Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How's Your Heart?

Read Exodus 8-10.

The plagues came one by one, mocking and demonstrating the powerlessness of the religious belief system of the Egyptians.  Beside the false god of the Nile, they had an intricate multitude of gods.

Frogs: They worshipped two frog goddesses Hapi and Heqt.

Dust and Gnats: This was directed against the false worship of Seb, the so-called earth god.

Flies: Uatchit, the fly god.

Death of domestic animals: Ptah, Hathor, Mnevis, Amon were gods associated with bulls and cows.

Boils: The Egyptians considered Sekhmet to be a goddess of epidemics.  Serapis and Imhotep were the so-called gods of healing.

Hail and Fire: Nut was a sky goddess; Seth and Isis agricultural deities; Shu, the god of the atmosphere.

Locusts: The Egyptians even had a god to protect them from the swarms of locusts called Serapia.

Darkness: Amon-Re, Aten, Atum, Horus, Harakhte were worshipped as sun gods; Thoth, the moon god.
(source: Walk Thru the Bible)

The LORD's intent was to answer Pharaoh's question, "Who is the LORD that I should obey Him?"  and to prove to the Egyptians "there is no one like the LORD our God" (8:10).

The Magicians, who at first Satanically copied the plague of blood, came to realize "this is the finger of God" (8:19).  But even after all of these displays of God's power and humiliation, Pharaoh hardened his heart against the LORD.  John Calvin labeled this "outrageous obstinacy".  God will get glory from Pharaoh either way (9:16).

Don't miss the LORD's loving care of His own people in 8:23: "I will put a division between my people and your people."  While the Egyptians suffered, the people of Israel did not.  The classic example is during the plague of darkness.  "They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived." (10:23)

God certainly can and does discipline His children, but His wrath is reserved for those who reject Him. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Understanding the Spiritual War

Read Exodus 7.

God's plan was not only to deliver the people of Israel from slavery but that "The Egyptians shall know the I am the LORD..." (v.5).  The ten plagues against Egypt took place to demonstrate just how powerful and worthy He is of their worship.  Each of the plagues were directed specifically against the system of false worship the Egyptians had made up.  Later in 12:12 God said, "...on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD." 

The Nile River provided water to the nation for crops and the resulting agricultural prosperity.  Instead of thanking the LORD of heaven for such grace, they invented a god Osiris and envisioned the river as being his bloodstream.  So, the LORD demonstrated their foolishness to them.  It is as if God responded with "You think this is a bloodstream?  Let me show what that would really be like."  The disaster lasted seven days.

The magicians of Egypt were able to duplicate the change of water into blood.  When Pharaoh saw that he discounted the power of God to some trick.  Instead of humbling himself before the LORD, he hardened his heart even more.  This is raw and open spiritual warfare. 

Satan is a counterfeiter.  Jesus called him the father of lies (John 8:44).  Satan endeavors to come up with cheap substitutes for the will and work of God to distract the hearts and minds of humans from the truth.  He is the source of all false religions in order to thwart people from knowing and living for Jesus.  He is the liar behind all temptation to do anything but what God wants a person to be doing.  He is the accuser against God behind the thoughts that question what is clearly stated in the Bible.  His singular goal is to keep as many humans as possible from giving themselves to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life.  Satan is a defeated foe, faces eternal damnation, and wants to take as many as possible with him.

A hard heart loses all sensitivity to the difference between good and evil.  The Holy Spirit of God helps us to spiritually appraise the people and happenings around us so we are not fooled by Satan's schemes.  (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).

Monday, February 27, 2012

This is a Test

Read Exodus 6.

"But the LORD..."  To God, it does not matter what the circumstances seem to be.  Life is all about fulfilling God's plan and purpose for our lives.  It is truly is all about Him.  Our trust is in the One who controls the circumstances.

"Now," He said.  This is God's timing.  It is His plan.  These are His people.  It is His name and authority that have been challenged by Pharaoh.  In the first eight verses notice how many personal references the LORD makes.  The word  "I" appears 18 times in the ESV.  This does not count any "my" and "myself" mentions.

Armed with this powerful news, Moses obeyed God and spoke to the people.  But the people did not listen.  They could not hear it, or process it in faith, due to "their broken spirit (internal pain) and harsh slavery (external pain)."

