.  I may have offered superb lip service… I just didn’t pay my bill!

I wonder how many times in life that I have left a personal encounter with someone and not paid them my debt.  What debt?  The debt of love I owe them through Jesus Christ   Paul wrote:  “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

The context of this verse, strangely enough, is paying taxes.  Paul says in the verse just before it:  “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) Paul means:  “If somebody is due something, pay up!  But remember, that when it comes to love, we are ALL debtors.

There was a concept popular a few years ago, that you still hear now and again, called:   “paying it forward.”  Someone does an act of goodness to you and instead of “paying them back” you offer the same gift of love to the next person you encounter.

This is a Biblical concept.  Ephesians 5:1-2 says:  “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  We are God’s children and enjoy everyday His joy, presence and love.  To go through life at break neck speed, never looking out for our neighbor… never sharing freely the love of God we freely received, is the worst kind of ingratitude.  You are forever indebted to Jesus.  He wants you to pay this debt forward by loving those around you.  Just don’t forget to pay!

Mike Mason once wrote:  “… we are pinched and stingy with our love.  We treat love like money, as if there’s never enough to go around, and so we draw our heartstrings tighter than our purse strings.  How can we grasp that we are dealing with an inexhaustible currency?” (Practicing the Presence of People, p.58.)

Start small.  Smile at the waitress.  Discretely buy a serviceman’s meal.  Strike up a conversation with that frazzled mom or dad in the check out line. And know that life is more than accomplishing goals, accumulating things and enjoying ourselves.  It is also about paying the debt of love we owe to our fellow human beings.  Pay up!  And remember God in Christ has already picked up your tab!

Lord, Remember Me For Good

FuneralPsalm 25:7

     It is an old joke, but one worth retelling.  A certain minister was met with an odd proposal.  The brother of a rather notorious sinner came into his office one day and offered the minister a sizable gift to the church’s building program.  It seems his brother had just died, and he was willing to give the money to the church in his memory, but only if… during the funeral… the minister was willing to call him a saint.  After some thought, the minister finally agreed.

The day of the funeral arrived and the minister began his sermon.  “This man that just died, we all know his reputation… he was a womanizer, a drunkard, a con artist and a thief.”

He paused for a moment, then continued:  “But compared to his brother he was a saint!”

We laugh at that joke because we have all been in funerals of those with a dubious reputation… and have listened with embarrassment as family members and friends spoke of their character as though they were little Billy Grahams.

But truth be told, there is a lot of truth that we would like not to be told at our own funerals.  We want to be remembered for our good.

While reading Psalm 25, I got to thinking:  What if God were to speak a eulogy at my funeral… what would HE say about me?

In Psalm 25: 7, David asks of the Lord: “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”

This is a bold request, but one–that in Christ— He has granted.  This is seen in how some OT characters are spoken of in the NT – of Moses: Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant… Hebrews 3:5; of Job – “You have heard of the endurance of Job…” (James 5:11); of Lot (!) – “and if He rescued righteous Lot…” (2 Peter 2:7).  Did you hear that right?  Moses, Job and Lot.  Yes, Moses.  The one who not only didn’t want to be the deliverer, but wanted God to sent Aaron instead.  Yes, that Moses, was called faithful.  Yes, Job.  The one who complained insistently that he was being treated unfairly and wanted to take God to court.  Yes, that Job, was called patient in the NT.  And Lot… LOT!  The one who steadily moved toward sin, until he reached the point of having to flee from falling fire and brimstone.  Yes, that Lot was called righteous in the NT.  How can this be?

And what will be spoken of you in that final day?  You might think that your list of failures and sin will be an albatross to be worn by you throughout eternity.  But the Scriptures teach, that when you are remembered, it will be for good.  Because Jesus died for you… redeemed you… and paid the penalty of your sin for you… Because of Jesus… God will remember you for good!

After listing a litany of sins, Paul writes this in his first letter to Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)   [notice the highlighted verbs are in past tense].

There are days that I am like David… I am reflecting on my past and the things that I have done and I get this sense of dread.  I think:  “What must God (who sees and knows everything – including my thoughts and intentions)– what must He be thinking of me?  Through the blood of Christ… I know that when He thinks of me… He thinks of me for good.  Hallelujah!  Thank you Jesus!

Stop Tolerating Tolerance – Insist on a Better Way

1 John 3:14-18

“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (3:18)

After You Believe - N. T. WrightReading through N. T. Wright‘s work on ethics (or as he would prefer, his work on virtue), I came across this powerful passage.  In the culture wars the word “tolerance” is volleyed around a lot.  Not sure on what most people use as a working definition of that word, but it has always struck me as very sterile term.  Never read a more powerful contrast between it and genuine love than in these words by Wright.  Take a moment to really read and to digest this.

From After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (p. 254.):

“Forgiveness is held as a virtue by many in our world, in a way which is quite foreign to some other worldviews.  (I recall the shock on being told by a friend in the Middle East that forgiveness had never been seen as a good thing there.)  We know we don’t do it, by and large, but we think we should.  The result of this, unfortunately, is that we have developed a corollary that is neither love nor forgiveness–namely, tolerance.

The problem with this is clear:  I can “tolerate” you without it costing me anything very much.  I can shrug my shoulders, walk away, and leave you to do your own thing.  That, admittedly, is preferable to my taking you by the throat and shaking you until you agree with me.  But it is certainly not love.

N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright

Love affirms the reality of the other person, the other culture, the other way of life; love takes the trouble to get to know the other person or culture, finding out how he, she, or it ticks, what makes it special; and finally, love wants the best for that person or culture.

It was love, not just an arrogant imposition of alien standards, that drove much of the world to oppose the apartheid regime in South Africa.  It was love, not a dewy-eyed anti-business prejudice (though that’s what they said to him at the time), that drove abolitionist William Wilberforce to protest against the slave trade.  It is love, not cultural imperialism, that says it is dehumanizing and society-destroying to burn a surviving widow on her husband’s funeral pyre, or to kill the daughter who has eloped with a man of a different religion or race.

Love must confront “tolerance” and insist, as it always had done, on a better way.”

Well said!  Do more than “tolerate” people today… go out and love them in deed and truth.