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.

 

Dare to Dream God’s Dreams for You!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGenesis 37

Peter Marshall… chaplain to the US Senate in the 40’s once preached about the faithfulness of God and made the following statement:

 No one yet has ever set out to test God’s promises fairly, thoroughly, and humbly, and had to report that God’s promises don’t work. On the contrary, given a fair opportunity, God always surprises and overwhelms those who truly seek, with His bounty and His power.

Marshall’s words cannot be illustrated with a clearer example than the biography in which we are about recount.   The story of Joseph is a story for the ages. Whether remembered as a child on a flannel graph board in Sunday School… or as an adult while enjoying the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat. His story touches and fascinates us. He is a man that was tested to the absolute max… and exercising faithfulness he caught a glimpse of the absolute faithfulness of God.

Now Joseph’s story is often described as a “rags to riches” story… it is actually a “riches to rags to riches” story. Although things go south for him rather quickly in this chapter… his story begins with him in a relatively good place. He was a son of a prosperous man… and also had the good fortune of the father’s favorite.  In fact father Jacob gives Joseph a special coat. The NIV calls it a “richly ornamented robe…” The NASB calls it “a varicolored tunic.” We remember its as being called the “coat of many colors.”  What we might not know is that this coat meant that Joseph was in a privileged class. The fact that it had long sleeves would make him exempt from participating in menial farming tasks.  This did not sit well with his brothers.

Beyond that, he appears to have the favor of his heavenly Father. God spoke to him in dreams. And in those dreams images of grain sheaves and dazzling stars bowing in honor to him, made it clear to Joseph that his life would matter. Even his father and brothers would one day honor him.

As we look at Joseph’s life over these next few weeks I challenge you to look at what God has caused you to dream about. What is in your heart and head that is to wonderful to tell? What has God called you to?

Let me give you a warning, however.  There are forces at work that would prefer you stop your dreaming and take your place in the throngs of faithless humanity. Joseph’s brothers jeered: “Bow down to you, you little pipsqueak? Not in this lifetime!” “Let’s get rid of this dreamer and see what becomes of his dreams!”  By the end of this chapter they at first desire to kill him… and then seek to prophet from his demise by selling him instead.

If YOU dare to dream you will not often be met with enthusiasm. More often you will face condescension, laughter, a dose of cold water or even animosity.

And yet, God calls you to dream His dreams…in full technicolor. And He wants to paint with your life a portrait of His love and His faithfulness.   But how does a disciple cooperate with the dream giver? How does one learn to dream God-sized dreams?

Joseph in the next few weeks will learn some important lessons that will move him towards his dreams:

He will learn the lessons that only comes through hardship.

He will learn to trust when all evidence of hope is gone.

He will learn to forgive when he would rather forget.

He will learn to lead men and yet stay humble to his roots.

But these lessons will take time. And it is his attitude along the way that make all the difference and help him reach his goal.  Perseverance will not be something optional for his path to his dream.

James S. Hewett shared the following story in his book Illustrations Unlimited:  “Years ago a young black child was growing up in Cleveland, in a home which he later described as “materially poor but spiritually rich.”

One day a famous athlete, Charlie Paddock, came to his school to speak to the students. At the time Paddock was considered “the fastest human being alive.” He told the children, “Listen! What do you want to be? You name it and then believe that God will help you be it.” That little boy decided that he too wanted to be the fastest human being on earth. The boy went to his track coach and told him of his new dream. His coach told him, “It’s great to have a dream, but to attain your dream you must build a ladder to it. Here is the ladder to our dreams. The first rung is determination! And the second rung is dedication. The third rung is discipline! And the fourth rung is attitude!

The result of all that motivation is that he went on to win four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic and World records for the 200 meter. His broad jump record lasted for twenty-four years. His name? Jesse Owens.  (Illustrations Unlimited, pp. 26-27.)

Dream the dreams that God has for you!  Others may try to silence them… but He who has called you will not disappoint.

Blessings!

The Power of an Honest Prayer

altar-prayerGenesis 18

As this begins Abraham is sitting in his tent in the heat of the day.  Like a hot 100+ day in Tennessee where I grew up, this was a scorcher.  Perhaps Abraham desired nothing more than a cold, fresh brewed glass of sweet iced tea. (I did in Tennessee.)

