The Perspective of Joseph

I remember exactly the first time I ever heard someone teach from Genesis 39 – the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.  I was in Junior High Youth Group and it changed my perspective on the Bible significantly at that time.   I remember thinking – “Whoah.  There is stuff like THIS in the Bible? Maybe I should read it more….”

Of course initially I just wanted to read more scintillating stories – but today when I read it, I realized something different.  Joseph has an exceptional God-centered perspective.  Joseph, as you recall, had been nearly killed by his brothers, and then sold into slavery by them.  Nice, eh?  Now he is in Egypt as a slave, but where is his perspective?  On God.  Verse 2 tells us that he was successful “because the Lord was with him” and in v4 that the Lord caused all he did to be successful.   The first thing we realize here is that any success comes from the Lord, therefore he should receive all the glory.

But what about when things go from bad to worse?  Joseph is a slave, in a foreign country…he is doing “well” as a slave, but still…then things go from bad to worse.  We know that Potiphar’s wife has the hots for him, she tries to make the move but what is Joesph’s response?     “He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 ESV)

Joseph knows that when we choose sin, we primarily sin against God.  Yes, others are involved and scripturally we are to confess our sins that we have done against others (James 5:16), but Joseph’s perspective is one to remember – above all, we offend God himself when we chose sin. Why?  (1) Because he is 100% holy and perfect, sin is totally contrary to his nature and we should fight it in ourselves, all of it.  (2) Because he calls us to love him with 100% of our being, (Matt 22:37-39) and when we chose sin, we are saying that we love our sin more than God.

Wouldn’t that change the way we look at sin? If we realized the weight of our sin, before a perfect God who calls us to find our satisfaction in him?  Praise God for the grace that he gives us in Jesus – that through faith, our sins are removed the punishment for them absorbed by Jesus on the cross.  We need to be quick to remember this perspective when faced with the choice to sin, and quick to remember the grace of Jesus and repent (turn) from that sin quickly and remember that all blessings, including forgiveness, are from our God.

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Divine Wounding

Vernon-20130118-00384It was one of those mornings where I read a passage and thought “I really want to understand this.” I prayed for understanding and dug in. The story of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32:22-32 seems so bizarre and out of place, that is until you dig into it, of course.

For context, Jacob has separated from Laban where he has lived for many years, he has his family, his herd, all of his belongings and is now on his way to a head on encounter with his brother Esau, whom he hasn’t seen in many years, but when they last met, Esau’s mission was to kill Jacob for how he deceived him. Now Jacob begins to fear, and separates and sends everyone on for operational security, he is alone. Very alone. In a very quiet desolate place.

The bizzaro enters when in Gen 32:24 we out of no where see Jacob wrestling a man, the wrestling match continues all night. The man is soon to be understood to be God himself, or possibly his angel – who ends up dislocating Jacob’s leg in an attempt to bring this cage match to an end. Jacob wrestles on, but has an important realization – he realizes who he is fighting against.

His whole life he has been scheming, weaseling, deceiving – seeking (and stealing) other’s blessings like his brother Esau, but now he realizes thru this wound and revelation of who he is fighting against, that the fighting with God must stop and he must seek to be blessed by him and cease trying to prevail in his own strength. God gave him a divine wound in dislocating his leg that snapped him out of it.

In the margin of one of my Bibles, I have written “Jacob’s 9/11 Moment”. For me, Sept 11th was the moment, the divine wound, that made me realize it was time for me to stop fighting against God and doing things in my own strength and to turn over my life to him, live the life pleasing to him, end the sin cycle, and stop the deception.

Name changes in the Bible are significant, and here Jacob is renamed to Israel. “Jacob” the cunning deceiver is renamed to “Israel”. The old has gone the new has come. Ultimately, this is fulfilled for us in Jesus Christ – the Messiah who will come out of the line of Jacob/Israel – to save us from our own wrestling and sin, give us new life, a new inheritance and a new future.

Eventually, there comes a time where the wrestling must end. Sometimes that is thru the grace of a divine wound, and the the healer sets us free.

The first counseling session – Gen 4

The story of Cain murdering Abel is very widely known, but perhaps what came before it is not so widely known.

They both bring offerings to the Lord, and for whatever reasons, the Lord honors Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. At first glance one might think that it’s because Abel’s offering was from the best of the flock, and Cain’s maybe not? But then we can get onto a slippery slope that God is pleased with us based on the quality / quantity of our physical offerings, and we know from the Bible that God looks at the heart. (1 Sam 16:7) Yet, this is not an excuse to not tithe of course – that should be a cheerful act from the heart. (See 2 Cor 9:6-8)

The Bible says that Cain was “very angry and his face fell” (Gen 4:5). This is in a sense the first counseling session ever – as Cain is now upset and experiencing negative feelings from an ungodly reaction to a situation. For whatever reason, his offering is not acceptable to God, he reacts in anger and now is experiencing negative feelings. I love the clarity and directness in which God responds to Cain in their little session:

“Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” [In other words if you do right, right feelings follow]

“And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is against you, but you must rule over it.”

