Sunday May 3, 2015

READING THE GOSPELS reveals one main thrust of Jesus’ ministry as enabling people to develop a new image of God. The God Jesus came to make known was not the God of impossible requirements or the God whose love must be earned before experienced.

Through Jesus’ life and teaching we gain a very different picture of God. As Jesus reached out and touched those who were sick, welcomed those who were alienated, spent time with those who were ignored, he showed a God who welcomes, heals, feels compassion, and accepts. As Jesus taught about the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, as he told stories about a prodigal son welcomed home and a lost sheep who was sought and found, he revealed a God eager to embrace us closely, constantly caring for us, and gracious beyond measure.

– Ann Siddall and Gary Stuckey

Noah

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. — Joshua 24:15

For many years, Noah and his wife refused to buckle under the temptations of wickedness all around them. In fact, outside their immediate family, they did not have one friend who believed in God or was living a righteous life. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be so alone?

The town — and the neighborhood — where Noah and his wife lived was soaking in sinfulness. According to the Bible, the world of their day was literally “full” of immorality. So reprehensible was the behavior of these people that God regretted having created them in the first place and decided to wash the slate clean.

But on His way to starting over, God bumped into a faithful man named Noah, his wife, and their three sons and their wives. From the time their sons were small, Noah and his wife surely included them in conversations about God. They must have prayed together and spoken of the majesty of God’s creation.

Deep inside this story is something very special. Noah and his wife opened their home to lost people. We know this because the women their sons married were counted among the righteous who came aboard the ark. This means that even though they came from homes where God was not worshiped, these women’s lives were changed by the influence of a believing family that welcomed them and loved them.

For Noah and his wife, the choice was clear. In spite of temptations to conform to the culture around them, they — and their family — chose to serve the Lord. You and your family can do the same.

It may not look like it, but your house is a lifeboat. Your storm-tossed friends and your children’s confused playmates need shelter. They need safety, instruction, and a display of love from a family that knows and worships the true God. Your family may be their only hope.

Joshua 24:15

A safe little boat the shape of your house is floating in your neighborhood.

Our great and wonderful God, empower us to live lives that please You. Help us to be winsome messengers of Your Word and to show others the love of Jesus. Use us to lead people to Christ. Amen.

Monday April 27, 2015

ABOVE ALL ELSE, prayer is an open, honest, intimate conversation with the God who loves us most. Sometimes we speak; sometimes we listen. Sometimes we sit silently together; sometimes we petition God alone.

No matter how or how often or where or when we pray, may we simply be open to what God reveals to us and then think deeply about any revelations that appear. Maybe God wants us to experience more grace so that we have more to offer others. Maybe God wants us to experience and extend more forgiveness. Maybe God wants us to have more courage or wisdom. We can trust that God will offer us what we need.

– Rebecca Dwight Bruff

Sunday April 26, 2015

 

Family wounds are slow to heal.

I hope your childhood was a happy time when your parents kept everyone fed, safe, and chuckling. I hope your dad came home every day, your mom tucked you in bed every night, and your siblings were your best friends.

But if not, you need to know you aren’t alone. The most famous family tree in the Bible suffered from a serious case of blight. Adam accused Eve. Cain killed his little brother. Abraham lied about Sarah. Rebekah favored Jacob. Jacob cheated Esau and then raised a gang of hoodlums.

The book of Genesis is a relative disaster.

Joseph didn’t deserve to be abandoned by his brothers. True, he wasn’t the easiest guy to live with. He boasted about his dreams and tattled on his siblings. He deserved some of the blame for the family friction. But he certainly didn’t deserve to be dumped into a pit and sold to merchants for pocket change.

The perpetrators were his ten older brothers. His brothers were supposed to look out for him. Joseph’s brothers were out of line. And his father? Jacob was out of touch.

With all due respect, the patriarch could have used a course on marriage and family life.

Mistake number one: he married a woman he didn’t love so he could marry one he did. Mistake number two: the two wives were sisters. (Might as well toss a lit match into a fireworks stand.) The first sister bore him sons. The second sister bore him none. So to expand his clan, he slept with an assortment of handmaidens and concubines until he had a covey of kids. Rachel, his favorite wife, finally gave birth to Joseph, who became his favorite son. She later died giving birth to a second son, Benjamin, leaving Jacob with a contentious household and a broken heart.

