Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The problem with strict fundamentalism.


For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:20

The more I have studied the world of the New Testament, the more troubled I have become by this statement by Jesus. The scribes and the Pharisees were sticklers for the letter of the law. They not only held to the keeping of the Law as detailed in the Pentateuch by the "book" but to ensure compliance they added roughly 600 additional prohibitions and commandments just to make sure they got the details right! They were the original legalists and though their view of scripture was doctrinally "fundamentalist", their application of it became sterile and one-dimensional.

That is the danger of strict fundamentalism. It might exalt conformity to an external standard against true transformation of the heart. This is what Jesus would fight against with the religious elite of His day. He knew that God wanted hearts, not conformity to a rigid standard. And Jesus preached as much with the Sermon on the Mount.

Joni and I sat down to watch Fireproof this weekend. I was touched by the strong gospel presentation in the movie. There is a point where the young fire captain is confronted by his dad with the reality that even though he might be a "hero" or a "good man" in terms of saving people's lives in his job as fireman, he was inwardly not meeting Jesus' standards for holiness. Of course in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that hate is as bad in the heart as murder is in life, and adultery is the same root issue as lust. That is where the gospel gets to the heart of the "hero" in Fireproof. He realizes his heart issues are what separate him from God.

That is where our righteousness is to exceed that of the external commitments of the Pharisees. God wants to get to the heart. And the heart is changed by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. We are transformed by the renewing of the mind.

Sin is pervasive. I think of total depravity in these terms: I could have done any of the worst sins externally, even if I have not. And I know that the roots of all the worst sins exist from time to time in my lusting, wanting, sinful heart so that in Jesus' terms I probably I have done them. So when it comes to sin I "could have and probably did"! But salvation changes that. I am a new creation. I now have a new heart that will allow me to follow a new and living way. Now my righteousness, because it is the righteousness of Christ graciously applied to my account as a new creation in Christ, can exceed mere external conformance.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Personal Reflections of Discipleship.

And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Matthew 4:19-20

footprints These fishermen immediately left their nets to answer the call of Jesus to follow Him. What kind of faith was this? They were not learned men. In fact, the rest of the gospel narratives paint all too human portraits of the disciples, especially these fishermen. But somehow they were willing to leave their livelihoods and the only lives they knew to learn more from Jesus. He was compelling them with His message, His miracles, and His personal invitation.

What have I left behind? I look at my life and it has been marked by little else than Christian commitment. I do remember what it was like to be lost in a non-Christian home, but at age 7 that changed for me. Since that time, I have gone to Christian schools (from second grade through high school graduation), attended Bible Colleges (nothing worldly there!) and seminary. I have worked in secular environments (everywhere from warehouses, to construction, to banks and printing companies), but hardly have I set foot in daily contact with unbelievers or a worldly vocational concern in the past 15 years. What have I left behind to follow Christ?

I have reached the point in my life where I cannot say that I feel the sacrifice like I used to. And I don't believe that is a bad thing. In fact, I think it is very rewarding. Oh, I do have my struggles with the things of this world. You can't live and work in Johnson County, Kansas without seeing the excesses and sometimes wishing for more. That is what big box stores are for. If it isn't that latest gadget or car or flat screen television, it is something else new yet to hit the market. And we have it all here, in complete excess and extreme. But frankly, I have no desire to be motivated by materialism, so when that temptation comes, I can dismiss it. Materialism is not what I have left behind.

What I left behind was the option to direct my life to my own chosen end. When I came to Christ as Lord and began to follow Him, I gave Him all the options. And the result is now all my vocation. And I believe that as a minister of the gospel, I have the best job in the world. And what I don't have, I don't miss for two real reasons: 1) I never really had it to begin with & 2) Following Jesus yields me so much joy even in the hardest parts of the journey!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Trinitarian theology is not hard to come by in the Bible.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Matthew 3:16-17


Trinitarian theology is not hard to come by in scripture. This is one of the clearest supports for it. At the baptism of Jesus by John, God the Father announces His relationship with the Son as the Spirit descends to rest upon Him. All three persons of the Godhead are present in one event very clearly and without any need for explanation by Matthew. It is clear that the early church expected the reader of the gospel to understand the significance of what occurred at the baptism of Jesus. God the Son was affirmed by God the Father and empowered by God the Spirit.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gifts for the King


And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:11

Kingly gifts are offered to the young King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The adoration of the wise men from the East shows us just how significant Jesus is in the world and beyond it. When I combine this episode with Luke's account of the Nativity, we see incredible worship at the time of Jesus' birth. Angels announced and sang glory to God, shepherds came to marvel at the Messiah, and wise sages traveled the globe to see Him and bring him kingly gifts.

