Friday, March 30, 2018

Matthew 7:15-8:27 #eebc2018

This passage wraps up the Sermon on the Mount and includes verses that belong with Matthew 7:1. 7:1 is the well-known "Judge not, lest ye be judged" passage, but didn't say that in a vacuum. He also didn't just drop it as a one-liner. Instead, He preached that as part of a sermon that also includes Matthew 7:19-20 which tells us that we will know people by their fruit.

The difference? Fruit is clear and evident, it's not a judgment based on fleck of dust but on repetitive evidence seen in actions. If you are 'evaluating' someone based on what you think it means that they wore that kind of clothing, you're in the wrong. If you are judging someone as sinful because they are an abusive spouse, then you're probably judging the fruit rightly: it's bad fruit. They are in need of repentance.

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by highlighting the importance of putting what He has said into practice. If we do not follow-through and actually do something, it really hasn't helped, has it? And we can say we believe, but belief leads to action.

After the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records three definite healings and then comments that many others took place. The three are a leper, a Roman centurion's servant, and Peter's mother-in-law. Now, there is a joke in there about how all three are socially unloved people: lepers, Romans, and in-laws, but we'll let it pass for now. Instead, focus on the methods of healing: the leper is healed when Jesus touches him and speaks, the Roman at the word of Christ from a distance, and Peter's mother-in-law at a touch.

The differences highlight that the power is Jesus, not a specific action or person involved. Only the Savior can heal like this, which Matthew brings up from Isaiah 53:4.

But after the crowd builds, Jesus chases some of them away. Why? Because being a disciple is not for those who just want to hang about and have miracles. It's for those who will recognize the cost, those who will face the storms and trust Christ through them.

The miracles may get you started, but you need to have your faith grow beyond only what you've seen. You have to grow into trusting what God has said.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Genesis 45:1-46:7 #eebc2018

Joseph reveals himself to his brothers in this passage, and then sends for his father to come to Egypt. He provides for the practical needs of the elderly and smaller children to travel and works to reunite his family.

Jacob is, naturally, a bit unsettled by all of this. After all, he has believed Joseph is dead for two decades. He determines that he will go down and see Joseph before his death.

But on the way, he makes an important stop. At Beer-sheba, he makes sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. This is the first time in a while we have seen Jacob offer sacrifices. One might think Joseph's apparent death had put a hold on Jacob's relationship with God. (It is impossible to be certain, as we don't have all the details of the last 20 years.)

Here, though, he takes the step back. In this incident, it is Jacob's actions that bring him back into a relationship with God. He offers sacrifices and then God speaks to him. God gives him permission to go on down to Egypt and a promise that he will come back from Egypt. Now, when you read on, you'll see that he came back to be buried, but still, he came back.

Let's take this to heart. Jacob already knew God, had already experienced God's presence and His grace. This is not the first time Jacob has spoken with the Lord God.

But, like so many of us, he appears to have drifted over the years. Nowhere in their response to the famine does it appear the family seeks God. Nowhere do they ask God about buying grain from Egypt. Instead, they have just done what made sense to them at the time.

When our life gets aimed in that direction, we have to make the adjustment. The Christian life is not about waiting for God to do all the work--that is not what grace is about. (See Dan Phillips' wonderful The World-Tilting Gospel about "Gutless Gracers.")

Instead, we have to take a step in the direction of repentance. God will not take that step for us--He took the step to the cross. He took the step of saving us. He has the right to require us to take steps of repentance after our salvation.

Now, keep in mind that this is between you and God, not you and some other person. God sets the parameters of repentance, not mankind. You belong to Him, though after you have worked through the issues between you and the Lord there may be steps of relationship mending between you and other people.

The question at stake, then, is do you need to take a step of repentance? Has it been a while since you have heard from the Lord God?

We have the advantage over Jacob, because our hearing from God is as simple as opening the Word of God and seeing what He said. It's often the same action that shows our repentance: blow the dust off the Bible and read it! God speaks.

Let us not neglect that opportunity, but instead rise to it. Let us take up the Word and see what God promises, see what our walk of obedience entails and then go do it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Genesis 43:16-44:34 #eebc2018

Joseph now has his brothers in his power. Consider the opportunity for revenge. Consider the opportunity to take everything they have ever done wrong and jam it right back down their throats.