He’s staring into the blazing sun for just a moment,when suddenly he notices three men standing near him.  He springs to his feet and does what any one would have naturally done in that day… assume the role of gracious host.

Look at the Hospitality of Abraham:

He runs to them.  Bows to the ground.  He encourages them to enter into his tent and offers them something to drink and eat.  Maybe Abraham suspects there is more to these men than meets the eye… or perhaps not.  The text doesn’t tell us.  It does reveal an age old mistake that husbands are prone to making.  Inviting guests in and then telling his wife about it.  “Come in,” Abraham tells the three strangers, we’ll get you a bite to eat. … ‘Sarah, hurry, three men are staying for dinner.’”

The men begin to eat and suddenly one says, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He not only knows the name of his wife, but the covenant name… Sarah.

Right then and there the stranger reveals what Abraham already knew.  This time next year, Sarah will have a son.

Behold the Unbelief of Sarah.

Now Sarah nearly chokes trying to hold back her laughter.  Ha!  She says secretly to herself.  Me?  Have a child?  “You did laugh” the men say when she denies her mirth.

It appears that one of the missions of the three mystery men was to strengthen the faith of Sarah.  They weren’t there for Abraham.  They were there for her.  It is important for a couple to be on the same page spiritually.

But the men discuss among themselves if there might be a second purpose for their visit: to inform Abraham of God’s coming judgment on Sodom.

Genesis 18:16-21

   Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. [17] The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, [18] since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? [19] “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” [20] And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. [21] “I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

This is an invitation for Abraham to pray.  Do you recognize those moments in your own life?  It may come disguised as hopeless news segment on the nightly news… a challenging prayer request in your email inbox… a few words spoken to you by your grandchild which sadly reminds you of the world he or she will have to live in.  These are invitations to pray.

One man stays behind.  It is actually the Angel of the Lord.  No one has seen God at anytime, the Bible says.  But often in the OT, men and women saw the Angel of the Lord, and they respond by saying, “I have seen the Lord.”

Abraham stays and intercedes for Sodom with God’s ambassador.  Intercession is a difficult but powerful endeavor.  One might think otherwise.  Brigid E. Herman (1875-1923) once said:  “Wheras in former times intercession was looked upon as hard toil for strong men, it has come to be regarded by the majority of people as a nice, quiet occupation especially suitable for delicate persons and invalids.  Comparatively few look upon it as a part of a Christian’s vocation.  [Intercession] means making Christ’s interests our own. It means to learn to think with God, to have the mind of Christ, to see the world through His eyes, to share His passion to save and redeem. And that heart is formed in us by prayer. (Pray Magazine)

Abraham speaks with humility.   “I venture to speak with the Lord.” (v. 27, 31)  “I am but dust and ashes.” (v. 27)  He knows the Lord favors him.  He is aware of the Lord’s love, but he is also aware of his place before Him.

Dean Merrill in his article Whatever Happened to Kneeling? writes:  “Who can deny that over the past 25 years we have been kneeling less and less?  When I get down on my knees to pray, the quality of my interaction with God is somehow changed. And I don’t think it’s just the nostalgic memory of boyhood days when, as a preacher’s kid in the Midwest, I knelt on a plank floor with the rest of the congregation at our Wednesday night prayer meetings. I benefit from the practice now.

        The biggest benefit is that kneeling reminds us who’s in the dialogue. Prayer is not a couple of fellows chatting about the Dallas Cowboys. It is a human being coming face to face with his or her Supreme Authority, the ineffable God who is approachable but still the One in charge.

        Thus kneeling is a way of saying, “I fully understand who’s Boss here. Far be it from me to try to manipulate you or play games with you. I’m well aware of my status in this relationship, and I deeply appreciate your taking time to interact with me.

But although Abraham was humble, he still exhibits a boldness.  Where does one got to take their problems they have with the Cosmos?  To the management, of course.  God actually welcomes us and invites us to take it up with Him.

Genesis 18:23-25

   Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? [24] “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? [25] “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

Very humble, very bold.  But there is one problem with Abraham’s prayer:  He never says what is actually on his mind and in his heart.  There is one name Abraham is thinking about,… but not saying… his nephew LOT!  Lot and his family, who had moved there not too long ago, is surely behind his passionate bargaining with God.  Why doesn’t he just say that?  It might have saved him a lot of maneuvering.

