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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Assessing Life

“How old are you?” Women are often reputed for fudging the answer to that question. Jacob not only answers Pharaoh’s question, but he also offers commentary, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult” (Genesis 47:9). 
Truly, Jacob’s life has been one of difficulty:
  • Jacob lived his boyhood in the shadow of his father’s preference of his elder twin. He never measured up to being a “manly man.”
  • Jacob and Rebekah’s deception of Isaac cost Jacob dearly. He had to flee the security of home.
  • Jacob’s years with Laban and his family were challenging, to say the least. He was deceived by Laban, married to two women who fought constantly, despised by most of his sons, treated irrationally by his employer, robbed of his favored son, and bombarded with deep grief.     
Such is a life of one who seeks to live independently of God. No God, no peace. Know God, know peace. Even in the midst of adversity. 
Jacob’s story teaches a number of truths about God and life:
  • God takes a man as he is. He uses life’s hardships and consequences to corral a man, break him of an independent spirit, enlarge him (“Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness. Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” - Psalm 4:1, KJV), and reveal Himself to him. 
  • Continual friction and hardship are inadequate gauges to use in assessing life. A person may live a life of ease and not know God. Does a man come to know God in the process? That’s all that matters!
Rather live a long life of difficulty and get to know God than to live a long life full of fun and not know God at all!

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"Joseph went and told Pharaoh, "My father and brothers, with the flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen. Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen."

Psalm 105:17-19 describes Joseph's preparatory time in Egypt, "He sent a man before them--Joseph-- who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, he was laid in irons until the time that his word came to pass. The word of the Lord tested him." (Psalm 105:17-19)

Joseph attended God's School of Leadership Training from age seventeen until age thirty. God's educational program lasted thirteen years and consisted of three courses resulting in three separate grades. He couldn't precede to the next course until he passed the previous course. How'd he do?

The first course: The Passage of Time
God spoke to him in a dream when he was just seventeen years old and then confirmed it in a second dream. Thirteen years pass as he waits. And he waits some more. He trusts in the Lord the entire time. Everyone around him recognizes the peace of God upon his life. This first course was to teach this future leader how to wait upon God. With seven years of devastating worldwide drought ahead of him he would need this life skill. Waiting teaches future leaders that faith and scheming don't mix (See Isaiah 64:4). Grade: A+

The second course: The Problem of Suffering
Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold, first to a band of traders, and then again, to a wealthy Egyptian. Tough stuff for a favored child! If that's not enough he is falsely accused of sexual harassment by the boss' wife and wronging thrown into prison. While there he is forgotten by a fellow prisoner who forgets the prophetic word Joseph gives him about his restored position in Pharaoh's house. Joseph remains in prison for two more years. Time flies when you are having fun but drags on and on during suffering; although Joseph wasn't having fun he remains faithful. Suffering teaches future leaders perseverance and godly character (Romans 5:3-4). Joseph would need plenty of both for the years ahead of him. Grade: A+

Third course: The Place of Forgiveness
Think of the people that Joseph had to forgive: his brothers, his boss, his boss' wife, and Pharaoh's cupbearer. Betrayal teaches future leaders to see the redemptive hand of God even in the pain caused by others. Joseph would need to demonstrate tenderness toward others as the second in command of a suffering nation. Grade: A+

The Word of God tests you too. Are you waiting on the Lord or fretting and scheming? Are you rejoicing in your suffering or complaining bitterly? Are you holding a grudge against someone or forgiving them graciously and freely? Your becoming a leader depends on how you answer these questions. How are you doing? Joseph reveals a heart of complete forgiveness when he asks Pharaoh for the best part of the land for his father and brothers. Those who forgive and see God in the midst of their circumstances offer the best to those who've hurt them.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
1 Chronicles 1:1-23; 7:1-5, 30-40; Genesis 46:19-25-47:12
  • Describe Joseph and his father's reunion.
  • Why does Pharaoh show such generosity to Jacob and his sons?
  • How does Jacob describe his life to Pharaoh?
  • What does Joseph, his brothers, and their father learn about God over the past twenty-plus years? 
Turning truth into prayer
Unforgiveness robs people of leadership potential. Ask the Lord to pinpoint people in your life for whom you wish less than the best because of residual bitterness or unforgiveness.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Trumped Up Evidence

