Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How can we clear our guilt?

Read Genesis 44.

Like a surgeon's scalpel, the test cut deeper, down to the root of the problem area.  The brothers had jealously rejected Joseph as Jacob's favorite son.  Now, that Jacob openly loved Benjamin, what were their true feelings toward him?  Was he also dispensable to them or had the brothers changed?

When the silver cup was found in Benjamin's sack, "they tore their clothes" in horror.  This proved their protection of him and their concern for their father's feelings.  This was different.  They had displayed a total lack of those two things in Joseph's case.

There was no divination.  The brothers would have expected such a pagan practice from an Egyptian leader, but Joseph worshiped God instead.  There was no crime committed.  Joseph set up this entire scene.  But the brothers did not know any of this.

Judah stepped forward as the spokesperson and recounted what happened and why.  In Chapter 37, it was Judah who suggested they sell Joseph as a slave.  Now, he pleaded for mercy on behalf of Benjamin and his father.  One can only imagine what Joseph was thinking as he listened to Judah's speech.  Was the LORD God at work in their lives?  Were the brothers truly sorry for their sin against him?  Was Joseph ready to forgive them?  Was this the right time for a full reconciliation?

Judah's question in verse 16 is the same one every human heart asks when they realize they have done wrong.  "How can we clear ourselves?"  Sin separates us from God and others.  The question was really prompted by his statement of guilt that followed.  Guilt is a good thing from God, meant to drive us to repentance.  A salient ministry of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin.

Sin cannot be rationalized and it will not go away by itself.  Jesus substitutionary sacrifice on the cross is the one and only payment for our sin.  The Apostle John wrote: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Clues to our confusing Circumstances

Read Genesis 43.

The plot continues to unfold, piece by piece.  In each meeting, Joseph interjected more clues for his brothers.  In Chapter 42, there are five of them.
-He asked about their father.
-He subtly inquired about Benjamin.
-He stated that he feared God.
-He forced their return by holding Simeon.
-He secretly returned their money.

Here in Chapter 43, Jacob was torn between the fear of losing another son and the reality of the famine.  His family was in jeopardy either way.  He reluctantly did what he had to do with hope in the mercy of God Almighty (v.14).  It is interesting that in his depression, Jacob does not mention the unconditional covenant God made to Abraham, Isaac and to him.  The promises of God included innumerable descendants, the land, and that his family would be a blessing to all nations.  Nothing can pull us out of an emotional pit like reviewing the word of God and trusting God's faithfulness.

The brothers went to Egypt in fear.  But five more clues emerged that only added to their confusion.
-The servant revealed that he knew the money had been returned to them and gave God the credit.
-Joseph again asked about their father.
-Joseph asked about their youngest brother.
-Without asking, the men were seated according to their age.
-Benjamin's food portion was five times that of his brothers.

Is Joseph playing a cruel game with his family?  Is this his way of seeking revenge?  Is he being nice to them only to set them up for disaster?  The answer to all those questions is no.  Joseph is in a unique position to test their sincerity.  He already knows they feel guilty (42:21-23), but are they repentant of their sin?

Quite often God uses our circumstantial confusion to help us deal with unconfessed sin and seek to resolve fellowship with Him and our relationship with others.  It is not a cruel game but the deliberate work of a loving heavenly Father.  In hindsight, we can see the clues and thank Him for pursuing us.

Monday, April 24, 2017

What happens to unresolved Sin?

Read Genesis 42.

What Joseph put behind him in chapter 41 had now resurfaced.  He was confronted with reconciling the past.  His own pain was relived because it was unresolved.  Do not miss verse 9: "And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them."  God did not change His mind about Joseph, nor His plans for Joseph's life.  He changed Joseph in order to use him.

As the one in authority, Joseph led his brothers through a process.  Though they thought him to be an Egyptian, he provided the first clue to his real identity when he told them he feared God (v.18).