Is that not a temptation for us sometimes as well? When we're right and we know we are right? It may have been years--after all, for Joseph it has been at least 2 years, and likely many more. Genesis 37:2 has Joseph at 17 years old and he enters Pharaoh's service at 30 (Genesis 41:46). Given that specific ages are usually mentioned to highlight when the events around them happen, that would suggest a gap of 20 years or more for Joseph, since the famine comes along seven years after he starts working for the Egyptian government.

Twenty years have passed, and now Joseph has all the power. It's like the dream of every kid who was an outcast of some kind in high school: at the reunion, nobody will pick on me anymore! They'll see I was right and they were wrong! Joseph could have slapped all of his brothers into prison, sent food back for his father with Benjamin and included a note that said "DAD! I'm alive!!"

Instead, in the midst of a time of trouble and famine, he orders a feast for his brothers. He brings them into his home, provides for their comfort--not just their needs--and pours out the wealth he has control over for their needs. They eat, they drink, and they drink to excess--it's not just a meal. It is a feast.

Then, there is one more test. Joseph has shown grace to his brothers, but he still wants to find out about their character. He has no way of knowing if Benjamin is safe with them or not, so he sets a trap to force the men to hand Benjamin over to him. For all the brothers know, Benjamin is going to be imprisoned, but Joseph may be seeking to protect his full-brother. If he can separate Benjamin, he can make sure that there are no pits for him in the years to come with his brothers.

His brothers, though, demonstrate their changed life. Judah offers himself in Benjamin's place, and Joseph sees that twenty years have changed his brothers as they have changed him.

What do we learn?

First, without a doubt, we see the extravagance of grace. Grace forgives and restores, grace throws a feast in the midst of a famine, and does not hold back even in the face of cultural opposition. (See that Joseph dines by himself, because he's the boss, but by Genesis 43:34, the brothers are 'with' Joseph. Intoxicated, but with nonetheless.)

Do we show that type of grace? Are we willing to embrace that God is that forgiving toward us and that we can, and should, be that forgiving toward others?

Second, though, we should also see our responsibility for the welfare of others. When we have seen a pattern of destruction by some, we must extend grace while still defending the next potential victim. This is the important partner lesson here: Joseph was, it appears, working to help protect his youngest brother from his other brothers.

Do we do that? Do we understand that it is not graceful to leave someone in the midst of abuse or danger? We have to understand this. Grace is bought by the blood of Christ, and so should not be paid for again by the blood of victims.

Third, we need to acknowledge that people change over the course of time. I look back at my own life and see this. I've been working for churches for more than 2 decades at this point. In many ways, I don't know that 18 year-old youth minister Doug would recognize 41 year-old Pastor Doug. I'm not even sure the 2 would get along that well. Time changes us, hopefully for the better. Or at least makes a bit more mature.

Be careful evaluating someone because of who they were. Even as adults, we change, we grow, we learn from our mistakes. That does not exempt us from certain consequences, especially if we evaded them in our younger years, but it does show how some folks can persuade you now that they are wonderful when they were troublesome in the past.

Show grace, watch out for others, and allow for time to work in your life and other people's lives. In essence, realize that people are best known through relationships and not spreadsheets.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Genesis 42:29-43:15 #eebc2018

We pick up the Joseph narrative with his brothers on their way out of Egypt. Well, all of them but Simeon are on the way out of Egypt. Simeon is imprisoned in Egypt as a hostage to ensure the rest of the family are not spies. On the way home, the brothers have discovered that the money they paid for grain has been returned to their sacks. In other words, they really only end up trading a brother for food.

Which may have been a good trade...

However, they get home and Jacob is not pleased with the results. He questions his sons about why they gave Joseph so much information, why they have brought him so much trouble. Part of this is because none of them recognized Joseph.

Had the famine been shorter, they would have had a different problem. At some point, Simeon needs to get out of prison. That might have been simpler for them, but it still would have required a return to Egypt. Joseph successfully put his brothers in a bind where they will have to revisit him, where he will have another opportunity to address their wrongs.

The famine, though, continues. And the family of Jacob runs short on food again. Obviously, they are not completely out of food options before the brothers set out for Egypt, because that would have been poor planning. Everyone left behind would have starved before they got back! It takes some effort to persuade Jacob that the only choice they have is to go and take Benjamin with them.

Jacob accepts this, but does so with a bit of fatalism: "If I am deprived of my sons, then I am deprived," is not exactly a hopeful viewpoint.