When we are faced with a situation that is going wrong – we are also faced with two choices: React in a God pleasing (biblical) way or a sinful way. However, be aware – sin is right there ready to master you – and we must overcome sinful desires in the power of the Holy Spirit and resist sin.

The good news? The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to say no to sin (Titus 2:12). It is a learned behavior – you have learned to respond sinfully to situations – you can learn to respond in a God pleasing way to situations. God’s word and his Spirit are what we need to learn this. This is one of the basics principles of Biblical Counseling – and we thank God for the hope of real lasting change in the gospel!

New Year, New Bible, New Reading Plan – Same Truth!

I’m going to read thru the Bible again this year…pretty sure this is my 5th consecutive year and I have every intention on continuing.  I’m also (somewhat publicly for the 6 people who will read this) going to try to move to blogging (somewhat) daily thoughts from it.  Thanks to my mom for my sweet new ESV journaling Bible.

So today, we started in Genesis 1-2, which I was really looking forward to reading.  After the NANC pre-conference this year was from the Answers in Genesis folks and I read a book they recommended on why we are losing so many young kids from the faith called “Already Gone.”  Reason – they begin to doubt that the word of God is truth – not in college – but in middle school and high school.  Where does it start?  Well…Creation of course.

Genesis tells us that God created all things and it was all very good. (Gen 1:31).  Man is the one who introduces sin by his disobedience.  (It reminds me of Dr. Michael Boys’ great message to us last Sunday Sweet New Bibleon the gospel, the tragedy of sin, and the astonishing greatness of God’s redeeming grace in Jesus.)

How do we keep our lives “good” or “blessed”?  Psalm 1 says that we need to “delight in the law of the LORD and meditate (“chew”) on it…day and night” (Ps 1:2).

Then we will be fruitful, not for our glory but for God’s glory and in THAT is our joy and our blessing, when we do what God has created us to do – glorify him and grow in the likeness of Jesus, His Son, our Redeemer.  We will be like a tree planted by a stream – growing, bearing fruit, not matter how dry the desert is around us, whether we are a Pastor or  a Project Manager – in all that we do we prosper – for the glory of our great Creator God!

Happy New Year!

Jacob | Weasel

OK.  Done with Job…now back to Genesis.

We are now well into Abraham’s story, his calling by God to create a nation…eventually from which the Messiah will come.  Abraham had Isaac and Isaac had Jacob and Esau. Esau was born first, followed by Jacob who came out all hairy & red faced grabbing his brother’s heel.  (Gen 25:25).

After getting his brother’s birthright for a bowl of hot stew he then moves in and tries (and succeeds) to get his Father’s blessing while he was on his deathbed.  In a routine that you just have to read to believe that his mother cooked up he has an interaction with his father Isaac that caught my eye.  The deal was that Abraham knew he was close to death, his vision was just about shot, and he sent Esau out to hunt for game to then prepare for him a favorite, most likely last, meal and give Esau the final fatherly blessing.  Rebekah hears about this, and favoring Jacob, she fills him in and cooks up this whole plan to deceive Abraham into thinking that Jacob was Esau and then get his blessing on his death bed.  Nice, right?  And you thought your family was messed up?

Well,  the plan succeeds.  Jacob even puts on animal fur and Esau’s clothes to fool his dying blind father.  When he shows up with a nice fresh meal rather quickly in Esau’s place, Abraham questions him – (Gen 27:20-21) “How is it that you have found it so quickly my son?” He answered “Because the LORD your God granted me success.”

Hold the phone.

The LORD “your” God.

Not “my” God…”your” God, Dad.

Fast forward to Gen 28.  After the rouse is exposed and Esau, rather naturally, wants to kill Jacob, he flees to live with his uncle.  On the way there, he has a dream…in which the LORD GOD himself appears to him.  What is Jacob’s response?

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
(Genesis 28:20-22 ESV)

Wow.

That’s a touching vow.

Can you put any other conditions on God there, Jake?

If you do this…and if you do that…THEN you will be MY God.

Before we condemn this weasel…let’s stop and look in the mirror.  Do we put conditions on God?

“If you do this for me God, and everything goes well…etc…THEN I will let you be my God.”

Are we happy with God when things are going right, but then when stuff goes bad, we are like “WHOAH. What the heck, God?  This doesn’t happen to me…”  In other words, we’ll serve God when things are going well for us…but when they aren’t…do we still serve him with the same joy and passion?