The test of their faith is great and in their discouragement they cannot see their prayers being answered.  Their circumstances are worse.  They are losing hope.  God has not changed.  His promises have not diminished.  His deliverance was at work.  Hope was right in front of them.

We must be on our guard not to interpret our circumstances by our feelings.  Our feelings are fickle.  When there is a delay in anwers to our prayers, we must recognize it as a test of our faith.  Will be stand on the word of God in difficult times, knowing He is in control?  Detemine in advance to make an A on God's tests.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The most dangerous words in the Bible

Read Exodus 5.

If Moses and the Israelites thought they were ready to leave, they were mistaken.  God had them in the right place, but more preparation was needed.  The increased labor and hardship made them stronger physically.  The events that were ahead would make them stronger spiritually as God systematically revealed the greatness of His power.  At the same time God is working in Pharaoh and the Egyptians to bring them a point of total humiliation.

Moses obeyed God and delivered the message to Pharaoh.  In my view, verse two contains the most dangerous words a human could utter.  "Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice...?  If there is a question God delights in answering, it is that one!  Then, he adds, "I will not..."  This is open rebellion and defiance against the Creator of the Universe.  Defiance goes beyond doubt or disbelief.  Imagine the audacity, the pride, the insane arrogance behind that question.  A mere human being became so satanically deceived as to actually believe he had a choice to rebel against the Living God and survive!  After all the Pharaohs were considered deity.  Everyone was to worship them, not the God of Israel.  Ah, but He is much more than the God of Israel, He is the King of Kings, LORD of Lords, and the only true God.  He is the Owner of life itself.  He is the giver of life and He can take it at His will.

The next several chapters is nothing more than an answer to Pharaoh's question.  The result will be the total destruction of this once mighty nation.

When a person is confronted with the LORD's claim on their lives and becomes defiant, thinking that God may be ignored, watch how God responds.  Sometimes, He allows them to go their own way and get their fill of the empty dreams they are chasing.  A Christ-less future of eternal punishment is all that awaits them.  Sometimes, He responds quickly to the rebellion and removes them from this life.  Either way, they made their decision not to respond to God's loving offer of forgiveness and eternal life.  But then, sometimes, after the harsh results of their bad decisions brings them to a point of humility, they become willing to listen to God's wooing and respond with "Yes, LORD" to His grace.

There is nothing in this life more joyous than to see a person come to a place of humble repentance toward God and faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.  The results are real life now and life everlasting.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Are you adequate for the task?

Read Exodus 4.

Moses moved from questioning what God commanded him to do to outright rejection of what God said!  All of his excuses centered on his feelings of inadequacy.  Meanwhile, God continued to demonstrate that the job depended upon His adequacy, not Moses.  The last verse tells the true result God was after. 
1. The people did believe the message. 
2. The people realized that God had heard and was answering their prayers. 
3. They people worship the LORD.

God wanted to use Moses to help millions of enslaved people.  Priceless!  But Moses wanted to give it away.  God wanted to give Moses national and international influence as a leader.  But Moses wanted to protect himself and stay where he was.  God wanted to demonstrate His omnipotence.  Moses only focused on his own limitations.

It is a good thing that God is patient with all of us as we daily learn that He is trustworthy.

The LORD delights in using people who know that the adequacy for the assignment in not within them.  The Apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:7-"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."  Humble service for God allows all the glory to go to Him alone.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Is there a willingness to listen to God?

Read Exodus 3.

Another 40 years went by.  Moses was now 80.  In humility, he spent the middle part of his life tending the sheep of his father-in-law.  God used this time to change Moses' character and to teach him how to lead a flock in the desert.

God revealed Himself in a creative way, using a curiosity approach to get Moses' attention.  It was not until Moses "turned aside to see" that God spoke to him.  Hearing what God has to say begins with a willingness to turn to Him.  Once a person becomes willing then God can get His message through to them.

Now, that God has Moses' attention and willingness, He unfolds the deliverance plan for the people of Israel.  When God wants something done, He will give the vision for the task to a leader of His choosing.  Moses was to be that leader.

Notice that Moses had lost his swagger and confidence.  Then, he began questioning and pushing back on God's call for his life.  When a person has been hurt, rejected and disillusioned, their focus is on self and self-protection.  Each time God gave him all that would be needed for success.

Moses: "Who am I?"
God: "I will be with you" and then God added a specific promise of deliverance.
The issue was no longer the call, but Moses' faith in the living God.

