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!

 

 

Elevator Etiquette

going up3Genesis 41

In chapter 41 Joseph goes from slopping swill for the inmates in prison to crowds parting to make way for his chariot.  Was there ever such a sudden elevation in all of history?

“So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’  Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.” (Genesis 41:41-42)

What do you do when you are suddenly on top after being on the bottom for so long?  Here is some Elevator Etiquette from the Life of Joseph:

1.   Maintain Humility

I once took a ride on a coaster called The Volcano.  It was a VERY quick assent.  During that Volcano ride – it was hard to maintain my perspective… Am I up? Am I down? Rapid promotion can do that to you… you become disoriented.   Imagine how Joseph must have felt!

 Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.  ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph relied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer He desires.'”  (Genesis 41:15-16)

Joseph exuded confidence that the God who was with him in prison would also be with him on this “all important job interview!”  He didn’t need to wring his hands in worry… or fear that he would say the wrong thing… He could be confident… because his confidence wasn’t in himself

2.  Tell the Bad With the Good.

There was an old radio commercial I remember where a CEO shouted:  “I don’t want any YES MEN in my organization.”  To which his staff responded:  “YES SIR!”   Most organizations are actually FULL of “yes men”… parroting back what their bosses desire to hear.   If you begin to reach the top you will get this feeling that you don’t want to leave your perch.  Maybe you’ll just down play the bad news and feast on the good for a while! Not so with Joseph. Look at his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream:

The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. [27] The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.  (Genesis 41:26-27)

Do shortcut your integrity… even if what you have to say might not be pleasant to some ears.  As author Dr. Henry Cloud is fond of saying:  “Reality is your friend.”

3.  Be a Good Steward

It is helpful to remember this on your elevator ride to the top: Wealth isn’t yours to squander; and you may need some of that wealth tomorrow.  Joseph lived by these principles.

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt.  During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully.  Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it.  Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.  (Genesis 41:46-49)

Joseph’s plan to store up in the prosperous years so that they might survive the lean ones… is still a good one. Now matter how golden we imagine our futures… we can only see so far. Being prepared is a Biblically sound idea!

4.  Share the Wealth

 With all the perks that came with Joseph’s new job, he never forgot that first and foremost in his job description was to be a blessing to the world.

“When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt.  And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world.”  (Genesis 41:56-57)

We can either treat our homes as a treasure chest… or a store house. When we treat them as a treasure chest… we invest time and energy protecting our stuff… and life can become a hassle. When we treat them as a store house… we realize that God can bless others through the “stuff” we are temporarily holding for him… and life becomes a blessing.

I was so moved when I heard the following story in  Skip Heitzig’s book,  Jesus Up Close.  He told the story about a man named Josh who was sailing down a Chicago neighborhood street in his two-month-old, 12-cylinder Jaguar XKE when  a brick sailed through the air and struck its shiny, black passenger door. Brakes slammed, gears ground into reverse, and tires spun the Jaguar back to the spot from which the missile had been launched. The young executive jumped out, grabbed the kid, and pushed him against a fender. “That’s my new Jag,” he shouted. “That brick you threw is gonna cost you lots of money!” “I’m sorry, mister! No one would stop! I didn’t know what else to do,” the youngster sobbed, pointing. “It’s my brother. He rolled off the curb, fell out of his wheelchair, and is hurt. He’s too heavy for me. Please, help me lift him back.” Josh’s head of steam evaporated. Straining, he lifted the boy’s brother into the wheelchair, wiped the scrapes and cuts with his handkerchief, and checked to see that there was no serious injury. He then watched the younger brother push the wheelchair down the sidewalk toward their home. Josh never did fix his door. He kept the dent to remind himself not to go through life so fast that someone would have to throw a brick to get his attention.”  (Skip Heitzig)

Okay… so the elevator doors are opening.  Let me hold the door for you.  “Going Up?” I ask.  Somewhat embarrassed you respond:  “Yes…” Great!  But just remember… don’t let your success destroy your humble confidence… or let it tear at your desire to speak up for the truth… or let it stop your from displaying good money management skills… or… above all this… I say this to you as you enter the threshold… don’t let it keep you from blessing others!

Rise up and bless the world. That is your calling!

Blessings!