Joseph’s brothers present Jacob with trumped-up evidence of Joseph’s death, his shredded coat, dried blood, and bewildered faces. Jacob views all three and concludes that Joseph is dead. Jacob believes a lie based on trumped-up evidence and something within him dies. 
Twenty-two years later his sons return from their second trip to Egypt bearing the good news that Joseph is indeed alive. At first Jacob refuses to believe the truth (the trumped-up evidence had been so compelling) until he sees the carts Joseph had sent to carry him to Egypt. That something within that had died revives. Jacob has a glitter in his eye, a jump in his step, and hope in his heart as he loads up his family and heads toward Egypt. 
On the way Jacob stops at Beersheba and offers sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac, for the first time in twenty-two years. God also speaks to him for the first time in twenty-two years, “I am God, the God of your father,” he said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” (Genesis 46:3-4)
Several truths emerge from this story:
  • Just as Jacob’s sons use “trumped-up evidence” to deceive their father so the father of lies uses trumped-up evidence to deceive people today. The shredded coats of circumstances and broken relationships and the dried blood of dreams, hopes and plans convince many that God is finished with them. 
  • Something dies within the one who believes the trumped-up evidence. Hopelessness, despair, depression, and bitterness settle in. For years. Only the truth sets one free. 
  • Jacob hears God speak to him once the lie is revealed by the light of truth. Believing trumped-evidence about God, about himself, his family and his circumstances closes Jacob’s heart toward God. Once the truth breaks through he again offers sacrifices to the Lord and God speaks to him. 
Things are never as they appear. Hope, therefore, cannot be based on circumstances and people, but in the Living God. The Psalmist captures this when he states, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say on the LORD!” (Psalm 27:13-14)

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"Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." (Psalm 45:4)

When you can say "Come close to me" (not so that you can get in a good punch) in the spirit of reconciliation to someone who has hurt you then you've matured in grace and faith. Your view of God will determine whether or not you'll forgive others for hurting you. Joseph saw the hand of God in all that touched his life and was therefore able to extend forgiveness to his offending brothers.

Jesus said that "offenses must come" (Matthew 18:7). Offences must come but nothing others do to me should cause me to live a resentful and bitter life. How can I, like Joseph, live at peace with those who've caused me deep heartache and pain?2 Corinthians 4:7-18 is just one of many Scriptures providing an answer:
  • I am an earthen vessel. Besides being useful I am also vulnerable to being dropped, cracked and broken.
  • The treasure, Jesus Christ, resides powerfully within my spirit which is encased by my physical body.
  • The pressure of difficult and often perplexing betrayal and persecution works to bring about my death (the self-life) so that the indwelling life of Christ can "break out" and meaningfully touch the lives of "undeserving" others.
  • God bursts through the temporal world of brokenness and offers healing. And, all through me. His vessel.
Pain inflicted by others becomes a conduit for the manifestation of God through your life. Forgiveness/Unforgiveness is the cut off valve prohibiting or releasing the Spirit of Christ through me to touch "undeserving" others graciously, meaningfully and deeply.
Steps to walking in forgiveness:
  1. Recognize that I am expecting something from others. Offences come because I expect something from others, whether it is praise, affirmation, acceptance, validation, or one of the many other things we expect from others.
  2. I reckon myself dead to the offence and release it to the Lord. Dead people have no expectations. "I died and my life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). Dead people can't be offended.
  3. By faith, I yield to the life of Christ dwelling in me. I appropriate the promise of His presence and residence. Jesus is what people need. I, with my expectations and unforgiveness, get in the way of His giving them what they need (grace) through my life.
  4. I choose to forgive, which means, I verbally release that person and specific hurt to the Lord. (Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.)
  5. I must then refuse to entertain thoughts of evil, suspicion, and mental record keeping of wrongs committed against me (1 Cor. 13:5). I refuse to give the enemy a place of operation in my life by allowing negative and unforgiving thoughts about another to fester. I will not allow the accuser of the brethren to accuse others through my mind.
  6. I thank the Lord for the offended person, the misunderstanding and ask the Lord to use it redemptively in my life to teach me humility and agape love. 2 Cor. 4:7-15.
  7. I offer my body as a living sacrifice and yield to the life of Christ residing in me to do what I cannot: agape love. I ask the Lord Jesus to literally take over my physical body and manifest Himself through my mortal flesh. And, He does! Even my countenance towards the offending brother/sister changes. I don't have to "fake" it. He surfaces and faces those offenders on my behalf IN me. It is an awesome and freeing experience. This is Romans 5:8 "love" and it does not originate from me but within me and can be mine toward others experientially.
Instead of causing bitterness these painful situations become stepping stones of sanctification. Once the Lord does all that He intends in me He will work in them. Ultimately, other people are not your real enemy. Unforgiveness is your real enemy!. The enemy has a field day in the lives of those who refuse to walk with a heart of forgiveness toward those who've hurt them.

You cannot control how that other person responds; you, however, are responsible for how you handle the situation. The real indicator that Joseph has forgiven from the heart is seen in his words "Come close to me." When you can say to those who've hurt you "Come close to me" you've entered the very portal of grace.