Moses: "What is his name?" 
God: "I AM who I AM."
Moses envisioned that he would be rejected by the people as having no authority to deliver God's message to them and lead.  Again, his focus is on self, rather than the person and power of God.  The "I AM" refers to God's eternal nature.  He is always in the present tense as the self-existent One.  Compare the I AM statements of Jesus in the Gospels.  The indication is that God would prepare the people to recognize that name as authoritative and follow Moses.  And, again, God added the promise of deliverance.

One by one, the LORD supplied a solid answer to each of Moses' questions.  It is more than okay, it is good for humans to ask questions concerning their faith and God's Word.  But after one knows what God has said, then it falls on human responsibility to obey immediately. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

4 Words that Define Answered Prayer

Read Exodus 2.

If one wonders if the God of heaven is truly interested in the details of our lives, has a plan for individual lives, and intervenes to fulfill that plan, one only need to read this chapter.  Ennumerating the signs of God's Hand is a rewarding exercise.  Notice that the environment in which we live, the courageous convictions of those around us, the people that we just happen to meet, and how God meets our needs are all on display.

When Moses grew up, it seems as though he knew God had put him in such a powerful position to help his people.  But the abuse of power and privilege is never the will of God.  Like Joseph, God did not change His mind, nor His plans, concerning Moses' future.  But He was going to change Moses' character.

Now, forty years old, a murderer, rejected by the people he wanted to lead, and hunted by those who adopted and raised him in luxury, he sat alone in the desert by a well.  He must have thought that life as he knew it, perhaps life itself, was over.  His impetuous, pride-filled decision cost him everything.  The suffering was self-inflicted.  But God....

God sent Jethro's daughter to begin the unfolding of the next phase of his life.

As God prepared Moses in the desert, He has not forgotten about the needs of those enslaved in Egypt.  The people cried out to God for help.  Verse 24 provides a four-part reassurance of God's personal attention and involvement in human lives:
1. God heard-God wants to hear from us.  Jeremiah 33:3 "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known."

2. God remembered-God did not forget, but the basis for His answer to their prayer is the recalled promise that God made.  The Word of God is the basis of answered prayer.  Jesus stated in John 15:7 "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." 

3. God saw.  God is looking for righteous people to help.  2 Chronicles 16:9 "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him."

4. God knew.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-32 "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat? ' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you."  

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Bible's First Case of Civil Disobedience

Read Exodus 1.

At the end of Genesis, Jacob's total family numbered only 70.  They lived in luxury on the finest land in Egypt, overseeing of all the nation's livestock and food supplies.  At the opening of Exodus, several hundreds of years have gone by.  The family of Israel became a nation of several million non-Egyptian people living in this foreign country.  The new Pharaoh felt threatened by them, but he did not want to lose their manpower.  His solution was slavery.  The result was even more rapid growth of Israel's population.  Pharaoh's solution was to kill all newborn males.

The Hebrew midwives were charged with the murderous task of killing the newborns.  "But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live."  The Pharaoh's order was self-serving and evil.  This is the first case in the scripture of civil disobedience.

Bernard Ramm wrote that the midwives had to choose among their fears: a) to fear the invisible God, or b) to fear the visible king.  "Faith sees the real power; sight sees the immediate power."

Once a person no longer cares what God thinks, there will be no respect for His presence, no regard for His expectations, and no fear of His judgment.  Such a person's heart becomes wide-open to any, every and all sinful behavior.

These women did not protest or raise a ruckus.  They quietly and humbly did what was right.  When asked about it, they may not have been lying, but they just did not say more than they had to.  By faith, they trusted God.  God took care of the two women involved and, to this day, we even have their names: Shiphrah and Puah.
1. God protected them from punishment.
2. God blessed them, v. 20-"God dealt well with them".
3. God gave them their own families. v.21

A principle is seen throughout the Bible in such cases when authority conflicts with the known will of God.  It is this: God is able to take care of the consequences of our obedience.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Funeral with a Happy Ending

Read Genesis 50.

What a funeral procession that must have been!  Imagine the site of the high servants and leaders of Egypt, accompanying Jacob's family, traveling approximately 200 miles to the old family burial site.