After all these years the brothers were confronted with their sin and guilt against Joseph.  They felt the reality that God was holding them accountable.  "We are guilty" (v.21) and "What is this that God has done to us?" (v.28)

At the same time, God was also confronting Jacob's character.  He thought he had lost two of his sons and stood to lose a third one.  Benjamin was the other son of his beloved Rachel.  His favoritism of Joseph that he openly displayed had shifted to Benjamin.  Though Jacob had twelve sons, he said concerning Benjamin, "...he is the only one left." (v.38). This must have caused the other brothers to feel of even less value to their father.  As a result, Jacob dropped into a deep depression.  "All this has come against me." (v.36)  He could not see beyond his own loss.  He could not see God's Hand at work.  He did not want to move or make long term decisions.  Truly, at the root of depression is self-pity.  

As a leader, Joseph could have reached out to his family but he did not.
The brothers could have confessed their sin and resolved their guilt but they did not.
Jacob could have embraced all of his sons equally and cared for his family more than himself but he did not.

Spiritual and relational problems will not go away by themselves.  Someone must take the initiative to confess the sin, offer forgiveness, and bring healing.  In time the food ran out and Jacob could no longer feed the family.  So, the plot thickens and sets up the next chapter.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why is God taking so Long?

Read Genesis 41.

Joseph became a forgotten man in prison.  Two more years went by.  At that time, God gave Pharaoh a troublesome dream and no one could help him.  Verse 9:  "Then", suddenly, the cupbearer remembered Joseph and his God-given gift of interpreting dreams.

After 13 years of various sufferings, Joseph was ready to leave his slavery and his imprisonment to become the second most powerful man on earth and lead Egypt to become the world's greatest food supplier of the time.  He was 30 years old.  His words to Pharaoh demonstrate a very different man than the arrogant, tattle-tailing teenager his own family despised.  Instead of the proud spirit of his youth, Joseph's first recorded words out of prison are, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer."

Next, Pharaoh knew he needed a top administrator to handle the coming years of abundance and famine.  His questioned, "Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?"  Then, he answered his own question: "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are" (vv.38-39).  What a change in how Joseph is characterized!  God did not change His plans for Joseph; He changed Joseph through the things that he suffered.

Over the next 7 years, Joseph married and had two sons.  To know what he was thinking about his life one need only to look at how he named his children: Forgetful and Fruitful.  "God has made me forget..." the past.  "God has made me fruitful..." at last.  Those are powerful life messages.

God is always on time.  He is never late.  Two quotes from Dr. Ike Reighard: "While we are waiting, God is always working."  "If it does not appear that God is working around us then He is probably working in us."  

Friday, April 21, 2017

When you think things cannot get any Worse

Read Genesis 40.

Twice the term "some time" is used in this chapter.  The point is that Joseph was being held for an indefinite term with no one to intervene on his behalf.

Two notable men joined Joseph in prison.  These were not ordinary criminals.  They were servants of Pharaoh, VIPs, and used to royal treatment.  So, the best trustee was assigned to attend to their needs.  This is a Divine appointment.  An interesting side note is that Joseph was under the authority of "the captain of the guard".  It was the captain of the guard who purchased Joseph as a slave (39:1) and it was this man's wife whose false accusation against Joseph put him in prison. 

Both of the new men had dreams and needed help understanding their meanings.

Previously, Joseph alienated his family because of the way he shared with them the dreams that God had given him.  His pride and ego caused him to misuse a good thing.  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).  Do not miss in verse 8 the different spirit in Joseph.  He humbly gave God credit in advance.  At the same time, he was aware that God had given him a gift.  This was a new opportunity to use that gift.

His singular request in helping the chief cupbearer was "only remember me" (v.14).  The dreams became true exactly as Joseph had interpreted them.  But the last phrase in the chapter is devastating.  The chief cupbearer "forgot him."   

Just when you think things cannot get any worse, they often do.  It is obvious that Joseph had made great progress in his character development and maturity.  It is equally obvious that God could use Joseph to make a difference in the lives of others.  Though Joseph could not possibly see what God was up to, He was honing Joseph for the exact time and the exact job to change world history. 

Waiting is no one's favorite activity.  Waiting indefinitely, not knowing what will happen, cause many to give up all hope.  In the old film development process, the paper containing an unseen picture would be dipped in chemicals.  The paper appeared to be blank.  But slowly a faint image emerged and in time the picture became clear.  Life is a developing picture.

God was not through with Joseph.  As long as we are alive, God is not through with us either.  The picture is still developing.  Where there is life there is hope.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

3 Biblical measures of Success

Read Genesis 39.