Got someone on YOUR heart?  Go bold!  Be Honest with God!  He already knows what is on your heart anyway…so approach him with boldness and ask for your request (Hebrews 4:6).  In Ephesians, Paul ends one of his prayers with:  “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.”  Remember your prayers are powerful not because of the words you utter, but because of a powerful God that hears them… and acts on your behalf.

Blessings!

Faith at Low Tide

low tideGenesis 15

Low tide, caused by the pull of the moon’s gravity upon the earth, is as predictable as the sunrise.  It isn’t as pretty a sight as high tide is.  A lot of blight that had been hidden beneath ocean waves is now exposed.  The poles holding the dock can now be seen.  They aren’t as varnished and clean below as they are above.  Sea weed is every where.  Old bottles (no messages) and drift wood are stranded on the beach.

Predators have been waiting for low tide.  Hungry birds are scarfing up the sea life that didn’t quite make it out with the tide.  Crabs that burrow in the sand now find their ocean roof removed… they are vulnerable to curious children and tourist looking for an interesting pet.

Another thing that happens is that the waters that were once so easy to pass become treacherous.  A former co-worker in Maryland once went out on a boat off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.  As the tide became low they hit a sand bar and became stuck.  After frantically trying to loosen themselves, they eventually had to spend the night in the boat and wait for the ocean tide to come back and release them.  It can be embarrassing at low tide.

Well there are low tides in life as well as on the coast.  Moments where you kind of loose your footing… as hopes, dreams and resources seems to rush away from you as the waves from the beach.  A lot of blight becomes exposed in your life.  Predators wait to tempt you at this hour of vulnerability.  Areas of your life that were once clear sailing, you now find impossible to pass. You are at ebb tide.  You’re left like Otis Redding: “…sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.” And with it goes your vitality, your joy, and your peace of mind.  Faith could sure comes in handy at Low Tide.

God comes to Abram at the beginning of Genesis 15 and addresses him with: “Do Not Fear, Abram.”   What could Abram be fearing?  Reprisals from the enemy he has just defeated?  Maybe some of the other tribes in the area might be taking notice of him?  Perhaps he’s feeling a little weak now…  A little more vulnerable?

Sometimes after a victory we are the most vulnerable.  Evil in this world will not sit still after you have won a victory.  Sometimes events can happen shortly after that make you question your small victory all together.

Genesis 27 continues with Abram complaining to God: “You said that I would become a great nation.  But Eliezer of Damascus is going to get everything I have when I die.  Was that the plan?  I come out here in the middle of nowhere only to die childless, and my wealth goes to someone that doesn’t even know you?

Now remember Abram has, not once, not twice… but three times received a solid promise from the Lord.  But those precious promises that once brought him joy seem to mean precious little at low tide.  His heart is tired of waiting for the promise.   Joy has rushed from him like the waves from the shoreline.

“What are you up to God?”

Do you ever get discouraged?

You’re trying to train up your child and they seem to be choosing the path of the prodigal.

You’re trying to remain honest in your business, but the cut throat competition is eating you alive.

You’re trying to faithfully give to the church, but the car has broken down, the kids needs braces and there is this scary rumor of layoffs at work.

“What are you up to God?”

See what God does for Abram:

1.  God speaks to Abram’s fear. 

God says: Do Not Be Afraid… I will be your protection and provision.  This is the first instance of “Do Not Be Afraid” in the Bible.

2.  God speaks to Abram’s discouragement.

God says:  You WILL have a son.  You WILL have numerous descendants.  God then takes Abram to do a little star gazing.  Here the Sovereign Lord, who created each celestial body, tells Abram that if He can do that, one child is a piece of cake for Him!

Jeremiah 32:17 reminds us:  “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

I love the word of the Rich Mullins song “Sometimes by Step”:  “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me. He was a stranger in this land. And I no less than he. And on this road to righteousness, Sometimes the climb can be so steep, I may falter when I step, but never beyond your reach.”

How did Abram respond to the pep talk from the Lord?  Verse 6 says it all:  “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

Nothing changed around him… same barren countryside… same barren Sarai.  But Abram’s heart changed right there at ebb tide… and God looked at his faith and called it righteousness.

