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.   

Monday, April 17, 2017

5 insights into how God shapes a Life

Read Genesis 37.

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.  No wonder 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 dreams of his future.  Surely, he did not understand its full implications, but, his brothers and his father did and they resented it.  This good thing from the LORD was received as the pride-filled statements of a youth.  The brothers had had enough.  As an alternative to killing Joseph, they sold him as a slave to Egypt. The rest of the story of Genesis now begins to unfold and centers on what happened to Joseph.

God is not going to change His mind, nor His plans for Joseph's life.  However, He is going to change Joseph.  It is through those times of brokenness and suffering that Joseph's 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, as well as world history.

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 when I need Him?"

In Isaiah 64:8, the prophet described 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 future of the molded clay are the plans 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 be 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)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Today's choices Matter

Read Genesis 36.

This is the final chapter concerning the life of Esau.  Even before his birth, he struggled in the womb with his twin brother Jacob (25:22).  Physically stronger than Jacob, Esau was a talented hunter.  But his legacy is one of bad and sinful choices due to his undisciplined, temporal appetites.

He sold his birthright, as the slightly elder son, for a bowl stew.  In this patriarchal culture, such a foolish decision robbed him of the primary blessing of his father and had a direct effect on all his descendants.  However, in the plan of God, it fulfilled the prophetic word of the LORD from Genesis 25:23.   

He turned to the ungodly Canaanites for his multiple wives.  This was a source of bitterness and heartache to his parents (26:35).

He left the land of God's promise for the eastern pastures of Edom.  The name Esau and his descendants became synonymous with the land of Edom (36:8).

His descendants continued through the centuries to oppose the descendants of Jacob, even to war against them (Numbers 20:18-21; 1 Samuel 14:47).  The Edomites worshiped false gods and not the God of Abraham and Isaac (2 Chronicles 25:20).

As a result, the Edomites, called Esau, came to be hated by God (Malachi 1:2-3)

Finally, God announced the end of the Edomites (Jeremiah 49:8-10; Obadiah)

Esau's epitaph is found in Hebrews 12:16-17: "...that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that afterward when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears."

The story of one's life and eternity is determined by the choices that are made each day.  One of Dr. John Maxwell's best books is entitled "Today Matters".  And, indeed, it does.  "Oh how I love your law!  It is my meditation all the day." (Psalm 119:97)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A call for Revival

Read Genesis 35.

Jacob and his family knew better but had become lax in their faithfulness to God.  Over time they mixed their faith in God with the false practices of the culture around them.  This is a call for renewal. 

First of all, repentance was required.  They were ordered to put away those things that were displeasing to the Lord.  Next, they were to worship God.  When they made these bold decisions, took care of the potential threats around them (v.5).

Following God's instructions, Jacob led his family back to where God had made Himself personally known to him.  The result on that occasion was protection from the confrontation with Esau.  In that same place, "God appeared to Jacob again" (v.9).  The purpose this time was to restate the Abrahamic Covenant, securing the family's future blessings.

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.

Who is this God of Jacob that is worthy of our worship?
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 they 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.

E. He God Almighty (El Shaddai) and restated the same promise He made to Abraham.  God will be faithful to fulfill all He has promised.

F. 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, April 12, 2017

Living in a morally corrupt Culture

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 on spiritual grounds.

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 with seven personal references in verses 30-31.  He abdicated any and all moral leadership for his family.  Such was not the case with Dinah's brothers.  They were ready to do battle.  Simeon and Levi to devised the deceitful plot of revenge upon the entire local 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 affected 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 forbidden in Scripture.  These are not popular positions with the world's culture.  But, then, 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   

Monday, April 10, 2017

Facing the fear of potential Conflict

Read Genesis 33.

Jacob prepared to meet the brother he offended more than 20 years ago.  He dreaded the confrontation.  Then, when he heard that Esau was coming with an army of 400 men he became overcome with fear.  God met with Jacob and reassured him.  Yet, the dread was still there as he kept walking and wondering how Esau would respond.  By sending gifts and his treasured family in advance, Jacob did all he could do to try head off any violent conflict.  As Esau approached, Jacob physically humbled himself, bowing before his brother.  

But when the two met, it was Esau who ran to meet his brother, embraced him, and kissed him.  What a relief that must have been to Jacob!

Jacob's words in verse 10 are not to be missed.  To Esau he said, "For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me."  Jacob looked at Esau but he saw God at work in direct answer to prayer. 