Here we see where sometimes, the faithful falter. Seen from the end of the story, Jacob should have had a greater trust that God would take care of him. After all, God had seen him through many other troubles until now. Did he expect that God would allow him and the whole family of promise to starve? Or be imprisoned in Egypt and die there?

Yet we have so much more in common with Jacob in the middle of the story than we like to admit. God has a purpose for our lives, a will to use us for His honor and His glory. Sometimes, that involves suffering and difficulty.

And we lose heart. Because in the middle of the story, the lights are dimmer than we like them to be. Sometimes, the only choice to be made seems desperate and dreadful, like Jacob's choice to send the boys back to Egypt.

God, though, has not forgotten you. And He has not abandoned you. He will work in your life. You may not like the way He does--you could be Simeon, after all, or Jacob, waiting to see what happens with no certainty of results.

But you are not alone. God is with you. And His work in your life is driven by the Cross of Jesus and carries forward into eternity.

So hold on, make the choices you have to make, and do the next thing in front of you. It may seem desperate, but obedient faithfulness will always be the right choice.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Matthew 6:25-7:14 #eebc2018

The Sermon on the Mount continues. Matthew records Jesus preaching about anxiety and worry. He also speaks of judgment, hypocrisy, and seeking.

It is the connection of these three things that I would recommend you consider today. It is important that we not take the whole teaching of the Messiah and treat it like a collection of fortune cookie sayings. None of Scripture should be chopped up into one-liners. We do not do Proverbs justice when we do that, and it's even worse with the Sermon on the Mount.

So don't look at this as separate areas. Rather, see the way in which the Master connects these ideas. Each of them are valid on their own, of course, but they were not delivered stand alone.

How do they relate?

First, Jesus commands us not to worry. That's right, read it again in Matthew 6:25. It's a command. When Jesus says "Do not worry," He is not giving you sage advice. He's giving you a command to obey. He then goes on to give you some reasons and supports for obeying this command. Is God not capable of taking care of you? After all, see how God cares for everything!

Second, He moves from worry and anxiety into not judging others. How do these relate? Tear up your twenty-first century notions of "judging" as a starting place. Then, consider this: judgment here has to do with determining whether or not someone deserves what they have, be it happiness or wealth or illness or misfortune. There's a connection between making that judgment and trying to enforce the results.

It is not about deciding if a person's actions are right or wrong. Especially if you are in matters which are clear in Scripture, clear with a reasonable ethic. For example, if I abandon my child to starve to death, that's wrong. It's not wrongly "judgmental" for you to tell me it's wrong, either. If I am a serial adulterer who lies about it, that's wrong. It's not inappropriate to declare that behavior, and the heart that embraces it, as wrong. That's truth. Now, where we need to acknowledge Christian liberty is on the less-clear things: I let my children watch TV, but some do not. I have let my children read questionable books (email me for a list if you dare!) while others are much more reserved about what pages turn. (Obviously, some things are still wrong here but there are bright lines. And some things are out for being lousy literature, whatever the content.)

There was a long parenthetical there, but let's get back on track: anxiety and judgment? The connection is that anxiety frequently raises its ugly head as we judge our life against the lives of others. Why did he get a good thing that I didn't? Why did that bad thing happen there?

And then it builds, internally, as we run through those questions of judgment: what if I'm not good enough? What if this person gets in the way? What if something goes wrong? Will God still be there for someone like me when I screw it up?

So we loop on those thoughts, rather than moving ahead to where Jesus speaks of asking, seeking, knocking in our search.  One of our key misunderstandings here is that God should be giving us stuff, but that is why Jesus expounds on the ask-receive concept and talks about bread and fish. An earthly father knows not to give his son a snake--whether his son asks for a snake or a fish. Your Heavenly Father knows if what you are asking for is really a snake or a fish, and knows what to give you.

Just like He knows what your neighbor asked for and really needed--or didn't!--and judged more rightly than you would what they deserved.

You see, if we will work though all three of these paragraphs together, we will grasp what is being said. Start with knowing that you should ask God for that which you need and trust Him to know how to answer. Then, keep your focus where it belongs: walking with Jesus and trusting God. And you will find much of your anxiety will disappear without any direct effort.

It's like recognizing that you can mop up the water that leaks out every time you run the dishwasher or you can find the leak source and cut if off. We often fight anxiety, but that's like mopping every leaked dropped. You'll be exhausted and eventually ineffective. But if you track down the source, hone in on trusting God with yourself, then there are far fewer leaks.