Tears in a Bottle

tears 2Genesis 40

If there is something I have learned from my time on this earth is that sorrow can be a lonely time.  No matter how supportive others can be… one can still feel all alone.  Forgotten.  Like a leaf in a stream at flood stage.  You have lost connection from the tree and are now swirling out of control… will you ever be found?

I wonder what state Joseph was in when he entered jail for a crime he did not commit?  Well Joseph did what he always did… made the best of the situation and was soon a trusted helper for the warden.  But as the story continues we learn that God is not through with Joseph.

Some time later, the cup bearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. [2] Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cup bearer and the chief baker, [3] and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. [4] The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them. (1-4a)

One day Joseph saw these two men and they were both disturbed. “Why are your faces so sad today?”   They explained that they had both had dreams and didn’t know what to make of them. I love Joseph’s optimism. “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

The two recount their dreams which are quite similar. The chief cup bearer tells his dream: “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, [10] and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. [11] Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.” (9-11)

Joseph tells him that the three branches meant three days… and that within three days he would be restored to his position and would again place a chalice of wine into the Pharaoh’s hand. Joseph bids that the cup bearer remember him to Pharaoh when he is restored to office.

The chief baker likes what he has heard and offers his dream up to Joseph:  “On my head were three baskets of bread. [17] In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” (16-17)

Joseph, looking a bit more somber this time, states truthfully: In three days, Pharaoh will have you executed.  And so it goes:

“Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: [21] He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, [22] but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.”  (20-22)

Now after the cupbearer is restored a travesty occurs. He NEGLECTED TO DO ANYTHING ALL ABOUT JOSEPH’S PLIGHT!

Genesis 40:23 reads:  “The chief cup bearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”   I wondered how many nights Joseph lay awake wondering when his friend would come to his rescue.   41:1 tells the sad truth:  “…two full years…”

Joseph was forgotten for two more years. It was one thing to have no hope, but to see hope rise and fall had to have ripped at his heart.  He was at the rock bottom of his faith.  The chief question at rock bottom is this: Has God Forsaken Me?

Have you ever been searching for a road out in the country that even Google Maps can’t help you with? Eventually you throw up you hands and say: “Where is this God Forsaken place?”  Well that is not a Biblical statement at all!  There is no place on this earth that is “GOD FORSAKEN!”

Isaiah 40:27-29 reads:   “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?  [28] Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  [29] He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

The Bible teaches us that there is no place we can go or be sent that escapes his notice.

Matthew 10:29, 31  says:  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. [31] So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Just as he sees every bird that falls from the sky. He can see where you have landed. And you are still worth everything to Him.  He knows your situation. He feels the pain in your heart. And he sees every tear you’ve cried.

Psalm 56:8 (The Living Bible) reads:  “You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book.”

Pastor Bill Hybels remarked on this verse:  “In Middle Eastern culture when every a soldier would go off to war he would buy a “tear vial” – a little tear bottle—he would give it to his wife or his mother.  She would promise, “Your absence will make me so sad, I will cry every night. And when I do, I’ll collect those tears in this bottle. When you come back, you’ll see my tears and you’ll know how precious you are to me.”

Psalm 56:8 says that God will one day be able to show us our “tear vials.” For he has witnesses each one of them. He will say to us: “Didn’t miss a one. Not a single one.”

Joseph might have thought near the end of that second year that his story was over.  But it was actually just ready to begin.

Feeling forgotten?  Know that God sees every single tear… and that your story isn’t over until HE says its over.  Hang on for one day more.

 

God Can Even Use “That!”

RegretsGenesis 38

Wow!  What a story!  How did this make it into the Bible?  What do we make of this story of sexual sin, deceit and hypocrisy?  It is a story we often avoid.  Liz Curtis Higgs writes in her book, Really Bad Girls of the Bible:  “Anyway you tell this story you eventually come to a scene that, even in our anything-goes society, doesn’t sit well on the psyche:  A young woman poses as a prostitute so she can sleep with her father-in-law.  On purpose.  …You won’t find much enthusiasm for sermon skits about Tamar and Judah at church.  Not many weekly women’s meetings are called: ‘The Tamar Circle.'”

And yet Tamar is called by Judah at the end of the story “more righteous” than he.  What is going on here?