I struggle with this too.

But enter the cross.

God has called us to himself thru Jesus Christ – his person and his work.  His perfect life of obedience and his sacrificial substitutionary death on the cross for the punishment I deserve.

When bad stuff comes, and it will, we need to fight in faith to see the cross.  To see that as the most important thing, the biggest reminder that God loves us and poured out his love for us by making a way for us to be reconciled to him.  Then, that will make us want to praise Him and bring him glory out of thankfulness in our hearts to God for the hope we have in Christ.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

God is…

Happy New Year!

Here we go again – Genesis Chapter 1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”

A few things:

  • The word “created” is “bara” which means “created from NOTHING” – the word “asah” is not used which means “to fashion or shape, make something suitable.” (Driscoll: Doctrines pg 82).  God created everything from nothing, for his own good pleasure.
  • God is transcendent – sovereign over all His creation, distinct from it, over all…yet…
  • God is immanent – involved in it, he remains in it.  Creation is “continually dependent on him for it’s existence and it’s functioning.” (Grudem: ST pg 267)
  • If we mess up these 2 things we get really confused about God and stray from what the Bible teaches.   Even though God is distinct from his creation, the creation and God are not separate and independent.  Two traps:
    • Dualism – God and the Universe have always existed side by side, God is not sovereign over it.  LOTS of false teaching is here today – New Age, etc.
    • Deism – God created the universe but God is not directly involved in Creation currently

God created us in his image, and he is sovereign over every cell in our body, and we are here to glorify him and enjoy him forever. (Col 1:17; Acts 17:25)

As Ephesians 4:6 sums up “one God and Father of all, who is over all and in all.”

 

A Change of Heart

Chronological Reading: Gen 43-45

The story of Joseph is pretty amazing.  He was basically hated by his brothers and left for dead in a hole, when brother Judah thought it was an even better idea to sell him as a slave to folks on their way to Egypt.  (Gen 37:26-27) The thing is that in Egypt, Joseph proves himself worthy and over time, becomes 2nd in command of the whole empire and thru his diligence, and God’s grace, wisely stores food for an impending famine – thus preserving both him and the whole empire of Egypt.

Meanwhile, back home – Josephs’ brothers are quickly running out of food and they need to go to the only place where there is food – Egypt.  So after 20 years of separation, Joseph is now face to face with the very brothers that sold him down the river, but they don’t know it’s him…yet.

To make a long, wonderful story short – Joseph provides food for them, and says that if/when they come back they need to bring their youngest brother too (Benjamin) or else don’t bother coming at all.  Their father (Jacob/Israel) is really uncomfortable with this idea, but he allows him to go on the condition that Judah will be his pledge of safety (Gen 43:8).  OK, so they are off.  David gives them more food, takes care of them, (still not revealing who he is) and in a crazy plot to keep Benjamin with him plants his silver cup in Benjamin’s bag – thus leveraging this apparent “theft” to keep Benjamin with him. Except that can’t happen – remember Judah promised their father that Benjamin would return safely.

In an amazing heart change from the one who sold his other brother to Egypt in the first place, Judah says to David that he will stay in Benjamin’s place. (Gen 43:33-34). 

Joseph is so touched by this change of heart that he reveals his identify, and then brings his whole family to Egypt – thus saving them from the famine and continuing the family line.

There is a lot of stuff pointing to Christ here – so let’s pick it out: (thank you ESV Study Bible!)

  • Judah offers himself as a substitute, prefiguring the substitution of Christ (the offspring of Judah)
  • Joseph thru Joseph includes not only rescue from famine, but a change of heart in the brothers – compared to their earlier envy and violence towards Joseph.
  • The change prefigures the change of heart that Christ works thru the Spirit
  • Reconciliation (of the brothers with Joseph) prefigures God’s reconciliation and forgiveness in Christ

I also couldn’t help myself to think of the awesome sovereignty of God at work in this – he preserves the line of Christ thru these amazing events – which included being sovereign over evil that was done to Joseph.  If we skip ahead to Chap 50:19-20:

19But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for(A) am I in the place of God? 20As for you, you meant evil against me, but(B) God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[a] should be kept alive, as they are today.

A comforting thought in a world where thousands of people have just perished in an earthquake.  God is truly sovereign over everything, including evil and epic disasters. We don’t know what he is doing, or why sometimes – and we really should resist the temptation to try and figure that out – that’s his job – but the Bible is clear that God is always in control and working his sovereign will for the good of those that love him (Rom 8:28). That doesn’t always mean for this life here on Earth – God’s ways are above our ways and working good his eternal glory.   We see in this story how Joseph experienced that first hand and how wonderful promises of reconciliation with God thru Jesus Christ are prefigured and modeled here.