Everyone, sooner or later, will face a nearly unbearable situation.  When the threat overwhelms us enough, this world's goods and possessions lose their value.  Like Jacob, in in that moment, we would trade all we have for the protection and/or provision of God.  

The foundation of reconciliation is acceptance.  The basis of acceptance is forgiveness.  An unforgiving spirit only destroys the one who refuses to forgive and demonstrates a lack in accepting God's forgiveness of them.  Indeed, the only basis of true forgiveness in the universe is found in the payment Jesus made on the cross.  By our faith in Him, we are accepted, forgiven, and reconciled to the living God.  This frees us to forgive others their trespasses against us.

"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Wrestling with God

Read Genesis 32.

The journey home continued and the drama increased.  "The angels of God met him" (v.1).  There is no further explanation, but it is a reminder that Jacob was never alone.  Jacob was acting on God's clear instructions and was in the middle of God's will.  However, his attempts to gain an assessment of a peaceful meeting with his twin brother only turned to greater fear of attack.

Most of the great prayers of the Bible come as a result of life-threatening stress.  Humbling oneself before the Lord and casting total dependence upon Him is exactly where God wants us.  James states, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  God helps those who cannot help themselves.

In his prayer, Jacob reminded God of His promise (v.12).  This is not because God forgot, but it formed the basis of his plea.  He also took action.  Jacob set in motion a very, well-thought out three step plan, complete with the wording, to do everything he could to appease his brother.  Now, he would wait...alone.  But he was not alone.

That night he literally wrestled with God until morning (v.30).  This is a strange passage describing a physical striving with the LORD.  How does a man hold on to God and not let go?  In verse 25, Jacob prevailed.  How does a man say to God, "I will not let go unless you bless me"?  In the struggle God moved Jacob's hip out of joint and changed Jacob's walk for the rest of his life.  Further, as a result, God changed Jacob's name to Israel, which could mean "he strives with God or God fights".  Here is a man who fought with God for a blessing.  But every time his name was given from then on it would be a reminder that God would fight for him and his descendants called by his name.

This incident took Jacob's faith and calling to a new level.  In the book Acts, believers in Jesus were called by a new name for the first time.  It was Christ-ian.  This originally was meant to be a derogatory labeling.  Then, along the way, there are those times of great stress and challenge when our faith is stretched to the limit.  We do not go looking for them.  God knows when to allow them or bring them along for our growth.  As a result, some even live with a bit of limp from then on-physically, emotionally, or relationally.  This becomes part of their life story.  Such an encounter with God changes the way we live from then on.  If we respond correctly, our relationship with God will grow deeper and our usefulness to God in the lives of others will grow to a new level.

Friday, April 7, 2017

4 Lessons When Being Mistreated

Read Genesis 31.

Jacob's prosperity became a jealous threat to Laban and his sons.  Before any violence or loss could take place, God ordered Jacob to return to the land of Abraham.  This move was more than just a family split; it also brought an end to this oppressive work environment.  Laban continued to take advantage of Jacob, even changing his wages ten times.

For Rachel and Leah, it meant leaving their homeland and extended family.  But when Jacob explained his feelings and what God had told him, the wives gave Jacob their full support.  "Whatever God has said to you, do." (v.16)

It is not clear why Rachel stole her father's so-called household gods.
-Was this something she worshipped also?
-Did she want to take a memento of her childhood with her?
-Was stealing this an indication of a character flaw?
-Did she take them out of revenge to hurt her father?

It is clear that God personally saw Jacob's afflictions, his faithfulness, his hard work, and the intents of his heart.  The stress had reached the end and God intervened to fulfill His plan for Jacob's life and to keep the promises He had made to Abraham.

God intervened, spoke, or His presence was acknowledged no less than eleven times in this chapter.  When there injustice exists and people are being mistreated, God is there.  He sees and He hears.  All too often, those involved refuse to acknowledge the Lord's presence and their accountability to Him for their actions.

Some lessons from this passage when being mistreated:
1. God said, "I have seen all that Laban is doing to you" (v12).  Nothing escapes God's sight and attention.  Our response is to remember that He will never leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 12:5-6).

2. In verse 13, God said, "I am the God of Bethel" (reminding Jacob of what happened in Chapter 28).  He is the one who changes lives, calls us to live for Him, leads us through His plan for our lives, protects us in the process, and provides what is needed along the way.  Our response is to worship and obey Him.

3. Rachel and Leah encouraged Jacob's obedience to God (v.16).  When we suffer those closest to us and those who love us are affected also.  Our response should be to communicate with them and welcome their support to do what is right.