Well this story is a mess from the beginning.  Judah begins by marrying a Canaanite woman named Shua.  This was not God’s will.  He began a little family and chose a bride for his oldest son named Er.  He chooses a Canaanite woman named Tamar.

Er then angers God and is killed as a result.  Onan is expected to father a child by  Tamar.  This child will not be his, however, but his dead brother’s.  This does not sit well with Onan and so he spills his semen on the ground and refuses to impregnate Tamar.  God kills Onan.  (Picking up on a pattern here?)

Judah has just one son left, Shelah.  Thinking that Tamar is somehow responsible for the death of his other two sons… he tells Tamar that she needs to come back when his last boy is older.  He sends her back to her father’s house… effectively sentencing her to live as a childless widow until the day she dies.

Thus the desperate plot by Tamar to have a child by Judah.  It is a risky, immoral, deceitful… yet effective plan.  Soon Tamar is found to be with a child by Judah who doesn’t even know who it was he who had slept with.

It is only when Tamar produces proof of paternity that Judah remarks that she is “more righteous” than hIm.  The story ends with birth of Tamar’s twin sons being born.  The baby’s room is done up in blue.  Everybody’s smiling.  But wait…

What is the take away from this bizarre story?  I can think of four:

1)  You might have a twisted testimony and you might not have done things that you are proud of… but God is into redeeming lives… forgiving sin… and setting people free of their past.  People “with a past” can be “born again” into His family.

2)  Children are NOT mistakes.  A person’s birth story does not mark them for dishonor.  God had great plans for Tamar’s son, Perez.

3)  God can use anyone as an example of his grace.  Tamar is the first woman mention in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 1.  Some of have pointed out that her inclusion was to foreshadow the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God.

4)  God’s plans are higher than ours.  He transcends even the bad decisions we make in desperation.  He is carving out a plan that will ultimately bring glory to himself.

Blessings!

Pastor Wayne

Why Do GOOD Things Happen to BAD People?

unfairGenesis 36

I know you’ve heard the question:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  It is a question that books have been devoted to.  And if you ever come close to a satisfactory answer to that question (as if that were possible)… there remains one more question that will STILL drive you nuts:  “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

If good people have to have hardship… that may be hard to swallow… but… so be it.  It helps them grow.  It produces compassion in them.  They endure in hope.  But why do evil people sometimes receive no such resistance?  Why is it smooth sailing for them?  Don’t they need even more so:  to grow, to learn compassion and to experience hope?  We reach the point of sympathizing with the Psalmist:  “…I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  …always at ease, they have increased in wealth.  ” (73:3-4, 12)

Case in point:  Genesis 36.  All one finds when they read this often skipped over chapter of the Bible is a long list of Jacob’s brother Esau’s property, sons and animals.  It is pretty dry reading unless you really examine closely this spreadsheet.  It is then you realize that Esau was loaded!  Money in those days was measured in how many children you fathered, the amount of deeds you possessed and how many flocks and herds were grazing on your property.  Esau, in the eyes of the ancient world, was a very successful man.  And yet God would say of him:  “Esau I hated.”  (Malachi 1:3 and Romans 9:13)  God must be very gracious indeed to spoil a man He hated with such degree of prosperity.

But it really shouldn’t surprise us… Jesus taught us that His Father “…causes His sun to rise  on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”  God is remarkable good to even those who don’t think to thank Him (or refuse to thank Him) for the rich blessings He sends their way.  (Romans 1:21)

Here is a warning here for us as believers.  We might be tempted to envy the “Esau”s of this world, but we must not be quick to equate material success with spiritual success.  The disciples in Jesus’ time stumbled on this issue as well.  When Jesus said that it was more difficult for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, the disciples gasped and asked Him:  “Then who can be saved?”  Would we gasp if we saw who was in and who was out of favor with God?  Would many of the elite of this world be left off the “truly blessed” list?

Lael F. Arrington wrote about a time in her mid-twenties when she was trying to choose a life partner.  She wrote:  “On the same weekend in November one fellow I was dating told me he loved me, and the other fellow I was dating asked me to marry him.  Both were intelligent, tall, handsome, witty and charming. The first fellow was quite successful already. Our times together were spent at country clubs, elegant parties, and lovely dinners. The second fellow was scrimping by in seminary, and our time together was spent over a bucket of chicken on a study date—he was writing papers and I preparing lecture notes for the high school classes I taught.