And Jesus deserves such worship today. In fact, He is still adored by angels, commoners, and kings. He is Lord and King, God and Savior, worthy of all worship. Why? Not because He stayed a safe baby in the arms of Mary, but because He lived, and died to bring us to God.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

ESV Study: Book of the Year

I knew that the ESV Study Bible was going to make a big splash when I began following it in pre-pub over a year ago. Well, it has done very well indeed:
USA Today Article

We need a Savior.

(THIS POST begins a new study in the Gospel of Matthew)

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21


There is much more than a Christmas card meaning behind this instruction from the angel to Joseph. The ESV Study Bible notes shed some light on the importance of the name given to Jesus:
"Jesus (Gk. Iesous) was the historical, everyday name, and is Yeshua'/Yehoshua' (Joshua) in Hebrew, meaning "Yahweh saves" (Neh. 7:7; cf. Matt. 1:21). The name Jesus was given to sons as a symbolic hope for the Lord's anticipated sending of salvation through a Messiah who would purify his people and save them from oppression (see note on v. 1). But the angel points to a more important theme: to save his people from their sins. Salvation from sins was a repeated promise in OT prophets (e.g., Isa. 40:2; 53:6; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:25-27; Dan. 9:24; Zech. 13:1)."

Sometimes liberal criticism of the gospels tends to downplay the name of Jesus. They insist it was such a common name in the day and that we should not be surprised to see it. Yet the gospel of Matthew goes out of the way to let us know that no less than an angel of the Most High God commanded the earthly stepfather of Jesus to give Him that name. Yes, the common name meant "Yahweh saves". And a common hope in the Palestine of the First Century was that a deliverer would come to end the scourge of Roman oppression. Yet the angel has a much broader view of the hope that would come in Jesus: He would save His people from their sins, not from an outside political occupation. This is a greater hope than anyone else in Israel could have possibly had for their little child named Yeshua. Jesus would be different.

So as I spend some time now working through the gospel of Matthew (about the next six weeks or so), I will see if what the angel said is indeed born up in the testimony about Jesus. And I can't help but wonder if that reality of Jesus as a Sin-Savior might be the most important understanding I need of Him. Many evangelicals in America are distressed to see a current political climate that seems to be moving away at faster-than-light speed from solid Judeo-Christian underpinnings. That may be true. And some political oppression may be possible in the years ahead. But even then, we do not need a conservative politician to meet society's greatest of needs. We need a Savior. And Jesus is the One.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

God paints slowly.

painting tools

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Genesis 50:20

Theologically, trying to reconcile how evil and good can co-exist with God's sovereignty is called "the problem of evil". I find it interesting that one of the earliest recorded struggles with this problem is recorded for us in the life of Joseph. And he has absolutely no tension over the question. His answer is straightforward to his brothers: what you meant for evil against me, God meant for good to save many. He does not diminish the responsibility of His brothers for their actions which were sinful. He also does not diminish the sovereign rule of God to use even those circumstances for His glory.

We self-centered Americans have a thing or two to learn from the life of Joseph. We expect a cushy life with all the amenities. That is one reason why prosperity theology and IHOP weirdness abounds in the current evangelical climate in America. It is twisted. It has no answer to the problem of evil because it is dualism. Good things can only be under God's control. Bad things can only be under the devil's control. If something difficult comes my way, God cannot be in it.

But that is not the case in scripture. God disciplines the sons He loves. God intervenes and moves beyond even the worst that humans do to each other in order to bring about His purposes. We may feel torn at the moment. I am sure Joseph struggled with his share of unhappiness as a slave, as a prisoner, or as a captive in a foreign land. But God used every one of those experiences to forge a nation and save Israel. God kept His covenant with Abraham's descendents through the trials of one young man.

God will go to great lengths in the course of a human life to show Himself. Providence takes time. It is not an instant photo kind of experience. It develops slowly, painted by the Master Artisan with slow and deliberate strokes, working on a torn canvas at times, but always with a beautiful result that shows the genius of a wise and knowing God.

Monday, March 23, 2009


All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.
Genesis 49:28


One generation carries on after another. This is a recurring theme in Genesis where a repeating refrain is "these are the generations of...". This passage expands upon that theme with some specific blessings that Jacob gives to each of his sons, prophetically describing how each tribe will later come to function in the future nation of Israel.