So… in the midst of your low tide.  Do not give up.  Do not give in to fear.  Instead… go look at the stars.  (God lit one of them up in the night sky for Abram that had YOUR name on it.)  Display a little righteousness by… against all odds… simply believing!

Blessings!

What Every Rainbow Says to Us

Genesis 9:1-17double rainbow

Three moms that lived through the pain of watching their sons drift away from God, wrote a book in 2002 called: Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them. One of the moms, named Heather Kopp, wrote about her wayward son, Noah.  Her son had to submit to weekly drug testing to keep off of drugs. He didn’t seem to know who he was or where he was going… particularly in the spiritual realm. Heather wrote: “Once your baby—no matter how old he is—is lost, so are you.”

She then tells a story of an event that gave her some hope in the midst of the lost state she found herself:   “One recent night I asked Noah how it went the night before.  He said it was okay. Except for the part where everybody else got high before the movie and then again after the movie while he waited outside the car.  I told him I was sorry. And I was proud of him.  “But God spoke to me,” he announced.

“Really?” (This was not typical.)

“Yeah,” he said. “While I was standing around outside waiting for those guys to get high, I saw a double rainbow.”

He wasn’t really able to articulate what God seemed to be saying through the double rainbow, but I wasn’t going to push. I reached up to ruffle his hair, and, surprisingly, he let me. Then he trotted off to the shower, a little boy inside a man-size body.  I kept thinking about that double rainbow all day. Maybe it was God’s way of saying to my Noah, “Hey, you. Look at this cool rainbow. There’s beauty in life I don’t want you to miss. And no amount of dope will make it more beautiful.”
And maybe Noah’s telling me about it was God’s way of saying to me, “Remember my promises. No matter how far he wanders away from you, he’s never out of my sight.”  (Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them, p. 5.)

How ironic that God spoke to a twentieth century Noah through a rainbow.  And that it indirectly spoke to his mom as well… granting her a message of hope.

In chapter 9 of Genesis, God makes a promise to the Biblical Noah in regard to His judgment of mankind.  “I will establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” (9:11)  Often when God makes a promise to us (one He wants us to be sure to remember) He creates a physical sign to memorialize it.  The sign of this Noahic covenant is the rainbow… a multicolored reminder of many attributes of God.  The next time you see it raining… and can see that the sun is shining as well… run outside to see the spectacle of God’s bow hung in the sky… and then remember a few things.

1)  Remember God’s Restraint.

The Hebrew term in verse 13 is the same term used when referring to a bow in archery. God is telling Noah, that in regards to judgment with flood, I’m hanging up my bow.  “I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.”  (9:16)  When we see evil continue to run rampant on this earth, it is tempting to think that God might be powerless to stop it.  What it should tell us is: God is extremely powerful in His restraint!  Praise God for the cease-fire!

2)  Remember God’s faithfulness

“When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (9:16)  God’s bow reminds us of God’s faithfulness because He has kept his word to us.  Despite the sinfulness of man, He has not caused the world to be flooded again.  Every rainbow HE looks upon today remind Him to be faithful to His promise (though He hardly needs a reminder).  Every rainbow WE look upon today should remind us that HE is indeed a faithful God.  (We do need the reminder.)

3)  Remember God’s patience.

Our twentieth century Noah (in the above story) didn’t quite know what God was saying through the rainbow, but he knew God was saying something.  Perhaps the rainbow was a symbol to Him of His patience toward him.  For although the sign of the rainbow states that God has withheld further judgment on the earth by flood, there is coming a judgment by fire.  “…the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.  … But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  (1 Peter 3:6,7 & 10.)  The rainbow reminds us that God isn’t winking at sin, but being patient with sinners.  There will be a day when the justice of God will have to be satisfied.

4)  Remember His Majesty

Remember when you saw your first rainbow?  Remember that feeling of awe?  Then you have a sense of the wonder that Noah must have felt.  It came at the end of a rough 40 days and 40 nights.  The rainbow was have been overwhelming to his senses!  And although it was a sign of the covenant to him, it also represented God’s majesty to him.  That element of the rainbow’s symbolism is found not only here in Genesis, but also in the book of Revelation (4:3) and Ezekiel.  Ezekiel describes his vision of Divine Glory in this manner:  “As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance.  Such was the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 1:28)  Stand in awe of His majesty!