Questions for today's Chronologcal Bible reading:
Genesis 45:1-46:9
  • Descibe Joseph's view of God.
  • Joseph describes himself as "father to Pharaoh", "lord of his entire household", and "ruler of all Egypt". How has his time in Potipar's house and in prison prepared him to take on such huge responsibilites?
  • What had Joseph learned about himself, God, and others during those thirteen years of preparation?
  • What happens to Jacob when he hears the news of Joseph's life and position?
  • What does this teach you about the effects of believing lies?
  • How does Jacob know that it is God's will for him to leave Canaan and go to Egypt?
  • What does God promise Jacob about his descendents?
Turning truth into prayer
Ask the Lord to show you where you are being held captive by unforgiveness. Determine before the Lord that you will work through the steps of release and forgiveness.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Operating From A Love-deficit

The last words Joseph hears before he is sold to a band of traders are from Leah’s son, Judah. It was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood” (Genesis 37:27). Mission accomplished. No brother, no fulfillment of his dreams and no bowing down to the favored son. No brother, no more favoritism from their father. 

The twenty-two years between Judah’s treacherous decision to sell Joseph and the brother’s sojourn to Egypt taught Judah a thing or two about hurt and bitterness: 

  • Those who operate out of a father’s love-deficit often attack those who know a father’s love-surplus out of jealousy. 
  • Bitterness hardens people to the hurt they inflict on others; experiencing similar loss softens the heart toward those whom they’ve hurt in the past. 
It was Judah whose two sons, Er and Onan, were “taken out” by the Lord because of their wickedness (Genesis 38:6-10). It was Judah who became a widower (Genesis 38:12). It was Judah who experienced a tremendous amount of heartache. Judah now understands the grief that occurs from the loss of sons. 
Judah knows firsthand what it is like to lose, not one, but two sons. Therefore, he seeks to spare his father the loss of his son, Benjamin, “Now then, please, let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father” (Genesis 44:33-34). He is now ready to give up his own life in place of his younger brother’s life. 
This story is especially meaningful in a world where blended families have become the norm. Sibling rivalry is challenging enough without the complications of additional relationships. This blended family, like those in our day, was a seedbed for hurt, jealousy, and bitterness. Believers who’ve grown up in such homes don’t have to operate out of a love-deficit, but a love-surplus. We have a Father in heaven who is perfect and who loves perfectly. 
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"Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Every thing is against me!" (Genesis 42:36)

Really? Everything

"Everything is against me." So Jacob thought. Meanwhile everything was really working out for the redemption of his entire family. This isn't the first time he has looked at his circumstances or situation and believed a lie. Years earlier his sons brought in Joseph's ripped and bloodied coat of many colors and he immediately assumed that something terrible had happened to Joseph and that he was dead (37:31-33). Jacob, in fact, believed that Joseph was dead for more than twenty years. For twenty years he believe a lie.  

People believe lies all of the time based upon trumped up evidence. The enemy is good at framing situations and fabricating evidence. So, circumstances, for the child of God, may not always be as they appear at first glance.

People sometimes believe that God doesn't love them when they lose their job, experience some other sudden loss or a particular prayer remains unanswered. God works behind the scenes accomplishing his purposes. Just because we can't see Him at work doesn't mean that He is inactive. All things do work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

For the believer this means that God is not only at work in the eternal realm accomplishing His purposes but that He is at work presently in my circumstance. I can trust Him in spite of the evidence which seems to declare otherwise.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Genesis 42:1-44:34
  • How do the brothers describe themselves to Joseph?
  • How do the brothers explain their being held in custody?
  • What does Joseph discover about Reuben?
  • Who do the brothers blame for the silver found in their grain bags?
  • Read Proverbs 19:3. How do those who've done foolishness respond when they've suffered the consequences?
  • How does Jacob respond to the brother's report?
  • Upon what does he base his conclusion? (See also his believing trumped up evidence years before-Genesis 37:31-34)
  • What do the brothers believe about Joseph when they return to Egypt and are invited to Joseph's house for a meal?
  • How many times do the brothers bow down to Joseph unknowingly? (What had Joseph dreamed about his brothers years before?)
Turning truth into prayerWhat are some lies you've believed about yourself and about God? Ask the Lord to reveal lies that you've believe which have held you captive.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Life Courses in Management

Joseph is the eleventh son in a large household, which must have taken some management to feed, clothe, and care for. Overseeing his father’s extensive flock absorbed the time of he and all his brothers. Little does Joseph know that his boyhood experience form the bedrock of a lifetime of management. 