Sermon Recap for March 25

Well, we had a technology blunder for the morning sermon. We had made some adjustments to the audio setup in the sanctuary, and while that explains the lack of audio recording, apparently the gremlins got the video, too.

I’m not sure why. I didn’t push that button, Jim didn’t push that button…So, for lack of a recording (you could watch the AM sermon, but unless you are a great lip-reader, you won’t learn much. It’s very quiet), morning is gone. Here is the evening:

Friday, March 23, 2018

Matthew 5:13-6:24 #eebc2018

Here we are in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is teaching His disciples, a message which opened with the Beatitudes and now goes on to talk about the disciples and their relationship with the world. The Sermon on the Mount deals with that subject at length, as well as the matter of the disciples' relationship with God.

It is these two areas that we often think are in conflict, but Jesus makes clear that they are not. In fact, your relationship with God is interdependent with your relationship with the people around you. That is not to say that people should be your boss--only God is your God, not anyone else. But if the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12 started you thinking that your relationship with God would be better if you just ducked away and never interacted, that thought should be cut off by the next two paragraphs. We are to be salt and light, clear to the world and affecting the world around us.

After all, salt doesn't do much if it is not with other items. And a light that cannot be seen is just wasting itself. The next several sections build on this idea. First, Jesus highlights that He is the fulfillment of the Law, not someone who will cancel it. The Law was based in the holiness of God, and that holiness will never change. How we live still matters, because otherwise we are destroying others. The Law, though, was not enough because adultery and murder are outside actions but righteousness requires that we stop at the inner thoughts which spark those actions.

And note that Jesus brings forward conflict with your fellow worshippers as a danger in the same realm as murder. Here is where we find that fixing a relationship is as important as bringing a sacrifice to the altar. Then we see that adultery begins as lust, and lust is worth removing body parts to fix. Now, should be actually go cutting off hands and gouging out eyes?

No. Why do we not take this literally? Because we read the text in context, understanding what is being said. Jesus points out that adultery begins as a heart problem. You cannot cut off your hand to fix your heart. He is driving to the real problem: your hearts are not just restless until we find God. Our hearts are dead without the Spirit of God. And we'll be far better off to let Him take that old heart straight out.

Going through the rest of the passage, we have instructions about fasting, giving, and prayer. There is a continued emphasis that our hearts must be right before God and our lives must be lived to draw others to Him.

There are whole books written on just portions of the Sermon on the Mount, so we cannot possibly cover it all here. Take up and read, and let God change you through His word. What should come through this is that our lives will not be the same with Jesus as they would have been without Him. If we are not different in our living, if our lives cannot be easily seen as lives committed to Christ, then we should reconsider and reread.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Genesis 41:38-42:28 #eebc2018

Joseph is now the top dog in Egyptian agriculture. Well, probably Anubis was the top dog, but he was more a jackal-headed mythological guy. There has been some pushback in the historical world about Joseph and the lack of definite recording of anyone as a true "second-in-command" or grand vizier or prime minister in any part of Egyptian history that would fit the description of Joseph. There are a couple of possibilities that would explain that, but the simplest one is this: Joseph is made "second to Pharaoh" in the realm of agriculture/disaster preparedness. That does not put him in charge of the military or the religion or many other tasks. In a modern sense, that would make him like the Secretary of Agriculture in the US Cabinet.

Except that he would have the power to execute you if you did not do what he said. That is not a power we want any single government official to have. Joseph had it, but we do not know if he misused it any. Scripture does not give us all the details. (On Joseph's authority, consider this question: the Joseph events happen around the time that the term "Pharaoh" settles toward the meaning of the one king of Egypt from meaning the "great house" of Egypt, where the ruler comes from. It is possible that Joseph is second to the "house," that is, second to the royal family.)

Joseph leads the nation of Egypt to stockpile food for the coming season of want. They store up grain to enable replanting the crops each season. That was one of the main dangers of crop failure: think about where the seeds for next year come from. They come from this year's crops! So if the crops are short, one must remember to reserve some anyway. Further, given what we now know about crop genetics, another factor that comes through here was unknown to Joseph: perhaps the famine was part of a blight or crop disease. And by replanting from older stock, they were able to raise crops that did not have those characteristics.