          The first fellow and I did not share the same spiritual heritage or level of commitment, but the second one and I did. In fact, his level of commitment was greater than mine at the time and required a great deal of sacrifice. He wanted to teach and train Christians on the mission field. The lap of luxury looked much more appealing than a vow of poverty. But… when it came down to making a decision, I could not walk into the future and not share my past. After trusting Christ, it was the biggest decision of my life.

She continued:  We still get the bucket of chicken, and many nights are study nights… But the blessings flowing from that decision are a source of profound and continuing joy.  (A Bright Tomorrow, p. 12.)

In whatever financial circumstance you find yourself, rejoice in the fact that God does not hate you… but loves you with the most intense love.  That in and of itself is a blessing that all the land, sheep and children in the world can’t come close to rivaling.

Blessings!

 

Get On With It!

nowGenesis 35

Okay.  You have said you want to purpose God’s purpose for your life.  You are weary of where you are and the thing you are doing.  You want to seek His will and move forward.  If only you could get just a little nudge.  Here’s your nudge:  “Get on with it, already!”

We have been following the life of Jacob for months now and we have seen that he is a fighter.   Our cat Oscar we were told got his name because of his fascination with the garbage can.  But we fancied the name because he was like the boxer “Oscar DeLehoya”.   He too was a scrapper who never backed down or gave up. But then Oscar could also be called Jacob. He was heel grabber as well!

Jacob never got anywhere in life by fighting.  It was only when he fully surrendered to God (in Genesis 35) that he gets on with it!

What did Jacob surrender?

1.   Jacob surrendered his dreams. (Genesis 33:18)

Genesis 33:18

Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city.

Jacob came into the land of Canaan. All of his talking life into his own hands had worked to drive him away from his destiny. Yielding to God his dreams led him where God had always wanted him to be.    What do you want to do with your remaining days? Buy a home? Go on a trip to Europe?  Write a book? Become Independently Wealthy?

For some of us, our dreams and how we might attain them are something we are not ready to surrender.  But God would have all of you…even your dreams.   There are a lot a directions you can go in this life, but have you surrendered to the one God wants us for you?

2.  Jacob surrendered himself to the Dream Maker. (33:20)

Genesis 33:20

Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. (God, the God of Israel)

The name of the altar: The God of Israel. This is a far cry from “God of my Fathers.” Or “God that I will bargain with.” That was how Jacob had viewed God until this moment.  This is now the “God of ME.”  He has now personalized His God. How about you? Is God just something your grandparents were into? Is He just something left on the flannel graph board in the mind of your childhood?

I was a youth minister for a number of years and I will tell the greatest joy in that position is seeing the light bulb go off in their mind when they realize that God wants THEM. When they finally attend church and youth group not because they HAVE to, but because they WANT to. He goes from “God of My Parents” to the “God of me.”

3.  Jacob surrendered his idols. (35:2-3)

Genesis 35:1-4

   Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; [3] and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God

Jacob had finally came to the place where he staked his claim with God. He got rid of any rival and formed an allegiance with his Maker.

What do you have to surrender to God in the way of idols? Your work? Your hobby? Your paycheck? You know, we die a little each time we bow down to them.

4.  Jacob surrendered his skepticism. (35:9-13)

Jacob had received a promise at birth from God, himself. God has never broken a single promise he has ever made. He cannot! And yet Jacob still lived just about his whole life keeping God’s promise at arm’s length. So on this great moment in Jacob’s life, God restates his promise to him:

35:9-13:

   Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. [10] God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob,        But Israel shall be your name.”  Thus He called him Israel. [11] God also said to him,        “I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you.  [12] “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”  [13] Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him.

Jacob hears it this time and this time believes it (shown by his worship that followed.  v.14-15).

Charles Colson, in his book The Good Life shared about the time right after he got out of prison for his role in the Watergate scandal:  “I had some very tempting offers in business and in law. I wanted to do something that was far less public. I wanted to be with my kids and spend some time getting my life together. Yet I kept feeling a persistent urge that I should be doing something for prisoners. That was not what I wanted to do. It’s not a very glamorous way to spend your life. A Washington acquaintance who befriended me during this period and organized a small prayer group for my support wanted me to work with political leaders through Bible studies. That certainly would have been logical. 