Joseph makes the best of his circumstances when he is bought by Potiphar, the captain of the guard. He simply does what he knows best. He manages. He manages with the awareness of God’s presence. And he manages well. So much so that Potiphar promotes him as the overseer of his house and all that he has.  
Like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Joseph has good genes. His handsome form and appearance catch the lustful eye of Potipar’s wife (a real cougar!). Joseph finds himself thrown into jail after being falsely accused of attempted rape. Joseph again does what he knows best, he manages. His organizational skills (and the Lord’s presence); promote him to prison supervisor. During his tenure two of Pharaoh’s servants are thrown into prison and share the dreams that they have with Joseph. He accurately interprets both men’s dreams; one man is restored to his position while the other is hanged. Meanwhile, Joseph continues to do what he knows best. He manages. For two more years.
The Lord interrupts Pharaoh’s sleep with two disturbing dreams. Mystified by these dreams Pharaoh demands an interpretation. The former prisoner remembers Joseph. Joseph is immediately called for. He interprets the dream and offers managerial advise. Pharaoh recognizes the Lord’s presence and Joseph’s managerial skills and promotes Joseph to oversee Egypt’s economy for the following 14 years. 
Joseph’s whole life prepares him for this one position that will save an entire generation, including his own family, from massive starvation.  Who knew that all these management experiences would lead to an even greater position? God did!
This story reveals a number of truths about work ethic, attitude, and providence:
  • A right attitude toward God and adverse circumstances prepares a man to do what he knows he should do. A man with a high view of God accesses each circumstance that comes his way as opportunities to excel for the glory of God. Joseph apparently maintained a joyful attitude and strong work ethic at each juncture of his life. The wisdom writer couples man’s positive attitude with God’s providence, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
  • God uses the adverse circumstances brought about by the evil intent of others to further His redemptive purposes. The wisdom writer states it this way, “A man’s steps are of the Lord; How then can a man understand his own way? (Proverbs 20:24) 
Joseph only knew in retrospect that each of his managerial experiences in adverse conditions were crucial for the saving of an entire generation of people, including his own. 
He is good. He does good. We can trust Him in the midst of adversity.

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"When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream." Genesis 41:1)

God works on both sides of the bars. Prison bars.

On the one side He drops two of Pharaoh's servants behind prison bars, gives them both dreams and has Joseph interpret them. I know exactly what Joseph must be thinking when he tells the butler "But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison." He's thinking "I'll be out in just a few more days." Upon his release the butler forgets Joseph. Hope of release disappears as the days pass into weeks. Two more years pass as Joseph finishes his educational course designed by God to teach him patience and endurance, which God knew that he would need to lead the people during days of famine.

Meanwhile on the other side of the prison bars God drops two disturbing dreams into the middle of Pharaoh's sleep which necessitated interpretation. God sovereignly and strategically places the restored butler whose dream has been interpreted by Joseph into position on the other side of the prison bars as well. He remembers Joseph at just the right time. When God is ready.

God works on both sides of the prison bars preparing a prisoner to lead and a Pharaoh to follow. And all because of a promise He made decades before to Abraham regarding his descendents, "Know certainly that your descendents will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years" (15:13).

Joseph has no control over his circumstances. He spends thirteen years as a slave and prisoner. Working in Potiphar's house and time behind bars were years not wasted but years learning about people and about God—things which can't be learned from a book. Time behind bars teach Joseph forgiveness, perseverance, and hope. The time behind bars prepares him, upon his release, to rescue his family and lead a nation during a seven-year crisis.What are you learning behind the bars of your life? Could it be that God is preparing you for the life He is preparing on the other side of the bars? God works on both sides of the bars. 

Seeing His work on both sides requires faith.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Genesis 40:1-41:57

  • What does Joseph understand about dreams? About God?
  • What does Joseph's demotion and promotion teach you about God?
  • Read Psalm 75:6-7. What does this verse teach you about God?
Turning truth into prayer
Thank the Lord that He is at work in your life right now. Ask Him to help you exercise faith in Him in the midst of whatever circumstances you are going through.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Family Dysfunction and Providence

Joseph never had a chance with his brothers. 
When Jacob prepares to meet Esau he places the maidservants and their children in front of his delegation (the most dangerous position) followed by Leah and her brood. He places Rachel and Joseph closest to himself (Genesis 33:1-3). Wonder what this did to create sibling rivalry? 
Jacob’s designing a “rich ornamented robe” for Joseph to wear only increases the distance between the brothers and further distinguishes Joseph as Jacob’s favored and loved son. Then he has those dreams with interpretations and implications far too clear to miss. Poor guy never had a chance!
Life does that to people. Sets them up for challenging relationships and harsh circumstances. But God (great words) transforms those challenges into providence and uses them to propel His redemptive purposes. He did that with Joseph and He does that with His people today. 
Bitterness, hatred, betrayal, retaliation are mere man-made chisels upon the stone of Joseph’s life and the seminal nation of Israel to fulfill His promise to Abraham, “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them for four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14).
Jacob’s favoritism and the betrayal of Joseph’s brothers reveal several truths about family dysfunction and providence: 
  • Bitterness, hatred, betrayal, retaliation, vengeance, etc., though formed in the heart of man intent on evil, provide the tools that He uses to bring His people “out with great possessions”. He takes and uses the evil that men do to transform those whom He loves. 
  • God wastes nothing, including unfair treatment, abuse, etc. He doesn’t cause them, but He utilizes them for His own redemptive purposes. 
Joseph’s story gives an example of a life-time view of family dysfunction and providence, when the story continues with, “Meanwhile the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36). Meanwhile. What a hope-filled word! Something else is always going on that eye cannot see or mind understand, but that faith in God can grasp.
    The truth that, “God uses what He hates to perform what He loves.” should warm our hearts with possibility. How will God use this in my life?  