Meanwhile, Joseph has married and had two children. Manasseh and Ephraim will be more important later. We now have four named people in the story: it's all of the family of Joseph. Asenath, his wife, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Joseph are the focus of the story.

The people of Egypt come to Pharaoh for food, and he sends them to Joseph. Likewise, many of the nations around Egypt send envoys to buy grain from Egypt. Some of these may have been in one-year crop failures, but others were facing a longer-term problem. Genesis 42 opens on Jacob, showing that the famine was also severe in the land of Canaan. (It's not properly Israel yet.)

Jacob sends ten of his sons to Egypt for food. They are brought before Joseph, and he begins to test them. Joseph imprisons Simeon and lets the rest of the brothers return home with grain. He warns them not to come back without Benjamin.

Meanwhile, they know in their hearts that the trouble they are facing is because of their treatment of Joseph. Joseph states that his test is to determine their honesty--the one thing they all know they lack.

That is, unfortunately, where we all tend to get hit: right at the point of weakness. This is why it is so important to dwell in honest community with your fellow followers of Christ. One person's weakness is another's strength, so we need each other.

Let that be one of the lessons you gather here: together, we can either scheme and destroy as Joseph's brothers do, or we can encourage and strengthen one another. The choice is ours.

Sermon Recaps!

Well, it’s been a bit chaotic around here and I am somewhere around 3 weeks behind in writing tasks. As I catch up with those, I’ll get the rest of the sermon videos edited. Microsoft’s newer video editing software was just not working out for me, so I had to shift to a different piece of software. It takes longer and has a learning curve…

Anyway, enough excuses. Here’s the audio player:

You can click through and find any sermon you’d like here.

There’s the video from Sunday morning, March 18.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Genesis 41:1-37 #eebc2018

Joseph is still in prison. It's been two years, and he's still in prison. (A minor note: figure the "years" in Egypt are based on astronomical observations, so it's a fairly precise "year." Other cultures used a lunar year, which did not sync up perfectly and required adjustment. So there's a reason it's wise to avoid nailing a year number to the text.)

How long have you been in prison? How long have you been serving where you never wanted to go? Are you ready for a breakthrough into something different?

Are you prepared for it to be a disaster of major proportion for you to get it? Let's not get too caught up in the "Be Like Joseph" rhetoric as we read this: be faithful where you are, but realize that Joseph's ascension to great renown required a pretty harsh event for others. Do not be so convinced of your own delusions of grandeur that you require others to suffer for your sake.

And that is how this chapter unfolds: Pharaoh has a couple of dreams. He cannot understand his dreams, but no one could find an interpretation for him. (Another minor note: there's no future in being a dream interpreter in the Bible. The only folks who do it well actually get pulled from other jobs to give God's words, and then go on to other jobs...)

At this point, the chief cupbearer brings Joseph to the attention of Pharaoh. Interestingly enough, Joseph remains the only named individual in the story. Joseph is pulled from the prison, cleaned up, and set before Pharaoh to interpret the dreams.

Which Joseph promptly tells Pharaoh that he cannot do.

Think through this: Joseph stands before a man with the power of life and death over him. All Joseph needs to do is present Pharaoh with a plausible dream interpretation, say a few nice things, and hopefully Pharaoh lets him out of prison and out of the country. He can go home.

Instead, Joseph points out that only God can give Pharaoh any clarity about his dream. Joseph's first action is to point Pharaoh to the One True God. After this, Pharaoh shares his dreams with Joseph, of seven fat and seven skinny cows, of seven great ears of corn and seven lousy ones.

The meaning is made clear through Joseph: disaster is coming. There will be seven good years, but soon seven bad ones will come and destroy the results. The options? Joseph proposes a stern taxation plan, matched with a tight hand on the budget. Food must be stored for the bad years, Egypt must make itself ready.

While the next reading will cement this: Joseph is the one who will be put in charge of this task. Joseph was faithful as a slave, faithful as a prisoner, and now will have to be faithful when in power. It is, perhaps, a harder temptation.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Genesis 39:19-40:23 #eebc2018

Joseph is off in Egypt. He started as a slave but now it's gotten worse: he has been whisked off to prison for allegedly assaulting Potiphar's wife. He's an innocent man, but that does not stop the legal system from letting him languish in jail.