From one couple, God populated the world. From human sins and choices, God has made Himself known, provided for access to Him, and graciously redeemed people to Himself. All of that is in Genesis. And it is told in the context of families. From Adam and Eve, to Noah and his sons, from Abraham and Sarai, on to Jacob and his sons. In all the story of human history told in the book, the clear denominator is family and home as relating to God and His grace and revelation.

So despite the vast cultural differences separating me from the patriarchs, I can identify with that common theme. I have a family and I relate to family. I am called to come to God in the context of my life and that includes family. And so I will trust and follow Him, while caring for the needs of those whom God has called me to love and need first -- family!

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Old hands on young heads.

old hands And he blessed Joseph and said,
        "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
        the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;
and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth."
Genesis 48:15-16

Maybe it is just my current wistfulness, but a part of me identifies with the patriarchal blessing like never before. Age has a way of increasing your identification with generational moments in scripture. This is one of them. Right now my kids are adolescents. I have very little precious time left with them until they will be adults making decisions on their own. It is coming faster than I want it to arrive!

So when I read this passage where a grandfather through blessing passes on a spiritual heritage to grandsons, I sit back and think hard. I would call Jacob's story checkered with spiritual failure (on a good day) and marked by copious outpourings of God's grace. His sons were for the most part as spiritually inconsistent as he was (with the exception of Joseph and perhaps Benjamin). Yet God had chosen this patriarchal home to become his source of future and present blessing. And from this generation would arise the vast nation of Israel. Ephraim and Manasseh represented the work that God was going to do. Jacob knew this and as he aged, his heart grew closer to God so that now his finest spiritual work would occur with the blessings he would pass on to the tribes of Israel.

Grandpa Israel, the prophet and the patriarch, places feeble withering hands on two little grandsons and pronounces a future for their tribes that would come to pass. Ephraim would become strong. Joshua would arise from Ephraim's stock. That tribe would become instrumental in the kingdom only to fall away and be judged by God. But in the plan of God, the younger son would rise in prominence. Jacob foresaw this and passed it on with his prophetic blessing.

I am far removed from this culture and manner of God's dealings. I cannot expect the kind of prophetic insight into lives that Jacob was given by God. Still, my two children are important to God and He has wonderful and wise plans for them. I need all the wisdom from Him I can get to help guide them toward what God wants. It is not easy. They are now teenagers and well on the path of their independence. I feel that it is important to them to know God's guidance and my blessing for them as they seek to follow Him. Jacob's example gives me fuel for thought as I parent my kids the next few years.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Take Me to Egypt

There are a lot of personal struggles behind my reflections on this passage. Let’s just say God has me in a place right now where I am powerless (I don’t like that feeling) and must trust Him to show Himself strong and provide comfort and strength not only for myself, but for others I care about. It is not easy to have circumstances break your routine. I think I see in Jacob some of what I should be. It is easy to stay in the Promised Land and starve. It is tougher to let God lead you to a strange land to be fed there.


Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly.
Genesis 47:27

Take me to Egypt
to the foreign land
with strange people
and circumstances
that I can't understand

if in Egypt
I will find health
and blessing beyond
my present famine
and thrive in Your wealth

then take me there
by what means You choose
and in Your time I know
that what I will gain from You
will be worth the routine I lose

and temporary Egypt
may be just the place
where finally I find comfort
and health and food again
as mercy shines in Your grace

Take me to Egypt
and let me grow
beyond my comfortable home
and my desires and plans
by faith, Your grace I'll know.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Enough guidance for the next few steps.


And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here am I."  Then he said, "I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation."
Genesis 46:2-3

This chapter recounts a father/son reunion that has been a lifetime in the making. And it involved trusting God above all else. Jacob is at this time old and travel was a difficult proposition. His sons return to him with an official government delegation from Egypt with news that Joseph is alive and well. Jacob embraces a new hope, and makes the decision to travel to see his lost son once before he dies. Interestingly, there is  no anger at the other sons for their actions toward Joseph years before. There is just joy at the reunion.

And God meets Jacob along the way assuring him that he would make the journey and see his son. He assured him that it was in Egypt that his clan would grow to become a great nation. This was the plan of God all along. Of course, the story would eventually include hardship and slavery, but in God's grand tapestry, that would be used to draw a people to Him. For now, it was enough for Jacob to act in faith, trust God for the strength for the journey, prepare for the emotional reunion, and believe that his life would end in Egypt at God's design.