         Still, I couldn’t shake off the conviction that I was being called into prisons. Like Jacob of the Old Testament, I wrestled with God until the break of day. Jacob ended up with a bad hip; I ended up with a conviction that I should be in the prisons.”

Still wrestling with God?  Remember that God still has a wonderful plan for you.  And it is time to “get on with it!”  What’s holding you back?  Your view of God?  Your skepticism?  Your idols?  Surrender them all… and get a move on!  Your adventure awaits!

Blessings!

 

Responding to Sexual Assault

sexual assalt2Genesis 34

Sexual abuse is a scourge in our land.  I wanted to look up statistics but quite frankly they couldn’t sicken me any more than what I already know.  I’ve talked to real people… not statistics. I’ve listened to Janine and witness her grief over the abuse she suffered as a child.  I’ve had a foster child in my home that dealt with such issues… the outcome was not good.  I’m tired of the excuses. I’m tired of the rationalization.  It has to stop. And it will not stop until it ceases to be tolerated.

When this evil, that seems to bring more shame upon its victim than its perpetrator, finds its way into your life… into the life of your family… into the life of a friend… What do you do? How do you handle it?

What does the Bible have to say about sexual assault?

A lot… actually.

Though it isn’t talked about in church or preached about from the pulpit much… and passages like Genesis 34 are often skipped over… we need to make a declaration as believers in Jesus… that sexual assault has to stop! We need to take a stand… and that stand is beside the victims of sexual assault.

Today’s passage gives us some clues as to how sexual assault is frequently handled… then and now.

In our text today… nobody handles it well.

Jacob’s Response: Apathy

Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in.

Where is his outrage? Where is Jacob’s pain in hearing of his daughter’s rape? Many think that the assailant kept Dinah in his tent until the matter was settled. But we don’t know that. For all we know, she wept in Jacob’s tent… while Jacob remained silent.

There are many like Jacob today. They don’t seek justice… they seek maintaining status quo. If they aren’t careful they actually make the victims feel responsible. Here Jacob has a sobbing, broken daughter… and HE DOESN’T SAY A WORD.

Hamor the father of Shechem: Appeasement

But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Intermarry with us; give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 Thus you shall live with us, and the land shall be open before you; live and trade in it and acquire property in it.” 

Hamor is saying:  “This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Can’t you see my son loves her? This could open up something good for the both of us. We could inter-marry and create better commerce. Let’s make the most of this “situation.” (In verse 23… we see that there is even some deception going on. Hamor says there: “will not their livestock and their property be ours?”)

There are those that take the appeasement approach today.

In a small town in NJ no one said much about an incident of sexual abuse of new football recruits until the administration cancelled the football season… and then folks got vocal. A campaign in school was underway to “scope out the snitches.” What’s the big deal? Let them file their report and then let us get on with the business of football.  Or they attempt to open up a checkbook. And make the problem going away.  And when we make these “little deals” to expunge the guilt… the victim feels deeper pain.

3.    Simeon and Levi’s Response: Vengeance

13 But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. 14 They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15 Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, 16 then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go.”

Dad wouldn’t take the lead. He wouldn’t take the high ground. He would barely speak about it. And then sought to bargain a solution. So Dinah’s brothers begin to smolder with anger.

Interestingly enough they are referred to, not as “Dinah’s brothers” in the passage but “Jacob’s sons.” Perhaps because they were about to pull off a deception worthy of their dad.

It is easy to be caught up in that kind of rage! To want to seek revenge! But revenge is not the way. For at least two reasons.

Revenge hurts lots of innocents.

25 Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth. 27 Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; 29 and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses.

Rage affects more than the person your rage against.  It affects their family, your family… your co-workers. Once you cross that line… it poisons your soul.  They want to kill Hamor and his son.  But they ended up killing every male in the town.  And then pillaging the poor helpless widows that were left.  And then they take the wives and children.  So much pain and suffering… and a lot of pain to innocent people.

Revenge begets revenge.

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?”

The revenge you enact doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Your act of hatred… begets a response… and on and on it goes.

Well, What from Scripture is a Godly response to sexual assault?