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    "Now his brothers had gone to graze their father's flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, "As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them. "Very well," he replied." (Genesis 37:12-14)

    Years before in Jacob's life one single act of obedience changes his life as he obeys his mother's instructions to go to Haran to Rebekah's family. What he thought would be for a short while (27:43-45) actually turns into twenty-plus years. Years filled with family additions, increase of wealth, and a lot of conflict. That single act of obedience changed the course of his life. Who knew?

    Many years later David's father, Jesse, sends David to check on his brothers who are engaged in warfare with the Philistines. That day changes the course of his life as he encounters and deals a death blow to Goliath. Though he spends the next thirteen years fleeing from King Saul he eventually becomes Israel's beloved second king. One simple act of obedience places him on the trajectory toward coronation.

    Back to Joseph as he is sent by his father to check on the welfare of his brothers. One act of obedience separates father and son for more than twenty years. Joseph spends those years experiencing more betrayal, false imprisonment, the presence of God, and finally, elevation to the position of prime minister. All because of one act of obedience.

    Who knows how one act of obedience will define or redefine you? Only God knows.

    Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading: Genesis 37:1-39:23 
    • How does Jacob's partiality toward Joseph affect Joseph's relationship with his brothers? (You'd think Jacob would have learned his lesson about favoritism!)
    • How do Joseph's dreams change his life?
    • Which brother came up with the idea to sell Joseph?
    • What do the brothers think their selling Joseph to Midianite merchants do to Joseph's dreams?
    • How do the brothers deceive their father?
    • What does Judah's marrying a Canaanite woman and his following actions tell you about his relationship with God?
    • What character trait keeps Joseph from tampering with his bosses' wife?
    • List the events that occur following Joseph's dreams which seem to contradict the dreams given to him by God.
    • What does this tell you about God and His ways?
    Turning truth into prayer
    Ask the Lord to help you see the seriousness of every act of obedience and disobedience.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2016

    Forgiveness and Reconciliation

    Both the passage of time (twenty years) and unforgiveness separate two brothers. Jacob hurt Esau when he deceived their father and stole Esau’s blessing. 

    Esau could easily justify his anger and murderous thoughts against Jacob who had stolen from him. 
    Jacob could, just as easily, justify the deception of his brother because of Esau’s marriages to pagan women. 
    Forgiveness is one-sided. Forgiveness occurs when one party moves toward the other. Reconciliation, however, is two-sided. Reconciliation occurs when both parties abandon their self-justification, release the other’s debt, and move toward the other. 
    Esau, though a pagan man, never looked more like God than when he not only forgave Jacob, but warmly embraced him in reconciliation. That’s why Jacob says, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God.” (Genesis 33:10) Grace, administered through a pagan brother, broke through the cloud of guilt and shame that hovered over Jacob’s life for the past twenty years. Pardon is given and the relationship is restored. That’s so like God! 
    This scene of reconciliation between the brothers offers several truths about forgiveness and reconciliation:
    • A person is never more like God than when they forgive another.
    • Harboring unforgiveness toward another, therefore, is ungodly. No matter who you are. 
    • Reconciliation occurs when two forgivers move toward the other. 
    Reconciliation in relationships expresses the heart of God. God could easily justify His anger toward ruined and rebellious sinners, but at the cross God forgives by allowing His spotless substitute to take the wrath that man deserves (at great cost to Himself) and offers man total reconciliation. Like Jacob, man must humble himself and receive this gracious gift. Fully forgiven. Fully restored.

    Intermarriage and the people of God
    • Seth’s descendants began to intermarry with Cain’s descendants and the whole world becomes corrupt save one man, Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives (Genesis 6:1-8) 
    • Abraham forbade Isaac’s taking a wife from among the Canaanites and sent his servant to the home place of his relatives to procure a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:3-4). 
    • Esau’s marriages to Canaanite women grieved the hearts of Isaac and Rebekah and they sent Jacob to obtain a wife from among her people. After 20 years of living among Laban’s family Jacob returns to the land of promise. 
    Intermarriage among the Canaanites again becomes an issue when Jacob returns to the land of his fathers. First on the agenda is revenge for the rape of Dinah by a Shechemite prince. The Shechemites use this incident to tempt Jacob and his sons to become one with their people. Jabob’s sons pretend to comply, demand the circumcision of the Shechemites, and kill them while they are vulnerable. 
    Perhaps, had Jacob returned to Bethel where he had met God before and where God had promised to meet with him again this entire incident would have been avoided (Genesis 28:13-22; 3113). Nevertheless, this occurrence demonstrates once again God’s displeasure with pagan intermarriage. The Shechemites summarized the consequences of intermarriage, “Won’t their livestock, their property and all their animals become ours?” (Genesis 34:23). With intermarriage comes a loss of identity and possessions. 
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    "Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob's sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor." (Genesis 34:13)

    God meets Jacob as he flees from Esau and gives Jacob a promise that he and his descendants would return to and inherit Canaan (Genesis 28:13-15). Twenty years later Jacob now faces a choice--would he rely upon God to fulfill His promise or would he inherit Canann by allowing his daughter to marry Shechem who promised him "you can settle among us; the land is open to you." Unfortunately we will never know the answer to that question because his sons take the matter into their own hands. They trick the Hivites into being circumcised and then kill them all on the third day while they are laid up in pain. 