God rarely lets us in on all the ins and outs of His plans. We get glimpse to give us hope and that is enough to keep faith burning in our hearts. If we knew every nuance and every bump along the path, we might shrink back. But faith is there for us, as we need it, in incredible supply, from a God Who cannot exhaust His love and grace. 

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Joy woven from sorrow.


And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
Genesis 45:7-8

I believe that the tears of joy that Joseph wept at his "unveiling" to his brothers came from two sources. The first was the joy in seeing the change that was occurring as circumstances and age began to humble his brothers. This was for him a moving moment, considering that he had endured slave status, had been falsely imprisoned and forgotten there, and had been exalted not only to Pharaoh's court, but to chief administrator of the surplus wealth of Egypt. His life was an emotional rollercoaster! This was just another part of the ride.

But the second source of the tears of joy is pure spiritual insight. Joseph has managed to slowly stitch together how the providence of God has cared for him and his family. This is overwhelming. God used the most horrendous things that happened to an innocent young man for His glory and the salvation of many souls. Think about all the bad actions God managed to weave around in order to sovereignly provide for His covenant with Israel. Joseph was favored unfairly by his dad, creating family strife. God gives the young man revelatory dreams to help him cope and serve notice to the family of a future for him. Joseph has no control over his brothers' disdain. He is sold into slavery, and God sends him to the captain of the Pharaoh of Egypt where he excels. He is falsely accused of sexual assault, God makes sure that because of Potiphar's status, Joseph ends up in a royal prison where he eventually interprets the dreams of two members of Pharaoh's court. Then God uses the dreams of Pharaoh to pull Joseph from the pit to the position of prime minister over all of ancient Egypt in one day. God uses the famine to bring Joseph's family back to him, where he serves in power, and the dreams of a boy are brought to fruition for the glory of the God of the covenant.

God's providence is beautiful. It brings joy. It moves us with emotion. It must, for when we see the wisdom of His ways, we see His love, His holiness, His justice, and His power. All of that is condensed down to this intense moment that Joseph has with His brothers. All that they had done that was bad, had somehow been turned by God for His purposes. He cannot change. He will not be undone by human will, no matter how bad we sin. And Joseph knew this. It was literally the story of His life.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Change of Heart.

For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, 'If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.' Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.
Genesis 44:32-34

hand with heart Changed hearts are seen in Judah's appeal. The ESV Study Bible describes the change succinctly:
"Building on what he has already said, Judah petitions Joseph to let Benjamin return to his father in Canaan in order to prevent him from dying of grief at the loss of a second son. To make this possible, Judah offers to take Benjamin's place and become Joseph's slave (Gen. 44:33). For Judah, this would be preferable to witnessing his father's distress if Benjamin remained in Egypt (Gen. 44:34). The selfless attitude of Judah stands in sharp contrast to what he previously displayed when arguing that Joseph should be sold into slavery (see Genesis 37:26-27). On that occasion, Judah cared little about the impact that this would have on his father."

God has used the plans of Joseph to test his brothers in such a way as to prove their character and convince Joseph that there was real change that had gone on in them since his separation from him. Witnessing Judah's appeal made Joseph aware of what was happening in the mean hearts of his brothers. They had changed. The biggest evidence has to do with their relationship with Israel, their father. They had little regard for how Joseph's faked death would affect him. In fact, part of what they did in selling Joseph into slavery was meant to get back at their father's partiality to him. But know, as they have lived with their father's grief over many years, they are hurting for the old man. Judah's intervention and offer of himself in Benjamin's place shows that they had grown to care for their family, their father, and his feelings.

This represented everything that Joseph longed to see in them. And it will set the scene for what will occur in the final chapters of Genesis, where a happy family reunion is made. It is that sort of real-life drama that makes this book so interesting and compelling to read. It is rooted in who people are as they relate to God and one another. And the tale of Joseph is a wonderful and rich tapestry of human experience.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another Egyptian Expedition

So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.
Genesis 43:15

Egyptian This is now the second time in the midst of the seven year famine in which Joseph's family has been forced to go to Egypt and purchase grain. They must stand before their brother again. This time they are in a different place. They have learned a measure of honesty by bringing with them double the price of the grain in order to return to Joseph his refund on their first purchase. And they must bring Joseph's brother Benjamin with them as well. All in all, it is again an unnerving business trip ahead of them.

They are treated with much honor on this second excursion into Egypt. Joseph receives them into his own home. He prepares a feast for them. Benjamin is honored with five times the portion of any of the others, even as they all eat and drink and party like never before. They must have felt very strange to have this Egyptian governor take such notice of them.