While he's there, though, he makes the best of his bad situation. Joseph steps up to take care of his fellow prisoners, God grants him grace in the eyes of the prison warden, and Joseph becomes one of the top leaders in the prison. It should be clear that 2nd millenium BC Egyptian prisons and the rules about them were quite different from anything modern, so be careful about applying an understanding of "impossible" to this.

While he is in this role, Pharaoh gets angry at his chief cupbearer and his chief baker. So, both are sent to the prison that Joseph is both in charge of and imprisoned in. Joseph is made responsible for them, and they are in captivity for an undisclosed amount of time. Now, a few words are due here: 1.)Pharaoh is not a name, it's a title. It's basically the Egyptian word that one would translate as "King" these days. Although, around Joseph's time, it also was applied to the ruling household. 2.) We do not have a hard lock on which Pharaoh of Egypt we are dealing with here. 3.) The prison warden wants these two prisoners handled delicately because Pharaoh may turn them loose any time. 4.) If Potiphar could imprison Joseph without trial, Pharaoh certainly can--and for far less of a crime. We do not know what they did. Both of them were involved in food service. They could have gone to prison for letting the potato salad go bad.

These guys have dreams. Not the "I have dreams for my future" kind but the "I have dreams of my future" kind. However, they do not know what these dreams mean.

Joseph, however, takes note of their situation. He knows something is wrong, but not quite what. So he does the logical thing: he asks them. They tell the story of their dreams, Joseph interprets them, and then they come to pass.

The cupbearer, though, does not follow through with Joseph's request. Perhaps he was just so busy he forgot, but "remember" is often used in a specific sense when dealing with kings. It's about deliberately making the king aware of a person or event--and the cupbearer perhaps fears his own situation is too tenuous to risk in pointing out Joseph's situation.

Now, what do we do with this?

The biggest lesson that I think we should grab hold of here is that people matter. Joseph noted the distress of his fellow prisoners. The warden knew his two special prisoners needed care, and knew who to entrust them to.

How well do we engage with people? Are we aware or do we live in the frustrations that have surrounded us? I'm sure that, in his human nature, Joseph had bad days that he mainly thought about his own problems. But that wasn't the way he lived all the time. What about us?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Matthew 4:12-5:12 #eebc2018

John the Baptist was arrested. Mark 6:17 tells us that Herod had him imprisoned for preaching about immorality in the palace, and then later has John executed. Immorality is not good in the leadership of a nation. That's not the main part of the section, but that's still a relevant lesson.

The passage under review deals with Jesus calling His first disciples. Matthew highlights that this ministry opening in Galilee was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy that a great light would dawn on the people of that region. It's the first part of Isaiah 9, where we often jump ahead to "For unto us a child is born...."

It is worth taking note that Jesus begins by preaching. Note that 4:17 highlights the message of the Lord as one of repentance. While His preaching also involves grace and mercy, we cannot miss that the opening message of Jesus is to repent!

After beginning this preaching, Jesus calls specific men to Himself. These men will be His disciples, and they will be the opening leadership of the church. That will come in another few years, for now the call is simple: follow Jesus. Then we tend to make it complicated.

The next point in this section is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Now, you can grab a handful of books and get different views about which "Mount" or whether Matthew condensed multiple sermons to a summary or whatever else may have happened, but taken at face value, this looks like one sermon from Jesus. It covers all sorts of topics, and really would not have taken that long to deliver.

It just takes a lifetime to begin to live out.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Matthew 2:16-4:11 #eebc2018

We're into Matthew and seeing the tail end of the Christmas story here. The Magi have headed back to their homeland (Persia, but not the point here). Joseph and Mary have fled with Jesus to Egypt.

Herod, living in fear of the "born King of the Jews," uses his authority to call for the death of all the boys in Bethlehem that could possibly be this new king. This is a common theme in ancient history--and it never does work out right. All that happens is the death of innocent people. There's a lesson here: you cannot stomp out the will of God. There is not enough blood to spill, and if you think that more violence will bring you control, you are wrong.

The next step in the narrative is John the Baptist. John preaches in the wilderness, declaring the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. He calls out religious fallacies and political nonsense. He speaks very little of hope and peace and a great deal about judgment. Eventually, this costs him his freedom and then his life. What would we be? Alive or faithful?

Jesus is then baptized, and we see all three persons of the Trinity present: the voice of the Father, the vision of the Spirit as a dove, and the Son is there in the water. Can we fully understand this idea? No, we cannot. But if God had to be limited to our understanding, He'd be a lousy God.