    Jacob has taught his sons to scheme by his own example. Jacob reaps in his sons the fruit of a lifestyle of scheming although he himself had now renounced that lifestyle. (He was a recovering schemer!) The seeds he sowed in the lives of his children (especially Simeon and Levi) are now bearing the bitter fruit of disobedience, deception, and destruction. Jacob was not pleased by their taking the lives of those who had shamed their sister. Later, on his deathbed, Jacob cursed Simeon and Levi's willfulness and anger (Genesis 49:5-7).

    Scheming may seem like an easy and viable way to solve your problems now but the ultimate price later may be far greater than any you want to pay. Children of schemers often become masters of scheming.

    Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
    Genesis 33:1-35:29
    • Why were the Shechem's people so anxious to intermarry into Jacob's family?
    • What do the Hivite's offer that might induce Jacob to consider allowing this marriage to take place?
    • What had God promised Jacob regarding the land of Canaan?
    • What has Jacob learned about God over the course of his life regarding the promises of God?
    • What plan do the brothers concoct to avenge their sister's honor?
    • What does Jacob command of his sons as they prepare to return to Bethel to worship?
    • What is so significant about Bethel?
    • What happens after Jacob's encounter with God in Bethel?
    • What does this tell you about spending time with the Lord?
    Turning truth into prayer
    Ask the Lord to give you the wisdom needed to teach your children not to scheme.

    Monday, January 25, 2016

    Hidden Idols of the Heart

    Idolatry plays a role in the seminal days of the nation of Israel. Abraham’s father, Terah, worshiped idols (Joshua 24:2); it skips over Abraham and Isaacs’ generation, but rears its ugly head again in Jacob’s generation. 

    Rachel takes the household gods of her father and hides them when Jacob gathers his family to flee from Laban.  
    What was true of Rachel is true of many believers throughout history. She possessed an image of a god with which she was familiar and comfortable. A god she could carry around with her. A god who was smaller than she. A god hidden away among her possessions. A god who isn’t God at all. She also experienced the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who opened her womb, who instructed Jacob to return the land promised to Abraham. Hers was a syncretistic religion—a blending of Laban’s god with Jacob’s God—therefore, she operated out of a corrupt view of God. 
    Westerners may not have carved images in their houses, but they’ve images of God they’ve created in their hearts. Images of God with a mouth that cannot speak. Images of God with ears that cannot hear. Images with hands that cannot help. Distant. Aloof. Unseeing. Images of God that do not interfere, confront, correct, lead or punish—one that is tolerant, passive, and Santa Claus-like. Imbalanced. Un-biblical. 
    The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob speaks, sees, hears, and acts. He is loving, patient, intimately involved, redemptive, firm, powerful, confrontational, wise, merciful, gracious, and jealous. 
    A saint from the past diagnosed the problem of idolatry in the heart, “There is a god we want and a God who is; the turning point comes when we relinquish the god we want Him to be and embrace the God who is.”
    The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob doesn’t resemble the god of Laban and Rachel in any way. May God search our hearts and reveal the images we’ve entertained of Him that are corrupt and ignoble. May we replace these images with the view of Him revealed in the Scriptures—incorruptible, unchanging, and everlasting.

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    Wrestling With God

    "So Jacob was alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak" (Genesis 32:24).

    The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines wrestling as "a sport or contest in which two unarmed individuals struggle hand-to-hand with each attempting to subdue or unbalance the other."

    Jacob wrestles with God. An unequal match to be certain. God has no weakness to be exploited, but Jacob does.

    Jacob's battle was never really with Esau or Laban (See Ephesians 6:12; 2 Cor. 10:3); it was spiritual in nature and it was between him and his God. God wrestles with Jacob to bring him to the end of himself. This "wrestler with God" has spent his entire life exploiting others instead of relying upon God to fulfill His promises for his life. This final wrestling with God has brought him to the end of himself where he can't go back and he can't go forward without God's intervention and protection. He truly is between a rock and a hard place. What a great place to be--where God shows up!

    How do we "wrestle" with God today?
    • When we scheme to make things happen
    • When we make promises to God based upon our own ability rather than surrendering to God
    • When we take advantage of others
    • When we run away from our problems instead of taking our problems to God
    We all have our Peniel's-places where we finally surrender our abilities and embrace God's promises and power.

    Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
    Genesis 31:1-32:32
    • What are the two indicators that it is time for Jacob to return to Canaan?
    • What does God promise Jacob?
    • How does God come to Jacob's aid as he flees Leban?
    • What does this tell you about God?
    • Describe Jacob's emotional state as he prepares to face his brother?
    • Genesis 32:9 records the first time that Jacob actually seeks God. What is the basis of his prayer?
    • In spite of God's promises to Jacob what does he continue to do as he prepares to meet Esau?
    • What does Jacob learn about himself, about scheming, and about God at Peniel?
    Turning truth into prayer
    Is there something you are wrestling with God over? The sooner you surrender the less painful it will be. Offer a prayer of surrender to the Lord Jesus.

    Sunday, January 24, 2016

    ADD: Affection Deficit Disorder

    A deep sadness envelops Leah and overshadows all that she does. She is unloved by Jacob and everyone knows it. Similarly, a deep sadness occurs, month in and month out, as barrenness hovers over Rachel’s life like a dark cloud. Everyone is aware of her deficiency. Both women live with a deficit: Leah lacks love and Rachel lacks babies. Ripe conditions for competition. 
    Women compete with one another for value, accolades, prominence, love, and affection. With every baby Leah hopes to experience Jacob’s love. She wants what Rachel has. The arrival of each of Leah’s babies reminds the Rachel of the one thing she lacks: a fertile womb. She wants what Leah has. 
    Each woman suffers with a competitive spirit and ADD, Affection Deficit Disorder. 
    • Jacob’s affection isn’t quite enough while Rachel’s womb remains empty. Leah has what Rachel wants, the affection of sons.
    • A packed nursery doesn’t replace the empty heart of Jacob’s dutiful nightly visits into Leah’s tent. Rachel possesses what Leah wants. Leah craves the affection given by loving husbands to loved wives. 
    Both women live with continual disappointment as they focus on what the other has. A completive spirit is born on the wings of insecurity. Women compensate for the thing they lack (insecurity) by focusing on the one thing in which they excel (Leah’s womb and Rachel’s beauty). 
    It takes Jacob, the man on the run from God, even longer to come to the end of himself. A beautiful wife, the clamor of other women for his attention, increasing family and wealth are poor substitutes for what is missing from his life. He too, has Affection Deficit Disorder
    A number of truths emerge from this story:
    • The dull ache of living outside of the garden of Eden affects the hearts of both men and women. Competition with other women is a symptom of a spiritual problem. An obsession to gain wealth is a symptom of a spiritual problem. 
    • The awareness of deficiencies reminds both men and women that no human relationship or work can fill the void inherited in the hearts of all when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. 
    • Outward beauty cannot erase sin in the heart; full nurseries cannot empty the heart of sin; and, hard work and the accumulation of possessions cannot expunge sin from the heart. 
    • Everyone is born with Affection Deficit Disorder. Some feel it more acutely than others. Women substitute personal beauty, the love and affection of husbands and children for the affection of Christ. Men substitute beautiful women and personal kingdom-building for a relationship with Christ. 
    Paul emphasizes the beauty and reality of Christ’s affection, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy. . .” (Philippians 2:1). The Spirit fills the craving hearts of those belonging to Christ with the affection of Christ. He is what the soul longs for.

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    Building Blocks of a Nation 
    "Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob and Jacob lay with her" (Genesis 29:16,22-23).

    God elevates Leah, the "un-pretty one" with her crossed eyes, insecurity, and scheming ways, by making her the matriarch of the kingly tribe of Judah and the priestly tribe of Levi. She, of course, never realizes her contribution to the covenant people of God and nation during her lifetime. And Jacob? He would have made a great 21st century politician with his lying and scheming. 

    God chooses unlikely people as building blocks of the people and nation promised to Abraham. The scheming and sibling rivalry behavior of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah demonstrate the truth found in Paul's letter to the pagan-background Corinthian believers:
    "For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen to shame the things which are might; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

    One of the great mysteries of the Bible is how God takes and uses flawed people. Yes, they live with the negative consequences of their actions, but somehow in the wisdom of God their behavior doesn't prevent God from accomplishing His redemptive process. God is SO big that He is able to discipline us with the consequences of our mistakes while accomplishing His will, in spite of serious errors/sins on our part. Obviously, that doesn't excuse the attitude that Paul had to address with those abusing grace: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Romans 6:1).

    The Genesis stories, especially, encourage flawed people as they identify with the imperfect people found in the drama of these foundational stories of the Bible. When we understand that God doesn't call the perfect, but rather He perfects the flawed, then we are able to receive His grace and extend His grace to others.  

    The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller challenges the reader to evaluate whether he/she really understands and walks in grace. Read it and be blessed.

    Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
    Genesis 28:10-30:43 
    • Describe Jacob's physical and spiritual state when God speaks to him in a dream. 
    • What does God's promise do for Jacob and how does he respond to God's promise? 
    • What does Leah think having children will do for her and her relationship with Jacob? 
    • How do women use their children today to meet their unmet emotional and relationship needs? Why is this unhealthy? 
    • Describe God's relationship with Leah. What does this tell you about God? 
    • Describe God's relationship with Rachel. What does this teach you about God?
    Turning truth into prayer
    Ask the Lord to use your past failures to help you understand grace and extend grace to others. 