Funerals are one of the occasions that should bring family and friends together.  People mourn differently.  Some immediately feel the impact of the loss and show great emotion.  Others take their time processing how they feel.  Many leaders in the family, who end up making all the arrangements, do not have time for a good cry until after everyone leaves.  Memories flood the minds of the laughter, fun and good experiences of the past.  But quite often there are divisions and regrets too.

Though forgiven and treated generously for years by Joseph, his brothers still carried the regret for what they did to him.  They feared that Joseph had only been good to them for their father's sake and now he would seek his revenge.  They did not just ask for forgiveness, they pleaded with Joseph.  His response is one of the most remarkable signs of spiritual maturity and understanding.

"Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today."  Then he comforted them.

Such a statement demonstrated:
1. He gave God the credit for all true forgiveness.  Colossians 1:14-"He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
2. He did not brush away the sin against him, but called it what is was, evil.
3. He understood how God used that evil to help him deal with his own sin and to mature in his trust of God.  Romans 8:28-And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
4. He realized that God had used and was using those very circumstances to now meet the desperate needs of others.
5. He was able to be kind and minister to others because he had experienced the freedom of forgiveness. 
2 Corinthians 1:3,4-"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

As we experience God's love, forgiveness and comfort, we must pass it on.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Prophecy of Messiah

Read Genesis 47-49.

Joseph walked into the presence of the most powerful man in the world and presented his family.  Pharaoh's appreciation and trust of Joseph is seen vividly when he extended to this entire family the best of the land.  It was the land of Goshen, or as it is called in 47:11, the land of Ramses.  Then, through Joseph's God-given wisdom and opportunity during the famine, Pharaoh ended up owning everything in Egypt.

Seventeen more years went by and Jacob, at 147 years of age, was dying.  On his deathbed Jacob gives a testimony of journey with God.  Key to his account is the covenant God made with Abraham and was passed on to Isaac and then to Jacob.  Finally, he began to bless his family, one by one, with some predictions of their futures.

Remember, that Messiah's lineage will come through Judah.  Humanly, he could not have known that at time, but now with the rest of scripture complete, his words to Judah are fascinating.
1. The family will praise him, even bow down before him. v.8a, 8c
2. He will be victorious over his enemies. v.8b
3. He is referred to as a lion. v.9
4. He will rule as a king. v. 10
5. He will bring in a time of prosperity, even opulence. vv.11-13

Compare that list to passages about Jesus, the Messiah.
1. Philippians 2:9-11
2. Hebrews 1:12
3. Revelation 5:5
4. Hebrews 1:8
5. Isaiah 65:21-25

Friday, February 17, 2012

Moving in the Will of God

Read Genesis 46.

The brothers returned and told their father, Jacob, the good news.  Joseph was alive.  The family was reconciled.  They had all been invited to move to Egypt and live in prosperity in the midst of a world-wide famine.

But what about their land that God had given to Abraham and his descendants?  This question had to be on Jacob's mind with no little angst.    Was this what God wanted them to do?  Was this the right decision?  If for no other reason the family needed to move for shear survival.  It seemed they had no choice but to go.

Jacob packed up everything they owned and all 70 of them headed for Egypt.  But before he set foot outside the land God gave them, Jacob stopped for a time of worship.  He offered sacrifices to the LORD.  Then, God gave the confirmation of His will.

Someone once remarked that you cannot steer an object that is not moving.  Once Jacob became willing to move out in faith, God made His word clear.  This time, as before in Jacob's life, God revealed His word through a vision in the night.  With the dream came sure and certain promises.
1. "I not be afraid.."  God is the great I AM.  He is always in the present tense, eternally existent.  His presence with us is not limited by time or place.  This assurance of God's personal and powerful presence is enough.
2. "...there I will make you into a great nation."  God had a plan for developing this nation and the move to Egypt was an exact part of it. 
3. "I will bring you up again..."  God told Abraham about an unnamed sojourn back in 15:13-16, even mentioning that they would be there for 400 years.  God also included the same promise of their return.  The covenant mad with Abraham and his descendants would not change.  The land was theirs by promise.  The family was growing and would become a great nation.  God would bless them and they would be a blessing.

Life is a journey.  As a follower of Christ, I want to be certain that I am where God wants me to be, doing what God wants done.  How grateful I am that His word is written down, that He is present, and wanting to guide each step of my life.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

4 Steps to Reconciliation

Read Genesis 43-45.