4. In verses 23-24, Laban assembled his men and pursued Jacob.  "But God came to Laban" and warned him.  God knows when and how to protect those who are faithful to His word and living in His will.  Our response must be to know what God has said and align our lives accordingly.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Biblical perspective on Employer-Employee Relations

Read Genesis 30.

The competitiveness between the two wives continued as they used their children to gain Jacob's attention and love.

Meanwhile, Jacob has faithfully served the deceitful Laban all these years.  Verse 27 provides a wonderful statement every faithful employee wants to hear from his employer: "...the LORD has blessed me because of you."  Jacob's response in verse 30 showed his desire to provide for his own family, not just Laban.

So, the two made a business decision enabling Jacob to launch out on his own.  Laban surely thought he would get the better of the deal.  But Jacob had been running the business for over 14 years and knew what he was doing.  As a result, the LORD prospered him greatly with large flocks of all kinds.

Jacob's behavior thus far toward Laban exemplifies the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 6:5-9.  Though the opening word is "slave", it is rightfully referring to any employed worker and the attitude of a Christ follower toward the employer.  "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eyeservice, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free."

Then in the next verse, to employers, Paul wrote: "Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven and that there is no partiality with him."  Unfortunately, Laban was a greedy, selfish man and will end up losing the best employee he ever had.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Praising God when you cannot see the Outcome

Read Genesis 29.

Here is a story that even a Hollywood movie could not do it justice.  They would probably want to twist it into a comedy of sorts.  There is such love between Jacob and Rachel that Jacob offered seven years of his labor just for her.  Then, there is such deceit by Laban that one feels Jacob would have been justified in some retaliation.  But no, Jacob responded with an even greater commitment for Rachel.

How did this make Leah feel?  She was married but she was not her husband's choice.  She was an object of her father's swindle.  And, where was God in all this?

God saw exactly what had happened.  In fact, God blessed Leah in ways that had eternal value.  She bore four sons with Jacob.  Of the twelve tribes of Israel, the four from Leah were:
Reuben, the oldest.  This was a very important position in that patriarchal culture.
Simeon, the second born.  Some have suggested from Genesis 34 that he had a violent nature.
Levi, whose descendants would become the priests of Israel, including Moses and Aaron.
Judah, the family line of King David and the Messiah!

Leah could not have dreamed the impact her sons would have on history and eternity.  It appears that she hoped these sons would earn the respect and love of her husband and would somehow vindicate her predicament.  She named her fourth son Judah.  In Hebrew the name sounds like the word for praise.  Leah even declared, "This time I will praise the LORD" (v.35).

Everyone experiences mistreatment in life at the hands of others.  The pain and hurt of rejection and not being loved for who you are cause some to believe that God does not see, does not care, or does not exist.  Yet, always God is at work, working His plan for each life, even using the wrath of men to praise Him (Psalm 76:10).  Even though Leah could not see the future, she praised the LORD by faith.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Benchmarks of an encounter with God

Read Genesis 28.

As the heir, Jacob received the blessing of his father Isaac.  Isaac repeated the promise God made to Abraham.  That unconditional covenant included innumerable descendants, the land, and that "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (12:3).  Jacob was ordered to go to his great-uncle's family to seek a wife.

Away from home and family, in a strange place, after dark, he slept.  Here God revealed Himself personally to Jacob in a dream.  It is the first account where faith in God became personal to Jacob.  The LORD Himself passed on the Abrahamic Covenant directly to Jacob and his descendants.

When Jacob awoke, it was more than rising out of physical sleep.  He woke up spiritually!  "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it."  This recognition is one of the benchmarks of a true relationship with God.  God is omnipresent.  Jacob was away from home, but not away from God.  When one fails to acknowledge and respect God's presence sin will soon follow.

Jacob had at least three responses to this encounter with the LORD.
1. He worshipped.  He even marked the spot and created a memory where God changed his life.  "How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God" (Bethel). (v.17)
2. He declared his faith in a vow.
3. He committed to give a tenth of all his increase.  Remember, this statement had nothing to do with keeping the law.  The law will not be given for a few hundred years after this.

I often think back of the dark bedroom at 820 Hartview Avenue where recognized His presence and I knelt to give myself to Jesus.  I remember openly declaring my faith in a baptism service at Calvary Baptist Church.  And, I am grateful to Mr. Snider who challenged me to begin tithing when I was only 14 years of age to honor the LORD my little income.  Those benchmarks are still with me and guide my daily life today.