    Saturday, January 23, 2016

    Overcoming Reservations

    Isaac assumes he is about to die (although he lives for many more years) and promptly decides to bless his son Esau before his death. Rebekah overhears Isaac and Esau’s conversation and quickly concocts a plan to secure Esau’s blessing for Jacob. 

    Jacob ignores the only reservation that he has after his mother suggests their deception of Isaac, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I’m a man with smooth skin. What if my father touches me?” (Genesis 27:11-12) His mother gave him the answer he really wanted. He wanted to deceive his father; he just didn’t want to get caught. Jacob’s reservation was not one of virtue, but of method.  
    Isaac ignores five different reservations:
    Hearing - “Who is it?” Jacob doesn’t sound like his son Esau. It doesn’t sound right but Jacob proceeds anyway.
    Reasoning - “How did you find it so quickly?” Hunting wild game takes time and Rebekah cooks goat in record time. It doesn’t ring true, but expediency rules the day. He must bless Esau. Now.
    Touching - “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” Esau is hairy and Jacob is smooth-skinned. It felt right, therefore, it must be right. 
    Tasting - “Jacob brought it to him and he ate.” The food resolves an immediate need of hunger. The wisdom writer addresses the deception of appetite, “A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hunger soul every bitter thing is sweet” (Proverbs 27:7). 
    Smelling - “So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him.” It must be true because Isaac wanted so badly for it to be true.
    Isaac’s reservations were God’s way of getting Isaac’s attention. His favoritism blinded him to the impact Esau’s marriage to pagan women would have on his descendants. Isaac, determined to bless Esau, violates the prompting of his senses. And, not once does he consult the Lord.
    Rebekah is the only person in this story who does not question the situation. Esau’s marriage to pagan women grieved Rebekah and she takes matters in her own hands. Prayerlessness characterizes the entire family. 
    Several truths emerge from this story:
    • A lie, like Jacob's maneuverings, may sound right, feel right and be totally a lie. 
    • Prayerlessness sets people up for deception. 
    • People are deceived when they ignore the “red flags” of their intuition, senses, reasoning and proceed with their plan. 
    Things are never as they appear. Prayerfulness characterizes the lives of men and women who recognize this truth. God uses the "red flags" of the senses to warn man to stop and pray.  

    Older Post
    Scheming Women
    "Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau . . . Rebekah said to her son Jacob, "Look I overheard your father say to your brother Esau . . . Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you" (Genesis 27:5-6,8).

    Your view of God determines what you do with His promises. Scheming reveals a low view of God, therefore Rebekah's faith in God must have reached an all time low. The passage of time wears faith down; that's why the Psalmist constantly says to himself throughout the Psalms: "Wait on the Lord". Those words need to settle into the backs of our mind and hearts so that they can guide us to put the brakes on our inclination to scheme and to wait on the Lord.

    Scheming preempts God. And scheming ruins relationships or maybe, scheming reveals serious cracks in relationships (Isaac and Rebekah's relationship, each with favorite sons, could not have been healthy). Scheming and deceiving are symptoms of a deeper problem--the lack of trust and utter selfishness.

    I wonder how God would have fulfilled His promise had Rebekah not interfered. I also can't help but wonder when Rebekah began to despise her husband. Did he have a history of rash behavior? Was this particular day like that of many others accented with hasty decisions? He woke up that particular morning "feeling his age" and decided to pass on the blessing to Esau. Yet, Isaac lived another 43 years. Due to Rebekah's scheming activity we'll never know what God would have done to prohibit Isaac's seemingly impulsive decision and to fulfill His promise.

    This story teaches us that no amount of human scheming can prohibit God from accomplishing His ultimate purposes. God is SO big that He uses even the scheming that men do to accomplish His purposes. Real faith doesn't scheme. Real faith trusts in:

    • God's wisdom (He will do the right thing)
    • God's timing (He will do the right thing at the right time)
    • God's power (He is able to do the right thing at the right time)
    Warren Weirsbe says that faith is living without scheming. So, when you find yourself scheming and manipulating others in conversation or activity you can know that you are walking in unbelief.

    Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
    Genesis 27:1-28:9; Genesis 36; 1 Chron. 1:35-54
    • Describe Isaac and Rebekah's marriage.
    • How has "having favorites" affected their marriage?
    • Describe the boy's relationship with one another.
    • What was Jacob and Esau's view of God?
    • How many reservations does Isaac have (that something wasn't quite right) during his interaction with Jacob?
    • How does Esau respond to his mother and brother's deception?
    • What does this tell about holding grudges?
    • List a couple of areas where people today resort to scheming. What does scheming reveal about a person's faith in God?
    Turning truth into prayer
    Ask the Lord to make you sensitive to when you scheme in words and in actions. Ask Him to enlarge your view of Him and His ability.