Slowly, the story unfolds. The process was used by God to confront their unresolved sin.  Though more than 20 years had passed, the guilt surfaced openly.  Numbers 32:23-" sure your sin will find you out."  God uses surfaced guilt as a good thing.  It motivates us to finally deal with what is wrong and seek to make it right. 

Joseph pushed his brothers to the limit and he could bear it no longer.

As the leader and the person wronged, Joseph took the initiative.  He did four things in 45:4-
1. He offered reconciliation ("Come")
2. He expressed forgiveness ("Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves")
3. He revealed his understanding of God's plan in the circumstances ("God sent me")
4. He blessed them (45:11-"I will provide for you")

There is a wonderful picture of God in this story.  We sinned against Him.  Yet, He initiates reconciliation through faith in Christ.  He paid the debt for our forgiveness on the cross, once for all.  He loved us first.  He reveals His design and plan for our lives.  He blesses us with eternal life and provides for us daily.

We demonstrate our relationship with God when we treat others the way He treats us.
1. We forgive others, not because they deserve it, nor ask for it.
2. We initiate reconciliation with others, even when they do not desire it...yet.
3. We reveal to others what we have learned and understand of God's plan for our lives.
4. We seek to serve others and be a blessing to them.

Ephesians 4:32-"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Confronting Change

Read Genesis 42.

What Joseph put behind him in chapter 41 was now remembered.  He was confronted with reconciling the past.  His own pain was relived again 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.

Joseph was the leader so he led his brothers through a process.  Though they thought him to be an Egyptian, he tipped his hand a bit when he told them he feared God.

After all these years the brothers were confronted with their unresolved sin against Joseph.  They felt guilt and the real sense that God was holding them accountable.

As the father, God was also at work in confronting Jacob's character.  He thought he had lost three of his sons and dropped into a deep depression.  "All this has come against me."  He could not see beyond his own loss.  He could not see God's Hand moving.  He did not want to even move or make long term decisions.  That is, until they ran out of food and they could no longer feed their family.  So, the plot thickens and sets up the next chapter.

No one likes change, unless it is their own idea.  Dr. John Maxwell teaches that there are three times when a person will make changes:
...when they hurt bad enough they have to
...when they know enough so they can
...when they want bad enough they will 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

He is an on-time God

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 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 preparation for the nation.  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 ans wise as you are" (vv.38-39).  What a change in how one would describe Joseph!

Over the next 7 years, Joseph married and had two sons.  To know what he was thinking about his life one only need 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." 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

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 a seemingly indefinite sentence, perhaps, without intervention, for life.

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 in the place 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 the meaning.

Remember, 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 gave God credit as the Owner.  At the same time, he was aware that God had given him a gift.  This was 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.  Hope is on the way.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How do you Define 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!  At first glance, it makes no sense.

His outward circumstances changed several times.  In this chapter the change is always for the worse.  Yet, he showed himself faithful and diligent in his work.  He was always trusted by those over him.  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.

Joseph's personal character cannot be missed.  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 and gave him success.

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 this 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 several 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.

Who do you know that is a success?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

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.

There are two main characters here.
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.
     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 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.  See verse 26.

2. Tamar.  She has buried two husbands and still she has 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 to become pregnant.

But then, there is God.  He was personally involved and took action at key points.
     a. He acted in the death of Judah's sons when they proved to be wicked and deliberately disobedient to Him.
     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. And to show the power of His Sovereignty and His grace, one need only to read Matthew 1:3.  The first chapter of Matthew lists the lineage of Jesus, as the promised Messiah.  Verse 3: "And Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar...." 

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.

Friday, February 3, 2012

How God Shapes a Life

Read Genesis 36-37.

One of the things we learn from chapter 36 is that Esau's descendants became known as the Edomites.  They will be mentioned many times later in the unfolding story as the oppose the descendants of Jacob until God declares their end by the prophet Obadiah.

Rachel died in chapter 35 as she gave birth to Benjamin, the last of Jacob's 12 sons.  Jacob always loved Rachel, therefore the boys to whom she gave birth were treated with special care and concern above the other half-brothers.  Joseph was even given a special robe by his father to indicate this.  The robe's description translated "many colors" is understood elsewhere as having long sleeves.  The point is that everyone could see him coming.   It is no wonder that in this patriarchal culture that jealousy and even hatred developed among the siblings.