Where do the storms of life find you today?  Are you kind of like the mom of our 21st Century Noah?  Trying to maintain your faith as the flood waters continue to rise in your life?  There is hope beyond the disaster that has flooded your world.  Remember God is a God of restraint, faithfulness, patience and majesty.  And every rainy day or so… He likes to remind us.

A Praise Progression

Man playing a guitarGenesis 8

Those of you who play an instrument or who are into music theory already know what a “chord progression” is.  But for those of us who can only play the radio a quick definition might be in order.  A chord progression is “a series of musical chords, or chord changes that ‘aims for a definite goal’ of establishing (or contradicting) a tonality founded on a key, root or tonic chord and that is based upon a succession of root relationships.” (source: Wikipedia)

Okay… if you aren’t musically inclined, that probably meant absolutely nothing to you!  So why bring it up?

Because I see in Scripture a “praise progression” that also “aims for a definite goal” and establishes a “tonality” in life… that is… if we follow the progression all the way through to praise!

The progression is:  Waiting, Being Heard, Hoping, Being Rescued, Praising.

The most obvious praise progression is Psalm 40:1-3 – “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”

The progression goes like this:  I waited; God heard me; I hoped (this is the patient part); I was rescued (He brought me up.); I sang a song of praise.

I have read a lot of books on prayer that say you should praise God for being who He is, not for what He has done for you.  That sounds great in theory… but how can you not praise Him for all He has done for you?  He PUT that song in your mouth… you cannot help but sing it!  The natural result of the progression is that “many see and fear and trust in the Lord.”  Harsh chords of pain and waiting and patience are resolved in the end and the sound is so sweet!  It is enticing!

What does this have to do with Genesis 8?  This is first “praise progression” of the Bible!

Noah was caught in a waiting period. – “The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.” -Genesis 7:24

God remembered Noah. – “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark..” (8:1)

God sends hope.  – “The dove came to him toward the evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf.” (8:11)

God rescues Noah. – “Then God spoke to Noah, saying, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.'” (8:15-16)

Noah praises God. – “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord…” (8:20)

Maybe you are struggling to praise the Lord today.  Your life is cooped up in a smelly old ark.  You may feel bitter or angry at your circumstances.  Praise is more difficult at different stages within the progression.  How difficult it is to praise Him with your heart in discord!  But remember this:  The chord WILL be resolved… whether in this life or the next.  Right now, your praise will just take a different form depending on where you are in the progression.

So pray:

Lord, I’m waiting.

or Lord, remember me.

or Lord, I sense you are sending me hope.  (I see the olive branch!)

And if you have found your chord resolved… if God has rescued you… Sing the Song of the Redeemed!  And if for nothing else… praise Him for Calvary… praise Him for the cross… praise Him for the hope of resurrection!

John McArthur once referred to Jesus as “the harmonizer of all discords.”  What an apt description for the lover of music theory… and for this rest of us…  who know a good song when we hear it!

Blessings!

Standing Out From the Crowd

Genesis 6:7-10standing out in a crowd

An old song I remember from childhood went:  “Noah found grace in the eye of the Lord and He left him high and dry!”

Never being much a fan of water… the lyrics “high and dry” drew me into His grace.  I knew I didn’t want to get wet!

“Pick me, Lord.  Pick me!” was my heart’s cry.  I wanted to stand out from the crowd like Noah and be rescued from the world flood.

As I grew up I discovered that standing out from the crowd came at a price.  I didn’t like standing out from the crowd that much anymore.  My prayers became more like:  “Lord, could you just make me like everybody else?”  “Could you do something about this puny bicep, Lord?”  “Could you shrink my nose a bit?”  Of course that didn’t happen.

The good news is that there came a day when I wanted to stand out again.   A day when I longed to stand out from the crowd… standing in the fields of His grace!  But at 16 the questions became:  “What will make me stand out as worthy of God’s grace or attention?  What will make the Lord “pick” me?”

Genesis 6:8 says:  “…Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (6:8)  How did he do it?  The next few verses give us some ideas.  As does several verses in Hebrews chapter 11.

One thing is clear… it wasn’t something Noah earned by being good.  The word for “favor” here is also translated:  “acceptance” or “grace.”  Note that Noah didn’t “earn” favor in the eyes of the Lord.  Noah was just as sinful as his contemporaries.  Yet God graced this one who “stood out.”