God's providence is slowly bringing to the forefront changes in character and commitment within Jacob's sons. They offer to repay for the first purchase of grain... something that Joseph refuses to accept, telling them that God somehow returned their money to them. There are so many clues coming to them that this is Joseph, yet they remain in ignorance of what is really going on. I believe it is to show us the change taking place in them as they now must deal with circumstances beyond their limited control. They will see the work of sovereign God in the story when it all comes out!

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Dream to Reality

Joseph and His Brothers

Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.
Genesis 42:6

The beginning of seeing a dream come true for Joseph has got to be a surreal experience. I am sure that he had resigned himself to his new political leadership in Egypt. There is a matter-of-fact sort of way in which the text talks about the exercise of his political power. He was the governor charged with the distribution of Egypt's carefully stored grain. And we already know from the text that he was a gifted planner and administrator. I think he thoroughly enjoyed the work. But the day came when unexpectedly the brothers who sold him into slavery show up in obedience to him.

God seems to use this event to get their attention. For the first time, we hear them banter around about their treatment of Joseph. There appear to be serious regrets. Physical famine, and the temporary incarceration of the brothers puts them in a different, more spiritual, frame of mind. And Joseph is seeing his boyhood vision from God begin to come into reality.

So it is with God's providential work. God's work is worth waiting for. God uses all the events in our lives, even the difficulties and pains, to bring about bigger purposes than we can see at the moment. That is the overwhelming spiritual truth that marked the life of Joseph and the sons of Israel. And that is still very much the reality of how God works today!

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Friday, March 6, 2009

From Prison to Prime Minister

praiseman Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command.Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you."
Genesis 41:39-40

In one day Joseph moves from being a prisoner to a prime minister. This is a dramatic work of God and it was worth all the waiting, the suffering, and the faithful witness. When the cupbearer remembers what Joseph did for him, he is immediately summoned from prison to stand before Pharaoh. There, he interprets the prophetic message of Pharaoh's dreams and the king takes note of the wisdom that Joseph entails with the interpretation of them.

But all the wonder of the story is focused on the God of Joseph. His interpretation of the dream lets Pharaoh know that he is convinced that God is bringing about both the outstanding bumper crops and the future famine. Egypt would respond to the sovereign act of God by preparing and administrating well. And Pharaoh quickly sees in Joseph the man to head up just such a project. But in picking him, it is clear that the king acknowledges God. Joseph is wise because God has shown him these things. And that is what the king recognizes and rewards.

So it is that any event, whether boon or bane, blessing or trial, must be seen as coming from the purposeful hand of an Almighty, Sovereign God. I long to be prime minister, but God is equally concerned that I am faithful while in the pit of prison. And if any good comes of this life, it is because God brings it about in me or through me.

I need the lessons of Joseph's faithful life. Of course, at this point in Genesis, God is just beginning to make things move in blessing for the faithful young Hebrew man. It would still take many years for God to restore his relationship with his family and repair those broken relationships. The young man would become the wise man of Egypt in the interim. And he would excel in the great times as well as in the hardships. Those are the lessons I need to learn.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

The God of the waiting.

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
Genesis 40:23

joseph in prison This is not the ending to this scene in Joseph's life that we want. We would hope that upon restoration to the court of Pharaoh, the cupbearer would immediately tell the king of Joseph's plight. But that was not the case. The human foibles in this story give it such plausibility. It is the ring of historical truth. Human beings forget their good fortune and encouragement. And that is what happened.

Evidently God had His reasons for keeping Joseph in prison for two more years. Perhaps it was to keep Joseph at the ready. Perhaps it was to teach the young man further lessons of trust. Perhaps it was to keep him humble so that when indeed he was called upon, it would be in a way that God would get the glory. And that is exactly what will happen. Joseph will be remembered by the cupbearer, not as a victim of injustice, but as a gifted interpreter of dreams, which was just what the Pharaoh needed.

Waiting is no fun. It is no fun in tragic circumstances. When our routine is reduced down to day after day after day of what we do not like or want, we might be tempted to forget God. And it is just those times when we need to trust Him most. God is using the pit of the prison. He is waiting for His time to bring us out in such a way as He is clearly in control. We must wait. But we will find God at work even in the waiting.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Shining Light in Difficult Days

shining water

From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field.  So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.
Genesis 39:5-6

In Joseph we find the merging of both character and blessing. He was a young man who did not let his circumstances drag him down. I am sure he felt like doing so. His brothers beat him up and threw him in a pit. He was sold into slavery. He was brought to a foreign land and in Egypt, where he did not know the language, the people, the customs, or even possess full humanity as a slave, he rose to honor, even as a slave. He was a remarkable individual.