Jacob coped by checking out. Obstinate sons. Oblivious dad. The brothers needed a father. The father needed a wake-up call. And Joseph needed a protector. But he wasn’t protected; he was neglected. And he landed in a distant, dark place.

Initially, Joseph chose not to face his past. By the time he saw his brothers again, Joseph had been prime minister for nearly a decade. The kid from Canaan had come a long way.

Joseph could travel anywhere he wanted, yet he chose not to return to Canaan. He knew where to find his family, but he chose not to contact them.

He kept family secrets a secret. Untouched and untreated. Joseph was content to leave his past in the past. But God was not.

Restoration matters to God. The healing of the heart involves the healing of the past.

So God shook things up.

All countries came to Joseph in Egypt to get grain, because the famine was severe in all lands. — Genesis 41:57

And in the long line of folks appealing for an

Egyptian handout, look what the cat dragged in.

Joseph heard them before he saw them. He was fielding a question from a servant when he detected the Hebrew chatter. Not just the language of his heart but the dialect of his home. The prince motioned for the servant to stop speaking. He turned and looked. There they stood.

The brothers were balder, grayer, rough skinned. They were pale and gaunt with hunger. Sweaty robes clung to their shins, and road dust chalked their cheeks. These Hebrews stuck out in sophisticated Egypt like hillbillies at Times Square.

They didn’t recognize him. His beard was shaved, his robe was royal, and the language he spoke was Egyptian. It never occurred to them that they were standing before their baby brother.

Thinking the prince couldn’t understand Hebrew, the brothers spoke to him with their eyes and gestures. They pointed at the stalks of grain and then at their mouths. They motioned to the brother who carried the money, and he stumbled forward and spilled the coins on the table.

When Joseph saw the silver, his lips curled, and his stomach turned. He had named his son God Made Me Forget, but the money made him remember. The last time he saw coins in the hands of Jacob’s older boys, they were laughing, and he was whimpering. That day at the pit he searched these faces for a friend, but he found none. And now they dared bring silver to him?

Joseph called for a Hebrew-speaking servant to translate. Then Joseph scowled at his brothers.

He acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. — Genesis 42:7

The brothers fell face-first in the dirt, which brought to Joseph’s mind a childhood dream.

“Uh, well, we’re from up the road in Canaan. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”

Joseph glared at them. “Nah, I don’t believe you. Guards, put these spies under arrest. They are here to infiltrate our country.”

The ten brothers spoke at once. “You’ve got it all wrong, Your High, Holy, and Esteemed Honor. We’re salt of the earth. We belong to the same family. That’s Simeon over there. That’s Judah… Well, there are twelve of us in all. At least there used to be.

The youngest is now with our father, and one is no longer living. — Genesis 42:13

Joseph gulped at the words. This was the first report on his family he had heard in twenty years. Jacob was alive. Benjamin was alive. And they thought he was dead.

“Tell you what,” he snapped. “I’ll let one of you go back and get your brother and bring him here. The rest of you I’ll throw in jail.”

With that, Joseph had their hands bound. A nod of his head, and they were marched off to jail. Perhaps the same jail where he had spent at least two years of his life.

What a curious series of events. The gruff voice, harsh treatment. The jail sentence. The abrupt dismissal. We’ve seen this sequence before with Joseph and his brothers, only the roles were reversed. On the first occasion they conspired against him. This time he conspired against them. They spoke angrily. He turned the tables. They threw him in the hole and ignored his cries for help. Now it was his turn to give them the cold shoulder.

What was going on?

I think he was trying to get his bearings. This was the toughest challenge of his life. The famine, by comparison, was easy. Mrs. Potiphar he could resist. Pharaoh’s assignments he could manage. But this mixture of hurt and hate that surged when he saw his flesh and blood? Joseph didn’t know what to do.

Maybe you don’t either.

Your family failed you. Your early years were hard ones. The people who should have cared for you didn’t. But, like Joseph, you made the best of it. You’ve made a life for yourself. Even started your own family. You are happy to leave Canaan in the rearview mirror. But God isn’t.

He gives us more than we request by going deeper than we ask. He wants not only your whole heart; He wants your heart whole. Why? Hurt people hurt people. Think about it. Why do you fly off the handle? Why do you avoid conflict? Why do you seek to please everyone? Might your tendencies have something to do with an unhealed hurt in your heart?

God wants to help you for your sake. And for the sake of your posterity.

Suppose Joseph had refused his brothers? Summarily dismissed them? Washed his hands of the whole mess? God’s plan for the nation of Israel depended upon the compassion of Joseph. A lot was at stake here.