1.  Noah Sought the Lord.

Hebrews 11:6 says:  “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

Noah had no goodness to bring… but he could throw himself upon the mercy of God.  In a world as ungodly as his was… being a mercy seeker… caused him to stand out.  And Noah believed that God was a rewarder of those who seek after Him.

2.  Noah Sought to Live Righteously

Genesis 6:9 records that he was a “righteous man, blameless in his time.”  These choices also made him stand out from his peers.  He wasn’t perfect.  No man or woman can be.  But his heart was right.  And he most likely was broken over his sin.  His faith and not his works would save him.  Grace would eventually bloom in Jesus Christ.  (The ark would become a picture of saving grace.  But more on that in the next blog.)

3Noah walked with God.

“Noah walked with God.”  Like Enoch in the chapter before, Noah too had intimacy with the Almighty.   This was displayed by his his actions.

Noah:

Waited…. 120 years of listening to lame giraffe jokes.

Preached… 2 Peter calls him “a preacher of righteousness.”  Noah probably had his share of rotten tomatoes hurled at him.

Entered… (Genesis 7:7) Don’t think that this didn’t require faith. A boat built by one that wasn’t a boat builder that has been stuffed with animals from across the planet. I wouldn’t be at ease being enclosed in such a vessel.

And Waited Some More… (v.8) – One week passed before a single drop of rain fell.

Whether  Noah was called to physical activity (ark building) or to passive activity (waiting on the Lord)… Noah remained faithful.

4.  Noah was a good father.

“Noah became the father of three sons:  Shem, Ham and Japheth.” (6:10)  Why do I even mention this?  Because Noah’s fatherhood is mentioned again and again in the book of Genesis. (5:32; 6:10; 6:13; 9:18-19)  Genesis 10 even records the genealogy of each his children.  In the Hebrews 11 the author notes that Noah: “in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household.” (11:7)

Dad’s obedience was crucial for the survival of this family.  Mom or Dad, your obedience to God is just as crucial for the survival of your children.

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So….in a nation of rebels… How did Noah stand out?  By seeking the Lord’s favor, by living righteously (even if everyone else was not), by possessing an active faith, and by being a good parent to his children.

The question is:  Do you stand out in THIS generation?  God’s desire is for all to come to faith in Him (1 Timothy 2:4).  He wants to choose everybody.  He chooses those who exercise faith in Him.  And like Noah… He leaves them “High and Dry!”

A Wineskin in the Smoke

Psalm 119: 81-88wineskin

Came across an interesting verse in my daily Scripture readings yesterday.  Psalm 119:83 – “Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,  I do not forget Your statutes.”  Not sure why I have never seen this verse before.  It is probably because it is buried among 176 similar sounding verses within the longest chapter in the Bible.

What did this expression mean and why did I feel like it describes me right now?  The surrounding context is a Psalmist that is facing hardship.  His soul is languishing for deliverance (v.81) and He asks God:  “When will you comfort me?” (v.82)  He then says he feels like a wineskin in the smoke.  Now in the culture of the day, wine was stored in animal skins.  These skins if stored indoors with a fire present would become dry, then blackened and eventually would crack and become useless.  Good word picture, huh?

In the midst of feeling as used up and worthless as a discarded beverage container, he adds:  “I do not forget Your statutes.”   God’s word alone is the balm he needs for his wounds.  He might feel forsaken by man, but the Word says God has not forsaken him… and he is banking his life on it.

Sometimes, a word of Scripture can help when nothing else will do.  N. T. Wright remarks:

“Some parts of the Bible are best drunk like a large glass of water on a hot day—in other words, large quantities at a time—while others, such as many parts of the letters, are best sipped and savored, drop by drop… (always remembering that, especially in a letter, every verse means what it means in relation to the whole thing, not on its own.  But the point is that reading the Bible is habit-forming:  not just in the sense that the more you do it the more likely to want to do it, but also in the sense that the more you do it the more it will form habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”  (After You Believe, p. 262.)

Barely holding it together?  Too weary, you think, to turn to the Bible?  His Word is a lamp (v.105) and it can provide you the light of hope you need… even in the midst of the smoke.