Strong character and faith will always make up any deficit in our circumstances. Not because we are so great, but because that is what it takes to love and obey God and seek His blessing. That is exactly what happened with Joseph. He may have been a slave, but he was the noblest slave in Egypt, and God blessed him so that Potiphar, his master, prospered as well. And Potiphar kept giving responsibility to Joseph in return until the young man became the chief steward of all that he had.

In those circumstances, we would hope for a positive continuation of the story, but that is not the case. Potiphar's wife entices Joseph for sexual sin. Rather than hurt God or his master, Joseph flees the scene, and she cannot stand to be scorned. She falsely accuses him of attempted rape and Joseph is thrown into Egyptian prison. But even there God rewards his strength of character until Joseph, as model prisoner, is given liberties by the chief guard. Everywhere this young man goes, even in the downturns, he prospers in character and faith.

During uncertain times, I look to his example. I believe that a downturn, or a loss, may not necessarily be a bad thing. In fact, in scripture those are often times designed by God to prove His people and advance the knowledge of the Holy One. Joseph serves as an example as to what to do, and more importantly, how to trust in difficult days.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pyromaniacs: Bible reading — in church

Gotta find this opinion interesting...

Pyromaniacs: Bible reading — in church

The Dangers of a Relative Righteousness.


Then Judah identified them and said, "She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah."
Genesis 38:26

This is not a speech delivered in the context of biblical morality. In fact, in this one short chapter, Judah lives more immorally and with impunity than any other short section of scripture describes. He is in contrast to his youngest brother, Joseph, who was presented with occasion to sin and fled from it. Judah's family is very immoral. From his sons, to himself, sexual sin prevails upon his household.

In this episode, Judah manages to get the widow of his immoral sons, Er and Onan, pregnant. He assumes she is a prostitute (which makes the situation even worse). She must deceive him to fulfill levirate marriage law, which required that the unmarried brother of a husband who died take a widow for his wife. When Judah refuses to give Tamar his youngest son in marriage, she resorts to deception to obtain a child. This is certainly a soap opera, no doubt.

It is in the context of lies, immorality, sexual promiscuity and prostitution that Judah makes this pronouncement that Tamer "is more righteous than I". That is certainly a vague and valueless statement given the circumstances. It does not ring with even a hint of holiness. It is the inevitable consequence of defining righteousness down in a deviant culture.

More and more, my culture looks like Judah's home. I find that immorality and sexual promiscuity have become the norm even in homes within the church. I am witnessing the pornification of American culture to the point that sexual deviancy is the joke in the average sitcom on television. Righteousness will become so relative as to be in non-existence, just as it was in Judah's household.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pure water from a poisoned well.

Joseph Coat of Many Colors Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.
Genesis 37:3-4

Jacob could not seem to rise above the sins of his father. Favoritism had ruined his early years and poisoned his relationship with his brother, Esau. Yet he cannot seem to remember that pain when he magnifies the problem of playing favorites by elevating his youngest son, Joseph over all the others in his household. This favoritism resulted in his home looking more like a gang warfare zone with rivalries, sexual exploits, plots to murder, and deceit.

Joseph was innocently caught in the after affects of his father's sinful choices. Some people like to fault the young man for bringing a bad report to his father of his brother's behavior, but nowhere in scripture are we told that he lied about it or was malicious in intent. His brothers did behave badly, as evidenced by everything else we see them doing in this chapter and beyond. I believe he was speaking the truth in love when he did so. But because of the pre-existing animosity between Joseph and his family, no good would come of it.

Sometimes other people poison the well for us. Jacob poisoned the relationship that Joseph might have had with his brothers by giving him the robe that set him apart. He clearly favored him and the resentment that followed was inevitable. But Joseph had no control over that. In fact, his story in Genesis is remarkable in that despite everyone else around him being less than obedient, often directly defying God, Joseph remains constantly true, full of mature character, and used by God despite his experience.

So there is hope. All of us can be lifted up by God beyond the circumstances of sin around us that we may have no control over. I can control my response to temptation. I cannot control what others may do to me or their behaviors. And so Joseph shows us how God can graciously reward obedience even while we are sinned against repeatedly. There is a lot of hope in his story.