There is a lot at stake with you too. Yes, your family history has some sad chapters. But your history doesn’t have to be your future. The generational garbage can stop here and now. You don’t have to give your kids what your ancestors gave you.

Talk to God about the scandals and scoundrels. Invite Him to relive the betrayal with you. Bring it out in the open. Joseph restaged the hurt for a reason.

Revealing leads to healing.

Let God do His work. The process may take a long time. It may take a lifetime.

Family pain is the deepest pain because it was inflicted so early and because it involves people who should have been trustworthy.

Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. — Romans 12:2

Let Him replace childish thinking with mature truth (1 Corinthians 13:11). You are God’s child. His creation. Destined for heaven. You are a part of His family. Let Him set you on the path to reconciliation.

Joseph did. The process would prove to be long and difficult. It occupies four chapters of the Bible and at least a year on the calendar, but Joseph took the first step. After three days Joseph released his brothers from jail. He played the tough guy again. “Go on back. But I want to see this kid brother you talk about. I’ll keep one of you as a guarantee.”

They agreed and then, right in front of Joseph, rehashed the day they dry-gulched him:

Then they said to one another, ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us’. — Genesis 42:21

Again, they did not know that the prince understood Hebrew. But he did. And when he heard the words, Joseph turned away so they couldn’t see his eyes fill with tears. He stepped into the shadows and wept. He did this seven more times. He didn’t cry when he was promoted by Potiphar or crowned by Pharaoh, but he blubbered like a baby when he learned that his brothers hadn’t forgotten him after all. When he sent them back to Canaan, he loaded their saddlebags with grain. A moment of grace.

Friday April 24, 2015

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. – 3 John 1:2

Unhealthy habits can often account for the breakdown of our physical bodies. For example, the most common causes of a physical heart attack are stress, a high-fat diet, smoking, high blood pressure, and lack of exercise. By eliminating these potentially harmful behavior patterns that lead to blockages in our arteries, we can prevent a heart attack from ever happening. The best cure is prevention.

The same is true in our spiritual lives.
We cannot ignore those things that can create a blockage in our spiritual heart muscle, for eventually we will leave our first love and suffer a spiritual heart attack.

Once that happens, we find our hearts no longer beat passionately for God or His purposes. Instead, we substitute formalism for faith and empty ritual for the life of the Spirit. In essence, by just going through the religious motions, we plug ourselves into an artificial life-support system. We mistakenly think we are alive when, in reality, we are only existing.

We were never created to settle for mere religion. Jesus did not die so that we could have a religious belief system – but rather a life-giving relationship with our Father.

I believe that as Christians we all possess a sincere desire to love God with all our hearts, yet we often unknowingly allow subtle deterrents to build up inside us.

Slowly, these small obstructions form larger blockages, which over a period of time clog our spiritual arteries and harden our hearts by depriving them of access to their life source. We must do whatever it takes to ensure that these have no place in our lives as followers of Jesus

Tuesday April 21, 2015

JOB DOES EVERYTHING RIGHT, and then he is nailed. Everything he loves is taken away from him. Sometimes a person will come into my office expressing bewilderment: despite doing everything right, he or she has been overwhelmed in some way—an unforeseen event, a health crisis, a disappointment. Deeply faithful, deeply troubled.

We want to love and believe in God, and in the process we hope it all adds up. Job knows where we are; he will stand with us.

His friends come alongside Job. They try to make it all add up, in some way. Do you know these friends? A child dies, and a friend comes along and says, “God needed an angel.” A spouse dies, and a friend comes along and says, “You would not wish them more suffering.” A terrible thing happens. People respond in compassionate ways, and a friend comes along and says, “It brings out the good in people.” A layoff comes, someone is downsized, and a friend comes along and says, “It will make you stronger.”

These people are the descendants of Job’s friends. Job’s friends tell him that he should have a stronger faith, that he should not question (haven’t you heard “It is not ours to ask why”?), that he must be at fault in some way. “God has a plan,” they say. Embrace it. Get over it. Get on with it. Where’s the Job we used to know, they wonder.

Here’s the problem: Job’s friends do not help him. They want closure; they want answers; they are as unsettled by the questions as we are. Oh, one other problem: they pretend to speak for God, but in the final analysis, they are not truthful to God, at least not the God of the Bible.

– Kenneth H. Carter Jr.