We wrap up with the temptation of Jesus. Satan himself attempts to derail the Messiah by offering Him benefits that are not his to offer. This is what temptation is: an offer to receive something from someone who cannot really give it to you. Satan cannot give you the kingdoms of the world, they aren't his to give! Likewise, happiness is not something that material can give you, happiness cannot be found in sin, because you were made for a relationship with God and those things will not be enough.

We see that Jesus confronts temptation through Scripture. Though He could have said anything He wanted and destroyed the Accuser, Jesus instead gives us an understanding of what can defeat the temptations in our life. As God, He anything He said would be perfect, but we are not God. We, being human, cannot create perfection in our words.

But we can learn from His perfection, and use His words. That is our takeaway here: to know the Word of God well, so that when temptation comes, we can deal with it. Perhaps we can deal with it by reminding ourselves of who God is and what He has commanded. Perhaps we can deal with it by challenging the source of our temptation.

The Word, though, is the key. So know the Word of God.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Genesis 38:1-39:18 #eebc2018

Genesis 38 does not start off well. It does not end well.  And, honestly, the stopping point at Genesis 39:18 isn't a particularly happy moment, either.

These narratives demonstrate the use of sexuality as a weapon. For Judah, Onan, and Shelah, it was an economic weapon: Onan declined his responsibility to his brother, Er, and Judah kept back Shelah as if the problem had been Tamar in the death of Er and Onan.

It wasn't. Both of these men died because of their own sin--Er being the first person recorded as being "put to death" by YHWH for his evil behavior. Onan's sin is debated these days, and his death is given as the reason to avoid masturbation or birth control, though neither are rightly condemned from this passage. This is explicitly about his decision to serve his own needs.

Also worth noting is this: Genesis is not speaking about the morality of what is called "levirate marriage." That is, this passage is not about the whether or not the cultural practice of a childless widow being expected to bear a child through her brother-in-law. It was a common practice of the time, and is codified in the Law given at Sinai (see Deuteronomy 25). I would suggest that it was a common practice which was regulated in the Law, somewhat as slavery was, because it was going to happen--note that the Deuteronomy passage establishes the rights of the woman in the situation--not because it was a great idea. Since it would happen, there needed to be safeguards, and the Law established those.

Back here in Genesis, though, the big concern is Tamar: what will happen to her? She is left in her father-in-law's home, living as a widow and awaiting Shelah as a husband. She's not free to move on to another husband, and she's not getting what she needs from Judah. She then turns to the only option she finds available: Judah. He is the one who is holding her, effectively, hostage. So she uses his own lusts against him, resorting to the only thing she has available.

And before we condemn her, we need to ask the question: what outlets are available to those on the outside of power in our society? If someone has no recourse within the law or respectable opinions, then who are we to decry their actions outside of those places? Tamar had nowhere else to turn--at the word of her father-in-law, she and her unborn child were nearly executed! If there are no good options for justice, people will turn to the least bad option available to them.

Tamar goes on to see two sons born, Zerah and Perez, and Zerah is in the lineage of Jesus. There is little else about Tamar, but she stands as an example of the disaster that powerful men can wreak on other people's lives.

The next chapter gives us the disaster that powerful women can wreak on other people's lives, as we see Joseph imprisoned by the false accusations of Potiphar's wife. Joseph has worked hard, acted with integrity, and still goes to prison. Again, we see the lack of a valid system for justice: in this case, Potiphar holds power and his wife wields that power against Joseph.

In the long run, though, Joseph does have an out. Pharaoh can do something about the prisoners in Egypt--he just needs to know about the problem. And Pharaoh does not like to hear about problems, so it will take some time.

What do we learn from this?

First, the clearest lesson in both of these cases is that justice should never be an "option." It should be something that is readily available for all.

Second, let us be careful about being quick to condemn others. Note that both Tamar and Joseph are condemned for actions without the full story--and that condemnation came from some corners that were hardly righteous. Give time for someone to explain themselves, and then throw those into prison who deserve it.

