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!

 

 

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!

 

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!

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.

Taking Your Response to the “Christ-like” Level (A Christian’s Response to Evil – Part 5 of 5)

forgivenessMark 11:25

Typical response to evil in this world:  bitterness.   Our Christ-like calling:

Forgiveness…

As Matthew West put it in his recent song: “It’s the hardest thing to give away.  And the last thing on your mind today.  It always goes to those that don’t deserve.  It’s the opposite of how you feel when the pain they caused is just too real.  It takes everything you have to say the word.”

I’m not going to suggest to you that this will be easy.  This is Christianity 401.   An advance course.  You need a little righteous anger, a little enduring hope… in order to get to Christ-like forgiveness.  But it has to come.

There is a whole host of Scriptures I can share at this point, but one will do…  Mark 11:25 – “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

Christ hasn’t called you to some mamby pamby religion.  The one who said “Come follow me” walked the Via Dolorosa.  He let his enemies beat him mercilessly and murder him on a wooden cross and used one of his last breaths to pray:  “Father forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”

You might be thinking right now:  “I CAN’T FORGIVE!”  (You may be one of those people for whom it does NOT come easy.)  You are right… you can’t forgive.  You have to let Christ do it for you… and through you.

He is working even now to reconcile the world to himself and calls us to be ministers of that reconciliation.

God can change the hardest of hearts.  While the world cries out for vengeance… we cry out for justice… and offer hope to both the victims and amazingly to the perpetrators as well.

Philip Yancy in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” wrote: “…in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.

One of the most moving interviews I have ever witnessed was that of Robbie Parker, the father of Emilie Parker, one of the grade school children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary story.  He was a believer that reached out to comfort victims, to offer hope to those in need and to  offer the first words of forgiveness just a day after the tragrobbie parkeredy.  Here is a portion of what he had to say to reporters:  (see video at http://www.godvine.com/Father-of-a-Sandy-Hook-Victim-Offers-Forgiveness-to-the-Troubled-Shooter-2560.html)

“It’s an horrific tragedy, and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter. I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you. And I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well. At this time, our thanks go out to so many people, so many friends and family. And complete strangers who we don’t know. For all the love, condolences and is support that you have given to us.

My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims. Because that’s the type of person that she is. Not because of any parenting that my wife and I could have done. But because those were the gifts that were given to her by her heavenly father. As the deep pain begins to settle into our hearts, we find comfort reflecting on the incredible person that Emilie was, and how many lives she was able to touch in her short time here on earth. Emilie was bright, creative and very loving. Emilie was always willing to try new things, other than food.

Here at the church last night, there was a special meeting, and I was given an opportunity to be able to speak at that, as well. And in that, I just mentioned that, you know, the person that chose to act in this way was acting with a God-given right that he was given by God to — with his own free agency. And that free agency is given to all of us to act and choose to do whatever we want. And God can’t take that away from us. And I know that that’s something that he was given and that’s what he chose to do with it.

And I know that God can’t take that away. I’m not mad. Because I have my agency to make sure that I use this event to do what I can to do whatever I can. So, I want to make sure that my family and my wife and my daughters are taken care of and that if there’s anything that I can do to help anybody at anytime, anywhere, that I would be willing to do that.”

Not mad… but resolved to serve.  That is the response of a mature believer.

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This concludes my “A Christian’s Response to Evil” series… please comment if it touched you in any way.  Thanks again for reading!

Advent: Seeing Jesus as Priest

Matthew 9

Last week we looked at Jesus the prophet… today we look at Jesus as Priest.  This is harder to find in the Gospels.  The crowds tried to crown Jesus as their King!  The crowds after witnessing a miracle would cry out:  “He is a prophet… mighty in word and deed.”  But the term “priest” is not there.

The Theological Ground Work for the concept is actually found within the NT book of Hebrews.  Hebrews 4:14 reads:  14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,[e] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”    That is well and good, but this series I’m preaching is using the Gospels for texts… so I searched the Gospels to find a place where Jesus was acting very “priestly” and I settled on Matthew chapter 9.  It is there that Jesus tells a paralytic:  “Your sins are forgiven!”

This had to stun that paraplegic.  Imagine you are this individual.  You have little control over your life.  You are immobile… unable to care for yourself.  You might not have even wanted to go see Jesus.  Your friends may have carried you there as you angrily protested along the journey.   But finally your mat is laid before this faith healer… a living legend in Capernaum, a town that had become like a second home to Jesus, a town in which Jesus had performed miracle after miracle.

So you are going to be like healing #258… but instead of Jesus saying something like:  “Be healed.” Or “Stand up and try out your new legs.”  He says:  “Your sins are forgiven.”

Talk about the old bait and switch.  You’re there to be healed of an ailment not absolved of a sin.  And yet this Galilean who spoke with such authority over illness, now speaks with that same power over your iniquity.  Why does Jesus make this curious pronouncement?  Many commentators sight a connection between the man’s sin and his sickness.  Sin and sickness are not always, but can be linked.  Guilt over sin can turn your hair grey, overwork your heart, cloud your mind with depression and completely obliterate your immune system.

But I believe Jesus is doing something else here.  Gazing at this man, He doesn’t see the sickness as being the worse thing to befall him.  The guilt of this man’s soul is far worse than the paralysis of the man’s limbs.  He needs a priest… not a healer.  So Jesus intercedes and forgives the man’s sin.

Jesus says to his critics that day:  5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  Which is easier?  On the surface (and his critics probably believed) that “Your sins are forgiven” was easier.  Because there was less evidence one could present of its taking place.  If he said:  Get up and walk… and the man continued to languish.  Jesus would be proven a fraud.

Who could know the condition of a man’s soul?  Who would know if a man’s sin had actually been forgiven?  But Jesus is saying:  “Get up and walk” is child’s play compared to “Your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus was able to speak the words:  You’re forgiven… because he was already committed to paying the price to back those words up.  He knew the cost of that forgiveness.

He would be beaten.  He would be stripped bare.  He would hang in agony and pain between two thieves.  Nails in his hands.  Thorns on his head.  Even in Bethlehem… the shadow of a cross fell across his cradle.  Even in this story… so early in his ministry.  The shadow of a cross falls across His path.

“Your sins are forgiven.”  Not so easy to say.  But the words of a perfect High Priest:  Hebrews 7:26-27:  Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

We all need a priest!  Jesus is our High Priest.