  1. Seek Justice.

Proverbs 21:15

15 The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.

Psalm 103:6
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.

Our God is a God of justice. His children seek that justice is served when men and women and children suffer at the hands of abusers.

  1. Don’t Seek Personal Vengeance.

Romans 12:14-21

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. but if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I will not pretend that this is easy or automatic… but it is our calling.

3.  Seek to Forgive.

Mark 11:25

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

We know that the way to healing is to forgive.  Have that as your goal… but let it be a genuine forgiveness after you have mourned the loss… and have begun to heal.

4.  Seek to be Comforted and to Comfort others.

2 Corinthians 2:3-4

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

5.  Trust the Avenger.

“One sin isn’t greater than another.” Have you heard that before?  The Scripture does not teach that. The Scriptures teaches that one sin is enough to keep you out of God’s presence.  And that you need Jesus’ sacrifice to be forgiven on ANY sin.   But one sin doesn’t affect a victim the same way it does another.  And sexual sin angers a Holy God in a different way than others sins do.

1 Thessalonians 4

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; [that refers to sexual purity] and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter [that refers to sexual abuse] because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.

Allow the authorities to punish your offender, but if they don’t… know that they do not just “get away with it”… the Lord is the avenger in such matters.  He will ultimately get you the justice you deserve.

There are so many responses to sexual abuse today that fall short.  My prayer is that we can stand beside Dinahs among us and help them begin to find healing.

Blessings!

P.S.  >Listen to a sermon on this topic here

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!

 

Who Is It You are Really Fighting?

Jacob wrestles with angel3Genesis 32:24-32

Have you ever experienced a “water shed” moment in your life? An invisible line in your walk with the Lord, that after crossing, you were never the same again.   It usually comes out of a stirring from the Lord… sometimes at the heels of a time of questioning.

For some of us, it came at the moment of conversion. We had thought that there was no way we could ever believe in Christ, but the questions nagged us so long, that we came to faith in Him.  For others of us believing seemed to be as natural as breathing… we were baptized at age 9, and have always taken part in church life. But then a crisis hits our life and we were rocked to the foundations of our beliefs. And we arrive at the watershed.

In today’s story, Jacob has come to this decisive moment. God wants him to return to the land… but he will not come back there as the same person he was when he left. His moment of decision is at hand.

Genesis 32

22 Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had.

24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

Now Jacob has finally put everything in his life on a slow trail to his brother as a “gift” and is now alone in the camp. But then he realizes suddenly that he is not alone. Startled by this stranger, Jacob springs into action… he struggles for his life until daybreak.

There is a triple word play going on here in the Hebrew. The Hebrew for wrestled (ye’abeq) is similar in sound to Jacob (ya’aquob) and Jabbock (yabboq) – the place this wrestling match takes place.  The triple word play is there to mark the importance of this pivotal moment in Jacob’s life.

Have you ever been lost? Jacob is. He might fancy himself as being “Off the Trail.” But he is really lost.  When will we ever come to admit that… we’re lost… lost and feeling all alone? But then, why is it, right at the moment when we realize this… we face a struggle that we “don’t really need right now?”

Sometimes our Jabbock comes at mid-life. Sometimes it comes on that centennial celebrations of 40, -gulp- 50, 60, etc. And we think we are fighting family, age, depression, our boss, our wrinkles, and our lot in life…. But if we will but stop and realize that you could be on that you could be on the brink of a life altering moment with God.

What would that do for our lives? Redefine the battle and discover the wealth of wisdom, courage and mission that can come out of that battle.

Now I believe that Jacob is fighting an angel here. The Bible says in several places that no man has seen God and lived to tell about it.  But there are several places where “the angel of the Lord” showed up and it was later said of the encounter “I have seen God.” It seems that to interact with God’s messenger is to wrestle with God himself.  But Jacob’s wrestling partner goes unnamed here, I believe to emphasize that whatever angel was representing him… this battle was between Jacob and the Almighty.

Here is one of the most interesting things in the passage for me… when the angel says: you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.

To me it is clear from the text that Jacob didn’t “prevail” in the wrestling match in the sense that he defeated God. They wrestled all through the night and it appeared that it was going to be a draw until God dislocates Jacob’s hip with a simple touch. So just how close was the match… actually.