Finally, be careful of judging people based on their heritage alone. I've been in small to medium Southern American towns most of my adult life, and in very few of them could Perez or Zerah have gotten a fair shake. Simply through their birth under a cloud of controversy, they would have been watched more closely at school, overlooked at churches, and sidelined in the community. We must be careful not to quickly judge someone because of who their parents were--for good or for ill. Let people stand on their own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Genesis 37 #eebc2018

The Joseph narrative starts here. Joseph was born back in Genesis 30:22-24, but here he actually starts being a participant. He does not start off all that well---he's the youngest of the family and also the favorite of his father.
Joseph is not portrayed well here. He's seventeen, old enough to be working with the family flocks, but rather than staying with the work, he heads home to tell his father that they were not working the way should. Now, there is actually no telling what he said or whether it was true---he could have been acting like a Schrute and being picky. Or he could have been honest.
But we know this from v. 4: he does not get along with his brothers. The brothers specifically involved were the sons from Bilhah and Zilpah, so those would have been: Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.
Joseph does not help his relationship by sharing his dreams with his brothers. He has been dreaming about the future, and in his dreams he is the top dog. Many times, this gets preached and taught as God giving him the dreams, but do keep in mind that the text does not say this. The text only records that he reported the dreams--the source is not clear. The same can be said of Genesis 40, with the exception that Joseph clearly places interpretation of dreams into the hand of God.
After this, of course, his brothers are even less happy with him than they were. Apparently, dreaming about their downfall after informing Dad they weren't working right wasn't helpful for their relationships. The better-known part of Joseph's teen years then comes along: he's thrown in the pit, despairs of his life, and then is sold off to a band of Ishmaelites. He's then taken down to Egypt, sold as a slave to Potiphar, and his father is told he is dead. He is still slightly alive, which is more than can be said for the goat in 37:30.
Jacob commits himself to a lifetime of mourning for Joseph, cementing the fractures among the brothers.
What do we get from this?
First, don't throw your brother in a pit. Nobody needs to be down in the pit.
Second, find ways to work through your relationship issues. We see this echo back later in Genesis when the brothers are back together. They live with regret and fear over what they had done.
That's no way to live. Fix your relationships while you can.
Finally, recognize this: sometimes, people throw you into a pit. It's frustrating. It's depressing, and it may end in being sold off into Egypt. That's not cheerful, but life is not always cheerful. Sometimes it's painful.
There is hope that God will use you, your life, and your time in the pit to work out something better in the world. You may not see it clearly, but hold on. And if you're in the pit for a long time, maybe you can start seeking a way to climb out. You don't have to stay there!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Genesis 36 #eebc2018

We start with the family records of Esau. We find that he was no more willing to stick with the one-man/one-woman ethic of creation than his brother was. This was an unfortunate development in history that honestly is indefensible. Esau takes his large family, his many wives, and relocates to the mountains of Seir. Tradition holds that his offspring, the Edomites, were some of the first inhabitants of the valley that has become the city of Petra.

A name worth noting in Esau's records is found in 36:4: Basemath, daughter of Ishmael, has a child named Reuel. that name will come back in Exodus 2:18. I would suggest that these are not the same Reuels, but that it becomes a family heritage name.

The remainder of the chapter traces the lineage of Esau into the times of the Edomites. Some of the exploits and events of their history are there, but it is obviously abbreviated, especially in comparison to the lives of Jacob and his offspring.

What, then, do we do with this? After all, the primary references to the Edomites in the Old Testament are to them as enemies (see Obadiah) and in the New Testament, Esau is one who lacked faith (Hebrews 12:16). We're not supposed to be Esau.

But the Bible is not merely a record of people that we should be like or not be like. The whole of Scripture is a testament to the faithfulness of God, to the glory of God. What do we gather here along those lines?

First, this reality: God selects some people and groups to work through specifically, as He did with Israel. However, that does not mean He is unaware or disconnected from everyone else.

Second, God's faithfulness is drawn from His character, not from anyone's worth or future worthiness. The family of Esau will not turn out fully God-honoring in their lives. God's promise to Abraham was still valid, no matter what would come. When God makes a promise, He keeps it.

Third, we see that God works through many avenues. While it's hard to be certain, the area that Esau's family, including Reuel, is toward the area where Keturah's offspring went as well. You would have the link between Reuel and the Midianites, and then you have the family that Moses flees to. A monotheistic family, servants of the One True God.

Moments like that are not coincidences. There are few coincidences in life--certainly none in the workings of the covenants of God.

Trust that God will work. Even if you cannot see how.

July 5 Service Recap

Good morning! Here are the service recaps from last week. First we’ll see the morning services, both the 9 AM and the 11 AM, then there will...