Joseph's own immaturity and misuse of what God gave him brought the hatred to a head.  God gave him a dreams of his future and even he probably did not understand its full implications, but his brothers and his father sure did.  This good thing was received as full of pride from the "fair haired boy".  The brothers had had enough.  As an alternative to killing their brother, Joseph is sold as a slave to Egypt. The rest of the story of Genesis begins to unfold and center on what happens to Joseph.

God is not going to change His mind, nor His plans for Joseph's life.  He is going to change Joseph.  It is through those times of brokenness and suffering that Joseph character will be shaped and he will learn humility.  Only then will he be ready as a usable vessel for what God has in mind to change and develop at least two nations and world history.

I am sure Joseph must have asked a thousand times, "Why did God give me those dreams?"  Why could not I have resolved my maturity and character issues where I was?"  "How long must I endure mistreatment and such injustice?"  "Where is God in all this?"

Isaiah, the prophet, describes God as a potter and we as His clay. 
1. The clay belongs to the potter.  He can do what he wants with his own property.
2. The shape, design, and purposed future use of the molded clay is the plan of the potter.
3. The timing of the work on the clay is the decision of the potter.
4. The place where the vessel will be and used is at the discretion of the potter.
5. The admiration for the finished product by others goes to the potter, never to the clay.

The take away is that we are in Good Hands as the Potter shapes us and uses us for His glory.  That is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

God's Preparation for Worship

Read Genesis 35.

This is the first time we are told that God asked for an altar to be built.  Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all constructed them before, but here God gave some very specific instructions about worship.

1. A specific location.  He wanted Jacob to worship at Bethel.  This is where God appeared to him and blessed him previously.  It became a sacred spot for special worship.
2. A specific spiritual preparation. God ordered him to get rid of all forms of false worship that were evidently among his family and servants.  The God of heaven will not share worship with anyone or anything.
3. A specific physical preparation.  "Purify yourselves and change your garments."  The plural would indicate that this call to worship was not only for Jacob but everyone in his responsibility.  This worship was a special occasion and God wanted them to come clean inside and out.

Don't miss Jacob's personal testimony of his relationship with the living God.
A. He is "the God who answers me in the day of my distress" (v.3).  Jacob knew that God heard and answered his prayers.
B. He is the God who "has been with me wherever I have gone" (v.3).  As we read in earlier chapters, Jacob was never alone.  God's word promises, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you."
C. He is the God who protects His people as do His will (v.5).
D. He is the God who has "revealed Himself" (v.7).  God is knowable and wants people to know Him personally.
D. He God Almighty (El Shaddai) and restated the same promise He made to Abraham.  God will be faithful to fulfill all He has promised.
E. He is the God who "had spoken to him" (v.15).  It is our responsibility to know what God has said.  God speaks to us through His written word and the Holy Spirit affirms the truth to our minds and spirits.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Living a Countercultural Life

Read Genesis 34.

Jacob moved into a land that was occupied by the Canaanites.  Due to the covenant God had given to Jacob's family and because of the false worship of the Canaanites, an appropriate separation was to be maintained.  They may have commercial agreements, but marital unions would have been prohibited.

For some unexplained reason, Jacob's only daughter, Dinah, decided to venture into Canaanite social life.  There she was raped by the prince of their people.  Now, a deeper conflict is revealed.  The spiritual differences are directly linked to the moral differences.  The prince showed no consciousness of wrong doing for the violation.  Instead, he boldly asked to marry her.  

Jacob's passive nature evidently wanted to keep peace with the neighbors at all costs.  Even at the end of the chapter he expressed only concern for himself.  He abdicated any and all moral leadership for his family.  This was not the case with Dinah's brothers.  They were ready to do battle.  It was Simeon and Levi to devised the deceitful plot of revenge upon the entire local Canaanite population of males for this one man's sin.  Their actions of wanting to do the right thing in the wrong way cost them in chapter 49 with being passed over in Jacob's paternal blessing.  This one man's sin directly effected the lives of the families on both sides.  It always does.

The people of God are called to live holy lives and be separate from the world while living in it.  There is to be an obvious spiritual and moral distinction.  Sex outside of marriage is not okay with God.  Intermarriage with those who do not know Jesus is clearly not acceptable with God.  These are not popular positions with the world's culture but culture has never been the standard for the people of God.

"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what portion does a believer share with and unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing, then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty'."  2 Corinthians 6:14-18