Joseph had been sold as a slave by his own brothers in chapter 37.  The slave traders took him to Egypt where he was bought by Pharaoh's captain of the guard.  Joseph was a slave, a household servant, a forgotten prisoner, and successful everywhere he worked!  At first glance, this makes no sense.  Human evaluations of success typically include climbing a positional ladder and acquiring more wealth.

Joseph's outward circumstances changed several times.  Each time the change was always worse.  Yet, he showed himself faithful and diligent in his work.  He was completely trusted by those over him.  In resisting Potiphar's wife, Joseph took the right action and suffered for it.  Being falsely accused, he then was thrown in prison and forgotten.  But even in prison, he was trusted and successful.

The story drips with consistent displays of Joseph's personal character.  It did not matter where he was, what he was doing, or what others did.  Character coupled with a personal relationship with the Living God is an unbeatable combination.  When he was rejected and all alone, it was the LORD's presence that stood with him in his loneliness.  When others were unkind and cruel, it was the LORD's kindness that got him through it and opened new doors of opportunity for him.  When his good work was not rewarded, the LORD blessed him.

At this point in his life, no one would have used Joseph as an example of success.  God did.  This immediately challenges our common definitions of success and what a successful person looks like.  For help, focus some attention on these three key verses:
v.2 "The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man."
v.21 "But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison."
v.23 "...because the LORD was with him.  And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed."

By these verses, one would conclude that a person is successful if "the LORD is with" them and giving them "favor" in the sight of those around them as they are faithful in fulfilling their responsibilities.    There are three parts to that statement:
1. There is a personal relationship with the LORD.
2. The LORD is showing kindness to them by opening doors of opportunity and blessing the work.
3. The person is diligent and faithful in what God has given them do.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

There is hope in a horrible Story

Read Genesis 38.

What a horrible story!  There is almost more deliberate sin in this chapter than one can count.  It was a mix of a culture, a cult, and immorality.  Yet, God always has a plan for each life and will act to bring glory to Himself.

Follow the actions of those involved.
1. Judah
     a. His first mistake was to marry a Canaanite woman.  He failed to maintain spiritual purity in his life and home.  Once that is gone everything else becomes vulnerable and can fall like dominoes.  His first two sons were so wicked God killed them. 
     b. His second mistake was to make a promise to a widow and not keep it.  God has always had a special protection and a commanded care for widows.  In this culture, the promise he made was to be expected and fulfilled.  He deliberately ignored this commitment (v.26).
     c. His third mistake came on a business trip out of town.  It seems that the first thing Judah did when he arrived at his destination was to turn to what he thought was a cult prostitute.  These were prostitutes who not only sold themselves for sex but did so in worship of their false god.  Apparently, this immoral behavior meant nothing to him.
     d. His fourth mistake is seen in how he responded after he was told of Tamar's pregnancy.  There was no outrage at his own sin, but he displayed a violent reaction to hers.  The duplicity is unbelievable.  He knew better.  

2. Tamar.  
She buried two husbands and still she had no children.  This was a huge stigma in that culture.  As a widow, she had the right to expect the extended family to provide for her, including a husband.   But she was also guilty of sin upon sin.  She lied.  She posed as a cult prostitute.  She had sex with her father-in-law in a calculated trick in order to become pregnant.

3. God.  He was personally involved and took action at key junctures.
     a. He acted in the death of Judah's sons when they proved to be wicked and selfish.
     b. He acted in the timing of Tamar's pregnancy.  She had been married twice with no children, but in one tryst with Judah she became pregnant.  Psalm 139 makes it clear that children are not biological accidents.
     c. He acted in the birth of the twins, causing Perez to be the firstborn.
     d. He demonstrated the power of His Sovereignty and His grace.  The first chapter of Matthew lists the lineage of Jesus, as the promised Messiah.  Matthew 1:3: "And Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar...."  Though they had sinned, the LORD included them in the family of the Messiah.

God is able to take our mistakes, our sin, and even our horrible life stories and weave them into a beautiful, powerful outcome.  Forgiveness, cleansing, and guiding our futures are all acts of His wonderful grace toward us.  Today, He is at work in weaving our story for His glory.