It was as if God allowed Jacob to take his best shot and then showed who was still in control all along with a single touch. That night Jacob found out that he couldn’t push God around and do things the way he’d always done them before.

Here is a tip we can take from Jacob during our watershed moments. When he realized it was an angel he is wrestling with, he says he will not let go until the angel blesses him. The principle we have to learn is this… if you get into a wrestling match with God: Don’t let go until He blesses you.

Have you ever heard of the term: Persistent Prayer? It doesn’t mean you have to nag God for him to answer… He IS willing to freely give us all things. It is taking the time to wrestle with God for the blessing we need rather than the one we might want.

We are changed when we prevail in prayer. When we come to the place where we say: “I’m not giving up… until these circumstances are turned into blessing.”

What battle are you currently fighting?  Could it be God you are locked in combat with?  How long do you intend to hang on?

Blessings!

 

 

Schemes or Trust?

trustGenesis 32

When was the last time that life left you frightened?  You had made a pact with yourself to place complete trust in the Lord in the past… but then “this thing” happened.  And it stopped your heart like an intruder having just leapt from your closet.  Do you have the strength to face this latest fear?

Jacob resolved in Chapter 31 to return home.  Waiting there is a brother that had threatened to take his life.  Jacob has resolved to face his fear… but is still scared out of his mind.  God sends him a little encouragement.

32 Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim.

God’s Plan

I take this verse to mean that God’s Plan is that He himself would fight for Jacob. This is a small encampment of God’s choice angel warriors.  And I believe that this heavenly army is surrounding us just hidden from our mortal eyes. Here in Genesis 32, God’s invisible world is suddenly made visible to Jacob’s very human eyes.

It reminds me of the story about Elisha in 2 Kings. He and his servant were surrounded by an army of soldiers and the servant was frightened until Elisha prayed and said: “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17

They were surrounded by an unseen army sent to protect and fight for his prophet.

That’s what God lets Jacob see here. He reminds him that he will not be alone in facing his brother. You think this would be a great plan and that it would bring comfort to Jacob in a trying circumstance.

But Jacob has already drawn up some plans of his own.

Jacob’s Plan

  1. He put out feelers. (How bad is it?) v. 3-5

Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”’”

The Result?:  

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

Okay, it’s bad.

  1. He Strategizes. v. 7-8

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.”

Jacob fears the worst and strategizes to protect his bottom line.

  1. He Prays. v. 9-12

This is not prayer in the best sense.  While all prayer has value, this is a prayer that serves to make sure he “covers all his bases.”  This is a Hail Mary pass in the 4th Quarter kind of prayer.

  1. He Prepares a Bribe. V. 13-21

He offers his brother everything and the kitchen sink.  “Better broke than dead” might be Jacob’s thinking here.

Schemes or Trust?

Jacob might think that he is being prudent here.  But he puts up all these defenses after becoming acquainted with God’s superior fighting force.  What gives?

This startling contrast is displayed in verse 21:  “So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp.”

There is some major Hebrew word play going on here.  Gifts (Jacob’s scheme) and Camp (God’s promise of protection.) are similar in sound.  This is a deliberate way to get us to look at two options: Schemes or Trust.

Which do you rely on to get yourself out of your jams?

Recently I read in a pastor’s wife’s blog: “I was so intrigued when I saw this photo BELOW (and similar ones) going around facebook. I thought, “Wow! How awesome is that!”

Do Not Be AfraidAfter a few months of thinking about this from time to time, I had a great idea to do a printable using all 365 scripture references that deal with “fear not”. I went to my concordance to get the scripture references, and do you know what I found?

  • The phrase in the intended context is only used 80+ times
  • The phrase “fear not” in used in other contexts, but you wouldn’t want them to apply to you
  • Other word pairings that would be equal to “fear not” (“do not be afraid”, “do not fear”, “be not afraid”) is used 30+ times

While it’s a great idea to think that God comforted us with “Fear not” 365 times, it’s simply just not true.

However, hopefully we are at that point in our Christian walk that we don’t need to hear God say something 365 times. Once should be enough.”

Have you learned to stop scheming and to start trusting?  What is one thing you can do today to display your trust in the Lord even in the face of great fear?

Blessings!